Bernard David Jones on the “importance” of THE MAYOR, learning from the women on set, and his dream guest stars
My favorite new show this season is ABC’s The Mayor. I wasn’t expecting to love it. In fact, I only watched the pilot because I heart Yvette Nicole Brown and she’s one of the leads. Surprise, the show is amazing! Funny, thoughtful, and hopeful, it’s exactly the show I didn’t know I needed.
One of the very best elements of The Mayor is the ensemble cast. Brandon Michael Hall stars as Courtney Rose, rapper-turned-mayor; Brown is his mother, Dina Rose; Lea Michele is Valentina Barella, Courtney’s high school classmate and now chief of staff; Marcel Spears and Bernard David Jones star as T.K. Clifton and Jermaine LeForge, respectively, Courtney’s BFFs.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Bernard David Jones to talk about his lifelong artistic pursuits, the multi-level importance of having a show like The Mayor on television, the amazing ensemble cast, what he’s learned from the women on the show, and his dream guest stars.
NGTV: The Mayor is my favorite new show this season, and one of my favorite shows overall.
Bernard: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that.
NGTV: I have to say, your character turned out to be more than I expected. I thought Jermaine and T.K. would be these goofy sidekicks, but you’re really helping out!
Bernard: [laughs] Yeah, we have jobs, we have responsibilities… I think Jeremy wanted to have a show that was ensemble driven, so our characters are there a lot. I think that makes our show pretty special. If you relate to characters like Jermaine or Dina or Courtney or Val, you see us in every episode.
NGTV: It was impressive how from the first episode, this ensemble seemed fully formed. Had you all spent a lot of time together before filming the pilot?
Bernard: You know, it just happened organically for us. I remember when I went in for the screen test, that was the first time I met Marcel [Spears]. I remember us doing our scene and feeling like, ‘Wow, it feels like I’ve known this guy forever.’” So it started there for me. Then I didn’t meet Brandon [Michael Hall] and Lea [Michele] until the first table read after ABC picked up the pilot, and the first thing Brandon did was give me the biggest hug.
Bernard: Yeah. Then Yvette [Nicole Brown] was the last person we got, we were waiting to find out who would play Courtney’s mom, and then Yvette walked in the door and again, it was the biggest hug. We all connected, we enjoy the show, and we just enjoy each other. The chemistry just kind of happened, to everyone’s surprise.
NGTV: Oh my gosh, Yvette Nicole Brown, we looooove her.
Bernard: I know, isn’t she amazing and wonderful?
NGTV: I have to admit, she was the reason I gave the show a try. I wasn’t sure it was going to be up my alley, then I fell in love with the show, but she’s the reason I watched in the first place.
Bernard: I mean, Yvette is just this anomaly that happens in Hollywood when you have a super-talented person who is also a loving person who wants to see others do well. She acts like a big sister and takes you under her wing and tries to give you as much knowledge as she has. She’s been in the game for a minute and she’s done so well, and she done it with such grace. Whenever we go out, people are like, “Yvette! Yvette! We love you!” Every interview, people tell me how much they love Yvette. I remember telling her, Yvette, I hope and I pray that people end up loving me like they love you. She was just like, “They will, you just have to be a kind person, be yourself and love on people.” That’s the best advice. She always says, “How you start is how you finish,” so we made the commitment early on that for our show, it’s all about love on our set. When someone comes on set, you get the hugs. When guest stars come, we get up out of our chairs and we’re hugging them and welcoming them, because we want to be what our set is. And that’s all thanks to Yvette.
NGTV: Wise words from a showbiz veteran.
Bernard: For sure. She’s been an amazing wealth of knowledge. It’s been great.
NGTV: Our site focuses on women in front of and behind the camera, so that’s why I’m asking you a couple of questions about the women on the show. Then we’ll get back to Bernard and Jermaine, I promise. So talk to me a little about working with Lea Michele.
Bernard: For sure! You come off such a mega machine like Glee and you learn a few things. She’s been a great source of knowledge as well, like trying to figure out the whole publicist situation. I went to her and asked how to do that. She even helped me with social media. She came to me and said, ‘You need to change your social media handle to your name.’ And she was right. Watching her work – she’s so good at being Val. Watching her process has been amazing, too. She’s a professional through and through.
NGTV: I was reading your bio – you could have been on Glee! You’re quite the singer!
Bernard: Yeah, that’s one of those shows you look back on and think, ‘I wish I could’ve been on that show!’ It’s all about timing. For me it kind of started with music. Growing up in the church, that’s what we did. We sang in the choir, we did Easter plays, Christmas plays and that’s where the bug bit me. I ended up joining a performing arts troupe and went to performing arts school where we had to do everything. Music has always been there. I’m glad to get back in a music space; this show kind of sparked that old fire again. I’m back in the studio, working on my own music. A year ago I didn’t know what I was doing, sitting on my couch, trying to figure it out. And a year later I’m on a show that I love, doing music again – all things happen in the time that they’re supposed to happen.
