Thomas Q. Jones says ‘acting became therapy’ after NFL career
The former NFL star who transitioned into acting has become a fan fave on the hot Starz show, 'P-Valley'
Former NFL All-Pro running back Thomas Q. Jones has brought his considerable talents to Starz’s hot new show, P-Valley.
Jones plays the mysterious Mane, a fan favorite on the drama series created by Katori Hall. P-Valley centers on the cast of characters at The Pynk, the hottest club in the Mississippi Delta.
Since its arrival on Starz in July P-Valley quickly received critical acclaim and a loyal following across social media. Jones tells theGrio that a second season was ordered while Season 1 was still airing.
“I’m just very happy to be a part of this cast. It’s an incredible cast. Everyone is doing their thing. It’s almost like they were made for their roles. The beautiful thing about it is it’s not only the storylines are compelling, but the performances,” Jones says. “I mean, everybody’s bringing it every scene. The writing, the story, the characters, the arcs, I mean, honestly, it’s one of the best shows that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m super excited to be a part of this, and I’m interested to see where it goes.”
Jones, a 2020 Football Hall of Fame nominee, retired from the NFL in 2012, and he has since been focused on his acting and film/television producing career. His breakout role was as Cutty Buddy, Gabrielle Union’s character’s lover in Being Mary Jane. Then he played Comanche in the Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage, starred in and executive produced the film A Violent Man, and now has his own production company, Midnight Train Productions. His short film Catching Up is nominated for Best Short and Best Actor at the BronzeLens Film Festival.
On P-Valley, Jones plays the flirtatious neighbor of the main character Mercedes (Brandee Evans). Fans have affectionately nicknamed the duo M&M. Director Millicent Shelton tweeted her interest in directing their love scene next season. Check out what Jones had to say about that and the hype surrounding P-Valley in our Q&A with the actor below.
Season one of P-Valley was a huge success thanks to fans buzzing about it across social media. How does it feel to be a part of a new, successful Black drama series that’s resonating with viewers?
Thomas Q. Jones: It’s been incredible. You know, TV is very unpredictable, and sometimes you think people are going to like something, or you have an idea about something they may like, and then they either like it, love it, or hate it. You’re always taking a risk. So the fact that people responded to this show pretty much after the first two episodes…the way they responded was incredible. Anytime you work hard as an actor and a creator and put your imagination on a screen, it’s great to see people have bought into it and appreciate it. So it’s been an incredible journey so far. To see the reactions on Black Twitter is probably the funniest thing in the world right now, seeing the reactions to the scenes, and some of the storylines. It’s been a really, really fun ride so far. I’m excited.
Speaking of the fans’ response, is it important for you to keep up with the blog recaps about the series, or read conversations online to see what fans are saying?
Thomas Q. Jones: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s very important, because being a producer now as well as an actor, it gives you a gauge on what the demographic you’re going after likes. It’s kind of like a cheat sheet because there’s some specific things that seem to resonate with fans across the board, and unless you actually see the comments, good, bad, or indifferent, then it’s hard for you to know. Plus, I’m just as entertained as the fans are about the show, we as creators are just as entertained, or as equally entertained by their responses. Especially now with Twitter, with the GIFS and their comments, it’s just all-around fun across the board when you can create a show, especially something like this that’s so fresh and new and has so many diverse storylines and elements to it. You get a wide variety of conversation.
So I’m definitely interested in what the fans have to say. At the end of the day, they want to tell you what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and I think a lot of the other actors on the show, as well as Katori Hall and the other executives that are on the ground, I think we’re all super in tune on social media. And now it’s been crazy because people are reaching out in my DMs about, “Hey, come to my P-Valley fan page.” You know, the fans want to hear from you or they love you. I’m like, ‘Okay.’ I click on the Facebook link and it’s like, a thousand comments under a post about my character. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is crazy,’ and I’ll post a picture and converse with them and stuff. It’s been great. I’m definitely in tune with what the fans are saying.
Let’s talk about your character Mane. Tell us about his world and what about him compelled you to want to sign on and be a part of the series?
Thomas Q. Jones: Well, what I really loved about Mane is the fact that he’s from Mississippi and that that’s a world that we don’t get a chance to see that much on TV, which leads to me being able to play a character that’s unique. And so, the fact that he’s from Mississippi, the fact that he’s on house arrest, and he has kind of a mystique to him because we really don’t know much about his backstory, you just know that clearly, he’s involved in some illegal activity in some capacity, which I thought was cool, because you can really make those characters very complex and interesting.
But also the fact that he had an accent. I loved the fact that he had an accent because it gave me an opportunity to really as an actor show range. And at this point in my career, I haven’t had the opportunity to play someone with an accent. So this was an incredible opportunity to play a character like that, with a very specific accent, very specific dialect. Even the verbiage is something that I’ve never read, said, or heard before. So it really gave me a chance to be this unique character that stands out and people will remember. And fortunately for me, that’s what happened.
How would you describe his dynamic with the main character Mercedes?
Thomas Q. Jones: I would say they have very good chemistry. They’ve known each other for a while. They’ve been neighbors for a while. You know, Mane is a pretty simple guy; I think he’s probably the most country guy on the show, country character, in regards to how he moves, how he talks. He’s a very loyal character, but I think he’s got two different sides. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On one end he’s probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, just a nice country guy, but on the flip side, when the switch comes on, he turns into this very dark character that doesn’t take anything from anybody. And so I think Mercedes respects him a lot because she knows him from being his neighbor, and the fact that they have really good chemistry. I think that they are attracted to each other a lot, and I’m interested to see what happens with Mercedes and Mane in that regard too.
