The Haitian-American actor shares his experience on starring in a 2022 romantic drama, “The Sky Is Everywhere” while reminiscing on his childhood, musical journey and path to the world of acting
Sometimes, we don’t realize the passion and talents within us, and what we need is just one person who can help us see them. Years ago, a teenager named Jacques Colimon was just a high school student. However, at sixteen, his life changed when his high school drama teacher ignited his passion for acting. Fast forward to 2022, and Colimon is now a multitalented actor who has starred in numerous motion pictures and series.
The 2012 drama “Sweet Old World” marked Colimon’s acting debut in a full-length movie, playing Ethan Hinkle, a teenager struggling with the death of his brother. Colimon also plays Will LeClair in the 2019 mystery drama “The Society,” the series that catapulted him to fame and success. DAMAN talks with Colimon about the his acting journey, his childhood and relationship with music, as well as his experience on the latest movie he stars in, “The Sky Is Everywhere.”
DAMAN: Where did you grow up and how did it shape your path?
Jacques Colimon: People are usually surprised when I tell them I’m a native Angelino, born and raised. I guess my come up really does hit a little different for folks when they find out that nobody in my immediate family works or has worked in Hollywood, either. When I was in public high school, my mother worked in customer service at a hardwood flooring company, my father was a real estate agent and my stepmother was a lawyer. We were comfortable, but I certainly didn’t have the friends and family plug like a lot of people out here doing their thing at this level do. I didn’t go to film/TV workshops with celebrity coaches. I heard about them, but never signed up. My parents insisted that I stay in school and focus on my education.
Theatre and I experienced what felt like an imminent gravitational pull to each other thanks to my fiercely passionate high school drama teacher, Donna Tucker, who challenged me with Haitian monologue material at sixteen. She connected me to David Zeiger, a brilliant documentary filmmaker that wanted to cast his first docufictional family drama locally, i.e., straight out of my high school. We made “Sweet Old World” together and that ended up being my first feature film.
Afterwards, I got the hell out of Hollywood and moved to Austin for two degrees at the University of Texas—a BA in Theatre and Dance and a BS in Radio, Television and Film. There I truly learned a little bit of everything, on both ends of the camera and on both sides of the stage, along with some critical media studies. I put that knowledge to use contributing documentary footage to the Black Lives Matter movement at the Texas state capitol as a videographer, I shot wedding videos, I worked as a casting associate for Vicky Boone and Richard Linklater, I workshopped theatre shows and film scripts at Austin Fusebox Festival, Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Society, New York Theatre Workshop. Then I made original off-Broadway theatrical jazz with Daniel Alexander Jones and Will Davis in New York, we ran a concert at JACK in Brooklyn … on down the line.
I came back to Los Angeles when I hit a boiling point trying to find funding for an environmental justice documentary John Fiege and I were making about big oil along the Texas Gulf Coast. I realized we needed to stop vying for the attention of celebrities—a simple tweet from somebody famous could have changed the whole course of our movie budget. Instead, I needed to go become that person we needed myself. So, here I am. Trying!
I know that’s a long answer, but I feel like it’s important for me to stress how grateful I am for having enjoyed a whole creative life before getting anywhere near Hollywood, and that includes an experience of Los Angeles that was and largely still is totally separate from the industry. People that say they hate L.A. for being plastic and waspy are usually the same people that think we don’t have seasons. My Haitian family moved here to escape the cold of Chicago … and before that they moved to Chicago to escape a dictatorship. I grew up loving the weekend beach trips with my pops, but that wasn’t a year-round thing. In the winter we’d hit the slopes in Mountain High and in the spring, we’d take drives through the redwood forests. Being adjacent to Hollywood happens to be strategically advantageous to making my art, but that part of it is simply a means to an end. This city is my home.
DAMAN: How do you prepare yourself on a role before starting filming a new project?
