Brian White & Penny Johnson Jerald Lets Us In On Why Media Is Worth Watching
There is absolutely no way that Brian White and Penny Johnson Jerald and their impeccable talent could go unnoticed. The dynamic actor and actress have had many great accolades throughout their careers, telling stories through the art of acting, remarkably, for decades and decades. While Jerald has left lasting imprints on the film and TV industry, working her way to the top as a vet in the game, portraying Beverly Barnes in the HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show, as well as appearing in 24, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Castle, White has also been known for his memorable work in an array of TV series and films, as well. With recognition for his role in a couple of Tyler Perry productions, White’s track record goes on, most notable for his roles in The Family Stone, Stomp The Yard, The Shield, ABC’s Scandal—starring Kerry Washington, and a long list of others.
However, most recently, White and Jerald have come together to embody a mother and son duo like no other. The two portray Michael and Jackie Jones, both powerful forces of the Jones Family, in TV One’s newest film, Media. Directed by Craig Ross, Jr., Media tells the story of an urban-based family dynasty and their journey to protect their media empire. After things start to suddenly spiral downhill and the empire starts to crumble, Michael (White) steps in to see to it that the Jones family name and their company withstand through the turmoil. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s definitely worth the watch. Drama gets juicy and stuff gets real, real fast.
Check out our interview with Brian White and Penny Johnson Jerald, as they give us an inside look at their characters and how they hope this film brings about social change.
Parlé Mag: As an actor in the business, what is one thing that you always strive to deliver through the characters you portray?
Brian White: The number one thing that I aspire to do has been posted on my website, brianwhiteonline.com; it’s my mission statement, since the day I began acting. It’s to find projects that can create a social change, that have the ability to set the table for dialogue, for conversations. On every level, I think Media is that type of project.
Parlé Mag: As you mentioned, new film, Media, premiering on TV One. Looking at the trailer, it looks like it’s going to be a lot of heavy situations happening in this film.
Brian White: Absolutely! I mean, this is a story about life and death. It’s a very raw, real story. When you’re talking about controlling the narrative, you’re talking about ultimate power. Again, that’s what we’re looking at with Donald Trump right now. You know, what’s true and what’s not true. The battle that’s going on with various media outlets and then our president. That’s how big business media is. This story reflects all of that. It shows what the struggle is to keep control over that narrative, how much money goes into the game, how much people are paid in the game—their lifestyles, and even what goes on behind the scenes. I think big business hasn’t necessarily been portrayed in the African-American community, authentically, let’s say. What I’m most proud about is that Cathy Hughes, she knows all about big businesses. I give my hats off to that.
Penny Johnson Jerald: What Media brings to the table, for all, is that you’re going to be looking at three-dimensional lives. Yes, you’re going to be looking at a lot of strength, but that strength does not come without flaws. So, that’s how we’re able to view a true three-dimensional, a true picture, and a true depiction of the strength of this family and what they go through, and what they will do to land on their feet. Because we’re African-American, I am excited because that story is not often told. When it is attempted to be told, it’s never told really in truth and in credibility. Aside from that, I think we’re going to cross over because we’re dealing with the three-dimensional of strong people.
Parlé Mag: Penny, let’s talk about your character, the matriarch, Jackie Jones, in Media. How would you describe Jackie?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Wow! I think she is the epitome of the strongest African-American woman you can think of to date. That might just be Michelle Obama.
Brian White: Absolutely! [laughs]
Penny Johnson Jerald: I’m going there! I’m definitely going there, and I’m going there because of the integrity that the first lady—I can still call her that, resonates throughout this country. I feel that Jackie Jones has that same foundational integrity within her family, and within her dynasty.
Parlé Mag: How did you each go about preparing for these roles?
Penny Johnson Jerald: First of all, I’m a mother. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: So, it came naturally!
Penny Johnson Jerald: I truly am a lover of people, and I am an advocate for people who put in the hard work and they reap the benefits of that. So, that was pretty easy on that emotional level and intellectual level.
Brian White: Agreed! My preparation has been life. With a background as a stockbroker and a professional athlete, I do heavily on those two things, because this is a story about competing in multiple arenas. White-collared folks and blue-collared folks, and an intersection. Everybody’s represented in this and everybody has stakes. That’s one of the other things that I found so exciting; there are not a lot of shows—especially for us, that showcase and highlight both sides, people with a whole lot of money and people no money, but nobody’s villainized, nobody’s the bad guy. From a socioeconomic status, we get to see a portal into both sides—their motivation, their troubles, their problems. That’s what I feel is so exciting. No matter where you come from in life, you can turn on Media and see a character who reflects you, and that’s exciting.
Parlé Mag: Brian, you mentioned that Media touches on a lot of issues, black and white. How significant do you both think it is for actors and actresses to branch out and do stories that are not exactly conventional or talked about?
Brian White: I think it’s extremely important! Extremely important. Especially for us. You really have to dig to find the truth in anything that should be a reflection of your life. It should set the table for dialogue. I think that’s what Media does. I’ve never seen a show, again, that reflects both sides accurately, without villainizing either or. And, to be able to have that, and welcome all people, from all economic levels, and to be able to see somebody in this movie who reflects them—who they can identify with, will more regularly set that table for discussion.
