Jayson Blair - Acting, Dating and Pucka Shell Necklaces
“I was a very, very bad kid, but I was also beloved by all.” That may sound arrogant coming out of anyone else’s mouth but not Jayson Blair’s. He carries himself with a self awareness only gained by experience and introspection. Jayson doesn’t look at his past with remorse. Instead he faces it, learns from it and uses it to become a better person, actor and in this case a better interview guest. “The past is the past for a reason, it doesn’t define the future it informs it. I may have done some wild things in the past but they have made me who I am, and I’m grateful for that. It’s those things that made me that actor I am today and helped me with story telling.”
This is a sit down with a kid from Detroit, who grew up and came to co-star in the new CW show Life Sentence.
D: What kind of kid were you in high school? Was it evident that show business was your calling card?
J: I was a bad kid and I was into some bad things. I have an amazing family and I put them through a lot. My dad and mom didn’t know what to do with me, so they took the door off the hinges to my room. I still go back and talk to the high school that I went to back in Michigan. Mrs. Humphries, the Social Studies teacher tells the kids about me, “Jayson was a bad kid, but was really sweet and had a lot of personalities.” I went back last year around Christmas to talk to the students and she yells “This is him; this is the guy I was telling you about!”
D: You grew up in Detroit which is a far cry from Hollywood. When did you know acting was what you wanted to do?
J: I had no idea that I wanted to be an actor. I was 19 years old and in community college. Everybody was telling me I should be a model, so I got a flyer for Barbizon modelling School.
Through Barbizon, I entered a competition where you pay to compete. A lot of the people that called me after the competition were from talent agencies in Los Angeles. Keith Lewis the Morgan agency sat me down, he asked me what I wanted to be when I was 25 and my modelling career was over (most modelling careers don’t continue after the age of 25). There was a pause and I looked at my parents and said “I don’t know.” He told me I had a great personality, and said “why don’t you sign with me for modelling and acting and while you are modelling you could go to acting school as well?” My parents and I decided to take him up on that.
About three years into modelling I quit. I was chubby, I had long hair, I wore a pucka shell necklace. I was not a model! I started doing really well with commercials and quit modelling. I fell in love with acting at that point.
The first break I had in television was my first job. It was a guest star role on CSI: New York. I Played this actual tattoo artist named Y monster. Jenifer Cooper, the casting director took a chance on me. Normally people start out with co-star roles. The best part of that story is she did the same thing with my role in Life Sentence. There were a couple of people that were not on board with me coming, from what they saw from my audition tape; my audition tape wasn’t excellent. But her and Richard Keith one of our creators and casting director thought that I was the guy. So they fought for me and they got me to come in and test for it. When I did my work session, the people that weren’t on board looked at Richard and Jennifer and said “I am so sorry, you were right! That’s the guy. That’s Aiden!” So she really stuck her neck out for me and went to bat.
D: One of the hallmarks throughout your career, and now carrying over into Life Sentence is your comedic timing. Have you always been funny?
J: My comedic timing is due to the family I grew up in. My mom is the youngest of nine and my dad is the middle child of eight, so your voice needed to be heard. It’s just my brother and myself, but being around all that you have to fight for your attention. The way we did that was through humor.
D: I had a chance to watch a hilarious short you did about a year ago called dating red flags. What is one red flag you watch out for when it comes to potential relationships?
J: Oh there are so many dating red flags! I think the biggest red flag is when you look at somebody and you “know” that you are in love without even having said a word to this person! That is the biggest red flag in the world! So many people; myself included when I was younger, look for that and seek that. I think that is so misleading, it is only based on chemicals in your brain and zero experience. Although it can turn into a good thing, it is always a red flag if you look at somebody for the first time and think you love them. Also, the crazy is always in the eyes, whether it’s a man or a woman. Look at the Instagram photos, if they have that far away look, you might wake up day and your cat is not with us anymore (if you get my drift).
D: How do you avoid the love at first sight thing? Because I feel like I experience that ten times a day.
J: You have to know that there can definitely be a juxtaposition of that feeling. The one who can make you feel that way just based on looking at them can also be the person that rips your heart out. So just getting to know someone is the best bet. Ask questions, find out about their upbringing and get to know them.
For me, the big defining moments in my relationships have been three months, eight months and two years. If I’m with somebody for three months I’m with them for 8 months and if I’m with them for 8 months, It’s going to be maybe two years. Within those three months, that’s the best time and also when people are lying about who they are, because they are trying to get somebody to like them. Which is natural. In those three months if somebody is giving you something that you are not vibing on, but you can’t give them up because you’re really attracted to them, just stop! Get out and get out now! (Jayson laughs) Because it’s just going to get worse. Just throw your cards in and walk away.
