Just watch Filipino-American actor Jon Jon Briones act and you will agree with us that he is more than just a good actor. He tackled the complex Dr.Hanover character from Ryan Murphy’s latest phycological thriller “Ratched” with ease and, more importantly, encapsulated his culture. It’s a big compliment to be invited in Ryan Murphy’s world and with the amount of talent that he has, it’s doesn’t come much as a surprise. DA MAN talks with actor more about the hit series and his passion to perform.
DA MAN: Hi Jon Jon, how are you and how are you holding up this year?
Jon Jon Briones: My family and I are doing well. We’re taking it one day at a time so as not to overwhelm ourselves. We’re lucky that we have each other and find have things to do to keep ourselves busy.
DA: Congratulations on your amazing performance on “Ratched”, another splendid series from Ryan Murphy. How do you feel now that the series is out?
JJB: Thank you! The worldwide reception from the public has been overwhelming. Number one show on Netflix in over 50 countries! It’s really a testament to Ryan’s artistic vision. I’m really proud of this show, but I’m most proud that it’s number one in the Philippines and my family there can watch it.
DA: Your first work with Ryan Murphy was as Modesto Cunanan in “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” and later on in “American Horror Story: Apocalypse.” And now “Ratched.” How does it feel to work with him and his universe?
JJB: For me, it’s really a big compliment when you get invited to play in his world. When you consider that he always puts together a talented cast and gives them the tools they need to succeed, I am excited to be a part of that.
DA: How did Ryan Murphy approach you for the role of Dr. Richard Hanover?
JJB: I was still on Broadway in “Miss Saigon” while filming “Versace.” I received an email from one of Murphy’s producers informing me that they finished editing my episodes and that Murphy was very happy with it. I had not met or worked with Murphy at this point and he wanted to see me perform in the show, so I organized tickets for them to come to “Miss Saigon.” After the show they all came backstage and he asked me what I would be doing once the show closed the following month and I told him I would be looking for a job! He answered: “I guess I’ll have to snatch you up.” Things like this are often just Hollywood talk, but he was actually true to his word. A few months later I got a phone call from my agent saying that we have an offer from Murphy’s camp, he wants to put me in his new show “Ratched” and a few episodes of “American Horror Story.” I thought I would just be in the show, as a patient or something. But when I saw Murphy at the 2018 Emmy’s afterparty, he told me that I would be happy with the role and that he wrote me a very good character and that I would be a lead opposite Sarah Paulson.
DA: And what did you feel when you first read about Dr. Hanover’s character?
JJB: I was sent the first three scripts and that is when I realized how big the part was. I was very happy with one detail about my character—that he is of Filipino descent. They recognized my culture in this character. They could have ignored it, but instead they embraced it, and that was very special to me.
DA: Dr. Hanover is such a complex character to play, how do you prepare for such role and did you face any difficulties along the way?
JJB: Thank goodness for Google and YouTube! I was able to research the world of 1940s America, mental health during that time and lobotomies. With my character being of Filipino descent and a family man helped me relate well with him, as I am an emigrant and a family man. Dr. Hanover has a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove himself in a world that is basically designed for him to fail.
DA: “Ratched” is based on the origin story of nurse Mildred in Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” were you familiar with the novel or movie before this?
JJB: I was familiar with the movie. I first saw it when I was young in the Philippines, so I had to rewatch it before we started filming. I’ve always thought that the performances in the film were fantastic.
DA: There are quite a few memorable moments for Dr. Hanover in the series: The dance scene, the lobotomy demonstration and of course the amputation scene with Brandon Flynn. Which one is your favorite?
JJB: If I had to choose, I would have to say the dance. I feel like that is his cry for help considering what he is going through. He has skeletons in his closet, he’s trying to run away from his past and he has no one to tell. So, that chemically induced dance is the result of all of this pent-up anxiety. Also, it was a great joy to film with Judy Davis. We really had a blast.
DA: What do you love most about “Ratched”?
JJB: The message is so important; the message being we can’t always judge people based on their current actions. You don’t know their past, what they have gone through.
DA: We were actually hoping for Dr. Hanover to survive until the end, but—spoiler alert—he doesn’t. What do you think about his death and the way he died?
JJB: I think it was poetic that he perished at the hands of Charlotte [Sophie Okonedo’s character]. He sees her as his salvation. Someone that he was finally able to help. She became his success story. It made it even more tragic.
DA: Your son also appeared in the series and previously your daughter was on “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Did you teach your children how to act?
JJB: They have seen us perform so many times, and I believe that is what got them hooked, but my wife is actually their acting coach when they audition.
DA: And speaking of acting, what was your first experience in the entertainment industry?
JJB: My first experience was singing with a choir in the Philippines, singing in front of a large audience and there was something magical about it. I realized how powerful it is to be able to change someone’s mood or feeling by what you do.
DA: Where does your passion to perform come from?
JJB: I think what piqued my interest was watching “West Side Story” on TV a long time ago in the Philippines. I’ve always loved to be on stage. When I was younger, my wish was to be on stage 24 hours a day. I got very close to that when I went to London to do “Miss Saigon,” performing eight shows a week. I thought that was the best thing in the world.
DA: How has the pandemic affected your life so far?
JJB: I learned to be more patient, to take things one day at a time. To be always in a state of gratitude.
DA: This may sound clichéd, but what are your hopes for the near future? Especially with what’s been happening…
JJB: I always believe that things happen for a reason and this is no different. We are being given an opportunity to learn from this and I hope that we do. Learn to be more understanding, forgiving, and to have empathy. Also, to take action when needed.
DA: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
JJB: Enjoy time with my family, travel when we can, locally at the moment. Because in the business, when you start working again time together is hard to come by.
U.S.-BASED CREATIVE DIRECTOR MITCHELL NGUYEN MCCORMACK
PHOTOGRAPHY IAN PHILLIPS
STYLING KIMBERLY GOODNIGHT
GROOMING ALLIE SHEHORN USING GRAFTOBIAN HD MAKEUP
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