UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL with JERMEL HOWARD
Jermel Howard, who is a former rapper, now actor most known for his roles in Power, The First Purge, Tales, and Luke Cage. Jermel is originally from Long Island, New York and got his first start in the entertainment business years ago when he was a rap artist. A career in acting was never planned but came naturally to Jermel as he got his first role in the film, The Brave One. He credits Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Don Cheadle, and Idris Elba as his main influences.
Q: Now, you have been acting on several projects, such as; Power, The First Purge, Law&Order, Luke Cage, Roxanne Roxanne, The Brave One, All Eyez On Me, and Orange Is The New Black. Before all of these roles came along you were a rapper. Tell us about that? What inspired you to transition from rapping into acting?
A: I was signed to a label and I wasn’t really making money. I was touring and I bumped into a guy who suggested that I should give it a try and I’ve never done it before that. He said, “You book something on an open audition then call me and I can help you get a few more auditions.” I booked a Burger King commercial and I called him and told said to him, “ Yo I booked something!” He was like, “ Alright.” Then sent me on a couple of more auditions and I booked them all. So he was like, “Hey maybe you should be doing this!” So that was the transition, it was kind of easy for me. I had music, but I wasn’t making any money. So it was like an easy transition for me.
Q: Where did you receive your training from in acting? If so where?
A: I never received any training. Pretty much what acting to me is being able to coral on several different characters that you come in contact with that makes acting authentic. So I didn’t have to really train because the roles I was getting, I was able to
identify with what I knew or seen or read before. So, being able to really identify with the character and become it!
Q: So you kind of just related or tried to put yourself in the description of the character you were portraying?
A: Yes! For instances, I have to play this guy who robbed a bank. I would go into my memory and find someone who was that crazy to rob a bank. I’m from the hood just like a lot of actors, who grew up rough. So I’m pretty sure they know a lot of crazy people! So what you do is try to find a character similar and substitute. Be that character or do some homework so you can bring that character to life.
Q: So, what has your journey been like as an actor?
A: That’s a wide question! My journey has been a little rough and good at the same time. Life itself! That’s how life is! So it’s been great for me because I’ve learned a lot really fast. I didn’t go to school like I said so the experience itself is teaching me. Just by me doing me I’m teaching myself and letting the experience be the teaching. Basically, it’s a word for it called “Autodidactic” which is a self-taught person. That’s what’s going on! The acting world is a lot different from music. I don’t have to fight for a record deal or chase for royalties. Once you’re in this union, it’s going to make sure you get paid what you are supposed to and everything flows through. The journey so far has been good and I say that with both the bad and good. The bad is teaching you anyway, it’s just lessons. So either way, it goes, you’re walking away with something.
Q: What was the first role you land?
A: “The Brave One” with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard. That was my first role and I booked it. I just went to audition and a few people didn’t want me to go. They were like why would I take a chance on that instead of just like find some work. It kind of bothered me because it’s like you don’t believe in me? So when I did the audition, I booked it! Director Neil Jordan, he and I clicked as soon as we met. He was just staring at me and was like “How would you like to get shot by Jodie Foster?” (Laughs) And I was like “I would love to get shot by Jodie Foster!” So after that he and I were cool. He actually paid my way into the union. No director has ever done that, which was dope! That was my first role and Jodie Foster was a sweetheart and we clicked very well.
Q: Who are some of your favorite actors or actresses?
A: So I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba…Omari Hardwick is like a brother to me from working and being on set with him. I like Zoë Saldana as female and Matthew McConaughey. Matt is a dope actor!
Q: If you were given the opportunity to work with one of your favorite actor or actress, would it be comedy or action?
A: Definitely action! I would be working with hands down you want to work with Denzel. Although action wise I would work with Idris Elba and let Forest Whitaker direct it because he’s directing now.
Q: How did you land the role as Brains on power?
