Writer & Art Director – Justin Howard @Jthnomad
Photographer – Tyson Lee @tysonleephoto
Stylist – Michael Saint Michael @michaelstmichael
Make Up Artist –Erik Torppe @eriktorppe
Hair Stylist –Kenney Bohorquez @hairbykenneyb
Talent – Joseph David-Jones @josephdjones
In a world where society is built upon the idea that everyone fits into a nice, tidy, well-defined set of categories, there are always going to be those who rebel. In the new film ‘Divergent Series: Allegiant’, one such individual is Hollis, the Faction Less general played by Joseph David-Jones, who stars opposite Evelyn, portrayed by Naomi Watts. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Joseph, about the role of Hollis in the new Divergent film and his role of Conner Hawk in The CW series ‘Legends Of Tomorrow.’ Joseph shared his insights on what it takes to make a hero and how we all dream of having super powers so we can change the world.
A Hero Never Dies!
JTH – Let’s start at the beginning of you.
JDJ – I was born in Los Angeles. At the very, very end of the 80s. I think I had a solid week before it was the 90s. I stayed here until I was 3. Then we moved out to the East Coast. I grew up in Kentucky and went to school for engineering. Then left. It was terrible. I just didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making a car get two more miles per gallon.
JTH – That’s a great quote.
JDJ – No, that is going to make me sound like a terrible person. I love engineers. But it is not for me.
JTH – So you didn’t want to be a slave to practical mathematics for your whole life.
JDJ – Right. So, when I was in Kentucky I started modeling. Doing different modeling jobs and runway shows. I was at this small boutique agency in Kentucky called Images. My agent was like ‘You have a knack for this. You are booking a lot of jobs.’ It wasn’t hard. You showed up and they were like, ‘Yes we need a black guy. Let’s do it.’
JTH – In Kentucky?
JDJ – In Kentucky. Yes, they were always like “we did not have a black guy, let’s go.” So I was booking a lot and she said, ‘You should do this competition in New York. It is really big for models.’ It is called IMTA, International Model Talent Association. I go there to do modeling. I didn’t do well at all. I mean I did alright. I mean out of 200 people in my competition I got 15th place.
JTH – That’s not bad. You got into the top 20?
JDJ – I ended up in the acting competition as well. There I got ‘Male Actor of the Year.’ So all these agents and managers come out to the competition to scout out new talent. Other talent from this competition to get picked up are Josh Duhamel, Ashton Kutcher. Totally a bunch of random people won this competition. So I do this competition, and I ended up getting signed to an agent and a manager that day. Three days later I was in Los Angeles going out on auditions. I was so terrible. I don’t even know why these people allowed me to go into a room, in front of people. I quickly realized I needed to go and get better at what I was doing. I took a year to get solid, working on my craft, going to different acting classes and schools, trying to find one that worked for me. I ended up going with a different manager and agent. Then I started going out and auditioning again.
JTH – Let’s fast forward. You were cast as part of the film, ‘The Divergent Series: Allegiant.’ Tell how that experience was?
JDJ – I went out for a bigger role in the film. The role of Matthew, the head of Genetic Welfare. I read the script, then I read the books. I thought “I don’t think they are going to black with this”. I auditioned and my agent tells me ‘You’re in the top casting for Matthew.’ I was like ‘Oh. Ok.’ Because he is such a huge character in the books. They ended up going with Bill Skarsgard for the role. Which is where I thought they were going to go with it. But I was still disappointed. My agent kept telling me “The director and the casting people really like you. They have already sent your tapes to the studio for Matthew.” They came back to my agent and said “We have another role that we want him for. It’s the character of Hollis.” But they wanted me to put it on tape for it. So I did a tape audition for it. I went over and auctioned for Hollis. By the time people started auditioning for this role my tapes were already over at the studio for approval. You know it has to go through so many different levels for approval. So it gets sent to the director, then the director sent it to the studio aka Lions Gate. So it was already at the studio for approval and it turns out I had gotten the role.
The guy that I am playing is a huge general in the rebel army. I was ‘No! There is no way I am going to be able to do this without having to put on some weight.’ I watched the other Divergent films, and obviously Theo James is built out. He is what I needed to look like right? I put on 15 pounds of muscle.
JTH – How long did that take?
JDJ – Lucky I had a month before I had to on set to film. I drank so much protein and ate chicken, pasta. I started working out with this trainer. I put on the weight. Then it comes down to wardrobe and they put me these huge jackets the entire time. I was like ‘Damn!’ So every single scene I am in a jacket.
