A Man of Many Parts: In Conversation with Joseph David-Jones on his new show 4400, his new EP, and working with Denzel Washington.
The great William Shakespeare once said, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts,” a meditation on life offered up in As You Like It which can be attributed to the main point of the play’s story but, as most literary masterpieces go, it’s also up for interpretation. So, let’s apply the quote in its literal sense—to the world of acting. As an actor, you want to draw from the lived experience of your world and bring that emotion to your literal stage; different roles call for different emotions and experiences, and, as a result, you become the man or woman playing many parts. Literally, and Joseph David-Jones can surely relate.
His roles are diverse; from someone who has kicked ass as a part of DC Comics and CW’s network-wide Arrowverse on the silver screen to bringing the real-world issues of racial discrimination and the ignominious acts of bigotry to the forefront on the big screen—what more could you do when your acting portfolio is this diverse and thematically rich from top to bottom? What other emotion and lived experience could you tap into to create your next memorable performance? What else could you do to become the coveted man of many parts, as referenced by Shakespeare? For Joseph David-Jones—the 30-year old actor on the rise quietly making a name for himself—well, so much more.
“I’m really trying to challenge myself and stay inspired,” Joseph tells 1883 Magazine during our Zoom call. “I have so much I want to do creatively and artistically; with every new project I get involved in, I look forward to diving into stories that speak to my community and me.” And as he gears up for the release of CW’s 4400 on October 25th, it’s safe to say that Joseph holds this mantra close to his heart.
4400 examines the plights of marginalized and “otherized” communities through a Sci-Fi lens, asking what would happen if people of colour from one era of time disappeared without a trace and were suddenly transported to the modern-day, what would that look like on a social level? As an attempt to answer this interestingly poised question, Joseph David-Jones will grace the screen as Jharrel, a social worker residing in Detroit, attempts to sort out the emerging mystery as 4400 people begin to return. “Jharrel’s brother went missing sometime before 4400 came back,” said David-Jones offering up a slyly constructed smirk. “So my character’s motives may be driven by that little fact.”
As we speak over our scheduled zoom call, I can’t help but notice his confidence is practically dripping from every vowel he utters; each vocalization more pronounced than the last as his swagger floats in and out of every syllable, luring you in as he tells the story of how he met (and worked) with the great Denzel Washington and how there almost—emphasis on almost—was an Arrow spin-off that he was apart of. Joseph David-Jones is passionate about his craft and the various roles that he has managed to leave his mark on, a kind of Shakespearean passion that exemplifies what it means to be dedicated to the art of acting. 1883 Magazine was honoured to sit down with the rising star as we spoke about 4400, his upcoming EP/single and other musical endeavours, and what he learned from working with some of the greats in the industry.
So, what can you tell us about 4400? I know it’s coming in October, and it’s creeping up on us relatively soon…is there anything that you can tell us about this show without giving too much away?
There is. But if I say too much, they’ll wrap me up in a black bag and drag me outta here [both laugh]. The show is a remake of the one that came out in 2005 with all-new characters and an all-new world, but they’re using the concept to highlight marginalized communities and have commentary within it. It’s a super cool Sci-Fi concept, but now with a true heart to it and a message that brings light to issues like ours in a cool way, so I mean from the second I read the script, I was super excited to get started.
Awesome, and I know you’re playing a character named Jharrel, so what can you tell us about him? What about that character resonated with you?
So, Jharrel is a social worker who, when 4400 reappear in modern times—I’m not sure if you watched the original show in 2005 and I guess I didn’t go too much in detail about the Sci-Fi of the show so lemme do that (laughs). The show is about these people that have gone missing through all different points in time and history. There are 4400 of them, and they all appear in modern-day Detroit at the same time. People are trying to figure out where they came from, what’s going on, what are they, are these the same people that went missing, and through the course of the show, these people begin to develop abilities and new powers as they try to make sense of what the world is now.
Damn, that’s kind of fire, I can’t lie!
Yeah! Yeah, yeah, it’s dope but having that play out within marginalized communities… It’s people from these different times where they were powerless and didn’t have, and now all of a sudden they’re transported to the modern age where they have more license and power with their voices, but they also begin to develop all of this. So, it’s dealing with problems that have changed and dealing with problems that haven’t changed and finding out how each person’s life has been affected by it. Jharrel specifically is a social worker tasked with finding out how to integrate these people back into society, what happened to them, how they even got from their period to now and navigating those different interpersonal moments that happens with each of them when they come to terms with being in a completely different time, people that they love being gone and being older in all the time that has passed. Jharrel is a good dude, and he’s trying to navigate a crazy situation.
