Broadway Sensation J. Bernard Calloway Talks Passion, Possibilities, and Keeping it Fresh

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An Interview with the Returning Star of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

michael taylor

By michael taylor

 

It’s rare to find a more authentic, versatile, and hardworking performer in show business than J. Bernard Calloway. This Alabama State University football player turned Broadway star has performed in the original casts of two Tony Award-winning productions, Memphis and All the Way; he’s shared the silver screen with Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3; and he just wrapped up filming a new television series, The Breaks. J. Bernard recently returned to San Diego for a triumphant second season as The Grinch in The Old Globe’s longstanding holiday tradition, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! He sits down with a self-proclaimed Grinch, michael taylor, to speak about the importance of diligence, vulnerability, and the compelling connection between his personal experience and that of the green, misunderstood villain known fondly as the Grinch.

 

michael: You originated the role of nightclub owner Delray in the Tony Award-winning musical, Memphis, which is loosely based on the story of Dewey Phillips, one of the first white disc jockeys to play Black genres of music in the 1950s. How did your performance evolve during the production’s long run from 2003-2013?

J. Bernard: The artistic staff, the director, the writer, the choreographer—they all gave us license to be free. That was very refreshing because in this business it’s very hard to find loyalty. It’s very hard to find loyalty in people who believe in you because of your skill set versus your status. I would love to be a celebrity one day—I have nothing against that—but that’s how the game is played sometimes in this business. So, it’s great to find people like Joe DiPietro, David Bryan, Chris Ashley, who all believed in us. The core group—myself, Montego Glover, Chad Kimball, Derrick Baskin, and James Monroe Iglehard, who actually plays the Genie on Aladdin on Broadway right now—they believed in us, and they could only see us playing these roles. And that meant a lot to me at that time in my career because we started in 2003 and we didn’t get to Broadway until 2009. So, it’s really six years—two years of production, and then just workshop, workshop, changing stuff up, raising money, things of that nature.

michael: I’m not an actor, but I understand that four years on Broadway is a relatively long run, and I’ve seen parts of that performance and it’s rather intense. How does a person—for four years, week after week, with that level of intensity—how do you go about doing that? This is not something the average human can do and still pull it off with the same level of enthusiasm, which is quite impressive.

J. Bernard: [Laughs] Thank you very kindly. I appreciate that. To get to Broadway and do eight shows a week, you always have to find a way to keep things fresh. Everybody has their own different way of doing it, so I never try to throw a certain way of doing things to people and say, “You have to do it this way, and if you don’t do it this way, then it won’t come out.” Everybody should have his or her own process. For me, I had to always try to find a way to keep it fresh because if I’m not telling the truth, and I don’t believe it, the people out here are not going to believe what’s going on.

michael: That’s very true.

J. Bernard: That is the way I keep it fresh. And you have to understand that when you’re doing eight shows a week as an actor in New York City, that’s not the only thing you’re doing!

 

michael: Correct.

J. Bernard: I’m going in for commercials and voice-overs and film and television gigs. I’m actually filming during when the show’s running so I can have these things called “outs,” where the producers allow me to go off and do some other work and come back. Or even just taping during the day once the show opens and then going to work at night and doing the show. So by the time Sunday night comes, I’m like “freedom!” [sings]. I get my day off, and I get to breathe a little bit.

 

So, to answer your question—it’s about finding ways to keep it fresh for yourself in your mind, because if you don’t, it becomes stale. It becomes boring. And what happens is you start doing this thing called “phoning it in,” which is you just up there going through the motions because you know where you’re supposed to be as far as your blocking’s concerned, you know the words—they’re just coming out. But like Shakespeare says, you’re not living in the moment—you’re not being. Shakespeare says, “To be or not to be.” For me, that means being in the moment and being live and truthful in that very exact moment as it’s happening. And if you can’t find that, then, to me, it’s a lost cause of going up there and doing what we do. Because we’re all suitors of it. We’re preachers. We’re deacons of this vessel called the theatre, which happens to be a church. And we’re preaching to all these masses that come out here. They come in feeling one way. They see the show, then something happens, and then they leave. And it’s like “Oh My God, what is this experience?” [Claps] That’s the key.

michael: [Laughs] Very smart analogy! I like that. So, before you started receiving widespread critical acclaim for your Broadway performances, you studied accounting and played football at Alabama State University. What’s the story behind how you discovered your talent and decided to pivot your education and career towards the performing arts?