JTH – No, you totally got buffed up for this role! You’re like ‘I have abs!’
JDJ – I even said at one time ‘I am running in this scene, I think I should take off this jacket.’ There was a lot of running too. It was so hot and it was 90 degrees every day. We were running for literally 12 hours chasing people. So I put on 15 pounds…
JTH – Over a month.
JDJ – Yes, over a month and you don’t see any of it. But it helped out with the DC Legends. Because I was already bigger.
JTH – Let’s talk about your character, the general ‘Hollis.’ You provide a supportive role to Naomi Watts’s character Evelyn. Describe the character from your view point.
JDJ – That is a very good way of describing the character. Hollis is someone who has grown up faction less. He has grown up being rejected. Literally society was like “You don’t belong here. You don’t have a home any more.” He has grown up that way. He has taken up a leadership role under Evelyn, who has given him and a lot of the other factionless a place to belong. Especially in a society that doesn’t appreciate them.
JTH – She has created a home for them, after she was rejected herself.
JDJ – Now that Evelyn’s regime is coming into power, you get to see these characters more. I am following a lot of orders from her. In some part of the film I am taking my own power. You see that a lot in a couple of specific scenes. Every act is balanced with the fact he has grown up in anger. Anger at these people, the Allegiant. The people who believe the faction system. They believe that the system of factions is how their society is meant to operate. You can see why there is a conflict. The war inside the wall is between Faction Less army and the Allegiant. Because one group is saying this is the system and the other is saying this is the system that rejected us.
JTH – And now they have all just found out that the system itself was an experiment.
JDJ – Right, so now we have that and the element of what is outside the wall. Some people want to go outside the wall and see. Then us, who have been rejected by every society we have known, we have power and are like ‘No.’ We don’t know these people, and in our history, people are generally terrible. NO one is going to be like ‘you’re welcomed.’ No, they aren’t here to welcome us and we aren’t here to welcome them. We must fight these people. A lot of the time it seems like my character, Hollis, is the sword of Evelyn.
JTH – You seem like a very easy going individual. Definitely not as violent as Hollis. Did you find any motivation in your personal life for this anger? What did you draw upon that for a character who has spent his whole life being rejected and angry?
JDJ – That intensity. A lot of rap music. I have dealt with rejection in my film. Out here in Hollywood where every day you go through doors and someone is saying, ‘No, not you!’ Just because. I don’t think it was that hard to really relate in my personal life. There really is just so much rejection in this industry. It feels good to be like “Now I am in charge.”
JTH – Personal question for you. You opened up this can of worms, so let’s go for it. You are course lovely black. You mentioned you lived in Kentucky. So I am assuming growing up there you had to deal with some issues.
JDJ – I mean… Yes and well yes.
JTH – Did you find that to be helpful with this role?
JDJ – Not necessarily for this role. It has come into play for a lot of the other roles that I have done. Race is always such a strong issue.
JTH – In this society it is not race, it is caste. I mean it is literally a caste system. It is almost the same thing as a racial issue. But instead of the color of your skin it is now the way your mind is bent.
JDJ – Honestly the things is out here. We don’t have as many opportunities as say a person of fairer skin might have. I feel like now things are starting to get a lot better. People are finally starting to notice and asking ‘why are they always casting these same people?’ But it is still so hard for us. It is so hard. The thing is you could get a major film…. Look, you could be a white person and get a major part in a film then your phone just rings. You can be an African American person and your phone never rings. You have a couple movies come out where you are the lead and your phone just doesn’t ring. You are still auditioning and still trying to get people to notice you and to see you. I feel like that is biggest challenge for being out here. There are a lot more white stars then black stars. It is really hard to try and become a black star.
JTH – There are these stereotypes in their brains of how they want you to be. They don’t really see you, they see you as the person they wish you to be. It is very interesting about these stereotypes and how they come into play. If they don’t have a slot for that stereotype then you don’t get that project even though you might be perfect for the role.
JDJ – Yes, I had had auditions where they are like “Can you black it up? Maybe a bit more Urban?” It is like they are casting, so they can just say that you are like ‘Oh ok..’ I can’t just be like that was a very offensive thing you just said. I have be ‘Oh ok. I get it.’ I try to give them what they think they want.
JTH – That is very interesting. Thank you for the honesty.
JDJ – This is an industry of compromise.
JTH – They say “All great art is compromise.” Let’s get back to your angry general character, Hollis. What was the one scene you were happiest to do? The one that had you thinking “This is MY Fucking character?”
