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an interview with jaimyon parker
renaissance performer tackles faith, friendship, typecasting
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

Jaimyon Parker is a Houston-raised, Los Angeles-based actor who also produced, wrote and co-stars in Iris, which recently wrapped a successful four-week run at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood. Iris is a powerful, memorable tale of the damaged title character (played pitch perfectly by Lauren Elliott) who is taken through a review of the missteps of her troubled life by a sarcastic but potent demon named Bastiel (Parker). Over the next 90 minutes, abortion, drug abuse, incest, sisterhood and faith are explored with a depth, intensity and earnestness that LA theater is not normally associated with. It is a more volcanic version of A Christmas Tale, one that forces the viewer to ask themselves about their own spiritual journey without being preachy or simplistic.

Parker, a 2009 NAACP Theater Award nominee, is also an alumnus of two of my short films and is set to make his feature film debut in my feature directorial debut, All the Children Are Insane, scheduled to begin filming in LA in a couple of months. Jaimyon sat down to talk with me about his inspiration for Iris, his upcoming feature film work and life as a multihyphenate.

Jason Gilmore: Where did you come up with the idea for Iris?

Jaimyon Parker: Wow... IRIS came out of my fascination with demons and vampires and all other sorts of "evil" characters. One of the things I really loved about Anne Rice's novels is that she showed all three dimensions of this typical monster character, The Vampire. They loved, they hurt, they were so easy to relate to because they were us, you and I. I wanted to explore a demon in that way, and also look at how the delayed consequences of many of our choices in life, causes us to not worry or deal with them when making decisions.

JG: What was the biggest struggle in bringing it to the stage?

JP: As always, money. I had been thinking about doing Iris for about a year as it was conceivably an inexpensive piece. God waited till the perfect time and had me in the perfect situation where I could really afford to do this play. I ran into [producer Max Luces-Tucker] at my last major production, James & Joseph, and she said that we had to work together. I agreed, but it would be two years later before I sent her the script for Iris, and she loved it. I told her about my idea of fusing music and the stage together to help reach a broader audience, and again we clicked, as she comes from a large music background. Together, we campaigned and fund raised, as well as paying for most of it ourselves. I really wouldn't have been able to do this without her and my stage manager/casting director/saving grace and one of my best friends, Malika Perkins.

JG: As an actor and writer, who are your favorites and influences? And, on that note, were you influenced by any particular artist or work in writing and producing Iris?

JP: As an actor I love watching Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, and even Tom Cruise to name a few. As a writer, I liken myself more to poets than screen or stage writers. Poets like Langston Hughes and Robert Frost. Music is also a HUGE influence on me like artists such as Stevie Wonder, Chuck Mangione, Jay-Z, Four Play, Quincy Jones, Metallica, Robin Thicke, Maxwell, Norah Jones, Michelle Branch, and many others. Iris was borne out of my own curiosity and need to explore.

JG: Where did you find your amazing cast? Everybody really came with it: I was especially enamored with Lauren Elliott, who starred as Iris, Addie Daddio, who played her mom and Sabrina Revelle who played her closest friend.

JP: I was humbled every night to have the privilege to work with these women. The beautiful and amazing Lauren and I met in 2009 when I was casting a 10 minute play I was going to be performing at the NAACP Theatre Awards where I was also a nominee for Best Local Playwright. Malika recommended her and she came in and rocked it. Addie Daddio was brought into auditions by Dan Martin, the director. Max and I had talked about diversity in casting from the very start of pre-production, so we were open. She came in and blew everyone in the room away. Sabrina and [Marie-Francoise Theodore, who co-starred as Kenya] were called in by Malika to audition, and they just had a spirit in their readings that matched the characters they were reading for.

JG: At which point did you decide to play all the male characters in the play and was that part of a theme or for practical reasons or an opportunity to showcase your range as an actor?

JP: I never decided to play all the male roles. The part was written that way. Bastiel basically guides Iris through her life and it seemed a really nice tool to have him embody all the male characters she comes against in her life, including her loves and miscues, abusive father, and Mr. Right. It creates another side of him and allows for transitions within Iris on stage that normally are done in film. Contrary to popular belief, I don't always write pieces with "my" part in mind. This one I just wrote the story, then once it was done and I read it, I knew I was going to play Bastiel. He is such a fun and exhausting character that constantly challenges and excites me and finding his love and pain, living in that and bringing the truth of it out was a journey I knew I wanted to go on.

