Introducing: Jay Brown

Friday, 7 November 2014

You may recognise Jay Brown's face (or even his huge arms) from E4's runaway hit show 'Youngers', where he has played the scary but sexy Bangs for the past two seasons, but Jay's been in the acting business for a minute. 'That Crazy Love', a short play written by Jay, opens this week as part of the Boom Play Festival at the Bush Theatre in West London, and I caught up with him to find out a bit about the project, the best film sets he's worked on and why an actors real job is the audition.

You’re primarily known as an actor. What drew you into the business and what have been some of your most memorable roles to date?

I started off in the business as a dancer in Music Videos for the likes of Gabrielle, Ms Dynamite, All Saints and more but my real passion was acting. I really wanted to steer my career in that direction. As soon as I focused on acting things started to pop up and then I landed the lead role in a Short Film called ‘Tube Poker’. I will always treasure that film as it opened the door to me in a big way and went on to win multiple awards at film festivals across the World.
I’ve had so many great memories on different jobs for different reasons it’s hard to pin down which have been the most memorable. Definitely ‘Tube Poker’ as it opened the door. It was fresh, raw and I’ve never seen a film like it. ‘Summer’ Directed by Hong Khaou who recently opened Sundance with his first feature. This was my second job and it was a massive leap from ‘Tube Poker’ with its themes and working with another actor so closely. ‘FIT’ was a groundbreaker;  first we toured it around the country as a stage piece with a mix of TIE (Theatre In Education) and performing in theatres to adults. It was then commissioned to be a film. ‘FIT’ tackles homophobic bullying and bullying across all levels. We had a premiere of the film at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles and I’m sure some reading this will understand what a big deal this is, as the DGA is a very iconic and important building to the industry. After the release the Government grabbed it and placed the film in every school in the country to help tackle bullying. Finally I would have to say ‘The Hunters’ as this was my first big budget film and we shot abroad. We shot in the North East of France with a multi-cultural crew and actors from America and France. Myself and Steven Waddington (Last of the Mohicans) were the only Brits. I learnt a lot from Steven by watching his performance on set. The cast were extremely supportive of each other and would all be on set even when we didn’t have any scenes on the day. It really was a family environment.

You’ve plugged away in the industry for some time but your recent role as Bangs in E4’s ‘Youngers’ really raised your profile. What sort of effect has that had on your career path and the parts you’re being offered and/or drawn to?

Playing Bangs in ‘Youngers’ was a brilliant experience. He was such a fun character to play and I put in a lot of underlining nuances into him so he wasn’t perceived as just this aggressive local ‘bad boy’. Thankfully the writing by Levi David Addai was brilliant and we were both on the same page as to how Bangs was to be played. People would think I may have been type cast after playing Bangs but it’s been totally the opposite. Before ‘Youngers’ I had a lot of varied work which people can view and tell I’m not a one dimensional actor. I will always be thankfully to Levi, Anthony and the Big Talk team Luke and Kenton , as ‘Youngers’ really has put me on a bigger platform and raised my profile.

Your first move off screen was into producing, with the short film ‘Echo Road’ which debuted at festivals earlier this year. Tell us a bit about why you wanted to produce.

It was really a natural progression. I’m influenced by a lot of American actors like Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney, Brad Pitt who are producing their own work and at the same time just taking the seat as a producer and not being part of the production. There are so many untold stories that need to be told, I want to be able to give a voice to these stories. ‘Echo Road’ I wanted to tell as I felt there weren’t any stories about bereavement and sibling relationships. I had an idea then pitched it to my friend Duncan MacInnes who went away and wrote it. We both produced the film and I played the lead alongside the talented Toby Wharton. It was a massive learning experience, I stumbled at points but was able to correct things and keep the ship sailing. Our Exec Producer Rikki Beadle-Blair who I have collaborated a lot with in my career was a big help too. Always surround yourself with talented and wise people who can pass their knowledge and what their mistakes were down to you.

Definitely, a mentor is a big help. The film had a kickstarter campaign to complete production. How valuable/sustainable do you think the crowd-funding model is and how important was it to your film?

We used KickStarter to complete Post-Production on the film, the Pre-Production and shoot was financed by myself and Duncan. The risk was low for investors as we already had the film in the can, it was just about wrapping the bow around it. Crowd funding is not easy, it really is a full time job in its self. You have to be sending emails, tweets and other social media messages constantly to try and get your project funded. We managed to secure our target and to get a little extra but this only came in at the last 24 hours of the deadline. It got very hair raising! I’m not too sure I’d use crowd funding again, as I think once you’ve used it for one project it’s harder to get people to invest in a second. I would never say never but now I currently work with traditional investors who invest in films.

Having just made a film, how easy was the switch into theatre?

It was an easy transition for me as I’ve worked on the stage many times in my career. As an actor I believe you should be able to work in both mediums. With film acting you have to know how to work with the camera, your marks and angles. With stage again you have to know your angles but also how to work with an audience and take them on the journey. The beauty about theatre is that you as an actor are able to live the character unbroken.

‘That Crazy Love’ is not only your first play, but the first thing you’ve written. You mentioned you had resisted writing before because of worries over your dyslexia, how did you finally overcome that?

Rikki, who is the festival director of the ‘Boom Play’ festival has been on at me years to write something but I’ve always dodged it. Fundamentally it came down to my confidence as a writer due to my dyslexia. I find it hard to write what’s actually in my head and for it to make sense on paper. But over the years reading piles and piles of scripts and [recently] giving notes on how to change scenes and plots to make them better, I felt ready to take the leap. And with it being a 5 minute play I thought  ‘Huh easy’,  little did I know the restrictions, no sketch, no one scene, no monologue, it has to be a full play in 5 minutes with a beginning, middle and end. I was in for hard work! My first draft was 16 pages;  a lot of cutting had to happen. It’s been a brilliant experience, and one I’m happy I stepped up to. I wanted to tell this story as it’s how I’m currently feeling and what I have experienced over the years and no one else would have been able to capture this apart from me.

