Jasmine Cephas-Jones is an actress and singer who starred in Hamilton, winning a Grammy for her work in the acclaimed production. She is now a 2020 Primetime Emmy nominee for her work in the Quibi show #FreeRayshawn. We talk about her acting process for all of the different mediums she has worked in and getting across emotions in the many intense scenes of #FreeRayshawn, her continuing work as a singer, and what it was like working with Laurence Fishburne.
Awards Daily: Looking over your filmography, you have done movies, theater, TV series, TV mini-series, and now Quibi short form. Is there a major difference for you in how you approach these different mediums in your acting?
Jasmine Cephas-Jones: They are all very different processes for forming and displaying your character. I think with TV and film you do not have to make huge expressions, everything is a little bit smaller. In theater, everything is a little bit bigger because you want to show what you are trying to emote all the way in the back row. So, in transferring that emotion, you have to keep that in the back of your mind. But, in the actual process of character development with theater you have a little more time. You have a 4-week-long work process, and that happens almost every single time in theater. Then you get to stay with the character a little bit more. Then if you’re in a theater show like I was for two years, then there are so many things that you find in a character. Where in film and TV you can’t really do that; it’s a bit more of a quicker process.
AD: How did you get involved with #FreeRayshawn?
JCJ: I got a call from Mary Vernieu actually offering me the role, and I found out about a week before I had to go down and shoot. It was a very last minute process for me, and immediately I said yes because I had read the script since I was attached to it and so I said yes, I would absolutely love to do that. I went down to New Orleans, and immediately we did a whole read-through of the script. Then me, Stephan James, Antoine Fuqua, and Seith Mann went into a room and analyzed the entire script, broke it down, and evolved the relationship between Tyisha (her character) and Rayshawn and made it a lot stronger after the first read-through. So it was jumping into the pool and just immediately starting working. It was a great process and very collaborative as well as really, really fun to do.
AD: You mentioned how you and Stephan James were trying to make the characters stronger. How did you guys prepare to show so much emotion with so little screen time?
JCJ: You know, I think that was the biggest challenge because it is also a very intense piece, and a lot of action. So the biggest challenge for me was not being one note, and just angry all the time. So I really really had to find all the different emotions that come with the role of Tyisha. It was a lot of experimenting and a lot of free falling, and there is so much you can try to analyze in a short amount of time. I just allowed myself to relax and try a bunch of things, you know? At the end I just had to trust myself and be comfortable enough to let go and play around with it in this short amount of time and it came out great! Sometimes you just gotta let go!
AD: This might be a similar question, but I noticed watching your performance so much of your work is your facial expressions. The scene in the bathroom when you’re looking over the social media or when Rayshawn is apologizing to you. How did you get in the mindset to do that facial work?
JCJ: I just had to really get into what she must be feeling. This is supposed to take place in under 24 hours. And in the first half of the show she doesn’t know what is going on so she is confused, angry, terrified, and she’s also trying to comfort her child. So I had to really take control of that and really think about what a mother would do in this situation. And how can she be the one to be calm and keep everyone else calm but also have her emotions and be angry and be terrified? It really is an emotional rollercoaster and that’s the truth of it. It is like all the emotions that come out in 24 hours, you are not going to be one thing. I think that was one of the biggest challenges, and again allowing myself to go there and free fall, even though I didn’t have months with the script and time to analyze it. You have to go into your years of training and pull out the training box of acting school, when your teacher goes “Sometimes you’re not going to have a lot of time, what can you do with it?” It really is just kind of stepping into her shoes and thinking what would she do and how would she feel?
AD: As an award site I like to ask this question, what was it like to get nominated for an Emmy?
JCJ: It was so funny. I was getting coffee the morning I found out when someone texted me, “Congrats, Emmy nom,” and I was, like, “That would be amazing but I don’t think I am nominated.” And they were, like, “No girl, you are!” So it’s an incredible moment for me, I really didn’t think that was going to happen, and also for my dad to be nominated as well is a very, very special moment. I grew up in the LAByrinth Theater Company when Philip Seymour Hoffman was artistic director, and I got to see some amazing theater. My dad showed me that. He opened my eyes to that, and it feels like a big full circle. It’s a very very special moment for both of us to share.
AD: So you already have a Grammy, do you want to do more singing or are you going to focus on getting the rest of your EGOT?
JCJ: Of course, I’m always going to write my own music. I have my EP out. It is called Blue Bird. I have two music videos and a couple of singles from that. I still continue to write. I always write my own music and, who knows, that would be really awesome. I think for me the most important thing is the work and the time and the effort I put into my craft. I really care about the craft and loving what I do. As long as the script is good and the music is good, I’m in!
AD: Going off that is, is there a project you’re currently involved with or something particular you want to do? Sounds like you’re open to what comes available.
JCJ: I’m in development right now with the show Blindspotting, which is based off the movie that I did with Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs. And it is going to follow my character Ashley that I played in the movie.
AD: What network is it going to be on?
JCJ: Starz and LionsGate.
AD: As a fan I have to ask, what was it like working with Laurence Fishburne?
JCJ: He is one of the greatest of all times! It was so awesome because I actually first met him on the backstage of Hamilton, and he gave me a huge hug. It was like a fatherly hug of how he was so proud of us. He kept saying I am so proud of you, and I’ll never forget that hug or how he said that. It was such a full circle for me to end up doing the Quibi show with him and to be able to share this creative space with him. It was so exciting, and he is so, so good, and he is so grounded in what he does. It is such an honor to share the screen with him and to be able to act with him. It was awesome!!!
It is like a dream come true, someone you look up to and finally you are there with them. He is a person that you are, like, I want to work with him one day. Then all of a sudden you are there and you got nominated along with him, it’s like a dream, you are like, it can’t get any better than this. And it is such an important story that we are telling in the climate we are in now, and we are all using our art to tell an important story, and I think that is our job as artists. I know that is what Laurence Fishburne thinks and that’s exactly what I think. To be able to share the stage with that type of artist is very empowering, and it is a dream.
#FreeRayshawn is now available on Quibi.