Parlé Mag: With all of you having many experiences in this business, what would you say are the guidelines to sustaining longevity?
Brian White: What creates longevity in this business? In one word, integrity. Self-integrity. This is a craft and a skillset and I find that the majority of the industry doesn’t necessarily take it as such. I come from the sports world, and every athlete knows you’re only as successful and as good as your last play. You always have to strive to improve. That’s why we love LeBron James; that’s why we love Magic Johnson and such Michael Jordan, etcetera, etcetera. Every day, they’re out there trying to be better than the day they were before. In the entertainment industry, the people who you see at the top of the game or at the top of the industry, are the same kind of people—the Denzel Washingtons, the Viola Davises, Meryl Streeps, and etcetera. The Penny Johnson Jeralds. They excel because they’re always striving to enhance to increase their craft! That comes with integrity. You don’t just say, “Hey! I made it to the top of the mountain; I’m just going to sit up here and collect all the accolades.” You keep climbing.
Penny Johnson Jerald: Brian, I think you are absolutely right with that. I think we have to go one step more. Not only is it a sense of integrity–although this may be an ingredient of integrity if I really think about it, but, if you don’t understand that you are not really, truly doing this by yourself, that you aren’t alone, you will just fall short. God tells me he is not finished with me yet, that there is a reason why I have to keep staying in this game, that there are people I have to touch. There are relationships that need to be cemented. The moment I think—or anyone thinks, that they were in it for themselves, it’s over. So, I think it is a major ingredient of integrity.
Brian White: My first acting class that I ever had was with a woman named Janet, and one of the things she said, that I realize now, is super, super true. She said, “You will always work in this business if you can find a way to add value to the production.” And, on any level–whether you’re a grip or the lead actor, or the director, or writer, or the casting director, you can add value! You can make the project better. On some level–on any level, even one fraction of one percent, I think, involved with it, you’ll always be invited back. You’ll have positive things being said about you moving forward. That’s how this industry works. So, add value, work hard, stay humble, and, like Penny said, realize you are a small component of a very large team. As long as the rest of that team sees you as valuable, then you’re in work. By being around Penny, by being around Denise, by being around Pooch and everybody else in this cast, you could tell these people are professionals; they come prepared. They add value, they’re humble, they work hard and they’re all about a team. That’s why Media is such a special project. It’s not often that you have all of those elements come together with your cast and your crew, and your producers. But, in this movie it did, and the proof is in the cut.
Penny Johnson Jerald: You know what’s really exciting about this movie is that it’s premiering in February. February is Black History Month; although, I’m Black all year long. [laughs] But, it’s something about the privilege of being showcased in the month of February, which represents the contributions of people of color, African-American. So, for this movie to premiere during the month of February, it’s paramount. It is bigger than I can truly express because you’re going to see all facets of our beautiful Blackness, how unique we are. Even in being billionaires—which we are in this particular show, we even do it differently as billionaires. It’s so wonderful when we put our signature on something; it’s refreshing. It’s new. I certainly hope that–in the celebration of Black History Month, when people watch it, that they watch it as that thing to say, “Oh, yeah! Yet another thing for us to celebrate!” And, that’s to celebrate a family that’s together, a family that is colorful, a family that is successful, a family that will identify their shortcomings and not leave it there, but do everything to fix it.
Brian White: To be successful, this family—specifically Penny’s character, the mom, the matriarch, recognizes the flaws that are in the family and attacks them with a purpose to fix them. I relate this to Beyoncé and Jay Z; we’ve seen their flaws. They’ve shared their flaws with us. They’ve shared their struggle with us, but that’s why they’re so strong because they’re so vulnerable. And, that’s a reflection of what the Jones family goes through in this movie. There are huge flaws and problems in billionaire families, but the thing that they do that broke families don’t do is that they come together and they fix them. They identify them, they admit them, and then they fix them. I think that’s one thing that this movie does, exceptionally well, is informs people of all races that that’s what it takes. You know, the Obamas have to do this. Oprah and Stedman have had to do this. Beyoncé and Jay Z have had to do this. That’s why they are them! The Jones Family do the same thing.
Parlé Mag: After Media, what’s next?
Penny Johnson Jerald: I feel blessed with Media happening. I feel really blessed with my developing deal that’s going through right now. And, I feel ultra blessed that I am still married to the same man, thirty-something years ago, in this business that goes up and down. So, I feel like I can finally breathe and say, ‘Hey! God, you got me in here for a reason. How many lives can I touch? Let me do it now!” I don’t know if this is my finale, but it is a long play, and I am in it to win it!
Brian White: On my end, I am getting ready to head to DR—the Dominican Republic, to shoot a movie called the Oglevee’s Fortune, with a host of other actors, including George Wallace and Keith David—who I’m really excited about working with, among others. On February 10th, my movie called No Regrets premiered on UMC—myself, Loretta Devine, Sharon Leal, and a host of others. Really excited about that. It’s a romantic comedy. And, then, the next two, after that, will be Amateur—which stars, again, Sharon Leal, myself, and Michael Rainey, Jr., who everyone loves from Power, Joshua Charles. That’ll be in theaters in the spring. I have another movie that will be out on Netflix, called Howard High, which is a little bit like Lean On Me mixed with High School Musical.
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