J. Bernard: I already knew it was inside of me, as far as my gifts were concerned—as far as music is concerned. I come from a musical background on both sides of my family. My father sings doo-wop and blues; my mother’s a gospel singer. On my father’s side, all of his brothers and sisters can sing; on my mom’s side, all of her brothers and sisters can sing. And everybody played an instrument. So, I play everything from the piano to the acoustic guitar—I just picked up the sax last year. I dibble-dabble with a lot of stuff.

So, for me, it was second nature when I went to school to find a group and start performing with them and singing. Also, during the summers when I was at Alabama State, I would stay in Montgomery and make a living. So I understood how to survive on my own, versus going home and living at mama’s house and knowing that when I wake up, there’s going to be breakfast on the table. I played the drums at a couple of churches to make money. To answer your question, I was an accounting major and music minor. What happened was that accounting became very boring for me. You’re sitting in front of a computer in a business administration building between five to six hours every day—after football practice!

 

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: So, for a young man who has all these gifts bubbling inside of him musically, accounting labs were very boring for me. My attention span went whoop—real quick. And being a music minor, I had to take a lot of theory classes. Once again, you have all these big ol’ thick, dense books about music theory, and I’m just bored to death. So, what happened was one night my group and I were singing on campus. And a young lady by the name of Gwenada Meaux—love her, she’s my sister, that’s my tribesman. We were all part of the Alabama State Theatre program—Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart is the tree and we’re just all roots and leaves of her matriarch. She’s the one who planted the seed inside of me. I was performing on campus, and Gwenada came and said, “Why don’t you audition for this musical called The Gospel at Colonus? We need some voices, we need some new, fresh faces.” So, they were basically recruiting. I said, “All right, what do I have to do?” She’s like, “We want you to sing a song acapella. It could be gospel, R&B, or whatever you choose. And then we have these little papers with lines on them we call sides that we want you to read in front of us, and that will be it.” And I was like, “Psssh! I can do that. All right, whatever!”

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: [Laughs] So, I sang a song from a gospel group called Commissioned. They came along at the same time The Winans did and AndraéCrouch and all those guys—The Clark Sisters, The Hawkins Family—they came in a little bit after them. They loved it. The next thing I knew, I had a principal role. I was like, “Wow, what a great outlet for me!” Artistically, what a great place to be able to go after football practice, and not be in front of a tube the whole time just punching in numbers and debits and credits. So, I finally met Dr. Stewart, who happened to be the artistic director of the theatre. She was there and she saw the potential in me. She asked me, “Why don’t you make theatre your major?” And I said, “Well, I’m an accounting major, that’s what I came to school to do.” But she said, “It seems like you are really passionate about it.” Key word: passion.

 

michael: Ah!

J. Bernard: And once she saw that, she really latched on to me. She was determined to try to get me to become a theatre major—and it happened. I graduated from Alabama State University with a B.A. in Theatre and a minor in Print Journalism. Now, my father was not happy about it.

michael: [Laughs] Much to his chagrin.

J. Bernard: Oh my God, yeah! He was like, “How are you gonna pay for these student loans?! I’m not gonna be supporting you for the rest of your life! An actor?! What is an actor?!” And I was like, “Dad, I love it! I love it!” Cut to 2016 and here we are at the Old Globe.

michael: Wow.

J. Bernard: I’m sitting here talking to michael taylor about my business! Which is a great thing, man.

michael: [Laughs] I appreciate you. Although you now call Harlem home, you’ve made trips back to your alma mater to participate in theatre symposiums and summer camps. What did you take away from those experiences?