Fans are ready for a love scene between Mane and Mercedes. What can you tease us with what’s to come between these two?
Thomas Q. Jones: Well, I mean, I can’t. Katori would kill me if I gave any specifics, which I can’t. But I will say that Mane, in episode six, the last scene, Mane saw a flyer with Autumn Night’s picture on it, and clearly, he recognized it from being at a Mercedes’ house and getting the fake IDs for her. So Mane definitely has a presence. His presence is felt in the last two episodes, and that’s pretty much all I can say. But I think what Katori did in creating these characters and these storylines is she made people very interested in seeing what happens in season two. And that’s what you want. Most people are already anticipating season 2. And when you’re anticipating season 2 and you’re not even finished with the first season yet, you have something special.
Does this journey from NFL star to actor and producer feel like a natural transition or extension of the Thomas Jones brand?
Thomas Q. Jones: I actually, really to be perfectly honest, I didn’t foresee myself as an actor when I retired in 2012. I was bored, I really didn’t have much going on. I mean, I had a music label, so I was working with my artists and producing music and things, so that was keeping me busy. And I love music. I love music, even to this day. But there was a difference between producing and managing artists, and actually being the artist. And as a football player, I was used to being the artist, in so many words.
And so the transition into acting kind of randomly happened, and I was fortunate enough to find a couple of people that believed in my ability and push me into this industry. And I kind of got off to a jump start by getting cast for shows like Shameless, Being Mary Jane, Straight Outta Compton without having really any acting classes. And then that really propelled me to the next step, which was getting some classes, getting trained, and understand what you’re doing. And then I developed a passion and a love for it, and then, like I tell everybody, acting became therapy for me. Coming out of a 12-year NFL career; you know, some dramatic situations that happened during that time. And so acting became therapy, and then it became a necessity.
And then from that, I really just got kind of addicted to writing and creating my own content. And I produced my own film, A Violent Man, that I starred in and executive produced and helped co-write with the original writer. And then once I shot that film, I was full-blown, ‘Hey, I need to create my own content and tell my own stories.’ And so Deji LaRay, who’s my producing partner, we created our own production company, Midnight Train Productions. Deji already had a couple of scripts already written, and then both of us jumped in and started writing other scripts, TV scripts, feature film scripts.
I also have a technology company, it’s called Castar, a mobile app, it’s for iPhones. It’s only available in Los Angeles now, but it’s called Castar, C-A-S-T-A-R, and basically, it’s a platform for us to invite people from the underserved communities, women, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, to download the app and start to network with other diverse talents across the country, as well as submit to jobs in the industry, whether it’s an acting gig, a dance gig, a makeup artist needed, a hairstylist needed, a model, photographer. We’re creating a community of talent across the country that’s from these communities, that experiences what we experience, and we want everyone to be able to connect and get jobs and kind of create our own little infrastructure talent in the underserved communities.
I’ve been asking a lot of artists this question lately…we’re living in such uncertain times right now with the COVID crisis, and the Black Lives Matter movement making headlines once again, and the protests across the country over police brutality, racial tensions, and social justice — has any of this inspired the types of stories you want to put out through your production company?
Thomas Q. Jones: Most definitely. Because I think in my generation, I think this is a pivotal time. Because of the pandemic and because of everything that continues to happen, we finally have the world’s ear, and I think that’s why there’s been so much media and press globally about the plight of Black people, people of color, LGBTQ+ community, but especially Black people. And so it definitely, as a Black man, influences me and drives me to tell stories about Black people and Black culture, in particular, Black men and how the world sees us and how we see the world and what our experiences mean.
Being Black in America… Being Black in the world, but especially in America, it’s like an extreme sport. You never know what you’re going to get every time you walk outside of your house or you pick up your phone. You just never know. It’s very unpredictable. And then as a Black man, there’s another dynamic to it, as a lot of the stereotypes can get us shot by the police. It drove me to really say, “Hey,” and Deji my partner’s like, “How can we make content to continue to make Black men, as sad as this is to say, look human? And a part of the human race, in a lot of ways?” Because a lot of times we’re seen as villains, we’re seen as… it’s almost like people think that all Black men love to do bad things or be negative influences, and as a Black man, it’s very annoying and frustrating and hurtful.
And I feel like I’m in a position to help change that narrative, and it’s my responsibility. I love Black people. I love my culture. And being a Black man, I just feel like I can do my part, at least in Hollywood, by telling stories that show us as human beings that have feelings, have ups and downs just like everybody else. And then also showing the world how it feels to be in our shoes, so people could be a little more empathetic for our plight in regards to the Black experience, from a Black man’s perspective.
So definitely what’s going in the world is pushing me. I mean, it’s literally catapulted me into this space now, especially having my own production company. That’s why I changed my name to Thomas Q. Jones, as opposed to Thomas Jones from football, because I wanted to separate the two people. And now people are starting to not just buy into the fact that I’m a very serious actor coming from football, but they’re respecting my ability and starting to put me in the same category with some of the other actors that they respect, which is huge, huge for me. It’s a huge accomplishment.
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