NGTV: So you’ve known from an early age that you wanted to be a performer?
Bernard: Oh for sure. I feel like I’ve been performing my whole life. There’s always been an aspect of performance, then I realized that I could do this for a living. That was quite a revelation!
NGTV: So what drew you to the role of Jermaine? Was it the element of music with Courtney’s rapping?
Bernard: When I read the script during pilot season, I immediately recognized how important the script was. I was like, this is something that we need on television. Our country needs this. They need to see a leader who loves the people that they’re governing. You want to do work that’s important, that can edify your community. Then when I saw Jermaine, I thought, man, here’s an opportunity to show three young black men who are supporting each other, who are best friends, you didn’t leave your fellow man behind, you took them with you. What an amazing story to show. And these guys, they take their jobs seriously, it’s not a joke to them. That’s another thing – yeah, they’re the goofy sidekicks and they’re fun, but they take their jobs seriously and everybody as a collective wants to make the community better. That’s what I love about Jermaine. He’s all about love, he loves his family, and he’s relentless for Courtney. He kind of stands as Courtney’s voice of reason sometimes, even though his advice isn’t always the best.
NGTV: He’s trying, though.
Bernard: He’s trying and that’s all that we can really ask from one another is to try. That’s what I love about him, is that he loves his friends and his family, and he loves his job.
NGTV: That’s one of the things that really struck me at the beginning that was so welcome and kind of a relief was that here is a show that’s political, but it’s a hopeful show. All these people want to make a difference because this is where we live and we love where we live.
Bernard: The thing about the show, at the end of the day, is that everybody has the same agenda and that’s to make the community better. Even David Spade’s character. [laughs] Here’s this mean little man, but at the end of the day he still wants to do right for the constituents of the city. This show is important, it’s needed.
NGTV: I think you mentioned earlier that it’s important to see three young black men supporting each other. These are positive characters, which is relatively unusual on television.
Bernard: People love these guys! One of the most gratifying things about doing this show is that people see these guys and relate to them. It’s not about skin color, it’s not about socio-economic status, it’s about these people who love people, and people gravitate toward that. It really makes our show special. Not to be biased. [laughs]
NGTV: Hey, you can be biased!
Bernard: Yeah, it’s special. [laughs] But I also love the dynamic of the women who are on the show. We don’t really get to see a black single mom raising a black son on television, so for Dina Rose to pop up has been great. Yvette plays her with such love and care and heart, but she’s also so funny! To see this strong woman who says, ‘I’m going to support my child, whatever you want to do, I’m going to support you, like I always have.’ That’s great.
And then Lea Michele’s character – she knows her stuff. She’s so smart, she’s in a position of power, and being able to show young girls, ‘Hey, you can do it. I’m young, but I know my stuff.’ I think the female dynamic on the show is beautiful. You have two women who are strong in different ways. I think that’s important for young girls, for everybody, to see.
NGTV: Sometimes I wonder if I’m putting too much pressure on the show, but I feel like it’s pushing back on a lot of different stereotypes, but doing it so gently and with humor and grace. Then you’re like…wait a minute…
Bernard: I was just talking to a friend of mine about how if you watch our show, you’ll laugh, then you’ll go about your business and go, wait a minute, did they just tackle police brutality? Did they just talk about gun control? If you’re paying attention, you’ll get those gems. You’ll laugh, but then you’ll have a moment to think about as well.
NGTV: There have been a couple of mentions, just throwaway lines almost, where you’ll chuckle, but then you’re like, wait a minute, that was actually a really pointed social commentary.
Bernard: They do a good job of weaving in that social commentary without beating you over the head. Because if you came to our show and it was preachy, you wouldn’t watch.
NGTV: Let’s talk guest stars. You’ve had some great people on already.
Bernard: Yeah, we have! We’ve Arsenio Hall, which was amazing! We’ve had E40 [December 5 episode], Meagan Tandy, Larry Wilmore, Kali Hawk, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Diana Maria Riva – so many great guest stars so far.
NGTV: Who would you love to have on the show who hasn’t been on there yet?
Bernard: I’m gonna say this for Yvette, because I know she’ll read this: we want Idris Elba! [laughs] We’re putting that in the atmosphere.
NGTV: Oh yeah! That’s for all of the women on the show and all of the women watching! Sorry Yvette, that’s not just for you.
Bernard: [laughs] If you notice on the show, she has one Essence magazine that she reads in a couple of episodes and it has Idris Elba on the cover. You’re like, you don’t have any other magazines, Dina? [laughs] Idris, if you’re out there, come on over to The Mayor.
NGTV: Who would he play?
Bernard: We think he would play Courtney’s dad.
NGTV: Oooooh! How crazy would that be?
Bernard: Wouldn’t that be great? I’d also love to have Chance the Rapper on the show. It could be a rap battle, he could be one of our friends from high school…
NGTV: Oh yeah, there are a lot of ways he could be integrated into the show, so clearly it needs to happen.
Bernard: [laughs] Just putting it out there!
The Mayor airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.