J. Bernard: Just passing the baton on to the next generation. Really helping them to understand that it is attainable, you know? I don’t care what anyone says—when any person of color sees someone up on the stage or in front of the camera, they see somebody that looks like them or represents them—that gives them hope. Especially when they see that you’re doing it and it’s attainable. They understand you come from the same foundation as they have.

 

michael: What I’m hearing is you’re representing possibilities.

 J. Bernard: Yes! That’s perfect. I try to instill that in them—the possibilities—and try to help them to understand what their potential could be. And I let them know that the sky is not the limit.

michael: [Laughs] The limit is the sky…

J. Bernard: [Laughs] Oh my God, yeah! So, when I go back, I try my best—you know, cause I can’t get there a lot—to pour myself into it. To let them know that it’s not easy. That you should do this because of the key word we used earlier: passion—and not the immediate gratification of success or fame because that stuff disappears. What lasts is that image in the work that you do. To me, that’s what’s important. That’s what unites people. Because it gives them something to speak about on a positive level that can influence society or a community to help us move forward. And I believe theatre is a vessel of that. It is their responsibility to understand that, and to know once they get out of school, that it’s not going to be easy. You know, you see these guys wearing gold chains; they got all these fancy clothes; they’re making millions of dollars—that’s what they see at first. But they don’t understand the work that goes into getting to that point.

michael: [Laughs] Right.

J. Bernard: You’re not just gonna go to L.A. or Chicago or New York and just boom—I’m a star, I got everything I need! It happens every once in a while, and that’s great. But for the most part, for people that look like me, it doesn’t happen that way. So, I try to make that very clear to them without deflating them—without being cruel or crushing their dreams. You dig what I’m saying?

michael: Yes. Do you ever miss playing football? Have you noticed any surprising connections between your experience on the football field and your experience on stage? Particularly with this Grinch performance that you have to do…

J. Bernard: Aw, man! Listen, brother, I think that was the easy part for me—the transition. Because the football field was my stage for such a long time. I started playing football when I was in the fifth grade—organized football. There’s also sandlot, street, you know how that goes, right?

 

michael: [Laughs].

J. Bernard: I had gotten used to performing in front of thousands of people playing football. So, being on the stage, I wasn’t nervous. What I was always nervous about was telling the truth and being honest. And that’s what I really latched on to when I made that transition over into acting and the performing arts.

 

michael: And then there’s the physicality, especially with the Grinch.

J. Bernard: Yeah, I think the training in football—especially in summer camps—was worth it. Because at my age, if I didn’t do that type of training, I wouldn’t be physically ready to do what I do on stage every night. I know how to pace myself now and spread the mustard. And I know what kind of supplements I need to take to be able to keep my energy up, because as you know, our schedule can be pretty tough—especially on the weekends. Saturdays are three shows; Sundays are three shows. Sometimes we got two shows during the week on some days. So, I have to understand how to reserve and take care of myself outside of the theatre. That means eating right, staying hydrated, stretching all the time. Anytime you see me, you’re gonna always see me doing some kind of stretching because my body’s always talking to me. Now, it’s more so about managing a great diet to have longevity and success in this business, because when you have a certain image in this business, a lot of times people latch on to that image, and that’s the image that they get stuck with. And they try to put you on this little shelf and be like, “Okay, that’s all you’re gonna do, these are the only roles you’re gonna play because of your look.”

michael: Correct.

J. Bernard: So, you have to be a chameleon in that way. Just like the great Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle. These are people whose careers I model because they play every role. And they change so effortlessly to do it. You know, Kenneth Branagh, Bryan Cranston—I love all these guys’ works. And I had the opportunity to work with a few of those guys, so I was able to learn from them and be a sponge and absorb and understand how to manage myself physically during an eight show week. Because it is tough. You have the green leotards on; you got the Who belly; the Who stomach. And then you got the fur; you have the cowl; you have the wig; you have the hat.

 

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: And then you’re running around—you got the claws on—you’re climbing up, you’re jumping off. It is very taxing, but the payoff, once again, is the effect that this show has on this city and the world abroad. You know, because Dr. Seuss is world-renowned.

michael: Very much so.

