A city plagued with violent headlines.
Shootings of innocent people seems to be the norm in the rough areas of the city. In the midst of all of the previous documentaries that have been done to show the violence and the interaction of gangs in certain neighborhoods there was a movie due to start filming this past summer. The movie was presented by the famous film director Spike Lee. With his knowledge of film how was he going to come into the city and present it on the big screen.
Well as most films go there were auditions and then the cast was set and the title of the movie was released………..”Chiraq”. This was a term that was born in this city due to the number of murders in the year of 2012, which was more than the rate of that in Iraq. So again the people of the city wanted to know how was Spike Lee going to show this in cinema and make it work. Well the story is based on the Greek play, which happened to be a satire called “Lysistrata”. The basis of this play was that the women would withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war.
Now to the movie. First of this was a very star studded cast which includes Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Dave Chappelle, La La Anthony and a host of local Chicago actors including Jay Washington and the brother I had the pleasure of interviewing today L’Dorado Jones. He plays Ajani who is Nick Cannons Lieutenant so basically his right hand man. We talked about his acting career and his role in the movie and what is was like to be around such a great cast so check out the interview.
Sitting here with the talented L’Dorado Jones what’s going on man?
What’s up man it a pleasure to finally get a chance to sit down and chop it up with you ‘The Living Legend” (he really said that AWESOME!!!!!). Appreciate the opportunity. It’s an exciting time right now. Chiraq will be in theatres this Thursday. The city is on fire for it even though it’s been controversial, don’t believe the hype or as Spike Lee said don’t get it twisted. Come out and see it and enjoy it. It’s our city and our time. I think it’s going to be a great debate starter or a great conversation piece to further some dialogue.
Knowing the controversy surrounding the title and the movie what were your thoughts going into the audition?
When my agent told me that Spike Lee was shooting a film here in Chicago I was like okay that’s good I would like to be a part of that. Didn’t know how big it was going to be and like everyone else didn’t know what the movie was going to be about. Of course when you are doing reads the names are never with what your character is going to be. You just see the dummy names and then you are only getting a fraction of the dialogue. You don’t even know what the scene is about you are just going for it. When I get there we were auditioning at the Black Ensemble Theatre on North Clark Street and I figured it would just be another audition with the casting director. I spent all night going over the script so I can get off paper as my agent told me you know commit it to memory. So I get there and I am a MC so I am used to performing but I go in and see Spike Lee sitting there and my entire cool goes out the window. So I go in and Spike is just sitting there smiling at me and I am like hey this is unexpected. As a bit of an icebreaker his first words to me where “What Are Those” looking at my shoes, but not in the way the kids say it now but he actually wanted to know what kind of shoes I had on and I had on some Supra Zebra Print 4’s. I really dig Supra’s I am into skate shoes. I don’t skate but shout out to all my skaters. So I told him about the shoes and they are from the West Coast. I mean this is Mars Blackmon, Mr. Air Jordan so for him to even slide that in there I felt like we had a connection. After that I just went into and from that moment it was a great icebreaker for me. When you are in that arena and you get to meet someone on the level of Spike Lee it can be intimidating, especially when you are still young in this acting game and attempting to be a part of such a big project I was like let me collect myself but, it also speaks to his character the fact that he is who he is but would be there at casting calls. I believe that showed how serious he was and how hands on he wanted to be from conception to preproduction to production and so on.
Since this was such a big role for you as a budding actor what were some of the roles you have done prior to this?
I actually cut my teeth or got my chops in voice over work. So doing radio spots for various companies. Did a little work on Empire, looking to get back on there hopefully. Also being an MC performing on stage but its different when you are trying to remember someone else’s lines because it isn’t what you were at home writing. It’s different because it not your emotions but you have to channel emotions that might not be in you at that moment but can be convincing. I have done a little but of TV work, a little bit of extra and background work. I some people have different opinions about actors starting doing background work but I feel it a good opportunity if you are trying to be in that world or in that field. If nothing else you are around it and that’s a good place to start. So to all my aspiring actors out there do not be afraid to take as many background jobs, extra jobs as you can until you get those speaking roles even if its small cherish it until the union says no more. You have to get with the union and start making that scale.
What was it like when you got that call to say that you were selected to be in the movie as an actor?
It felt like forever and it might have only been 3 weeks but when you are waiting you kind of have to tell yourself if its meant for me its for me. That’s the philosophy I have if it’s meant to be and if God purposed it for me it will be mine. I don’t have to worry about it I can set it down and walk away. So it might have been about a month and in that months time my agent was telling me we got another call from them, they like you, they haven’t finalized but they want make sure your are ready for these dates. Absolutely I will be available I mean what am I going to say “You know Spike June is not really looking good for me I was expecting to go to Florida” what am I going to tell him. So I let my agent know to tell them my schedule is super open. Not only are my dates available but also I will create a new calendar and get some more dates if I have to. So there was a process to wait and when they finally did call it was a feeling like I am here, this is what I have been working towards and working for. It was a great feeling of acceptance.
