Interview With Actor J. Alex Brinson, “Travelers”

By Ruth on October 16, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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If you have heard the buzz about the upcoming Netflix show,Travelers, then there is a chance that you may have heard of J. Alex Brinson, who is a featured series regular in this highly anticipated show. Although he has made a few scattered appearances on other well-known shows in the past couple years, there is no doubt that Travelers is the show where he is going to finally make his mark, so to speak. While this show will not premiere in the U.S. until later this year, it is set to premiere this week in Canada. For that reason, I had the honor of chatting with J recently concerning the inception of his career, his hard work to attain his dreams, and his deeply layered character on this soon-to-be blockbuster show.

RH: What inspired you to become an actor?

JAB: Very simply, I was a little kid. I was dyslexic, and I didn’t excel in school. The teacher put me in a play, and I did okay.  I was funny and quick-witted which was my way of trying to protect myself ’cause I couldn’t read well. And she said, “Oh, well, you’re talented.” And that was the start.  I was in second or third grade at the time, about eight years old. My teacher was amazing.  Her name was Rene Erickson. I still remember her name.

Between the play and eventually going on to high school, let me point out that I was raised by a single mom. I needed something to do for the summer, and we didn’t have a lot of money. So she sent me to a community arts program. And I did that, and it ultimately showed my mom that maybe this art thing could work. Then she enrolled me in Freedom Theater. When I went into Freedom Theater, those were my very formative years. I was still in middle school, but it was very tough for me ’cause I was a black kid from West Philly. I went to three different schools before I found a private school that could help me with my dyslexia. I was in culture shock ’cause the private school I went to was on the “mainline,” as it’s referred to in Philadelphia, and that’s where a lot of the wealth comes from in that area. I was befriended by families, and they were very kind to me. And that changed my perspective of what rich people were and of what white people were.  My black friends in West Philly had wrongly told me these rich white kids were mean and couldn’t be trusted. And this lesson that I learned, I carried with me the rest of my life.

So from there, where did you go on to high school?

I was very, very fortunate to not get into the private prep school that my mom wanted me to go to.  And so I had the opportunity to go to Philadelphia Creative Performing Arts High School, which anyone who is a music lover understands. Gamble and Huff, National Records, Motown, Boeys to Men. Questlove and The Roots–the list is just extravagant. They all went to school there. It is the perfect school to get yourself connected to the scene.

So while at this performing arts high school, what was your focus and experience?

This is really funny. I can do this in one sentence. So my drama teacher there said I was arrogant, so she didn’t put me in a single play. So I actually didn’t spend any time acting. I started tap dancing ’cause I could do it by myself or after school or during lunch. And then I started running sound. I actually worked with the sound engineers, so I learned how to mix the orchestra and run the soundboard. And then I got a summer internship at a recording studio in Philly.  I gathered a whole other skill set from that. But I didn’t get to act in high school.

So how did you make the jump to Juilliard?

They were very kind people at Juilliard. Very nice. You would be surprised that not a lot of people know what Juilliard is. I was in high school, and my mom said I had to go to college. I was interested in business, and I applied to Carnegie Mellon ’cause I knew they had an arts program and they also had a business school. I got into their arts program, but they said if I did their arts program, I couldn’t take any business classes. I didn’t even know what Juilliard was. But one of my buddies, Phil, was like, “Yo, man, I’m gonna audition for the ‘Yard.’ Are you?” So there were three other kids that were auditioning, and I was like, “Ok, I’ll go.”

Well, they accepted me. And it was a rude awakening. I had no idea what I was in for. And remember, I was dyslexic, right? Shakespeare and period poetry and text and language. I had a huge learning curve. A lot of the other people in my class were very intelligent, very quick, brilliant, brilliant people. To be honest with you, I found myself lots of times just trying to keep up.

What comes to mind is this. Since you had all that to overcome, in the long run, in some ways, that may have helped you. Sometimes people who come in with natural talent and it comes easily to them, they might tend to slack off and not work as hard.

You nailed it, you nailed it! Absolutely. They said, “J, you’re naturally gifted. So everyone else is working to do what you do, and what’s gonna happen, if you don’t work really, really hard, they’re all gonna build, and they’re gonna know what they did to get where they are. And they’re gonna be able to surpass you ’cause they have a process.” What they teach is very process-oriented. Yeah, you can cry and you can be angry in one moment. But you have to do it again every single night and make it fresh and alive. So it’s about developing a sense of process, and that’s what they instilled in me. And threatened to kick me out, and I got really depressed, and I said, “Ok, I’m gonna start working really hard.”  And I did. And it changed me forever. And I excelled and went on to doing very well there.

It’s also worth pointing out that while at Juilliard, I met a lovely young lady by the name of Sarah. She was a Canadian student at NYU, and in 2009, we got married at the Statue of Liberty.

It sounds like this experience went on to bring you where you are now.

Oh, absolutely.  And I’m thankful for it today more than I’ve ever been.

So after Juilliard, where did you head next?