J. Bernard: But the work here—touching these people’s lives, and the reaction afterwards. And it just fills me up with so much joy. I don’t care how tired I am. Touching people’s lives is the payoff to me.

michael: Right.

J. Bernard: So, to know that I affected someone in that way, and they’re coming to me crying or they just wanna hug me or wanna just touch me. And I’m like, “Listen, I’m just a vessel and this is what I do and I thank you so much.” Because it’s not the award of wining trophies. It’s nice to always win an Oscar or a Tony—

michael: Certainly.

J. Bernard: But it’s the reward of the respect of the people that come to the show—and even more importantly—my peers.

michael: That’s a special kind of emotional compensation. This is your second year starring as the Grinch in The Old Globe’s beloved holiday production, Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! As part of their ongoing and innovative efforts to make theatre a more inclusive space, the Globe offers a sensory-friendly performance of the production for children on the autism spectrum and their families, as well as other families with special needs. Is this a unique experience for you as a performer? What kinds of adjustments are made to the production for this special event?

J. Bernard: Very special performance. It’s one of the most special performances throughout this entire run because it’s for a group of kids who never get a chance to actually go and see a full production of a show with all the kit and caboodles. So, we change some lighting, and eliminate loud noises, grunts, groans, and the whip so that we don’t scare them during the show. Then they can enjoy the show without the excitement taking away from the performance and without over-stimulating themselves or the other kids around them.

I think this is a great thing that the Old Globe is doing, and I hope and pray that they’re able to implement this in all of their shows. So that it’s not just How the Grinch Stole Christmas! that they can have an experience with in theatre, but they can enjoy the whole spectrum of productions that come to the Globe. After this special performance, we go out and take pictures and I meet them. And, you know, it’s just the biggest blessing and inspiration for me when they come and hug my neck. And I try to be careful with them. They’re not afraid of me. Oh my God, it makes your heart melt, brother. It really does. Once again, something else that happens in your career that makes you be like, “You know what, this is why I do this!” Touching lives, man—making a real difference for people through the performing arts. And if I have the opportunity to be able to sit down and have a dialogue with them, it’s even better, because then they get to see J. Bernard Calloway and not the Grinch.

 

michael: Tell it! Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, a San Diego native, first published How The Grinch Stole Christmas as a book in 1957, and the tale has since been adapted into an animated TV movie, as well as a live-action film starring Jim Carrey. Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is currently in its 19th season at the Globe, and you happen to be the first Black actor to play the title role. What uniqueness do you bring to the character and to the overall production? And—I think you know enough about me now—you know I’m a Grinch as well!

J. Bernard: [Laughs]

michael: [Laughs] So, perhaps you can tell us, why do you think this curmudgeonly character endures as a pop-culture icon?

J. Bernard: Wow, that’s a great question. First of all, I honor and respect everyone who has played the Grinch before me, even though I have not seen any of their performances. I’m sure whatever they brought to the table was great too because the Globe brought them here. People always ask me, “How do you feel being the first African American to play the Grinch?” And I’m like, “Well, first of all, he’s green.”

 

michael: [Laughs] That’s a good point!

J. Bernard: He’s green, so that exes that out. But as far as culture and ethnicity is concerned, and what I bring to it, I’m very sensitive to and very conscious of the audiences that I perform for—because I’m always trying to bridge. Like you said, this story originated in 1957. We’re in 2016—totally different times. So, in my mind, I always like to stay in due bounds in respect to Dr. Seuss’ vision of what the story is, and that foundation. But at the same time, I bring my own—as we call it in 2016—swag to it, and elements that engage the younger generation.

 

michael: [Laughs]. Right, you do bring that flavor.

J. Bernard: Yes, to keep them engaged. So the entertainment value is there, but they’re also engaged in the story. That to me is what’s key—the story. Because this goes across generations—it’s not just for the older folks who were around when it first originated, and it’s not just for kids for a holiday story. It’s a deep story about identity, family, and being accepted. That’s where I connect. And that’s where my blackness comes in, because I’m reminded of it every day I leave my home.

