‘You can’t live for the happiness of anyone else, otherwise, you’ll live in your own prison that you created instead of being free and doing the things you want to do. You only have a short period of time, so make the most of it.’
Having broken out in the entertainment industry at a young age playing Young Simba in The Lion King on Broadway, Trevor Jackson has practically grown up in the performing arts. You can find him on some classic television shows such as Cold Case and Criminal Minds, but also on beloved Disney Channel shows K.C. Undercover and Austin & Ally. But now as a young man, he’s taking on more mature and topical projects. Back in 2016, he had a main role on American Crime season two, portraying Kevin LaCroix, a high school basketball player who gets mixed up in some trouble.
However, he’s probably best known for his role as Aaron Jackson on Grown-ish, the spinoff of Black-ish that follows Yara Shahidi’s character, Zoey Johnson, through her college experience. Aaron is known as a ‘woke’ student activist on the show, passionate about issues such as Black Lives Matter and equality. And it’s clear that some of Aaron’s causes have seeped over into Trevor’s real life, too.
We chatted with Trevor about the importance of diversity in the entertainment industry, how discussing mental health on television makes a difference, and his music career.
Season three of Grown-ish just came out. Can you tell us what fans might expect to see from your character, and the other characters this season?
You can expect a lot from Aaron; he’ll continue with activism, but he’s also in his senior year so he’s dealing with a lot of real-life problems that are gonna fall into his lap. Student loans, situations with friends potentially, but we address a lot of stuff like toxic masculinity, mental health, etc. I love his character because I feel like I get to learn about things every time I play him, like stuff that happens in college because I never really went so I’m super excited.
Grown-ish tackles a lot of different subjects that are important to young people and as a college student myself, I feel like that accurately predicts college life today. Since Aaron is probably the most outspoken activist character, what has been your favorite issue that’s been talked about on the show so far and what would you like to see them talk about in the future?
My favorite issue by far is black mental health, mental health in general, but black mental health in terms of athletes. You know, they spend millions of dollars to make sure their bodies are right, but when it comes to their minds they couldn’t care less. So I thought that was pretty amazing that we were able to talk about that on the show because they make millions of dollars off of their game and people coming to see them, but when they try to find out what’s wrong with themselves mentally, it’s not taken seriously. So that’s been my favorite thing because I was really informed, but I think a lot of people didn’t know that. But I would love to see them talk about… well, we do talk about it this coming season so I can’t say specifically, but I was very excited when I saw that.
Why do you think it’s important that these topics are discussed on television?
I think the only way as a unit, community, country, or even as a human race that we’re able to progress is by having a conversation. I feel like so many people are afraid to speak up or they think they’re alone in a lot of their thoughts, and a lot of bad things happen when they don’t understand the other person. We judge when we don’t understand and you can’t understand unless you have a conversation, and I think shows like Grown-ish are the key to start to have those conversations. Some people may be sitting in the same room watching Grown-ish and saying, ‘Well, how do you feel about that? I feel differently. Well, why do you feel differently? Oh, I can see that.’ And now we’re talking instead of hating each other just because we came from different backgrounds or see the world differently. That doesn’t mean we have to dislike each other.
Another realistic aspect of the show is the way in which all of the characters are fully formed and realized people with their own issues and problems. Nothing about them feels cliché or overused. Do you think that’s why so many people can connect and relate to the show?
Absolutely. I think everyone can find themselves or someone they know on Grown-ish. I always say that the number one thing, personally, that’s the most painful thing is being alone and feeling like you’re the only person going through something. You know, unfortunately, we have people killing themselves because they feel that way, like no one will ever get them. But then you watch something like Grown-ish that proves there are people like them going through the same things, and that they can get through it, too.
The show also makes a conscious choice to highlight voices that aren’t often heard on primetime television, with many different ethnicities represented throughout the show. What do you think about the shift in Hollywood to be more purposeful in diversity and inclusion? Especially looking at award shows such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes, which demonstrate we still have a ways to go. Are you hopeful for the future of representation in the entertainment industry?
I am definitely hopeful for the future. I think, in regards to awards, it’s all about content and you can’t really compete unless you’re having the same level of content; so in order to compete, it has to be the same kind of content, production, writing, things like that. And opportunity and stories… all of these things matter. So, I’m not just going to say any movie should be at the Oscars, but I feel like if more people were given the right opportunity and the right style, there would definitely be more diversity.
