From policing the streets of Philly to policing on film, Actor Rodney R. Jones talks with Hustle & Soul Magazine’s Jules Lavallee about his career transition.
You are a retired Philadelphia Police Sergeant. What led you to act?
To tell you the truth, it was never my desire to become an Actor. Whenever I’m asked that question, I always say that I didn’t find acting, acting found me. By that I mean, Kevin Ghee, my very good friend and Masonic brother, led me to act. Kevin who worked with me on the police department many years ago resigned and moved to California to become a part of Oprah Winfrey’s security team. This allowed him to be around a lot of well-known actors and directors, such as Ava Du Vernay, who were a part of Oprah’s productions. With that being said, Kevin developed an interest in directing, and with the encouragement of certain Hollywood influential people, he wrote a script for a movie entitled Operation: Freedom. When it came time to film, Kevin offered me a role in the film as a CIA agent whose responsibility was to be the Director of the CIA’s bodyguard. Being on set with the actors, the lights, and cameras really fascinated me and made me want to learn more as well as be a part of the industry. While on set filming, I met a talented actor named Nakia Dillard who answered a lot of questions that I had about acting. He also encouraged me to take an acting class if I wanted to further my acting experience. Inspired, I joined one of Nikia’s acting classes at Aikan Acts and that’s when my passion for acting started.
What is your acting style? Do you have a favorite role?
I would have to say that my acting style is still in the developing stage because I’m still learning this craft. I am very blessed to have an excellent acting coach named John Pallotta, and he taught me the importance of being versatile. He told me that the key to longevity in this industry is to be able to portrait any character. Because I worked undercover narcotics for seven years while in the police department, John’s mindset was very direct…..if you can buy large quantities of crack cocaine from drug dealers and they don’t suspect that you’re an undercover officer…..you can act…..because that skill is not something that you can be trained to do. He made me realize that what I was doing was the ultimate form of “acting” simply because the consequences were extremely dangerous if I wasn’t convincing. With that being said, my mindset began to change and I started to believe that there wasn’t any type of role that I couldn’t master. Acting became a mindset and I started to become the “character.” I learned to embrace the character and become the role. I would have to say that if I had a favorite role, it would probably be to be in a drama as a high powered attorney or a judge. I think because of my background and demeanor, I’m partial to authoritative roles.
When did you get your first break?
My first big break came in 2019 when I was cast in a Netflix suspense film entitled “The Landlord Awakening.” A young and brilliant director, Marque Dixon saw something in me that led him to cast me as Dr. Rick Timmons. At the time I was a non-union artist and this was a SAG production. Being assigned a speaking role in a SAG production was in fact huge for me. As a result, with Marque’s assistance, it afforded me the opportunity to join the union and become a member of SAG. As you may know, the roles that you can get as a member of SAG are quite different from being non-union. I will forever be grateful for what Marque did for me as well as all of the valuable advice that he has provided throughout my journey.
Can you tell us about your new representation?
Sure. In early February of this year, two months after joining SAG, I met with Georgeanne Bruzzese of CPM Talent Management for the purpose of an interview and audition. It was my understanding that to get to the next level in this industry, you need to have a top-notch manager or agent. I had heard nothing but positive things about Georgeanne and CPM and I knew after the session with her, she was the manager for me. She’s very caring, hardworking and most importantly, she is honest. CPM signed me on February 20th, and before the Covid-19 shutdown, Georgeanne had gotten me numerous auditions for network television; auditions that I would have never known anything about. Even during the shutdown, Georgeanne is consistently getting me self-tape auditions. I’m very blessed to have her in my life and I would like to take this time to say thank you, Georgeanne, for believing in me.
What led you to the American Gangster: Trap Queens – Thelma Wright Story (2019)?
This was an extremely unique project that I’m very proud to have been a part of. In early 2019, a police officer that I had the honor of supervising, Ron Gilbert, of the Philadelphia Highway Patrol Unit, contacted me and informed me that he had a conversation with a friend of his, Thelma Wright. During the conversation, he stated that Thelma had informed him that BET was preparing to do a documentary on her past life as a major player in the Philadelphia and Los Angeles drug game back in the 80s. Ron explained to Thelma that his former sergeant (me) had worked undercover drugs back in the 80s and 90s. Thelma then asked Ron if I would be willing to talk to her about that period of time in my career, which I agreed. I knew of Thelma Wright and I knew exactly who she was. I recalled watching her first documentary in 2013, on a series entitled Gangsters: America’s Most Evil, and her episode was called Philly’s Gangster Queen: Thelma Wright. Through Ron, Thelma and I exchanged phone numbers and we eventually spoke. I was very interested in knowing why she wanted to speak with me. was something in my past life about to resurface? After a thirty-minute conversation, I found Thelma to be a very pleasant and charming woman. She told me that she was now mentoring young women and stirring them in positive directions. She also told me that BET was interested in coming to Philadelphia and possibly interviewing me regarding the Philadelphia drug game in the 80s and 90s and the segment would be included in Thelma’s new documentary “Trap Queens.” After careful consideration, I agreed and a few days later I was contacted by Fatima Washington from BET regarding the interview. Several months later, BET filmed my interview at a location in South Philadelphia which aired earlier this year on BET Plus. Through it all I found Thelma’s story to be quite fascinating and we became very good friends.
You were recently cast in the TV series entitled The D.O.C. (Department of Corrections). Tell us about your character and what you enjoyed most about this project.
I was fortunate enough to get cast in the upcoming series The D.O.C. by the talented writer and producer, Robin K. Miller, to play the character of Chief Inspector General Perry. Perry is the supervisor of Richard Pryor Jr who plays Inspector General Peterson and together they have a turbulent relationship. The story is a true account of Robin’s life during the time that she was a Correctional Officer at Rikers Island. Robin has since retired and would explain that the storyline centers around prison corruption and the mistreatment of inmates during her time there. I’m very excited to have been selected to team up with such a talented group of actors such as Richard Pryor Jr, Antoni Corone, Jayne Marin, and Anthony J. Gallo. A special thank you goes out to Robin K. and Ascendent Studios for the opportunity. Hopefully, filming will start soon after the shutdown is lifted.
Does acting come natural to you? What roles would you like to play in the future?
I took acting classes for two years and it really was a tremendous help With regards to becoming comfortable in front of the camera. I do feel that acting comes naturally to me simply because of my past undercover experiences. And I’ve surrounded myself with a group of mentors who are willing to help me on my journey which is extremely important. Trusting artists who have been in the industry for many years is very encouraging in terms of getting solid advice. When I look at where I started and look at where I am now, I feel so blessed that God has provided me this opportunity to be successful in another career. If there was a possibility to choose the roles that I would want to play, I would always pick an authoritative role. I think that it’s really easy for me to embrace a character with a strong demeanor.
I’m really looking forward to the Covid-19 shutdown lifting and being able to get back to auditioning and filming again. I currently have three projects in the queue and I’m very eager to begin working on them. Lastly, I’m looking forward to working with Georgeanne Bruzzese and CPM Talent Management and welcoming the opportunities that she brings forth. All I have to do is stay humble and focused and continue to let God chart my course.