How was it being an actor on set but being from this city and having the experience of the violence firsthand due to living here?
First of all great question. Let me back and say even before filming there was a moment where at one of our preproduction table reads I don’t know if it was planned to be this way or it just happened but it was all the male main actors. We met at one of the rooms at St. Sabina and we are having a round table and Spike is giving a pep talk about us starting filming in a few days, be ready and on time, don’t bring anyone to the set. At one point Spike said take the movie out of the equation and he asked, “What do we need to do to stop the killing in Chicago?” He went on to say, “If all we do is put the movie out and we don’t save lives we failed, we just made another movie and anybody can do that”. From there we ended up having a 2 hour round table with myself and other actors who are from Chicago sharing our experiences about what we have seen and what think the root of the problem is and the solutions. It was powerful at that moment because here in this room to my immediate right is Nick Cannon, I look across the table and there’s Wesley Snipes, George Wilborn is to my left, Spike is at the head of the table and so many others in the room. We were having this open forum discussion on what we need to do as black men to take these streets back and that night really set the tone for the entire production. Now when I am on set there was no room to be star struck because we were all on the same mission from the most seasoned veteran actor to the most green actor, we were all working towards the same goal. So even when there was a humorous moment it was still under the premise that this was something special and from that moment everyday I knew this could be big. This movie could be this generations “Do The Right Thing” or “School Daze” so the gravity wasn’t lost.
Lets talk about your role in the movie and how did you prepare to get into character?
My character is Ajani in the film and I play Nick Cannons right hand man. Being he is the main person of interest I play his lieutenant within our gang. I get the opportunity to be the mouthpiece for the rest of the guys in the gang. So when things are happening I get to just let him know that hey we feel like this or this is what is going on. Getting ready for the role I pull from my experiences of growing up here in Chicago. I from Harvey World so I had some experience to pull from. It was a great experience for me to get into the mind frame of this is who I am for the moment and when I am acting I try to get into the mind frame of what is this moment about what is the emotion in this moment what’s the mentality so even if a line is stumbled on in my gut I know what that character should have said. The conversation is flowing like how we are talking so even if words are replaced we still flow with it because I am in the rhythm of that character. I had some great people to watch during this process. I got a chance to watch Nick Cannons process he was kind of quiet mumbling to himself and I was wondering is there something wrong, what’s going on and I figured out he was going over lines. I was watching Wesley like oh so that’s how you do that. It was a great experience.
You previously said that there wasn’t any room to be star-struck because of the seriousness on set but there had to be a moment to yourself where you had a moment of I cant believe I am here tell me about that…
I will say my first moment of not even being star-struck but just that moment like I am here. We were doing the table read and you are following along the script and you don’t want to get lost so you cant watch what everyone else is doing because if your line comes up and you are the reason for the crickets in the room that’s not going to be good. So you are looking down and waiting on your line and you hear Angela Bassett from across the room deliver her lines and you are like that’s why she is who she is. You hear her delivery and you are just like THAT’S ANGELA BASSETT!!!! Another crazy moment was with Wesley Snipes. I don’t know if people know this but he is hilarious. There was a moment where we were supposed to be standing there quiet and he is cracking jokes and I was like you cant be fired but I am replaceable they might go find someone my height and reshoot the scenes. I want to laugh but who do I listen to Wes or Spike???? You still want to soak it up because you don’t know when this is going to happen again. I mean with the collective of actors that were in this movie it doesn’t happen like that too often. Even with the budget of Hollywood films you rarely get that many A-List actors in one film. For me it was like let me soak this up and do a video log in my trailer and debrief everyday. It was like I just saw Sam Jackson and when I spoke he said hey in his Sam Jackson voice. Even as I sit here and try to be humble it was like can I get you to say one of your famous lines. You don’t want to fan out and freak out too much but you have those moments where you feel like I have arrived. I will also say this that I have had a lot of day jobs and I hated all of them but I was on set like you know what I actually like my co-workers.
So what’s next on the plate for you as actor?
I am going to ride with the movie and see what comes after this. It’s an exciting time to be an actor in Chicago. It’s a lot of production going on in Chicago right now. With that being said once those winter months roll in the production slows up once the hawk rolls in. I am going to see what I can get into in the next couple of months. LA is definitely on the table. I want out make that trip out there. I am looking for more scripts to come across the desk and see what comes out of it and pushing more music. In 2016 I want to top 2015 but it’s going to be a hard job to beat. This is just a great time to be alive and an actor in this city at this time.
You can meet with L’Dorado Jones this Friday December 4th at Icon Theaters 1011 S Delano Court, which is located on Roosevelt behind the Target on Clark for the 7:10PM showing. Come out and support this city and its actors. Hope to see you there and be on the look out for great things from him in the future.