Jacques Colimon: Every role, every project, every story, is different. I’ll really throw myself into a narrative and do everything I can to get into character—within reason and safety, of course. Early on I typically give myself the challenge of living the imaginary circumstances of a new role—their private life, at least—the second I hear about it. And by the time the cameras are rolling, said character has already arrived to do his/her/their thing.
When I played a foster kid, I visited a foster care organization. When I played a Dungeons & Dragons blerd, I doubled down on my character in my existing real life DnD group. When I played a collections scam artist, obviously I didn’t scam people, but I visited a jail. Some roles are a more fluid transition than others, but at the core of it all I really just do my best to find and center the love in the characters I play. And then I let the nuance build out from there. I think the very discipline of acting is a ritual of radical empathy. it involves connecting those seemingly disparate dots between myself and the role until we come to an understanding.
DAMAN: They say that with every role, you learn something as an actor and maybe something about yourself. What was it that you took with you from your experience on “The Sky Is Everywhere”?
Jacques Colimon: In my tribe, we like to say that nothing comes for free. Every role presents an exchange of sorts. I offer something to them and they offer something to me in return. With every opportunity, a little part of me leaves and makes room for the birth of something new in my spirit. In my eyes, that’s just the magic of a project going about its business healing me just as I hope it does for everybody that gets to participate, whether they’re working on it directly or engaging with it as an audience member later. In the context of “The Sky Is Everywhere” in particular, I was grateful to not take COVID back home with and also, to this day and for the rest of my life, I know that Joe taught me something simple that is sometimes easier said than done—to smile more. I think he helped me let go of at least a little bit of the melancholia that’s built up over the past couple of years. They’d been really rough on me for numerous reasons. The pandemic is far from over, and already it’s personally taken away close loved ones. The people that are closest to me know I will eventually find a silver lining to even the grimmest circumstances, but—real talk—it’s all definitely taken a toll on me. Playing Joe, the Sun, a character that ardently centers love and happiness—it was restorative. He reminded me I was bent, not broken.
DAMAN: Speaking about Joe Fontaine, how did you build your take on this character?
Jacques Colimon: Music was my gateway drug to Joe, all the way. Joe’s heart connection to his world lives in his music which was already something I understood. I learned the trumpet, the bass clarinet (didn’t make the movie), and several different play styles on guitar to get into character. I spent a couple hours every day practicing all of the songs you hear in the movie. About halfway through the production I had “A Song For Lennie” down on the bass clarinet, I was able to play a good deal of the Bach in there on guitar…the guitar medley in the scene where Joe attempts to convince Lennie to play was something the composer made after listening to me improvise for a while. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was sixteen so it felt good to do it in an official movie capacity.
DAMAN: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences take with them after they’ve watched the movie?
Jacques Colimon: Ultimately, I hope audiences take away the same things I did. Pretty sure I touched on that earlier. Additionally, I hope everybody is able to appreciate how hard everyone worked to make this movie possible. We were among the first really big projects to move into production in the middle of the peak of the first wave of the pandemic. In addition to rigorously obeying expansive COVID protocols, we shot a movie for summer in the middle of fall in northern California! Those warm scenes are the result of post-production hard at work! It was cold, our lips were blue, and most days we could see our breath. The local hire dancers, bless them, did an incredible job holding it together in the rose garden montage!
It’s also important to note that this movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Like, so many beautiful colors. Colorful people, colorful flowers, colorful legacies…hopefully this considerably raises the expectations for everybody in terms of what we should be getting out of the media we consume all of the time, from the depictions on screen to the creators behind the camera. Two women talking to each other about something other than a man is a really low bar. We did better here. Let’s do better everywhere.
DAMAN: How about the one role that really put you on the map? Which film or TV show was it that convinced you that you were definitely meant to be an actor?
Jacques Colimon: The first role I ever played was Dr. Bert in “Flowers For Algernon” in eight grade theatre. Since then, every role afterwards has been an affirmation that this is what I could easily continue doing for the rest of my life. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every role I’ve ever played for reasons that are deeply personal and creatively fulfilling.
DAMAN: What’s the best piece of acting or career advice that you’ve ever heard from someone in the business?