I also really love how romantic relationships are portrayed on the show. It shows that sometimes life gets in the way and that these things aren’t always black and white or linear. Why do you think it’s important for television and film to more accurately represent these kinds of relationships, especially for college-aged kids?
I remember that when I was young and in a relationship and then got out of that relationship, I remember how devastated I was and how hard on myself I was, and it’s not until you get older that you realize, like you said, life isn’t always black and white; there’s a lot of gray and a lot of color and a lot of things that influence our situations, so I think it’s important for young people to see that. You know, the year before last, I was always telling myself, ‘don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s all a part of the journey’ and so that’s why my albums are called Rough Drafts because you’re not going to get it right the first time; you need some capitalization, some punctuation, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not beautiful. You just can’t get to the finished product unless you keep seeing how far you’ve come.
What has Aaron, or the show in general, taught you about yourself?
That I eat a lot of food. No, I’d say that it’s taught me a lot about assumptions. If I’m in a situation with a woman, I might assume why she does or says a certain thing, but Grown-ish, because obviously our lead is a woman and a lot of our writers are women, I’m able to kind of see the other side of it and maybe the action wasn’t what the intent was which is very important for everyone to understand. I think we live in a world where anybody can do anything, and one person says something and everybody jumps on the bandwagon without knowing the person, and I think that’s definitely something we’ve got to work on.
Switching gears from acting a bit, the music video for your song ‘Tell You The Truth’ dropped recently. I loved the way it was filmed and how it was almost like a movie.
Thank you! That was the goal.
It definitely came across! So, what inspired that idea and why did you want to go that route?
Well, all of my videos since Rough Drafts, Pt. 1 I’ve directed because I was sick of being unhappy with how my videos would come out; they would be like everyone else’s, and that’s typically what happens with labels and different things. They put the same group of people to make the same kind of videos for the same ‘kind of artist’, and I was sick of the half-naked girls and the club, and I wanted to do things that are creative and that show people the way I view the world and the things that I love.
So, for that particular song, the reason I love it so much is because I was in the studio with someone and he was describing to me how he was seeing this girl and she was awesome and couldn’t wait for me to meet her and she walked in the studio and was like, ‘Oh my god, hey Trevor’ and by the way she said it, you knew immediately, and he just kind of put his head down, so that’s kind of when I started writing the song. And for the video, I just wanted it to be a little crazy because I feel like we all have that in us sometimes. I mean obviously, we’re all not murderers or thinking about murder, but being human we get angry sometimes and I like to explore those parts of me while making the video. And I like how at the end you don’t know who ‘I’ killed, you know?
Rough Drafts, Pt. 2 came out last year, and you wrote all of your own lyrics from the album. What’s your creative process like, and what inspires some of your music?
A lot of it is aspirations for where I want to be, things I’ve gotten through, but mainly career and relationships are what’s in the music. And it’s funny because, for anyone that knows me, I’m pretty much happy all of the time; I don’t really like to express things I’m not pleased with because I know storms don’t last so there’s no use in fretting about it so a lot of my friends, once they hear the songs, they’ll be like, ‘I didn’t even know that was happening!’ So, for me, music is kind of like those lamps people light when someone dies that float off into the sky. I can go through a horrible situation, write about it, and then it’s beautiful to me. That’s kind of my motto for life; anything that happens to you, turn it into something great. But the process for the more technical side of it is that I do the melodies first and I’ll live with it for a little bit, start writing to it, and then it goes from there.
Who are some of your role models, whether it’s for acting, music, or life in general?
Muhammad Ali is a huge role model. For acting, Joe Pesci, Denzel Washington. Prince, he’s tattooed on my arm. These are all people who just did things their way and that’s what people have to realize; you can’t live for the happiness of anyone else, otherwise, you’ll live in your own prison that you created instead of being free and doing the things you want to do. You only have a short period of time, so make the most of it. Be happy.
Any projects you’d love to do in the future acting-wise?
Absolutely. I’m producing a few projects right now so… who knows.
And any chance we’ll be seeing some new music from you in 2020?
Definitely new music. I’ve been in the studio for the last three weeks just really narrowing it down and getting some great stuff, so I’m excited.
interview by Lauren Ablondi Olivo
photography Laretta Houston @ Exclusive Artists
styling Apuje Kalu
grooming Sophia Porter @ Exclusive Artists
fashion assistants Amelia Williams and Taurence White
location Mondrian Los Angeles, London