Joshua Boone has enjoyed a successful acting career since graduating from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in 2010.
Credits include his Broadway debut in 2014’s “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” based on the music and lyrics of Tupac Shakur; starring alongside Bryan Cranston in “Network” in 2018 and with Phylicia Rashad in “Skeleton Crew” earlier this year; and the lead in the film “Premature,” which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
This month, the actor stars in his biggest production to date — Tyler Perry’s “A Jazzman’s Blues,” debuting on Netflix on Sept. 23.
Boone plays Bayou, a singer in the 1940s, who is kept apart from the woman he loves.
The film is an especially personal one for Perry, who wrote the script — his first ever — more than 25 years ago intending to play Bayou himself.
“It was bittersweet because I aged out of the role,” Perry said about Boone playing the part. “But I felt great putting it in the hands of someone who is not only an incredible actor, but also an incredible artist who got into every detail of making Bayou a three-dimensional character with a full arc.”
That’s high praise for someone who initially wasn’t even going to audition for the role. Not because he didn’t think he had a shot, but because he hadn’t seen the script first. Most actors would jump at the chance to audition for Tyler Perry, script or not, but Boone isn’t most actors.
Here’s the thing about the 34-year-old Boone: He always stays true to himself.
‘Housing and a meal plan’
Boone has loved performing for as long as he can remember. He wanted to pursue it as a career and college was the first step in achieving that.
But he didn’t intend to study acting in college. He didn’t intend to study anything at all.
The plan was to enroll in a college in Los Angeles, where he would naturally book tons of acting gigs. Rather than an education, he said, the college would provide two things: “housing and a meal plan.”
That’s all he needed.
“I did not want to go to college,” Boone said. “I told myself, ‘I have a year. I’m not going to study anything. I’m going to be on academic probation from the first semester. I got a year to get into these movies.’”
This plan was foiled when the Tidewater-native didn’t receive enough financial aid to go to school out of state.
VCU was his backup plan. He would attend for a year and then reapply to the L.A. schools and “go get into these movies,” he said.
After majoring in business — a field he basically “pulled out of a hat” — his freshman year at VCU, Boone was itching to act.
“I was missing the stage so bad,” he said. “I [had] to do a play. I ended up auditioning for the musical ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ [at VCU], and I got cast as one of the leads.”
It’s unusual for a nontheater student to audition for a production, let alone get the lead role, said Broadway veteran Patti D’Beck, former director and choreographer at the VCU Department of Theatre.
“He walked into the room, and that was it,” she said. “He lit up the room. And we all went, ‘Wow, who is this person?’ … When he first auditioned, I wanted to know more about him. He’s so transparent inside and outside in a wonderful way, as an actor should be. I was just so intrigued with this person. And so I went — that same weekend that he auditioned for ‘Smokey Joe’s’ — to see him sing in his church choir.”
After “Smokey Joe’s,” Boone was ready to take on Hollywood. But his mom — his biggest supporter — convinced him to stay in school. “If you stay here,” she told him, “you can change your major and move where you want to after you graduate.”
“He was adamant,” Sherrie Boone said. “He was going to do it one way or the other. For somebody with that much passion, I knew that it was his path.”
More than just a pretty face
As a sophomore theater student, Boone found himself doing something he hadn’t envisioned a year earlier: working hard in class.
“He was always so charismatic,” said Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D., professor of graduate pedagogy in acting and directing at VCU.
“And he knows that,” she continued. “Things often came [so] easy to him that he did not work as hard as he should have. … I had to get his attention by literally telling him that talent alone is not going to take you anywhere.”
Boone admits to being a lazy student at first. Good grades always came easily to him, which allowed him to coast through school.
But Pettiford-Wates would have none of that. When Boone stood up in class unprepared — “To be honest, just flying by the seat of his pants, he was much better than some students who were putting in a whole bunch of work,” she said — she would call him out.
She doubts if anyone had done that before.
“I just wouldn’t let him get away with stuff that other people might have let him get away with,” she said. “They were mesmerized and awed by his ability. I told him, ‘You’re good looking [but] good looks will not get you where you want to go. I’ve seen a lot better-looking people than you. You know, you’re not the best-looking person I ever saw.’
“Because there’s a lot of pretty faces. That’s what I was trying to tell him. There’s a lot of pretty faces and that’s not going to get you anywhere. You’ve got to stand out somehow.”
Boone took that advice to heart. It was his catalyst for wanting to be the hardest worker.
“I love putting in the work now in a way that I never had before,” he said.
That ethic has allowed him to methodically choose the roles he wants to pursue. Or not pursue, as was the case originally with “A Jazzman’s Blues.”
Boone’s decision not to audition for the role doesn’t surprise D’Beck.
“He’s so clear about who he is and what he’s willing to do,” she said. “I know he has turned down other jobs because he didn’t feel he wanted to go in that direction. It has nothing to do with ego and attitude. It’s just that he knows where he wants to go. I can’t speak for him, but he’s very clear about his plans and I would assume … he wouldn’t want to commit to [the script] without knowing something about it.”
Luckily, producers sent him the script. And Boone was all in.
“I just felt like it was an opportunity and role I couldn’t envision passing up,” he said.
“A Jazzman’s Blues” is a story of forbidden love spanning 40 years in the deep South.
Bayou and LeAnne (Solea Pfeiffer) are the star-crossed lovers who find solace in each other before they are broken apart. They reconnect years later.
“It’s about whether we’re able to rekindle what we had and move forward or that we will be kept apart, essentially,” Boone said.
So why did it take so long for Boone to come on board?
For one thing, he wasn’t necessarily itching to work with Perry because — even though he had immense respect for what the actor-writer-producer-director-studio owner has built — he wasn’t sure if their artistic visions aligned.
“People expect that when you’re not known in the business, when you don’t have the opportunities, you’re going to take whatever. That’s never been me,” he said. “I do believe in what I’ve been blessed with. And so I’m willing to wait. I have been patient. I’ve said no to many things that could have raised the platform. I could have been paid a lot of money early on, but they weren’t things that I believed in.
“I never want to be deemed a hypocrite at any juncture of my life or career.”
But once he did read the script, Boone saw how he would portray the character. That Perry was receptive to his interpretation demonstrated their artistic alignment.
“I’m grateful that [Perry] said, ‘I want to use him,’ because let’s be clear: Unless you’re writing and producing and creating for yourself, every actor has their hand out looking for opportunities. At the same time, I’m not a beggar. I’m not desperate and I am grateful that he said, ‘Tag, you’re it.’”
And even knowing that Perry had written the role for himself, Boone felt “zero pressure” bringing Bayou to life.
“It has nothing to do with what his intentions were in the character,” Boone said. “I can’t fulfill the role through him. I can only bring me and hope that I can meet his expectations for the story right now for the character and for the story in general. I’m thinking about moment to moment. What the truth is in this moment and how to honor that.
“I am grateful for what [Perry] instilled in me and the graciousness and patience he had with me.”
Boone is one of the rare fortunate actors who has forged a successful career by remaining true to himself — uncompromising in his faith and values such as integrity, transparency and humility.
“Truth, love and God are synonymous,” Boone said. “Each one exists inside the other and never apart.”
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