A: Courtney Kemp is the writer and executive producer and they were already looking and kind of tailor-made a character for me. So when the casting director called me to come to meet them to read, I was like “I appreciate the opportunity!” They were like, “ We were already watching you and we were trying to figure out how to put you in” So they already had an eye on me.
Q: What is like working alongside so many great actors and actresses on the show?
A: That was amazing from the first table read. When I came in and sat down at the table in the big circle. Then all the cast started coming in Naturi, Lala, 50, and Omari. I’m like this is it! Like it was about to go down! It had that feeling and it was just amazing. They welcomed me like I was a part of the family. They brought me and we piggyback off each other like it was nobody trying to get over anybody. Everybody was opened to different ideas. Like even some stuff I told 50, he was like, “You think they would say something like that?” and I would say, “Nah the streets wouldn’t say anything like that.” He would say, “Yeah, I don’t think so either.” We got along really good. It was times when 50 and I would sit in the car before we shoot and I ran a couple of ideas to him that I wrote to him. 50 is a good dude, he will give you his criticism on the spot and tell you what he thinks. He was like, “I think it’s a good idea because it’s a marketing plan!” So he gave me the whole idea about marketing right there on the spot and I was like alright. He was cool and it was dope working with the whole cast.
Q: Let’s talk about a recent film that came out this year, The First Purge, which I am a huge fan of The Purge films and now series they have on television, what was your experience like being in of that movie?
A: Well that was my first horror movie and suspense. It was really surreal! It’s such a big film with Universal Studios and Blumhouse Productions. Being a part of that was amazing! I got to do something I always wanted to do and that was in a horror movie and do some action. Get some acting roles and actions choreography. It was fun and I had a ball!
Q: Which role did you have the most fun playing and why?
A: Definitely the role of Zo in “The First Purge” because we were there for so long and we shot for like two months. The whole cast got to hang out together. Every two days we were doing something like going to the haunted house or playing pool or getting a drink. We were just hanging! The role was kind of challenging because I had to find the character and sometimes they would like for you to add and bring something to the table for the character. Not more so for camera directions all the time. You have to bring something to the table out of yourself. So it was a little challenging at times because I had to find the character and they were like, yeah that’s how he should be! So that was my most remembered role.
Q: Which character have you played is the most and least, like you?
A: Shameek Smith, the character from “Luke Cage”, is most like me. The way he was cracking jokes in the barbershop and arguing with Luke Cage. The character that is farthest from me is Ty on the show “Tales” that was on BET, who was like this drug dealer and he was like ruthless.
Q: If not an actor, what profession would you have chosen to occupy?
A: That’s a hard question to answer because I believe in universal alignment and I believe that the universe opens everything the way it is supposed to open! So if I would even mention a Plan B then I would be getting rid of the Plan A. There is no Plan B! Everything was Plan A, so this is it!
Q: What advice would you give an aspirating actor or actress?
A: I would say be consistent! A lot of people have a problem with being consistent. Here is the problem with that, if I put a million dollars in a room in a hotel and I say it’s a million dollars in a room and you try three doors and quit. You’re not going to get the million dollars! (Laughs) Some people go on three or four auditions and quit! Without knowing that the fifth one could’ve been your big break. Consistent is key to being in entertainment anyway. Any part of the entertainment! I believe that consistency is key! You have to keep knocking and banging on doors down until you get to where you want to be. Also, hold where you want to be in front of you so that you can clearly see where you want to see yourself and just stay consistent.
Q: What is a fun fact that people might be aware of?
A: A fun fact is that I am a big science nerd! So nobody would know unless you really know me. From to the first time, I knew you could put more than 1,300 of the earth in Jupiter and that’s how big Juniper is! I’ve been turned out and it was a wrapped! So I’ve been loving science since then. All forms of science, like the stars, planets, brain, body, and everything! Geography and history as well. So that’s something nobody would know unless you are in my inner circle!
Stylist: Jumar Edward @jumar_edward
Photographer: Rosalyn Joyner @famisphotos
MUA: Aubrei Savage @_savage.mua
Article: Driune Santana @driunesantanatv