I'm singing with Orlando Jones in a private karaoke room in the basement of a Manhattan venue. And it's not going well. Fresh off a plane, I'm a little jetlagged and a lot goofy when I join him following the Machinima newfront presentation, where it was revealed he'd be starring in Roberto Orci's science fiction series High School 51 for the online video platform.
We're discussing possible karaoke-friendly theme songs for the show, and he suggests "Holding Back the Years" by Simply Red. I make up a tune on the spot, singing "High School 51," and he joins in with a singing rhyme: "Trust no one!" Then, I finish with a high-pitched "I want to believe ... in high school," and am suddenly aware I may have just ruptured the actor's eardrums.
Instead of cringing, he lets out a big laugh and says, "That's awesome! I would be toasting you if I had a drink!"
It is difficult not getting a little silly with Jones. Though he's spent two seasons being serious on Fox's Sleepy Hollow -- the supernatural drama Variety just reported yesterday he's leaving -- Jones is a comedian with a nerd streak. He is an interactive social media personality, where he acts as a fandom evangelist (and talks about being an Orphan Black fan). His comic-book-styled action comedy Tainted Love on Machinima was a fun ride, and I still think 2001's Evolution remains underrated.
With High School 51, the "breakout star" of Sleepy Hollow -- as Hollow co-creator Orci called him yesterday at the presentation –- plays a mysterious role in a series where 580 alien students and one human attend Dream Lake High School, located on the top secret Area 51 base.
On the topic of his Sleepy Hollow departure, Jones addresses it straight away. "On Machinima, I was playing a gangster and a criminal, and on Sleepy Hollow, I was playing a police captain, so I think I've covered the bases of stereotype and role model," joked Jones on stage while wearing a school T-shirt and hat for this new show.
So while he can't say much about his new character, he promises it will be different and "very special."
After our brief musical interlude, Jones answered a few questions about his new gig.
The presentation didn't say what exactly your role would be on High School 51, so what can you tell me about it?
What was interesting to Bob [Orci] and I about this world was really that high school is this tumultuous time. Often, people you're friends with, you end up hating by the end; people you hate end up being friends. People are going through this wild growth period. So it seemed interesting to delve into a world where nobody really trusts anybody inside or outside the universe. We do the SIMs experiment of seeing how we'd actually be able to behave right now in social media, the way we think of the government, the way we think of social issues. All that plays out in a high school where the things that separate you aren't just different colors or religions, but separated by being different species. They have different needs in terms of what they want, and different ways in which they see the world. That just seemed like an interesting tapestry to tap into. And I wanted to play somebody you did not know where he was. If he's with you, against you, trying to screw you over, actively up to no good. I like the idea of playing a nefarious jackass of that level.
Is he a principal, or what is he?
No, probably not. I'm overseeing the area. And it's a military area, so there are more things going on than just the high school -- that's just an offshoot of the problems that came from our real problems.
What are those real problems?
Our real problems had sex with each other and procreated. That's the fun of what the myth of that place has always been. They say they are aliens there, and that they've been there since the '40s, so nothing else happened? Just a finite number? It didn't grow? They don't have an ecosystem and communities, or an opinion about humans or humanity? It's all just hunky-dory the last 70 years? We can't even agree with each other. So we love that idea of jumping into that world.
Are you into UFO conspiracies and alien theories?
Yeah, in terms of plausibility. Why is Stonehenge there? Why Roswell? How did they get here? To me, it's entirely plausible the things we see today come from people having shared with us things from the future we weren't supposed to know. It is plausible to me that some of those people think, "Why not just take this planet from these idiots?" And others might just want to go home, and others might want to stay. That, to me, is a jump off to an interesting world of Area 51 that isn't about a campy little high school.
What was the appeal of leaving the supernatural genre of Sleepy Hollow and transitioning to this?
I don't consider it that much of a transition, having done Evolution and The Time Machine. I have spent my time in sci-fi as well, and I'm a sci-fi fan. But I literally leave here to go to London, where I'm doing a Supernatural convention, and I've never done the show. I am just going as a fan. The fun of the second largest property of all time, Star Trek, is that Gene Roddenberry took the time to get the chemistry and science right. I was a dropout chemistry major, so the idea to play with those science fiction elements with an element of plausibility is what Bob and I got excited about, and we just geeked out on it -- now let's take high school and make it the tumultuous hellhole that it really is.
If you could leap into Star Trek, or Star Wars, the Marvel or DC Comics universes, or even the Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings fantasy stuff, what would you most like to take on?
Whoa. Well, first let me say that people of color are grossly underrepresented in that realm, across the board. That goes doubly for women who aren't tropes. I would love to play a superhero character who was viciously unforgiving. I would to play someone who believed vehemently they had the right answer, the right way, and f***ing wreaked havoc until they discovered they were wrong. Then, they'd have to take all the s***storm they caused, and try to fix it, which just causes a secondary s***storm. I could do Black Lightning like that in the DC world. It feels like that; somebody that was death and destruction, and was all, "S***, I was wrong." That's one I love. I'd love to re-envision Blade as a different thing, and that's obviously a Wesley Snipes one. Look, in the sci-fi realm, I'd love to go down the road of what would happen if the Vox compendium of all human knowledge in The Time Machine movie got control of the world. He knows everything; he has no excuse for his racism or f***ed up behavior, but he does it anyway. That would be an interesting H.G. Wellsian world to jump into.
I think you could pull off a good Mister Terrific -- if you wanted to get that giant "T" on the face.
That's a fun idea! Just for the "T" on the face idea of it!