JDJ – There is this scene where we have just gotten killing one of the main characters. It is an execution, a trial. But it is a moment where everyone takes a step back. The leaders like Evelyn, and during that shoot we had a huge crowd like over 500 extras screaming bloody murder because we had just killed this guy and it was an execution. He needed to die but the way it’s done is so bloody. So they take a step back and everyone is like ‘bring out the next one!’ We are bringing out the next prisoner and the crowd is screaming bloody murder, there is 500 to 600 people around me and I have this syringe gun with a truth serum that we are using on the people on trial. It is kinda like the last movie, where the Candor use it. But we have it, we are angry and violent people. I am up there lifting up the syringe, the camera is panning around as I am chanting ‘We Want The Truth’ ‘We Want The Truth!’ People are going freaky and nuts. It is 500 people screaming with me at the center and one guy terrified because he thinks he will be executed next. It is one of these moments where you see me and the guy who plays Edgar who is played by Johny Weston, we kinda take over this whole thing. We are the center of power and everyone has to answer to us. It is one of my favorite scenes.
JTH – There was a moment of intimacy amongst the chaos. This was a scene they kept.
JDH – In the beginning me and Johny open up the movie, we shoot this scene at the very opening of the movie. It is us arriving at the Wall because they were just headed to it. All of the sudden we shoot past them in these two huge tank cars with mounted guns. Then two more in behind us. Everybody jumps out and aims their guns at anyone going over the wall. Everybody is freaking out and it is an intense scene. Bullets were shoot into the air. Sadly they are keeping the sound in there but not the scene. I will see what really ended up there when I see the premiere.
JTH – What do you hope people get out of this film as a message? Because in our current world we are dealing with everything they are dealing with in their world. We are dealing with people who are trying to be individuals, who aren’t being allowed to. We are seeing caste riots in India. What is the message you hope the viewer, the audience gets out of this film if they were to take away one thing?
JDJ – The same message it has had through out all of the three films. It is ok to be who you are. Society may tell you one thing, that you don’t fit in the mold that had been set up. About anything. Being who you are is the most beautiful thing who can be. In the last movie she was the most important person in the entire world, just because she was who she was. Even though society told her not to be that person. That was the biggest thing I got out of it.
JTH – You beefed up for this role and they throw you in a jacket for most of it. What is your favorite piece or accessory from the film. It can be a gun or a t-shirt. What was the one piece you wanted to keep once you left set?
JDJ – I would say the gun that they had. Even though in one of the scenes I was shooting, I kinda got messed up. They had stunt people there. I was filming one of the scenes where we were driving and shooting at people. It was one of the shoots filled with flying bullets and they have these little exploding bits on them. So I am shooting this gun and one of the sparks come up and hits me in the eye. Everybody freaks out and the director was like ’Nope, we are done, we have it.” They shoot the rest of the day with my stunt double, while the medic is putting burn lotion on my eye.
JTH – So you got burnt on set.
JDJ – Yes, I got burnt on set. The next day we ended up shooting the whole thing over again. They have these very unique guns, just from that film, I have never seen them anywhere else. We are using the guns rom the Dauntless. They really shoot! They don’t shoot bullets but they shoot blanks.
JTH – That was the one item from set that you were like ‘I bonded with this and I want this!’
JDJ – The whole area where they had the faction people was awesome. That was the only that I wish I could have kept but they gave me a hat so that is fine…
JTH – That is when you got to the prop master and say ‘Hey, you are going to throw this away can I just keep it?’
JDJ – Oh man, it was crazy! The extras got crazier and crazier as the days went by. We were shooting one scene for like five days. They won’t let them have phones, so they can’t reveal anything that was going on. The first day everyone was just hanging out. But every day after that they became more and more like a hippy music festival. I swear to god, the fifth day everybody was shirtless dancing and people brought out drums. There was random martial art fighters doing matches. It was the most bizarre thing I have seen in my life. Everybody was dressed in these weird outfits. The Faction-Less are dressed like ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ It was like the people from Star Trek met up with the people from Mad Max and had a music festival. These people were dancing, playing the guitar and drawing chalk things. It was nuts!
JTH – Which scene is this?
JDJ – This was like everyday as we were leaving set and they had 500 to 600 people on set without phones. They just lost it!
JTH- The End Of The World as it happens with no phones, you end up having a hippy music festival. Very tribal. Let’s talk about DC now. You are a character in the series ’DC Legends Of Tomorrow.’ Did you grow up reading comics?
JDJ – I grew up reading DC comics, Super Man and Batman comic books. I didn’t read Green Arrow.