I know it’s a Sci-Fi show, but I can’t help but think about the show concerning the real world and the parallels 4400 has. It seems to sort of play with that existentialist question of what it means to be here in this life and your purpose with that added layer of existing as an undervalued, underrepresented community, especially as a Black man. Did any of that play a role in you reading the script and going, “yeah, this is the one.”
[Laughs] I mean, all of that personally connected me to the story when I read, and I was like, “dude, I have to do this one,” and it’s also the [fact] that I love Sci-Fi and the fact they touched me to the core as a person also with everything that I’m already interested just seemed liked the perfect fit for me. A lot of that shined through in the character that I play; he is someone who is constantly navigating through a system that isn’t necessarily for us.
Oh yeah, I know [laughs].
He’s trying to help people through this, not knowing whether people are going to lose their kids and all of this ties in extremely heavy when he starts helping out the 4400 because the government doesn’t know what’s up with them. So, they’re treating these people like they’re criminals; basically, it’s somewhat like people who are being detained at the border and then being held in detention centers separated from their kids, that sort of thing. We have to find these people some asylum and housing, but in the meantime, these people are being locked up for just being here against their will, and the government don’t care about that (laughs), but yeah, that’s what my character Jharrel is attempting to navigate.
That sounds super fire! I can’t wait to watch that. And actually, I don’t want to say his name wrong, but the legend Mahershala Ali, I know he was in the original.
Yeahhhh, man, everybody is trying to get this man back for a guest appearance or something [laughs].
Yeah!! I mean [mimicks an announcer’s voice] Oscar award winner Mahershala Ali!
And it’s funny too because when I was prepping for this interview and doing my research on you and I found out that, much like Mahershala Ali becoming Blade for Marvel Studios, you actually wanted to be Blade in a movie as well other than starring in Arrow of course. But now that you can’t be Blade, who is it that you would like to be within the Marvel Cinematic Universe? And I know you’re already—and we’re going to talk about Arrow in-depth, especially since you got a chance to be Green Arrow himself which was badass, super fire.
Yeah! Thank you so much! Let’s go! [Laugh].
I’m a huge DC/Marvel comics nerd, so I saw all of this greatness on the Arrowverse, and I was blown away. Who would like to be within the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
You know what’s crazy? Would it have to be Marvel?
It doesn’t even have to be Marvel! It could be DC; it could be any pub house.
I know Marvel got the universe’s popping! But the character that I would want to be… it’s funny because one of my friends is actually playing him right now too, he’s on the show Batwoman.
Oh, you mean Batwing?
Yeah, man. Batwing is super dope. He’s Lucious Fox’s son’s version of Batwing, but the OG Batwing was a combination of Black Panther and Batman and I was just like, bro let me get that movie! [Laughs] either him or Icon, I believe he’s in DC now, I’m not sure if the whole thing happened in one day, but he’s up in there, he’s up in there somewhere.
Yeah, that would be super sick! And I know Michael B. Jordan was doing something with Static Shock, so the doors are open.
See, I’m a little too old to play Static Shock now. When I first came out to LA, I was like, yo when they going to make that Static live-action movie? [Laughs].
While we’re on this conversation of superheroes… Green Arrow. Can you speak to what it was like working on that show? A legendary run, we mentioned the MCU earlier, and the Arrowverse was something…is something…that can hold its own with the tv side of Marvel. Well, it could before Marvel doubled down on their Marvel TV shows on Disney+, but Arrowverse is goated for sure in its own right. With big storyline after big storyline, diversity, inclusivity, and the events are great. Tell me about your time being a part of the Arrowverse and how that came to be.
It’s crazy because they really changed the game for superheroes on TV, and that’s why it spawned so many shows within this universe. And right now, Superman and Lois Lane are killing it too. But I freaking loved Arrow, man. I had initially come on as a recurring character, and I was supposed to be this character on Legends, and the flashbacks had caught up with the current day period of the show’s timeline. The flashback had taken place a year up to how many years [Arrow] had been gone for. They were trying to figure out what they were going to do, so they said they would do flash-forwards and bring in the future Team Arrow and meld those two together.
