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The late, great Bernie Mac would say that you know Richard T. Jones, but you don’t really know him.
It’s not because he lacks experience, for he has appeared in a long list of TV shows and movies over the last three decades.
Most might recognize him as court officer Bruce Van Exel from “Judging Amy” or as officer Clement from the show “Brooklyn South.”
But I can promise you that everyone knows him as the brash Laveinio “Slim” Hightower from the 1999 classic film, “The Wood.”
I can see the recognition in your eyes now. You’re laughing as you remember the mishaps of Slim, Mike and Roland as they tried to get the latter to his wedding on time and in one piece.
Richard T. Jones is one of the Black actors who rode the wave of success ridden by Black talent during the 90s, only his story is one many don’t know.
Fortunately, I had the chance to sit and speak with him about his career and the unorthodox way he stumbled upon the path to success in the entertainment industry.
Act or Fail
Richard’s acting career didn’t begin because he sought it out. Instead, it arrived through a moment of choice.
His entry into acting began when he traveled from California to attend Tuskegee University in Alabama, where the shock of being surrounded by Black culture immediately enveloped him. He got caught up in the party scene and lost sight of the academic part of the college experience.
“I was a good student. Then I got to Tuskegee from California and lost my mind,” he said laughing.
But then academic reality set in. That’s when he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and took a class that changed his life.
It wasn’t a legal class or even political science. No. Instead, he enrolled in a monolog class.
“This is great,” Richard told me he remembered thinking. “I wanted to be a litigator so this class will help me with my opening and closing statements.’
He was obviously influenced by shows such as “Law & Order”, where the law was represented with adoration and dynamic oratory performances.
“The only thing I knew about the law was through movies, so who would have thought…”
The class, which focused on reading, reciting and discussing plays, ended up being the catalyst for change in Richard’s life.
His professor recognized something special in him and asked him to audition for a play they were working on. While flattered, he declined, for he was only taking the class to become a powerful attorney. He didn’t need acting for that.
Well, karma has a way of rearing its head at the most inopportune moment. In this case, it became a moment of opportunity after his professor gave him a choice.
Audition or receive the not-so-great grade he was earning at the time.
So he showed up for the audition and got the part in the school’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“That was the beginning of my acting career,” he said.
The rehearsals were time-consuming, which eliminated partying. But that turned out to be a blessing, for it kept him focused.
The night of the play, he recalled blacking out and not remembering much about his performance. But the crowd loved him, so he obviously delivered a rousing performance.
Yet the one thing he does remember while on stage was receiving his calling.
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