 

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: [Laughs] Or, at home in New York, when I leave and walk out, I’m always reminded of it—in positive and negative ways. So, I hone into that; I lean on that. And I use that as I’m in Whoville trying to, you know, connect the dots and not to be so villainous. But at the same time, understanding that there’s something that’s happening to this lost individual through the eyes of a child. That’s another place where I connect. A lot of times, we as adults, we have these responsibilities and we feel like we know everything because we’re adults and we’re responsible, and you’re a kid, you don’t understand this. But the innocence of a child—and the brutal honesty of a kid—is really where the truth is a lot of times.

 

michael: Very much so.

J. Bernard: And that’s why I love kid audiences. With adults, we mask our true feelings because we’re afraid we’re gonna hurt somebody or we’re trying to protect ourselves. Kids don’t even think about it—they just go for it. We don’t know how the Grinch got on Mount Crumpit or what happened, but if I could relay that to the same thing with me being a person of color—you know, I don’t know why people look at me the way they do sometimes, or treat me the way they treat me sometimes. You don’t even know me, but you’re going to say this about me before I even open my mouth, or before you even speak to me? And then people begin to like me just because of what I do. And I can turn to it real quick, and I let people have that sometimes—especially when I don’t know folks. But I stop them right there when it gets too close and it gets too personal. And I’m like, “Listen, you don’t really know me. You only know me because of what you saw up here on the stage. Why don’t we go have a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, and we sit down and you really get to know me as an individual. You’ll know who I am, and you’ll understand what drives this individual that you see on stage.”

 

michael: There you go.

J. Bernard: And I think that’s very important in any aspect of professionalism and work on the corporate level or on this level. It’s very important. And I know you understand that.

michael: Oh yeah! Absolutely. Now, this year, you’re co-starring with another delightfully talented Black actor, Tyrone Davis Jr., who plays Young Max. You previously worked with Tyrone on Stagger Lee, a musical featuring an all-Black cast, which also happened to be directed by the wonderful Patricia McGregor—

J. Bernard: Yes, extraordinary!

michael: She’s a critically acclaimed Black director who recently made her Globe directorial debut with the Globe For All production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Does the level of chemistry and community on stage and behind the scenes influence a production’s success and impact? And, as a Black performer, is it important to feel a sense of community with your audience, in addition to your artistic collaborators?

J. Bernard: The first question: yes. Chemistry and having a relationship with your fellow playmates is imperative. You know, I don’t have to go out and have steak with folks every night, but once again, it’s that thing called respect, and people allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the process. I think if you allow yourself to be vulnerable to the process, then that’s gonna open up all the doors that help in the creation process, and it will also help you personally. When you’re dealing with individuals in this type of business, you never know who you’re sitting next to. You never know who you’re working with. That person could be the best friend of the producer, or executive producer, or the casting director—you know what I’m saying? So, you gotta be careful about what you say and how you carry yourself around folks. I’m not saying sell out, but at the same time, when you respect people and you acknowledge the goodness in them, all they’re gonna do is give that right back at you.

 

So, the thing with Tyrone Davis Jr. is that we didn’t have a lot of scene work in Stagger Lee, but there was chemistry already developed because of the few scenes we did have together. And with us being here, it just flowed over into it because he’s a very lovable gentleman. And we have a good time when we’re together, and he does impeccable work. He’s a great artist; he’s a very great vocalist; he’s a gracious dancer. And his acting chops are on point also. So, it just makes it easier when we’re on stage—we’re able to play because we allow ourselves to be sponges and absorb from one another, and be vulnerable with one another.

michael: And the importance of feeling a sense of community with your audience? Perhaps you could speak to seeing folks that look like yourself in your audience?