Your play looks at relationships in the business environment and how the lines can sometimes get blurred and situation taken advantage of. Speaking from personal experience? Where did you get the inspiration for this one?

We have all been in situations when we’re trying our hardest to please a loved one, whether that’s parents, siblings or a partner, I know I have. Actors go through this time and time again with the industry, trying to be the best in the room to nail that audition. I’ve merged the two worlds to show the similarities and the hoops that we jump through to please others. When Rikki told me the topic of the festival plays was about Love I knew straight away what I wanted to write. This was an outlet of releasing frustration I have had and re-living memories good and bad. What better way to work than to create your own work? It’s very rewarding.

Yep, sometimes even cathartic. As we actors know, casting is incredibly important. How did you find your leading lady Kamara Bacchus? What made her right for the part of Sharon?

I’ve known Kamara for years and we’ve worked on projects together which sadly haven’t flourished. So when I saw her name as one of the applicants I just knew we had to work together. It was very early on with the drafts so once I had cast Kamara, I wrote the piece around her and what I knew she could bring to it. Kam, brings that sexy but fire to the character of Sharon. It’s not an easy piece as there are layers to the character and you have to understand exactly the different levels as to how to play it to not favour one side, all in 5 minutes. She’s a great talent and I’m really happy we’re finally getting to work together.

With ‘Echo Road’ and even more with ‘That Crazy Love’ did being involved with the casting process give you any insight into the audition process? I’ve heard you’re pretty committed in the audition room.

Hahaha Where have you heard that from, and which story?! Haha
Casting is very important. I’ve learnt over the years our real job is the audition. It’s not the play or the film, it’s the audition. You may be the best actor in the world when it comes to walking on set or stage but if you don’t nail it in the audition you’ll never get the chance. I’ve been on the other side of the audition table, it’s very insightful. The small ‘ticks’ people have that they don’t even realise they are doing just because they’re nervous. You’re performing to a room full of unknowns and trying to win them over. I always try to make the audition room calm and relaxed so that I can perform at my best. I know how it feels when the pressure is on, you can just lose it in a split second. Personally, every audition I just bring it! I show them the way I see the character then listen to them and their tweaks and we work it from there. No meeting is a wasted meeting. The job may not go my way for whatever reason but they will always remember me and something else that I’m perfect for will arise.

A nice positive outlook! What are your other passions? I know you’re a big gym guy and you’re always last on the dance floor when I see you out…

Hahaha I love a good boogie! Well as I said I started my career dancing. It’s another outlet of mine, just letting the music take me and people of all backgrounds coming together for the love of music. It’s always special being in a club and the whole place erupting to that one tune. It used to happen in the Garage clubs all the time, we’d be banging the walls begging the DJ to rewind the track.
The gym is an important and daily part of my life. It’s not unusual to find me in the gym at 2am if I’ve had a busy day, I’m a gym rat! Haha! Working out keeps me focused and motivated. I find it quite similar to acting, as you have to rely on the amount of effort you put in to change your body, the same as portraying a character. I’ve been working with the supplement company MyProtein for over a year now and their support and knowledge has been key to changing my body for different roles. Two years ago I went and qualified as a personal trainer too so I had more knowledge for myself when it comes to my training. 

This coming year I’d like to travel more. Like a lot of other actors I feel the guilt when planning to go away. Either you worry you’ll miss an audition or you’re worried as to how you’ll make the money back that you’ve spent. Now I’m older I’ve realised you just have to enjoy life, ‘what will be will be’ and ‘It is what it is.’ 

You love a bit of inspirational quote on twitter! (@ImJayBrown) I particularly love your ones related to acting and the film industry. Where’d you get them and why do you post them?

I don’t know how I started with the motivational quotes. It was about motivating and kicking myself up the butt, but now I have to do it to start my day. It sets things in motion in a positive direction. I either go through loads of different quotes from a range of different people from different backgrounds to find one that relates to how I’m feeling that particular day or I will wake up and the way I feel will guide me to write something. It’s nice to see people RT’ing my quotes and that we’re connecting through positivity. I think we need more love in the World! Haha Seriously though I think we actually do. We are now flooded with so much negativity in our day to day lives it’s hard to see the light. I do think reality TV is a massive evil. People are watching others destroy their lives for entertainment. It’s either b*tching behind peoples backs or who’s sleeping with who and who’s been caught with who’s partner. What are we teaching our younger generation? That you don’t have to have a talent or skill to make money, you can sleep around or act a fool and you get on TV. It’s become crazy! There’s no room for educational or good drama on TV as all the time is taken up with trash. I had to have a little rant at some point! hahaha

Finally, Jay Says…

The Industry is brutal and doesn’t hold any prisoners and neither does life. But in our business we deal with more rejection in one year than some deal with in their life time. So make sure you surround yourself with positive people. Start to create your own stories. This is what I’m now doing; giving myself a voice and employing myself at the same time. Open your mind to different things in the World. It’ll help you as an Actor. All of these experiences will build and make you ready to play many different characters. Study! Always keep learning. And a key thing, ‘Know your worth.’ 

Advice to anyone wanting to get into acting, ‘Only do it if you love it!’ This business will chew you up and spit you out, only your love and passion will keep you in it. 

I’m in love with storytelling and striving to find out new things about humanity. This is my job.

The Boom 5 minute Plays are now sold out! But I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty more of Jay Brown, both on and off camera, soon.

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