Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Jabari Gray?
Jabari: I’m a son, a brother, a lawyer, music performer, and an actor. I can say that I am a work in progress, striving to meet my potential. I am a person who is trying to realize and accomplish all of my goals. I know where I am going, and I am confident in my approach. Basically, I am a highly motivated individual.
QFTD: Everyone has to start somewhere before they hit their stride. How would you describe your journey toward success?
Jabari: Honestly, I tried a lot of different things until I found something that fit. For instance, back in college, I was a pre-med student until the work kicked my tail and I figured it wasn’t for me. Then, I became a political science major, entering law school shortly thereafter. When I became a lawyer, I discovered it wasn’t what I imagined it would be, and I ended up in Jamaica.
QFTD: Jamaica? How’d that happen, and what happened there?
Jabari: Well, along my journey of discovery, I wrote a grant and received money to film a documentary in Jamaica, where I interviewed many amazing recording artists. Being around reggae stars like Merciless and Bounty Killer helped prepare me for what I am doing now. It was my exposure to media that opened my gate to the path I am currently traveling. I have to add that my love for music, art, film, and people was always with me and helped inform my decision to switch careers at just the right time.
QFTD: Your versatility is quite impressive. An abundance of experiences in acting, music, voice-overs, and hosting crowd your resume like a busy NY street. How would you explain why you are able to demonstrate such precision across a gamut of skill sets?
Jabari: When it comes to versatility…a lot has to do with my upbringing. As a child, my parents encouraged me to do so much: playing instruments, attending art camp, and engaging in sports are just a few things they had me into. Then, because my father is a Ph.D. professor at Vassar College, I pretty much grew up on his campus. That exposed me to so many people, cultures, and personalities. I’ve excelled as a communicator because of my exposure in the college realm and its open-minded, intellectual community. When it comes to precision…I think I am a quick learner. Plus, I enjoy learning, and it translates into everything I do. Preparing for a role can be an in-depth process.
QFTD: I bet. I remember reading how Denzel Washington took his character’s role from Glory and added back story to it for more profound authenticity.
Jabari: Exactly. The process of getting into character is in two parts. The first involves the innate qualities the actor brings to the role. In my case, because I was trained to be a lawyer, a white-collar professional, that role comes easy for me. The second part involves going deeper and doing research to connect to the character. So, let’s say I am going to play a doctor in a commercial; I would go as far as to call people in those fields to get advice. I would ask, ‘What is it like in this situation? How would you handle that situation?’ Also, to get deeper, I would personalize the imaginary circumstances in a manuscript and ask myself how I would feel in that character’s situation.
QFTD: What gives you the drive to do all that you do?
Jabari: Believing that anything is possible. That’s huge for me. Also, knowing that life is delicate and not promised. You can make money in life, but you can’t get time back. It is important to stay driven because if you don’t, then you are wasting life and opportunities to move the ball forward. It saddens me to see people wasting their gifts. I also feel I have a responsibility to be as productive as possible because of the sacrifices made for me. I owe so much to my family.
QFTD: You have a role in the upcoming Amazing Spiderman 2. Tell us how that auditioning process went for you.
Jabari: Funny, I didn’t even know the audition was for Spiderman at first. The movie title was disguised as London Calling. The audition was exciting because the scene involved me playing a villainous spy on an airplane. Some time later, I got a call from my agent, and she told me that I landed a part for the movie.
QFTD: Then she told you it was really for Spiderman?
Jabari: Yes, she did. And I was thrilled. I asked her, “Who am I playing?” She said I landed the role as an airline pilot. I have a few lines, and the scene revolves around a battle between Spiderman and Electro above the skies of Manhattan. It was so cool because I got to be around stars like Sally Field and Jamie Foxx. During a table reading, where all the actors in a scene rehearse, I was at the table with the director and Jamie Foxx. I’m sitting there looking at Jamie Foxx thinking, I just saw you in Django Unchained a few weeks ago. That experience was another valuable step on the path for me.
QFTD: What was it like working on the set of Law and Order: SVU as CSU Tech, Keegan Timmons? Elaborate on that experience.
Jabari: I did seven episodes on the show, and it was like a dream come true. I say that because I had always been a huge fan of the franchise. I watched it a lot while I was in law school. The stars of the show were really nice, and I interacted quite a bit behind the scenes with Ice-T. He is very personable and comfortable in his own skin. It was a real privilege to be cast for that role. It was conformation for me that I was on the right track. It gave a lot of legitimacy to my decision to switch from law to entertainment.
QFTD: Any other television shows on the horizon?
Jabari: Actually, I will be playing on two episodes of the Tyler Perry show, For Better or Worse. I was cast as a divorce attorney. The great thing when we filmed the episodes is that I felt even more comfortable than ever before on set. My confidence was through the roof.
QFTD: Your body of work is grand, yet it is still growing rapidly. What is an endeavor that you have yet to tackle?
Jabari: Well, I will be adding the title of director and producer in 2014. Getting behind the camera is huge for me. The opportunity provides a space for me to be more proactive, and I will be in a position to create opportunities for others. The film is called Enemy Lines. It is going to open up a new world for me to tell stories.
QFTD: What advice would you give a young person who is out here trying to follow their dreams?
Jabari: My advice is to never give up when you get discouraged. Any temporary setbacks are actually lessons in disguise. Also, don’t be afraid of failing or being embarrassed. You can benefit from any mistakes made. Don’t ever avoid something because you want to be perfect; nobody out here is perfect.
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