Interview by Twain Richardson |Photos courtesy of ABFF
PANACHE: Wah a gwaan man, we’re from Jamaica.
JAY R. ELLIS: Yow, wah a gwaan!
PANACHE: Today we just want to talk about your experience as a black actor in the industry. What have been some of the roadblocks you have faced.
JAY: Just out the gate being an actor there’s a lot of challenges. There is no one way to do it, nobody gives you a road map. And also it’s the type of profession that it doesn’t matter how good you are, it doesn’t matter how much work you put in as an actor sometimes- you always hope to live out your dreams and live your passion but it doesn’t always work out that way. So out the gate, those are challenges and then you are also constantly being rejected. You will hear ‘no’ far more than you hear ‘yes’, even in success. And that’s a big challenge because I don’t think anyone is built to be rejected that much and so you have to find a way to work around it. You have to find a way to not let it affect you personally and just know for you it’s just apart of the job which at times can be very daunting, heavy and depressing.
Then, following that are the roles you get to audition for… do you get to have storylines? Do you get to have a perspective? Do you get to be a fully fleshed out human being? Do you get to not be a cardboard cut out of a person? So that’s always challenging too. In the last few years when we see the success of shows like Scandal, Empire, How to Get Away With Murder, Atlanta, Insecure, Blackish, Grownish, Dear White People and She’s Gotta Have It. With the success of all these shows, now you get to see more material and see the lives and diversity of people of colour. It’s showing that the diaspora is so different and it’s not just one thing.
PANACHE: As an actor, what films have inspired you?
JAY: Well, I am inspired by a lot of stuff, I love Scorsese films. I love Spike Lee films. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven is one of my favourite performances by Brad Pitt. I love Denzel in Malcolm X and most of what Will Smith has ever done- even on the misses I still love Will. So I’m inspired by a lot.
PANACHE: Finally, your Insecure Fans are wondering when are you going to come to Jamaica?
JAY: I will come to Jamaica! Just bring me there… I will be there! I will never turn a trip to Jamaica down.
PANACHE: Awesome, we’re going to make it happen! Thank you Jay!
JAY: Thank you!