So, because of that and because I had done such a great job on Legends being the future Green Arrow, they had wanted to bring me back in one way or another. So they brought me back, had this future Team Arrow and was initially trying to develop a spin-off series based on that. And Stephen, I guess he had recently stated that he might not be done with the Arrow mantle as a whole (notices Marc’s shocked expression). Yeah! But at the time, he said, “I think this time of my life is over, and I want to step away from the show,” and the network is like, “oh, we want to keep going in this universe, we think there should always be a Green Arrow,” and we were going to go ahead with the spin-off for the show, we shot the pilot and everything—
And it was starring you?
I wasn’t going to be the Green Arrow, I would’ve been like the future version of Diggle, and Oliver Queen’s daughter would’ve been the new Green Arrow.
Oh, shit, that would’ve been fire!
Yeah, it would’ve been fire, but…COVID hit.
(throws hands up in the air in disgust) of course it did.
Right! (Laughs) but yeah, man, COVID hit. We were waiting to see if the show was going to be picked up, COVID hit, and it stopped pilot season as a whole, nothing was filming, and the network really just chopped off all the things that weren’t going to be there, and our show ended up getting scrapped, and COVID took us out.
Man, that’s crazy that that could’ve happened because everything they did with Arrow was amazing; the number of storylines they managed to get out every season was fire.
I felt like Crisis on Infinite Earths was a really good ending to Oliver Queen’s story, and having some other spin-offs in the future would have….not been like a bastard stepchild but could’ve tarnished a little bit of where Queen’s story ended and how beautiful Crisis was.
Yeah, I get that… But I want to see my guy shine! I just want my people to win, so if something gotta get tarnished to make that happen, then hey!
[Laughs] I really appreciate that; look, you gotta do it for the team!
You feel what I’m saying? I mean, the comic books went on after Crisis, so they’ll find a way; there’s mad source material.
That’s true; we’ll see; I mean, if Stephen is actually interested in stepping back in some way or another, I might be able to crossover there for a few episodes while I’m shooting .
Hell yeah, man, that would be super dope. And speaking to your point of working with someone like Stephen Amell, throughout your career, you have worked with a ton of legends already. Specifically some black legends like John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and last but not least, the GOAT, Denzel Washington. So I have to ask you, what are some lessons that you learned from working with those three legends?
It’s funny because every conversation was about life. Even working with Denzel, the first day I was there, I had to go in for the table read, and they just had me reading like a handful of parts. But I saw him…, and I froze. I swear to God! I’m not starstruck or anything by anybody, but for some reason, he just came up to me and was like, “Hey, excuse me, can I get up in there?” And I was like “Uh, JoJo!” And Denzel responded with, “wait, what?” Then I let him know like, Nah man, that’s my name!” [Laughs]
It was crazy; luckily, once we started shooting he didn’t remember that. But we had a regular conversation; we talked about sports, we talked about his son playing football and how his son played against my college, and it was really just a grounded conversation. But he did have his own group of people with him, and they moved wherever he went, whatever he worked on, his wardrobe people; he surrounded himself with such a good group of people he was close to and that he grew up with. To have such a successful career like Denzel’s and bringing the people you grew up with along with you…even though we didn’t talk directly about that, I think that was the biggest thing that I took away from being around him at that time.
Look, I think anybody really but any Black person who is an aspiring actor specifically… if you’re in the same room as Denzel Washington or in the same movie—what am I supposed to say? I would be in disbelief!
You be feeling like—because I was at the table reading with Colin Ferrell, and you look around like “how am I here right now?” And I’m sitting right next to these dudes, super surreal.
How was working with John Boyega and Anthony Mackie? I know they are some of the biggest stars today, and they have been in Sci-Fi films with Star Wars and Avengers, respectively, so did that impact your game at all as you further your work on 4400?
They’re both goofy people. Anthony Mackie, in particular, is straight jokes all the time, but they’re super nice. When we went to the premiere, my grandma is a really big fan of his, and he entertained her, took pictures with her; he’s such a great guy. With Boyega…dude, he has an endless source of energy and focus. I don’t know how he navigates all of this stuff and can still do ten hours of press junkets, and he’s on! We went from junket to junket and then to an elementary school to talk to the kids, and he gave them a speech that gave me goosebumps. I’m just sitting there watching him, and I’m thinking, “yo, who is this dude right here? Who is this guy?”