JTH – Was this a childhood fantasy of your to play a superhero?
JTH – Childhood fantasy come to life.
JDJ – I didn’t even think of that! I totally need to call my mom. Like it is happening! It has finally happened.
JTH – Well, when you go back in time, pick me up a souvenir, preferably from Egypt.
JDJ – I have always been into comic books. The only ones I have are Batman and Super Man. There is something about super heroes, they always have dark origin stories. No super heroes can be a hero without both of their parents being dead. Your parents have to die if you want to be a hero. There isn’t one that exists.
JTH – Don’t tell that to Wonder Woman…
JDJ – Are her parents still alive?
JTH – Depends on what version of the DC Universe you are in at any given moment. Sometimes she is just born of earth. Sometimes the Amazon queen Hippolyta is her mother. It can get tre confusing. But yes, I understand what you are saying, they need a lot of pain to get where they are at. But let’s get into this role a little bit. Did you read the series to prepare for the role?
JDJ – I did. I read the origin story of Conner Hawk because I know with something like this, where it is a life -like character from a comic book world, they were already going to re-imagine him. They told me when I booked the part that they were going to be re-imagining him as the Green Arrow’s son, so I was worried as they were changing content, that the audience would be closed off to me. I have the thought that ‘Dude, I have to bring it!’ He was always really bad-ass in comic books. He is an expert fighter and a jaded hero. In the comic books Green Arrow is kinda resistant, he doesn’t know that this guy is his son. So he is like ‘Hey I am not a role model for you.’ Conor Hawk ends up being rejected a couple times by Green Arrow. I also didn’t want lose that fact of the character’s re-imagined history so I ended up watching a lot of Green Arrow episodes to get that feel. Because I wanted to capture that, and mix that into the upbringing my character had, a very military style one. You see that a little bit in the show at the end, where he says ‘Come That.’
I felt I had an extra responsibility to really go into who this guy was, because I didn’t want to disappoint fans.
JTH – Comic book fans can be the most vocal of all the audiences out there. They are fiercely loyal.
JDJ – Lucky just keeping the character connected and making each moment be as real as possible. People really, really liked it. Everybody has been like ‘That was so great!’ A couple people have reached out and have said ‘I was wondering when they brought the new character out, but you won me over.’ I was happy.
JTH – What was your favorite part in filming this series?
JDJ – My favorite part I would have to say, though it was the longest day on set, 18 hours, is the big conclusion, it was the last episode. It was the moments with Stephen Amell. He is hilarious and he was so welcoming. That day was epic, because we had all these explosions going off and we had tons of extras. I had to learn four fight scenes that day, of which they used two. I was getting executed. I think it was the most expensive day of filming for the whole series and it was most exciting.
JTH – There seems to be a pattern to your career right now of explosions and executions…
JDJ – I know! But this time I was the good guy.
JTH – Wait, just to be clear.
JDJ – I can play both. I am very diverse.
JTH – Of course, you are very diverse.
JDJ – I see what you did there.
JTH – Well you know a little pun. There are roles in an actor’s career that they are very proud, almost like their ’keynote’ role. What is your ‘keynote’ role?
JDJ – I have been unaware of how big things I book are until after the fact. For me right now it is Divergent. Before that it was this series. I filmed the episodes last year. So I was just hoping people saw it, liked me and that I did well. Then the episode comes out and all these people share following me on Instagram and Twitter, they start drawing fan art of me and making Lego figures of me. I am seeing this as they tag it and it is crazy.
JTH – You are like ‘I want that Lego character.’
JDJ – Yes! I want that Lego character. It is just so crazy. It was just unexpected. It is awesome to see how the episode comes out, because you never know how they are going to cut it. You know it looks cool but you always wonder ‘Are they capturing this?’ It is never how you imagine in your head. As it comes out, there is a lot of trust between you and the director that it will be awesome. I think that last episode was the highest rated of that series so… Am curious about what fandom Divergent will bring to me. Everything I have done is Sci-fi and I have go to Comic Con!
JTH – I was just going to ask you if you were going to go. Are you freaking out about it?
JDJ – Dude, I have no clue what to expect from it as a fan. But people tell me it is crazy!
JTH – 1.2 million people through the doors over four days.
JDJ – My friend who was on a series back in the day told me the story of how when he was at a booth, a fan came up to him and showed a tattoo of his face on the fan’s arm! I don’t think that’s going to happen to me.
JTH – Never say never. People get the character from ‘Willow’ tattooed on them all the time.
JDJ – It is just crazy.
Follow Joseph David-Jones @josephdjones