Alphonso Romero Jones stars on Grand Army, a new drama series that dropped on Netflix in October 2020. The former Broadway actor plays the role of ‘John Ellis’ in the series, which was inspired by playwright Katie Cappiello’s 2013 stage play Slut. Fun fact: Cappiello’s later play, Now That We’re Men, featured Alphonso Romero Jones as part of the original cast.
In this interview, Alphonso discusses his experience of playing the role of John as well as why he believes the issues raised by Grand Army are very much timely. He also reveals which scene was the most impactful to shoot.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Alphonso Romero Jones (ARJ): Thank you for having me.
You play ‘John Ellis’ on the new Netflix series Grand Army. In your opinion, especially in 2020, how timely are the issues raised and explored in the show?
ARJ: The issues are very timely. It’s honestly surprising that we’re still here. A year ago, when we were shooting this, it was already timely. Now, it’s like nothing has changed. It even seems more important for this show to come out, for these messages to be heard.
Katie Cappiello’s play Slut is the basis for Season 1 of Grand Army. How close of an adaptation would you say Grand Army is?
ARJ: The show compared to the play? The closest relation is in Joey’s (played by Odessa A’zion) storyline. Her storyline basically mirrors the play. And then, it explodes into this whole universe when you add the other characters like Sid (Amir Bageria), Jayson (Maliq Johnson), Owen (Jaden Jordan) and Leila (Amalia Yoo) and you get those storylines, as well as Joey’s storyline. It does a great job of adapting the play, while also giving you something new to experience, as well.
Grand Army has a large ensemble cast – how was your experience working alongside them?
ARJ: It was really a family environment. I think because for most of us, it was our first time being outside of the country, living on our own for the first time. A lot of us had each other to lean on and that ended up developing this chemistry between all of us that really made it a family environment.
Being on set was a bunch of fun. It was always jokes, games, always something happening.
How would you describe your character John – and how similar/different are you to him?
ARJ: John is a Senior basketball student, at Grand Army. He’s also the leader of the Black Student Union which doesn’t make him your average jock. He lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with his mom and works part-time at Target. He has a little thing for Dom (Odley Jean).
I think where I am more similar to John is… when I was in High School, I had the same lover boy tendencies, I was a leader. We didn’t have a Black Student Union but I could compare it to when I was in my school Orchestra. I took it on myself to be the backbone of the musical group because I was the longest-tenured member at one point. I pretty much felt it was my duty to make sure that everyone who came in there got the same experience that I got, when I first joined the Orchestra. So, I could relate to that in that way.
But we’re also different because John is way more politically active than I ever was at that age. I was just coming into myself at that time. John, he knows his politics. He knows about those things and he knows how to educate others on them as well. He’s really deep into it and I appreciate that a lot about the character and getting to play that character.
Netflix is a streaming service – and fans can binge-watch all Grand Army. Would you recommend watching the episodes in one sitting, or advise to take your time with the story?
ARJ: I think you should take your time with it. There’s nothing wrong with binging Grand Army but it’s one of those shows where you can miss something if you stop paying attention for a split second. If you do binge watch it, I suggest that you watch it again so that you can catch something you didn’t catch the last time.
If you do take the breaks, that’s fine as well. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter and you need that time to really let it sink in, to fully understand what’s going on in the story.
From the time you spent working on Grand Army, do any moments stand out in your mind?
ARJ: I think a moment for me was doing the sit-in scene. When’s the last time you heard of a High School doing a sit-in? When I read that in the script, it was moving to me because this is something that generations before us had done in protest. Now, you’ve got these 17-year-olds in High School doing a sit-in. Being able to play that out meant a lot to me because I get to be the guy that’s on the soapbox, really laying it on the line for the student body.
An early role in your career was ‘Young Simba’ in The Lion King on Broadway. When in your childhood did you decide that acting was the path for you?
ARJ: I think acting kind of chose me. I was always a performer as a kid – I danced, I sang, played drums in church, My mom would do these plays at my church that I’d be in. When it came to actually doing it seriously, it kind of happened by accident. Being in The Lion King, I really didn’t intend to be Young Simba. I was actually going to the audition for my sister – she wanted to be Young Nala. I was emotionally supporting her by going along with it too.
Two years later, now I’m on Broadway as Young Simba. From there, being able to handle that kind of pressure, still perform and get three years out of it, being on Broadway. it let me know that I’m really… I’m destined for something greater. This is something that I have to hold onto. I can’t just let this gift go, I have to put more into it.
You were an original cast member in another Katie Cappiello play – Now That We’re Men. Given the similar thematic elements in these projects, how important is exploring social themes in your work?
ARJ: I love work that has social themes. I think that’s what needs to be seen. It’s one thing where you’re doing fantasy work or work that’s based off reality but not completely in reality. It’s another thing when you’re displaying people’s everyday life through art. I love doing that.
Being able to be in Now That We’re Men showed me that every time we performed, afterward we would have “talkbacks”. People would ask us questions or they would want to have conversations with us solely based on the way we actually portrayed teen male life on stage and how much they appreciated it. They would want to talk about things that happened to them in their life. So, being able to incorporate that with my gift, I’m helping people and I’m entertaining people at the same time.
Teen Vogue published an essay you wrote back in January 2020. How would you say the events you described, involving your friend James, have impacted your outlook in adulthood?
ARJ: I definitely feel like that played a large part into how I live today and how I interact with my friend groups. It’s easier to monitor yourself going forward than it is to think about the things that happened in the past. Like I said in the essay, I didn’t know what I was doing.
Being introduced to Katie and being part of all her work allowed me to get into that mind frame. What was happening then, shouldn’t have been happening. It shouldn’t be happening going forward. That was actually a big reason why I wrote that essay because I wanted someone who felt like how I felt.
That they were doing the right thing, that they should have been acting that way or they should have been putting that energy out on other people. They don’t have to do that because it’s mostly performative.
Another passion is music, which you produce under the name TKP Nook. How was the pandemic affected or restricted your creativity?
ARJ: That’s actually a great question. The pandemic… I like to make music based on my life, how I’m feeling, what’s going on. When the pandemic first hit and we had to stay inside, nothing was really moving around. It didn’t affect me working because I work out of my home studio.
When it came to inspiration, there really wasn’t much for a good while. I found myself in a rut because of the quarantine, doing the same thing. Not really able to be outside, experience and release a little bit. I worked my way through that, it’s October now. I found ways to be creative while still in the midst of a pandemic. In the beginning, it was definitely hard.
Aside from Grand Army, are there any other upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?
ARJ: Well, people should always expect new music and more projects on the way. But, if you really want to keep up with everything that has to do with me, you can go to my website: www.alphonsoromerojones.com. That will have what you need there.
What advice would you offer to fans of your work or you personally during the pandemic?
ARJ: I say try to find an outlet. Try to find something to put energy into so that you don’t get complacent or stuck. Like I said, it’s very easy to get into a rut in a time like this. You think that you’re restricted or your hands are held behind your back because of a virus. I would like people to find an outlet to pour themselves into, when they have free time.
I was doing video games, music, watching shows on TV and I think those are great ways to pass the time. And wear a mask!
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