Jacques Colimon: When I was in college at the University of Texas at Austin, I remember being treated to theatre warmups led by Barney Hammond. He gave our college-aged group of actors the phrase, “you are enough.” A simple phrase, and even a simple task. Not an easy one, though. This business chronically wrecks artists for harmlessly being ourselves. Dig past the virtue signaling on the surface and there’s a whole lot of inherited trauma to deal with. Even just the consistent rejection, for example. On one hand, it reinforces the notion that we are meant to lay low, not think too much about it and stay small until we’re told to be big. I don’t buy it. I’m enough, you are enough, we’re enough. Let’s build together and fix that scarcity mindset.
DAMAN: Have you always wanted to be an actor? When was it that you realized that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
Jacques Colimon: My grandmother and my mother both have beautiful singing voices, so I was surrounded by music since infancy. I’m a multi-hyphenate that’s largely eclipsed by what’s so far blossoming into a kickass acting career by virtue of really hard work and being at the right place at the right time! I’m thankful for the momentum because, yes, it is indeed what I’ve wanted to do for a living ever since little kid me realized that acting let me be a little bit of a firefighter, marine biologist, kung-fu master and memelord simultaneously. Then again, we didn’t have professional video gamers when I was growing up … so things might have ended up differently if my teenage self could have looked into a crystal ball and figured out that would totally be a thing one day.
DAMAN: Out of all the characters you’ve played so far, has there been any that really took an emotional toll on you? How do you handle that kind of pressure?
Jacques Colimon: Totally. I played a Dyonisian character making an indie movie in Alaska. The character had a death wish. He desperately wanted to achieve a psychedelic breakthrough to the other side. After wrap, while boarding my plane back home, I died. Literally. Right on the tarmac. My duodenum exploded, my body succumbed to toxic shock and I had an out of body experience before I was resuscitated. Luckily now I just have to avoid excessively fried and fatty foods and chill out on the coffee, nicotine and alcohol. But yeah. That was definitely a trip. Clearly, I didn’t know how to handle the pressure of playing a character that ultimately coveted suicide. The greatest actors often task themselves with stepping into both the light and the shadow of a person. We have numerous examples of artists getting consumed by the process. There’s an honor and a risk to the challenge of an authentic portrayal of somebody other than ourselves, and it’s key to remember that at the end of the day it is indeed just that: a portrayal. A fiction. At the end of the show, actors have to step down from the stage and remove their masks.
DAMAN: Outside of acting, what are your biggest interests?
Jacques Colimon: I like traveling, hiking, video games, anime, music, NFTs and long walks on the beach! In that order. That last one might count as hiking for some but I think they’re different. Oh, and I really love demystifying white supremacy, gender discrimination and other tools of late-stage capitalism for my friends and family!
DAMAN: What are your current long-term career goals?
Jacques Colimon: Us multi-hyphenates just keep on keepin’ on. Like I said before, in addition to on-camera acting in film/television, I’ve been a theatre artist, a voice actor, a screenwriter, a musician, a poet and a documentary producer for a while now. Ideally, I’ll get to formally recognize those various angles in important ways. We’ll see how that goes in due time. I even want to direct, but I’m not in any rush. I think it’s important to want to stay a bit mercurial. Message over medium. I could stay acting for the rest of my life but I just love making art, period.
DAMAN: In the world of acting, who do you look up to?
Jacques Colimon: My mentor, Daniel Alexander Jones. He’s the most brilliant artist and, moreover, human being, that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I want to give everyone the same treatment he’s given me ever since we found each other back in 2014 and made his original musical, “Bright Now Beyond,” together for the Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin.
Sidney Poitier is an artist that I love but sadly never had the opportunity to meet. He has Haitian roots like myself and was an activist in addition to being one of the most impactful actors the world has ever known. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” captured a moment in time, Loving v. Virginia, that played a part in making my white mother and black father’s relationship a legal reality. He helped hold a mirror to society long before society was ready to reckon with its own reflection. Not to mention his legendary friendship with the inimitable Harry Belafonte. His incredible work is far from done and he was an early artistic leader of the charge in the name of love.
