If you’re a football fan, then you know probably know Thomas Q. Jones from his big moves in the NFL as a running back for teams like the Chicago Bears and New York Jets over the course of 12 years. If you’re a fan of BET’s original series Being Mary Jane, then you know the Virginia-born charmer as Brandon, a.k.a. Gabrielle Union’s “Cutty Buddy”. And if you recently saw Straight Outta Compton, then you’d recognize his fit frame from a very intense scene in the film. Bottom line, if you have seen Thomas Jones in action, you’ll remember him.
Aside from his high-profile work in the NFL and in Hollywood, Jones has also been active in music as an independent label owner, and recently got involved in a tech company with the entertainer-friendly app Castar. Needless to say, the active entrepreneur has been fearless in all of his endeavors, and is now enjoying both personal and professional growth beyond any boundaries.
We took some time with Thomas Jones to get the play-by-play on his newest roles, and gained some perspective on how he maintains positive energy in everything he does. Read on…
How much has your focus had to change in the change from sports to acting? What have you done to prepare yourself?
Thomas Q. Jones: I was always into other things besides sports, even as a kid. I played a lot for sports but was one of those kids that was into music class, drama class and things like that, so I always had other hobbies outside of sports. Once I got to the NFL, it opened up a lot more opportunities for me, because I was able to meet different people in different parts of entertainment, and that’s how I started my music label.
From me starting my music label, it linked me to adding a film division to my company. Then from me adding a film division, and that’s how I got into acting. I’m not an artist so it’s kind of hard to really control the artists and their dedication, because I’m not them. I’m used to being the team player as a football player. So as an actor, it has a lot to do with me focusing on myself, being the very best actor I can be, putting the work in, and letting the opportunities and my hard work meet each other at the same time.
Which career is more difficult – acting in Hollywood or being a football player?
TJ: The thing about being a football player is there are a lot of things that can stop you from being successful. You can work really hard, but if you’re not in the right system or get to have an injury, there are a lot of things that can really hurt you as far as your success.
In Hollywood there are a lot of pitfalls too. A lot of people think that they could just come out here, and because they have a certain look or type of body, they could just make it… and that not how it is. Also, some people think they could know all the right people and just make it and that’s not how it is either.
In a lot of ways to be honest, football and acting are similar. Hollywood and the NFL are similar. The only thing I would say is different is the NFL is more black and white. You could play or you can’t play. It’s one of those things where if you can’t play, you’re not even gonna get on the field for the most part. Sometimes in Hollywood if you’re an actor, you could know the right people and if they say the right things about you then that definitely helps you tremendously as an actor and you get more opportunities. They are a lot alike.
For me, I started as an actor about three years ago and started dabbling in it and I started to take it really seriously last June. That’s when I started really getting into acting. I never took a lot of classes or anything like that. I was cast by a couple of projects, and I went out there and just naturally did what I did. But I had no idea of the craft and never studied it except in a couple of classes in high school. Now it’s totally different. I’m an actor and I’ve been in three actors’ studios out here in L.A. I’m constantly working and truly an actor now.
I’ve made the transition, so I see there are way more similarities now to be a football player and actor than most people would imagine. For example, you have a script as an actor and the more you know your script, lines, and more specific you are and know your back story and you understand the material, the more natural you’re gonna be able to act and bring your personality to the scene. In football you have the same thing with the playbook. The more you know your plays, understand the defense, the offense or the schemes, the more prepared you are with the details, the more natural you’re gonna be able to play from an emotional standpoint.
As an actor you have to go as far as you can inside of who you are, and you really have to play off your life experiences for motivation. It’s the same thing for a football player. You have these raw emotions that you’re ready to unleash on Sundays, and you have to dig deep within you and it’s for the fourth quarter when the game is close. You have to find something inside of yourself to bring the best out of you. There are a lot of examples, but those are just a few.
Did you or anyone around you have any doubt that you were going to make it, or did you have confidence in your career decisions?
TJ: You know what? I really didn’t have any thoughts on because it was so new and spontaneous and kind of popped up. I added a films division to my company and I started to produce a project with Clifton Powell. I was acting, playing his nephew and this project I was shooting in Miami, and then I started to really like it and thought “Wow this is cool.”
For eight or nine months after I retired in 2012, I was blessed. I had my record label and a bunch of other things going on, but personally I was used to working had, being the talent, and controlling my destiny. When you’re working for and with other people and you’re trying to bring the best out of them, sometimes it doesn’t work because of the relationships that you have, you don’t see eye to eye, maybe that person doesn’t work as hard or doesn’t see your vision. There’s a lot of different reasons why those things don’t work.
I kind of got the [acting]bug and I liked it. It was something new and challenging. Clifton Powell is really like a big brother to me and he really encouraged me to act. He thought I had natural ability and encouraged me to get into some classes and stuff. I was still doing the music thing heavy at the time. I wasn’t really taking it seriously, but once I came to L.A. last year in June it was like, “Ok this is what I’m gonna have to do.”