J. Bernard: Well, you know what? I have to be honest with you. That part, as far as color is concerned, does not affect me in performance mode. For instance, if there’s a certain group of Black folks here—am I gonna play to them more versus the other people? I don’t do stuff like that because everybody deserves the same gift of performance that we’re doing. I try to spread the love out to everybody, because everybody needs to be touched. So, the fact that I’m an actor who happens to be Black has nothing to do with that. It’s more so of my spirit and how I was brought up that I’m able to be free of that when I’m up there. It’s just like most people say, like with Michael Jackson, you know, he’s the freest; he’s the calmest; he’s the loosest; he’s the most relaxed when he’s up there on that stage. Same thing with Muhammad Ali—when he’s in that ring, anything else that’s going on in the world can’t touch him when he’s up there on that stage. That’s where I am—it’s like, I’m a showman and I’m a storyteller first.

 

michael: I could see it as a mode of giving. You’re in that mode of giving.

J. Bernard: Yes, yes. And if it so happens that there’s a person of color, or a person that looks like me, or somebody that’s of my same background, or grew up the way I did, is in the audience and is touched by my performance, then once again, I’ve done the job of allowing them to understand that this is attainable. You can do it, but it comes with hard work. Nobody wants to speak about the work that goes into how all of this is put together. It’s a massive amount of work, man.

michael: [Laughs] The unromantic side of it! I have so much respect for you as a professional.

J.Bernard: Thank you, brother, thank you very much.

michael: Although diversity casting initiatives are becoming more widely used in the theatre world, people of color still struggle with biased casting practices and lack of opportunity across all sectors of show business. How do you feel about the range of roles that have been presented to you?

J. Bernard: Yes. I want more.

michael: You want more, but how have your options changed over the course of your career? And how has your decision-making process changed?

J. Bernard: Well, with any business, when you do something for a while, and you do it at a certain level, and you’re allowed the opportunity to play certain roles, and people see you work, you begin to get respect. And people get to see what your brand is. And fortunately for me—you know, I’ve played a lot of security guards.

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: When I first got to New York, when the soaps were really big, I played a lot of security guards, man [laughs]. Because I’ve gotten exposure on the Broadway circuit, and on the television circuit, that’s allowed people to see every aspect of what I can bring to the world of entertainment as far as characters are concerned. So, I’m not typecast as much anymore now. Mind you, I’ve been in New York City since 2001—I got out of grad school in 2000. It’s 2016 now, so it lets you know how much time it takes to really nurture and maturate a career. And I’m at the point now where I’ve gone in for certain things, or I’ve been presented with certain roles, and I’ve been like, “No, I don’t want to play that.”

 

Because I feel like I won’t represent that culture well, or I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Or, I feel like if I play this role, then that’s how the industry is gonna see me, and then that’s all they’re gonna see. I’d like to be able to play a character that has nuance and color—something I can chew on, or something that people can see the color and the spectrum of—the arc of—the storytelling from that character’s point of view. So, I’m at the point now where I do say “no” to a lot of stuff. And it’s like, “Well, God has blessed me to be able to work.” I can say that I am a working actor. And as far as diversity is concerned, there are not a lot of actors out there that do theatre, film, television, commercials, and voiceovers.

michael: Right.

J. Bernard: I feel like, if you’re gonna be in this business, it behooves you to take advantage of every aspect of the medium, if you can. There are also thespians like myself who are writers and directors. I myself want to go more into producing. To go back to what you were speaking about—about our stories being put out there—that’s where the buck kind of stops. It’s not like there are no stories being written about the African American culture and heritage. I mean, you got people like August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Dominique Morisseau, Katori Hall, and Marcus Gardley, who are writing our stories and putting them out there. They just happen to be at the forefront, but you got a whole plethora of stories that are being written and are not being accepted into theatres because producers feel like their subscribers aren’t going to come to see that. So, they have to cater to a loosely based assumption of what their subscribes want to see. There’s the challenge.

 

michael: And that’s a whole other conversation!

J. Bernard: Yes, that’s a whole other conversation, but there’s the challenge though, right? That is the challenge of helping people to understand that you can’t get culture if you only know about your own culture. So, you have to expose yourself—and not just to the African American stories, but also to the Indian stories, the Asian stories, it’s all the other stories out there—to be able to understand who these people are, and what their stories are. If you don’t, then you’d just be living off a stereotype.