DAMAN: What would your dream role and film look like?
Jacques Colimon: I was just having a conversation with a homie about how more folk need to realize that “The Three Musketeers” is black literature. I need to play young Alexandre Dumas. That’s my blood. I’m interested in playing roles that speak to the reclamation and expansion of my culture. I love the idea of playing my uncle Jean-Pierre in his twenties when he split his time between Los Angeles and Port-au-Prince in those ’70s summers. Or young Harry Belafonte in Harlem. Furthermore, instead of making it a period piece, why not stage it a thousand years in the future? It’s impossible to pick one dream role as much as it’s impossible to dream one dream every time we fall asleep.
DAMAN: When you’re not busy filming or otherwise working, how do you usually spend your time?
Jacques Colimon: I have a really big pothos plant, a few succulents, a snake plant—I water those once or twice a week. I take walks along the L.A. River. And if I’m feeling like exercising, which isn’t super often, I’ll get into some yoga, take a hike or do a little strength training. I don’t drink or smoke like I used to, probably mostly because I only do that socially and we’re still neck deep in a pandemic. Every Thursday I play DnD remotely with a handful of friends, and lately I’ve had several dates with “Destiny 2” and the second season of “Demon Slayer.” I get out hiking and sprinkle my week with little one-on-one catch-ups wherever I can. Honestly, putting COVID first and prioritizing the grandmas and grandpas of the world has been pretty lonely, but I’m managing alright.
DAMAN: If a new actor came up to you and asked you for advice on how to make it in today’s entertainment scene, what would you tell him or her?
Jacques Colimon: I’d tell him/her/them … what do they know about NFTs? No, seriously. Laugh now but Web3 is on some future s–t. Watch. I will happily die on this hill if I’m wrong. Jump in there. Also, I would invite said person to hit me up in Twitter Spaces, grab a coffee or take a walk around the Silverlake reservoir because it’s way too difficult to explain in a single interview.
If I were to try though, I’d start by emphasizing that immersion is paramount. Go make a theatre show with your friends. Or if you don’t have friends that are into the same things that you’re into, find a local theatre signup. Try doing some performance art with live audiences. Start creating, however you have to. Put yourself out there and be radically you, uncompromisingly and unapologetically.
Hold space and inspire others to do the same. Give them permission to be themselves if that’s what they need. I’m not talking about your social media self, either. Take away the devices and try establishing the IRL you—your community, your passions, your role models, your influences. Figure out what your unique perspective offers the world, and build outward from that grounded internal space. Start local. At home, at school, at work, at a nearby park. You literally cannot go wrong harmlessly being yourself. And anybody, I mean anybody, that tells you otherwise is lying to your face. Period.
DAMAN: Looking ahead, in what ways do you see the world of acting and filmmaking change even further?
Jacques Colimon: Again, NFTs. There’s going to be a point when the conversation shifts from TikTok influencers screenshotting and minting NFTs pretending they gamed the system to the actual decentralized communities inside of Web3 doing incredible work by changing the lives of artists around the world with digital assets and DAOs. Let’s talk about the ways that it’s introducing experimental collective ownership of intellectual property. How about the ways it’s encouraging open-source culture at the intersection of creativity? One might argue that what’s shaping looks a little bit like equity for artists, audiences, and investors. With that in mind, it’s no stretch of the imagination to anticipate that this could potentially radically disrupt the film and television industry. At the very least, everybody is formulating their own answer to it as we speak, that’s for sure. It’s not too late to get involved, and for the love of God, do your own research. Holla at me on Twitter.
U.S.-BASED CREATIVE DIRECTOR MITCHELL NGUYEN McCORMACK
PHOTOGRAPHY & STY LING KIMBERLY GOODNIGHT
GROOMING DYLAN MICHAEL USING ORIBE, LA MER
PRODUCTION AND CASTING MEDIA PLAYGROUND PR
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