D: So how do you break up with some one well. Is it impossible to avoid heartbreak?
J: Somebody always gets hurt. When I was younger, I was the master at getting them to break up with me and having them think it was their idea. That was awful and is not the way to do it because there is a lot of manipulation involved. It’s a weak move! At the end of the day just be honest, just say “I really like you, but I’m not feeling this right now. I appreciate the time that we shared and learned a lot out of this, but I think I need to just do me for a little while.” If you are honest you can never go wrong. Obviously if you hurt somebody’s feelings you have to be honest with that. Through my life I’ve tried to be the most honest I can be, sometimes to a fault. Looking back on your life as an old man or women you’ll know that you did the right thing, because you were true to yourself and the other person.
Jayson carries this level of honesty and sincerity across everything he does. He doesn’t give you empty words when he’s talking to you. This degree of intention he has crosses over into acting. Jayson stays loyal to the story, while keeping himself open to the experience his character is having.
D: How do you carry that intense honesty into your acting without being too exposed or vulnerable?
J: I love to be vulnerable in a role. Sometimes too vulnerable. In my personal life, I am a stone wall closed off to emotion. But in my role in Life sentence, it is so easy to access true, real emotion. There are scenes where I’m just gutted, emotional and crying. And for me, it’s very therapeutic and that is what acting is.
Being honest in your work is every actors’ life goal, living in and breathing in that moment no matter how painful. That is an art; to experience life in that moment, not know what is going to come next. Not knowing what thought you are going to have next. In acting all the work happens at home, that’s where the vulnerability comes in.
D: Do you ever get nervous about being going to vulnerable? Have you ever had a time where you thought “I’m scared to go there”?
J: Maybe when I was younger, now I love the opportunity to go there. For men, it’s hard to access true sadness. On this show I find myself saying “okay that was too much, that is going to be really hard for people to watch at home.” I love being able to go there. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life, in a lot of different ways and haven’t processed it. It’s inside of me, so when I have the opportunity to experience it through a safe practice, it's very therapeutic for me.
Jayson talks about acting the same way an athlete talks about his love of the game. It’s not what he does, it’s who he is. All the work, all the blood, sweat, and tears, he actually likes it.
D: I had a chance to catch up with your co-star, Riley Smith yesterday. He had some high praise for the cast of Life sentence. How has it been working with everybody on the show?
J: We really lucked out with this cast, the chemistry is exceptional on screen and off. It’s kind of like a close-knit family. We have a life sentence Whatsapp group, where we share messages and photos and things like that. More importantly, everybody is just really dedicated to the process and to the story.
D: Is that usually the case, or have you been on some sets that were tougher to be on?
J: I worked a job that I was a regular on, and I found that some people just don’t understand how good they have it until they don’t have it anymore. Some people have made a really big name for themselves, so they feel compelled to have all kinds of crazy opinions about the writing the moment we should be shooting the scene, as opposed to the day when the scripts come out. Fortunately, on Life Sentence everybody knows that Lucy is the star and we all look up to her in that role. She raises the bar and delivers every time.
D: Life Sentence has received a lot of early buzz and acclaim, what about the show are you most excited about people experiencing?
J: I’m really excited for people to experience this story. Everyone has lost somebody to cancer and if you haven’t your just lucky. Although this show isn’t just about cancer. It is a show about family. And it’s a show about how things happen in a family that defines who you are. How you have to lie to the people you love sometimes to protect them, and how the truth comes out and many people are left by the wayside. Lucy Hales character gets cured of cancer in the pilot. So the rest of the show has to do with her new “life sentence”. It’s a drama but its really funny! It's really funny but really heartbreaking.
D: What do you do in your spare time when you are not acting? Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets?
J: I’m into photography, in my spare time I love to take photos. I’m into portraits. I also love taking landscapes, but I don’t get up early enough to take the only landscapes that are important enough at sunrise. I really enjoy night photography, going out and shooting the stars.
D: So we shoot all of our images for our magazine in film. Noah did your shoot on film. What is it in particulate you like about being shot in film over digital cameras?
J: If there is one word to sum it up it is ‘romantic’. You don’t know what you get until you process the images. One thing we take for granted; I’m someone that does this. We shoot a million photos of the same thing on our cameras and we lose out, trying to find perfection. In film there is not such thing as perfection, if you get close to it then you nailed it. But where the flaw is, could also be where the gold is.
This theme of excellence juxtaposed against raw honesty Jayson talks about in film photography, follows through into his acting. Acting is his craft, and he’s great at it. But honesty is his guiding principal and it’s what makes his craft beautiful.
The past has served this kid from Detroit well, but the future is looking pretty ‘romantic’.