I was very fortunate. I was cast in a well-paying regional theater gig at the oldest theater in the United States called The Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia.  It was the world premiere of a play called The Eclectic Society. We wanted to do it regional, and then we wanted to take it to Broadway, but they couldn’t afford to put up that kind of production in New York.  But it was an amazing play, and a brilliant playwright, Eric Conger.

In addition to this, I was very fortunate that I got to go to the Sundance Theater Institute. That puppy there was life-changing because Meg Simon –she casts for Warner Brothers in New York–every year donates her services and brings incredible artists to Sundance in Utah to develop new plays. It was an amazing learning environment, especially to be around all these playwrights and all these directors. I was able to work on this new play by Cori Thomas from the Sundance Institute.

And then boom! We were bobbing around the theater circuit. When I did The Eclectic Society, we were being put up in Philly. And from there, we went west to LA ’cause we were tired of the subway, and it’s cold in New York. Initially, that was our reasoning. {he laughs}

So things weren’t really going the way we wanted for us. Sarah was on So You Think You Can Dance, the Fox show, for a couple of episodes, but got cut after Vegas.

We came up and visited Vancouver, and my buddy took me to the beach on a beautiful, sunny Vancouver day. It was incredible, and my buddy said that the weather was always like this. I said, “Okay, we’re movin’ here.”  He sure lied to me.

On Travelers as Jeff Conniker

On Travelers as Jeff Conniker

So tell us about how you got involved with The Travelers.

While in Vancouver, I worked in waste management for five years. No acting, no art, no nothing, and I was dying. But the plan was always to get back into the arts, so I applied to Vancouver Film School. They gave me a scholarship, and I went there for a year, and studied film production with a specialty in producing and post-production. When I finished film school, I needed a job. And that’s how I started acting ’cause either I was going to be part of a crew or I was going to act.

I was in LA doing a photo shoot, and my agent sent me a call for an audition, and I taped it in the room. I sent it back. And then they actually asked me to retape it ’cause they said it was too dark. So then I retaped it, and then I didn’t hear anything for three or four weeks. Then when I was back in Vancouver, Maureen Webb {well-known casting director in Vancouver} called and said, “Can you come in and read for this other part? It’s a director/producer session.”  And I went in and I met Nick {Hurran} and Brad Wright from Stargate, and he’s an awesome dude. And Nick had done Sherlock in the UK which was amazing to me.

When did they offer you the role?

I had a good feeling. I’d never had this kind of feeling.  {laughs}  There was some serious synergy ’cause I think my approach to the work, they really appreciated. They appreciated how seriously I was taking this guy. In fact, Brad said, “Listen, we need this guy to be grounded in reality because of his relationship to the other people in the show.”  As everyone will see, there is something very significant about his knowledge, but that’s all I can say right now. I actually got the call that I booked the role on my wife’s birthday, which was kind of cool. It was the first time I had read for the character Jeff, and it’s very unusual that I got it after that one session since they didn’t have me audition for that role originally.

When you got the role, how many episodes did they tell you you were going to be in?

They originally said two to three episodes. And then my agent went back and asked if they could do more. And they were like, “No.”  {laughs} Nick was the director of the pilot. We spent a lot of time together ’cause we had so much time on the pilot. We did research and rehearsals. It was great to be able to flesh out and build the character with Nick to guide it. And I guess we all just hit it off, and I took the moments that I had in the pilot very seriously, and I took the moments that I had in the second and third very seriously as well. I had a good time and I just went out there to do my best. And they were able to extend my arc throughout the entire season. So I went from being in two or three to being written into five and then all of a sudden, it was seven.

In regards to your character, what is it that you really like about him?

He’s human, you know? He’s flawed. He’s not perfect. He has some communication issues with others around him. I was very interested in him. I wanted to show that he was flawed and struggling, but I wanted to show the real him, his real heart. He’s not a cold monster; he’s just stuck in life right now. He truly loves the people who are closest to him, but he is placed in a difficult position.  The nuances in his scenes are something that I really enjoyed playing.

On Travelers behind-the-scenes

On Travelers behind-the-scenes

In today’s entitlement society, it is extremely rare to see young people invest their time and resources to accomplish their dreams. All too often, shortcuts and the “easy way out” are extolled as the smartest thing to do. Why put in the hard work if one is “entitled” to luxuries and special favors? J has never viewed things in this manner. Whether he was overcoming dyslexia, disproving cultural and socioeconomic stereotypes, laboring at a menial job, or creating a role in a highly anticipated show, J has never given up on his values, his dreams, or his positive mindset. As J is now venturing into this next exhilarating phase of his career, categorical success and prodigious opportunities are destined to be flung his way. Some actors may be inclined to become arrogant and overly confident of their abilities, possibly projecting an inflated ego. But I am thoroughly convinced that as long as J remains true to whom he genuinely is and never forgets from whence he came, his star will continue its rapid ascent for the duration of his career. Please be sure to check out his new series Travelers. It will premiere on Showcase on October 17 in Canada. It will also premiere on Netflix on December 23, so be watching out for it. In the meantime, be sure that you check out and follow J on the links below so that you don’t miss a moment of his rapidly developing career.

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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