Actor and comedian Jason Stuart has had many roles over the years including playing Joseph Randall in the hugely successful movie The Birth of a Nation, which was written and directed by Nate Parker. Alongside his acting career, Jason has hosted podcasts and often gives lectures on ‘The IN’s and OUT’s of Being Openly Gay in the Workplace’. Chatting to us recently, Jason discusses his podcasts, appearing in The Birth of a Nation and funny moments from his career so far.
What was it like onset of The Birth of a Nation?
It was life changing. The film changed me as an actor and a human being. To be a part of a film that showed America at its worst and in an honest way had been a dream of mine as an artist. The idea that a black man, Nat Turner had the willingness to fight the white slave owners in 1831 was an important story that needed to be told, and Nate Parker told it brilliantly. He created a work environment that was like being in a theatre company. It felt like a theatrical family not just a job.
How long were you filming for the role of Joseph Randall?
I worked on the film for three weeks. But I worked on the part for two weeks before with actor friends and a coach.
What can you tell us about the character?
He was a man who was a product of his time. I read the script only once, as I did not want the results of his 1931 actions in my 2015 performance. I worked on each scene and made each moment as specific as possible. I also worked on a walk of the character of a man who had worked on a plantation. I used the accent for most of the shoot, to be in the moment when Nate (the director) would call action. Armie Hammer was also wonderful to work with. He liked rehearsal as much as I do. We would drill the lines all the time which made my performance feel effortless.
Can you tell us about your podcasts Absolutely Jason Stuart and Sh#t I Love with Jason Stuart?
I wanted to do a chat show that would be about the work. How you got the part, how you worked on the part and what it was like to work with other actors and directors. I wanted to know about the problems of race, age and being LGBTQ in show business. I also wanted to highlight actors who were known for just one thing and talk about their other hopes and dreams they had in their work.
What can you say about your episode of Swedish Dicks, where you acted opposite Keanu Reeves?
He was so much fun to work with and had a great sense of humor. The shoots on TV series these days are very quick. I could tell it was a bit fast for him as he’s a big movie star. He was kind enough to pull me aside to work out what we would do physically, which made the shoot go much smoother. At first, I was not sure how to play the role and after our first run-through with Keanu and the star of the show Peter Stromare, it showed me the style of the dark comedy.
Is there anything about the thriller Immortal, where you play Joe, which drew you to the role?
The script only said two things about my character, that he was intimidating and had a low voice. Again, after working with Samm Levine, he gave me the subtleties of my performance. I drew on all the kids I have mentored and how they don’t really listen to me most of the time! But in the end they later realize I might have something to share with them.
Who is Hank in the short drama that’s recently been released?
HANK is my first gay role in a while. Most folks would think it would be an easy fit, but the character of “Hank” was not close to me. It was a man in a long-term relationship whose husband wants to have it opened up. He was also very timid and lives small in his life. I leap and take risks a lot. So, I based my “Hank” on the character in the film PRECIOUS, who with smallest move or risk is an accomplishment. It was a wonderful challenge for me, and my co-star Jay Disney really supported me in doing that.
What is Like Father about and how was it winning the Best Actor Award for your performance of Lenny?
It was such a surprise and the icing on the cake. I did not expect it or even know I was in the running. Making LIKE FATHER was a love note to my dad who passed away six years ago. It portrayed how he finally came around to accepting me as a gay man. Even though the story is so different, it really is a very similar relationship to the one I had with my dad. I even call him “Lenny”, which was my late father’s real name.
How was it receiving the SHE PERSISTED award?
I was totally shocked again. The journalist THOM SEMZEE invited me to come as a guest to his panel on gay health. I thought to myself, I’m not a doctor I only play them on TV! But he talked me into it and I showed up. The award is for my work with SAG AFTRA LGBT committee. I created the committee with Duncan Crabtree Ireland to support out actors since 2005 and have also been the national co-chair since its inception. This committee has worked hard to create a safe space for LGBTQ actors, singers, comedians, hosts, stunt people and more. Our mission has been to create equal opportunities to complete with our straight counterparts and have a safe place to work. I’m very proud of that fact.
What’s the response been like to The IN’s and OUT’s of Being Openly Gay in the Workplace?
I have been doing a lecture over the years on what it’s like to be openly gay in Hollywood. It applies to anyone who is not a white, heterosexual, Christian appearing man. I share my stories from my career and how I have been able to clear up the wreckage of my past to get to the next level in my success.
What do you enjoy about performing comedy?
I love the idea you have a funny idea and you can bring it on stage share it with an audience that same night. It’s a job I can always do to make money and that makes me feel safe. I also get to meet people I would never meet and go to places I would not otherwise get to see. And I love the audience laughter.
Upcoming shows: http://www.jasonstuart.com/appearances/
What came first for you, comedy or acting?
Acting, I started at around ten years old playing a slave in a Jewish play at my temple. I ripped up one of my mother’s sheets and went to work. My mom still reminds me of that! Acting is like a relationship that has a beginning, middle and end. Stand-up comedy is like quick hot sex. Sometimes it’s great and other times I wonder what happens and why I did that again! Haha.
Are you working on any current projects?
I just finished a film for Emmy Winner Lena Waithe and Oscar Winner Common called THE LINE. I play an anti-abortion leader much like the late Fred Phelps who picketed my stand up shows in the 90s. It’s really about the fact women may lose the rights to their own body. It was directed by a talented first time director Melisa Resch.
Details about new projects: http://www.jasonstuart.com/updates/
Have there been any stand-out funny moments in your career so far?
So many! I think the one that stands out the most is when a guy’s wife was coughing so much because her husband was smoking too much. In my early days of comedy, everyone smoked in the clubs. She had to be taken out of the club, as she could not breathe… by an ambulance! The whole show stopped and the owner pulled me aside and said “the show must go on!” So, after she was taken out, her husband stayed! AND continued to smoke! I got back on stage and said “could you smoke a little more, I don’t have cancer yet!” He moved to slug me and another man (a fan) jumped into his way to block me and he got hit in the face. Oy! Welcome to show business!
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