Anything I’ve gone after I’ve always committed to 100% – I have high expectations. I’m very critical, especially of myself, and I want to be the best. I don’t want to try to do something, I want to be one the best to do it and it comes with a lot of hard work. I enjoy it, the work and seeing the accomplishments. I never really looked at Hollywood as something to conquer; I just looked at it as another chapter in my book in my life. It’s something I can add to that like, “Hey I played football, went to West Virginia and graduated a year early. Now I have a music label and am an actor…”
I look at it as one big book, and I’m never surprised by anything that I do that’s successful, because I put the work in. When you put the work in you should expect to be successful. That’s how I see it.
So for all the professional moves you’ve made, how are you adapting to being considered a sex symbol?
TJ: I guess it’s different now, because it’s about me. It’s not what I did on the field, how many touchdowns I’ve had, or who I’m in a relationship with. It’s more about me as a person and everything about me, from the way I look, talk, act, my personal life, and my personal business. I literally have become state property because you belong to the people. That’s a new experience, because I’m a very low-key and laid back person. I never really went after the spotlight.[Acting] is very challenging, and I like challenges. It also gives me an opportunity to express though producing a lot of the ideas that I have. I’ve never done things for the fame, things come and go. I do this for the art and craft of it. I see some of the great actors out here and really look up to them and think, “Wow they are really good. I would love to be respected like that.” I’m not use to people recognizing me outside of football, because I don’t really see myself as a celebrity, I think of myself as just like everyone else. Everyone’s blessed or fortunate enough to have an ability to do something special, and that’s how I see it.
People are very open and opinionated, and they really have no problem voicing what they think… and it’s raw, you know? [laughs]Everyone on this planet is beautiful. I understand that there are certain societal standards that people have to meet. I don’t believe in that stuff, but I guess being in this industry a lot of that is part of it, and I get it. I’m flattered by people seeing me in that way. It obviously makes you feel good to know that people are respecting you, it makes you feel like you did something right, and it’s one more step toward validation. I’m not really doing it for that. I’m doing it because I really love acting. I think it’s fun.
I’m learning so much more about myself every day as an actor more than I did as a football player. Football teaches you to be very closed and not to be vulnerable and expose yourself, because you have to be this kinda crazy, lunatic animal. As an actor you can’t be that way. You have to be vulnerable and expose yourself, get to know who you are deeper and deeper. If you’re gonna be the best actor possible, you have to be able to let go and go there. In order to do that, you’re gonna have to let your guard down.
So it’s helped me as a person. I’m a very aggressive and intense person, but before I used to be a lot more aggressive and intense and a lot more relentless. In football, I could control my destiny because the harder I work and more mad I am and meaner I am on the field, the more respect I’ll get. Here, it’s not like that. You have to be able to deal with everyone’s personalities, be open, and this is just the industry I’ve asked to be in buts it help me as a person. It’s helped me transition from football.
What has been your favorite process and work environment between television and film?
TJ: I don’t really have a preference. I think honestly as an actor it’s the same process. You have the script, the same setup, the same cameras, the same blocking and all the same stuff. I’m really just kinda getting started too, so I’m not sure I’m at that place yet. I’m just happy to be working, and working with great actors. Anytime I get a chance to act and get a chance to show my ability and literally kind of get lost in the scene, I think that’s the best part to me.
I went to the American Black Film Festival this past June, and saw this movie that I shot called Runaway Island [for TV One]a couple of months ago on the big screen. Other shows that is hot like Shameless and Being Mary Jane I saw on TV, but it was just an amazing difference. Then I was in another movie called Supermodel that was at the ABFF, so I was in two projects there, and to see myself on the big screen and TV was like a totally different experience.
Now Straight Outta Compton… I’m in that, and Being Mary Jane’s new season is coming. It’s weird, because I’m literally getting a chance to see how it feels to be on the big screen and TV kind of simultaneously. So I don’t have a preference at this point, I just like to act. I just like to work, be on set, be around the crew, every cast. It kind of reminds me of being on a team. You have all these people that all have one goal, and that’s to put the best product out there for people to see.
What do you want people to know most about you at this stage of your life?
TJ: I want people to know that I’m at a stage in my life where I’m completely at peace and happy. I think that there are so many things that people are looking for and chasing and they don’t know why. People believe in things because they’ve been taught to. People have not been able to tap into their own personal space and their mindset, what matters to them and what makes sense to them.
Since I was drafted by the NFL, I’ve had friends that have come and go, I’ve had close family members that I don’t desire to talk to. I’ve just realized that there are certain rules and guidelines in life that were created by people, and we follow those rules and regulations because we were taught to. Our brains are like in a cage; we’re locked up and locked into thinking that this is the only way. I’ve been blessed enough to go through so many different experiences, good or bad, that I’ve finally come to a place where I understand who I am and what makes me happy.
I literally have broken free from any societal rules that people have made up that they think everyone should follow. That includes everything from religion to being married with kids at 37. People wonder, “Wow, what’s wrong?” Nothing’s wrong. I’m just living my life, you know what I mean? Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have to continue to reinvent yourself and grow – open your mind and learn different things.
I would tell people to take a step back and look at who they are and understand are they living by their rules or someone else’s. I looked at the NFL as a trampoline, not quicksand, and that’s how I ended up here.