 

michael: Unfortunately, yes. You made your film debut as Officer Moran in the 2009 crime-thriller, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which starred Denzel Washington! What was it like working with one of Hollywood’s most talented and legendary stars? Did you learn anything from Mr. Washington—either directly or indirectly—while you were on set?

J. Bernard: It humbled me.

michael: [Laughs]

J. Bernard: It really did. You really get a chance to see how much he has to carry—how much he has to be and do in order for the success of the film to happen.

 

michael: Ah, interesting.

J.Bernard: The things that I learned from Denzel are patience, details, and meticulousness. And what I mean by that is the choices that he makes as an actor that make you go [pauses] “What is he gonna do next? What’s about to happen?” You know, that draws you into him. And he’s a big stickler for it.

 

After I had that experience, I was able to transition that over to the stage—I was doing Memphis at the time. That movie came out in the summer of 2009, and I hit Broadway at the same time, so I was able to use that experience of being with him, and watching him, and being a fly on the wall. All of my scenes were with him. His dressing room was right across the hall from mine, and he had this little cove next to my dressing room, where his people would all kind of barbershop and stuff like that. He allowed me to come in sometimes, and I wouldn’t be too intrusive because I like to give people their space. He’s a very respectful person. He’s really all about family. People don’t know that about him. And he’s a hell of a performer, and a hell of an artist in the sense of the process. He takes care of himself, and he understands what his job is and what he’s doing in this particular movie with this particular character, and what he’s striving to do, and what he wants us to see and get from his character.

I use the words meticulous and detailed. I mean, just small things—I’m talking about just drinking a cup of coffee and spilling it on himself. And then there’s all the “before the door” and “after the door” type of exercise where we understand what happens before the movie starts—that story before the movie starts. What he brings into it—that takes some skill. It’s these little idiosyncrasies—like the Grinch, for instance, with his fingers—you know, he does things because he’s thinking, or he’s plotting. And I’m like, “I’m not gonna do that right there because I don’t want to upstage what’s going on musically right now, so I’m gonna drop in right there instead.” I ask James Vasquez, my director, “Can I do that?” And he says, “Yeah, go ahead,” and they’ll let me know when I’ve gone too far. He’ll bring me back, man [laughs].

 

michael: [Laughs].

J. Bernard: Please forgive me for not even mentioning James Vasquez, our director. He’s phenomenal. He’s a great human being. He swings in the show—if somebody gets sick or calls out, he comes in as the other male character. Usually, a director directs a show and they move on to the next thing, but he stays here with us.

michael: Very good. So, before you leave, let us know what J. Bernard Calloway is up to in 2017.

J. Bernard: Well, I have this new gig called fatherhood! I just had a baby boy on September 21st of this year.

michael: You have a starring role in that one, I understand.

J. Bernard: Yeah, a starring role, man. Big time, brother. His name is Jacob Adam Calloway. So we have that.

michael: Congratulations.

J.Bernard: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Um, we had a movie premiere of The Breaks on VH1 in January this year past, and VH1 liked it so much that they green lit us eight episodes. And right before I came here for rehearsal, we were just wrapping up the first season. So, we’re gonna be looking out for that next year.

 

I might be in the L.A. area next year working for the extraordinary Mark Taper theatre. I’ve never worked in the L.A. area before in theatre, so if that goes down, that’s where I’ll be. So, we’ll just leave it at that. There’s other stuff happening, but I’ll plead the fifth on the other stuff for now until I see it on that paper [laughs].

 

michael: [Laughs] Well, I’ll be glued into VH1 to watch you, and also enjoying you in The Grinch while you’re here in San Diego. We appreciate you coming here and sharing yourself with San Diego.

J.Bernard: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

 

This interview series is produced in collaboration with The Old Globe and Jenna Weinman Consulting. In an ongoing effort to promote more diverse interest and involvement in San Diego’s theatre scene, readers are encouraged to participate in this important dialogue about inclusivity and the arts. What would you like to know about theatre? What would you ask a Black actor performing at The Old Globe? All reader questions and comments will be taken into consideration, and may even be featured in an upcoming interview. Please email submissions to michael taylor at mtaylor2613@gmail.com

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