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‘This Is Us’ Star Ron Cephas Jones Wins an Emmy

September 30, 2018

Ron Cephas Jones’ performance in the second season of This Is Us was honored at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding guest actor in a drama series. Jones plays the emotionally charged role of the cancer-stricken William Hill, the biological father of Randall Pearson, on the NBC hit series. It was a special win especially after last year when he earned an Emmy nomination for his season-one performance in This Is Us.

In a Gold Derby interview, the New Jersey native spoke about what lead to his career success. “I always tell people, ‘Just continue to persevere and stay in the moment. Focus on the work.’ I’m here based on my work, to be honest with you. I just kept my head down and stayed in the grind,” he said.  

Jones also attributes part of his success to the advent of cable as the number of productions increased and the content broadened, and this opened up roles to lesser-known but highly skilled actors. Each passing role gave him more exposure and opened new doors. He shared:

“Eventually the work begets the work. Quality rises to the top eventually. It takes a while, but eventually these shows, that’s what they’re looking for, quality actors to bring to life these very layered characters that you couldn’t have on regular television before because of the language or the audience wasn’t ready. But now with cable, audiences are ready for anything … The issues that we touch on on ‘This Is Us,’ you couldn’t touch on those things ten years ago. It’s too deep … The audiences were longing and craving for deeper content instead of this stuff that happens a lot on television. I think that’s what it was.

In a fascinating Television Academy talk, Jones described some pivotal moments that impacted his career. Although he’d studied theater, he took ten to fifteen years off from acting and instead worked construction and as a teacher. Although he yearned to act, Jones didn’t really know how to begin after all these years. But in 1988, he saw Denzel Washington portray Richard III in a park production, and it profoundly affected him to see a film actor who could perform theater classics with such ability. Inspired to one day do the same, Jones was determined to get back on a stage.

He found a great stepping stone in New York’s East Village where there was a popular cafe featuring jazz, plays, and an open mic on the weekends. It proved to be fruitful move as his poetry readings lead to him performing in one of the cafe plays–where a big casting director spotted him and later cast him in a theater tour.

After the run, Jones joined a theater group where he met Philip Seymour Hoffman who was going to direct a play for the ensemble. Jones insists, “The trajectory of my career instantly shifted … What I started to learn was that I really didn’t know anything about acting. I knew that I had some type of technique, I knew that I could memorize lines, I knew I could display my feelings … but what I realized was that I knew nothing about acting–about the process, about the craft of it, about what it takes to assimilate a script, to take apart a script, to put it back together, what actioning is, what your goal is, what your character structure is. I mean, all these elements were brought into my life through working with [Hoffman] and him directing me.”

Most importantly, it became clear to Jones that it was going to take a whole lot of hard work and time to become the kind of actor he yearned to be. And fortunately, he was up for the challenge.

Jones has been busy with his recent roles. He played the fsociety member Romero in the Golden Globe-winning television series Mr. Robot, and he portrayed the Harlem chess master Bobby Fish in Luke Cage. The in-demand actor will play an undisclosed role in the upcoming superhero film Venom, he’s cast as the series-regular Shreve Scoville in the new Apple drama Are You Sleeping, and he’ll perform in the Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name with Eddie Murphy.

Jones said he is “blessed and grateful” for the acting opportunities he’s been given.