[Laughs] Yo, who is this guy?
Exactly! [Laughs] Whose man is this? But, he’s around my age, so it’s definitely an inspiration for me right now.
With all that being said, though, aside from the legends you worked with, you are a young legend in the making. There are a lot of people who are rooting for you and looking to you in spaces that are historically predominantly white. In comparison to our white counterparts, there are few people of colour that are given the same opportunities on these networks like the CW, so it’s super awesome to see you out here shining and really cementing your name in history. This gets me super excited for your future; what does the future hold for a multi-faceted person like you? Especially someone who is a musician, be sure to tell me a little about that EP, man.
[Laughs] Yo, I appreciate that; you’re good. But ideally, where I’d like to get to is making and releasing my own stuff. It’s the fight to have a little bit more creative control and control over your schedule and everything, which is easier said than done. But that’s where I’m leaning towards, got a bunch of scripts that I’m shopping right now; I just shot a short film over the pandemic, and we’re out to festivals and everything with that, honestly, as a way to scratch that creative itch and to have complete license creatively with what I’m doing I did start working on an album, so I have been developing and working on a lot of songs and the concept for it is so interesting. [It’s essentially] going to be a genre-bending type of album. I had so many musical influences growing up and things that inspired me musically that I was like, “I just don’t want to just focus on one thing, this is what I sound like, this is my sound.” So the album itself is more like a playlist, a medley through all these different genres, but the only artist would be me.
Where did this idea come from? I mean, we spent the better half of this interview talking about your acting and the efforts that you’ve taken with that artistry, so when did you have time to become a talented musician as well?
[Sighs] Man, let me tell you, I’m shooting fourteen-hour days, and then I’m leaving to go to the studio for about ten, so I’m burning the candle on both ends. I mean, it came from feeling that I had done music in the short film I did and I got a lot of good responses from it; so then a lot of people on my team and at the agency were interested in what I wanted to do musically. So, I was like, okay, and I had a good amount of fun making the music and feeling sort of fulfilled creatively in doing this, but I felt like when making it, people didn’t listen to albums anymore; I mean, I don’t really listen to albums anymore, I would stream music, and I would play somebody’s album if they just drop to find the songs that I like and then I would go to another song that I like and then hop over to a playlist and just let that play out. The playlists would have their own cohesive idea or theme behind them, and I just feel like that’s how people consume music now, so I’m like, why pigeonhole myself into one genre when I can play or create music the way I listen to music and just see what happens, try something different.
Do you play any instruments, or are you a singer? What’s your whole artistry?
I can sing, I can play guitar, I can do a whole bunch of random things, but with these tracks on the album, it’s been about exploring the different key indicators within each genre and figuring out what is specific to each genre and embodying it. It’s almost like playing a new character with each song and finding out who this person is, what is this style of music, what made it so iconic to me when I was growing up and what are influences that I want to pull from each track. And each track is different.
So, what you’re telling me is I should be seeing you get an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy—that’s what you’re telling men, that’s what I’m getting from this, that’s what you’re telling me, right?
Fingers crossed, knock on wood, but that’s what I’m telling you! [Laughs]
I love it! So, is there anything that you’ll be dropping in the coming remaining months of this year? Any songs or EPS coming up?
I was initially going to try to time this with the release of the show, but the show is coming out so quick, I thought it was going to be a later release, but now that it is coming out early, I may drop a single when the show comes out on October 25th and begin a marketing campaign for when the whole album drops.
Well, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how the music sounds and what else is attached to it. You were speaking a lot to creative freedom, and I’m picking up what you’re putting down. Let’s put a needle in it with this: is there anything that you want to tell a young Joseph David-Jones or other young Black boys and girls that you wish someone would’ve told you as you were on your journey as a musician/actor?
I don’t know how to boil it down to something so simple and concise but don’t wait. If there’s anything that a lot of people end up regretting out here, it’s that it took them such a long time to go for it attempt to do something or fight for something. That’s what I would say; I’d say if you want to chase something, if you have an idea and it doesn’t work out, that is okay, but if you want to do it…just do it. Go for it now, don’t wait, push for it now, and it’ll work out the way it’s supposed to.
Interview by Marc Griffin
Photography by Luc-Richards
Catch 4400 on The CW airing weekly beginning October 25th.