JG: Of course, I saw James & Joseph and now after seeing Iris a bunch of times, I've noticed some common themes: people who struggle with their religious faith, the fragile nature of friendships, drug addiction... what responsibility do you feel, if any, to impart a message or sentiment in your work?

JP: I don't know if I feel a responsibility, but it's more of telling the truth of me. Not that I've struggled with drugs or anything, but I've seen many people who have. Many things have happened in my own life that have shaped me into this creative individual who questions the world and searches for answers. My faith though is what sustains me and propels me. It gives me the strength and will to wake up in the morning through every and anything that happens. It is always present in my work because it is always present in me.

JG: One thing that I love about you is that you create your own opportunities. As you know, we met when you cast my wife in a staged reading of your play, Faith back in, like, '06. When did you start writing & when did you realize that would be a gateway to better roles for yourself.

JP: Haha, actually it was in 2005, but I do remember that. Wow, start writing? Hmmm... I always wrote as far back as I can remember. Now up until I had since moved on from the Air Force and found acting, I had only been writing poetry and a few short stories. To be honest, it was a little frustrating in Houston because I seemed to always get cast in the same types of roles, you know "THUG #2 FROM THE LEFT" and such, however, that wasn't what started me writing. I just had a story I wanted to tell, so I wrote it. A good friend of mine who is an accomplished screenwriter, read the 1st page of my first draft of my very first screenplay and he threw it back at me, telling me, "I don't read books." I gave him an obviously clueless look, and he asked me what was a movie I really liked. I said The Matrix, and he had me go online, find the script, then read it. Then watch the movie again. He had me do that with about a dozen scripts and it started to click how to tell stories in a screenwriting format. Not the margins and indents, but the way to word and phrase your ideas that will translate in this medium. Once I got the hang of it, I really liked it. There was a certain creative freedom to it. I want actors to read it and get excited about it, and I want the audience to really be able to identify and be taken on a journey with each and every character on the page. It's still a weird process for me, but the acting and the writing don't work together for me. They're almost totally separate.

JG: Of course after we met, I cast you as Robin in How Shawn Parker Fell in Love. What do you remember most about when we shot that film?

JP: Being named Robin. (laughs) I remember you trying to explain that one to me too! (laughs) That was a fun experience for me because I got to work with everyone I knew and liked. I love working in that type of environment. It really helps you relax and just settle in.

JG: The next time we worked together was a role that I wrote for you, Shakir in Something Borrowed. I was glad to see you as a leading man (because I believe you are) and it was probably the most fun I've ever had shooting a film for a lot of reasons. What did you learn most from doing that film?

JP: That film shoot went by so quickly, but the women who were in it were so interesting and talented. It was so much fun and I would say that it really made me learn to focus quickly and get in that mode on the spot, with little or no lead time. I wouldn't say that's ideal or that I'm able to do it for every film shoot, but it definitely was a challenge and a good acting workout! It was a lot of pressure though playing the lead and knowing your expectations of the film. That was also great practice, and showed me how important it is to lead by example.

JG: And now here we are, leaping into features together. So far -- as we're still in pre-production -- but how does Joshua Burdon (his character in All the Children Are Insane) compare to other characters you've played or hope to play down the road?

JP: I've really been blessed to play a myriad of different roles that range from drug addict to angel. Joshua is a little different in the fact that he comes from a family of means, and later turned to drugs. It all stems from his emotional pain and the hurt he endures caused by his mother. For young men, it would seem nothing can scar you more than your mother's love, or lack thereof, whether it be real or just perception. I've played drug addicts before, but never one addicted to meth, and I'm learning that it's a whole different beast than anything else. The way the script is written, you really get to see the destruction of this character's psyche and feel the crumbling of his fragile state of mind as he struggles to rid himself of habit. He's the baby of the family, and is really thought of as weak by his older brother and sister, although differing in their reactions to this as she tries to coddle him and he tries to strong arm him. I think that Joshua is so much like any of us when we were growing up. He's dealing with the world as it comes at him and he's not really sure where to go, but he knows that where he's going now isn't working. His struggle is so real, because I believe that it's one anyone can relate to, whether they've suffered a tragedy or dealt with addiction personally.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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