Interview : Orlando Jones


Orlando Jones doesn’t seem the obvious choice to play the deeply serene, yet flawn dean of a marching band university course in Drumline, a bittersweet coming-of-age story about an aspiring drummer who needs to learn how to be one of the team, rather, than bang to his drum. Jones, who can be manically off-the-wall at times, said that the film’s director didn’t need too much convincing to cast Jones, last seen in The Time Machine.

"I think he had seen Liberty Heights, which is clearly a drama, and I think he may have mentioned he saw the stuff from Magnolia that got cut, so I think that those two cats are so different that it didn’t make him uncomfortable in a dramatic sense, you know what I mean." The actor admits that this "is a scary role to me, man, just because – if you humiliate the world of black marching bands and black colleges, the brothers will haunt you down like a rabbit in a hole for the rest of your life," he says emphatically and laughingly."They will talk bad about you – it would be 3007, and they’d see me and go – hey, Orlando, thousand year old man. I remember you. I remember when you fucked up that drum line back then.That pretty much is what you have to look forward to if you screwed this up." Jones was also attracted to the project becaquse of his family history. "My father coached a black college in Alabama State. So because of that, a lot of these band directors I’ve known since I was six or seven years old, and all these camps, I’ve been to, so, I know this world too well."

The actor had no difficulty in relating to his character. the fascinating and enigmatic Dr Lee, "because I feel like it’s a character that exists, not solely in the world of black universities, but any coach you ever ask, because everybody’s had that teacher that your BS, they didn’t take. They said listen, that’s cute, great. I still told you to do this and you do this, and you’re gonna do this, and if you don’t do it, I’m gonna call your family, and if your family won’t make you do it, I’m gonna make you do it because I’ll throw you out of my class every day when you come here. One of us is going to break, and it ain’t gonna be me. And we’ve all had those teachers, you know – one or two of them – that were just kind of hard-asses on us, and inspired us to do what we ourselves didn’t realize we were able to." The challenge then was to take an ordinary man like and make him interesting. Jones relished the challenge "by making him flawed. You know, he makes his own mistakes here. I also think that one of the major problems for Dr. Lee exists primarily because of Dr. Lee. His primary problem is he does not want to listen to his college president because he believes that old school is the only kind of music anyone wants to hear. That is a singular perspective, and it’s his own, and he’s a snob about it. His college president is not a buffoon – the guy is not asking anything unreasonable. Please play music so the alumni will support your program. Otherwise, you don’t have a job. Last I checked, that ain’t a bad thing, having a job. So, I also believe I was happy and very adamant, I don’t want him to be a villain. You know, I don’t want him to be a buffoon. I want him to be respectful. To that same end, I felt like Devon, you know, when he comes in, what he’s asking me to do, which is the knowledge that there’s this new kind of school music, it is not an unreasonable request. I’m just being stubborn. So I think that all those flaws ultimately are what caused him to be in the situation that he’s in. He doesn’t get any integrity until he decides he’s not going to let Devon play because Devon can’t read music. And I feel like that’s what makes him more interesting, because I think you can relate to him based on the mistakes that we all made and us learning from our own mistakes, because we had people who were kind enough to point them out to us."

Jones feels very strongly that Drumline speaks beyond the core audience of drum studdents and African- Americans "because it’s not about marching bands, really. Marching bands are just the conduit by which we impart the lesson of knowing from when you came. That the group is more important than the individual. That you might very well think that you hung the moon and that you’re artistry and God’s gift to you is the only gift that you have to cultivate and ultimately Devon learns that in order to cultivate that gift, there are a great many other things that you have to go through in order for that gift and that potential to be truly realized. I think that those are sort of the core messages of the film. "

Next up for the versatile actor is Biker Boys, due out in February. "I think that’s the closest character to me thus far", he admits.