Thomas Q. Jones is the star, executive producer and showrunner of Bounce TV’s tentpole comedy Johnson. Having recently launched its second season, the Atlanta-set hit series, executive produced by Cedric the Entertainer, follows four Black men who met in grade school and have remained best friends: Omar (Jones), Greg (Deji LaRay), Keith (Philip A. Smithey) and Jarvis (Derrex Brady). They all just so happen to have the same last name, Johnson, but are no relation. After 25 years of friendship, they are finding themselves in vastly different places in their lives as they confront, and sometimes find humor in, current controversial social issues from the Black man’s perspective, ranging from love and marriage to business, politics and religion.

We recently connected with Jones, who retired in 2011 as one of the top 25 leading rushers in National Football League history and who went on to star in Netflix’s Marvel crime series Luke Cage and currently also portrays Mane in P-Valley on Starz.

ArtsATL: What is the overall message of Johnson? What do you want viewers to take away from it?

Jones: For too long, Black men have been portrayed in a negative light, and Johnson is an opportunity to show us as the complex and vulnerable human beings that we are.

Jones says, “Hollywood has been an incredible post-football career choice for me partly because of the intangibles I used to be successful in the NFL.” The intangibles he names: hard work, dedication and consistency.

ArtsATL: What inspired the series and got it rolling?

Jones: My producing partner Deji LaRay created Johnson in 2014. We met in 2017 through a mutual friend and discussed potentially filming a pilot episode independently, with me coming on board as an actor. Before I even read the script I immediately connected to the idea and saw the value in a TV series like this being on the air. I felt compelled to partner with Deji on this project as not only an actor but also as an executive producer. Being Black men in America and understanding who we really are versus how we are labeled was the inspiration for us to fight tooth and nail to make sure this series saw the light of day.

ArtsATL: What has been the most challenging aspect of making this show?

Jones: Convincing people to pull the trigger on green-lighting it. Studios and networks loved the pilot episode we filmed but they had never seen a Black male POV [point of view] series that wasn’t a crime or comedy-based narrative. We were fortunate enough to have [producers] Eric Rhone and Cedric the Entertainer see our pilot episode. They loved the pilot and wanted to partner with us in efforts to get the show green-lit. Now here we are.

ArtsATL: Where in Atlanta does the series take place, and what are some Atlanta landmarks viewers can spot?

Jones: We wanted our series to feel authentic to Black culture and there is no better city to make that happen than Atlanta. This season we filmed at locations such as Cam Newton’s cigar lounge [Fellaship.ATL] as well as the trendy Little Five Points area. Johnson is a show that we wanted Atlanta to be proud of so we filmed all over the city to represent as much of the culture and the people as we possibly could. We are forever grateful to Atlanta for embracing us and Johnson. (The first season can be viewed via the Brown Sugar app.)

ArtsATL: How is it to shoot here versus other places that you’ve worked?

Jones: Atlanta is an incredible city to film in. It’s a very film-friendly city and from a production perspective it’s a lot more cost-friendly as well. L.A. and New York are great locations as well, but if you’re an independent filmmaker, Atlanta is definitely the place to be.

ArtsATL: How long did it take to shoot Season 2, and do you have favorite places to go in the city after hours?

Jones: We started production on Season 2 on February 8. A few weeks before that, there was another surge in the Covid-19 virus, so we were on edge for the first few weeks of production. In all, it took us 10 weeks to finish all 10 episodes.

On our off days we spent a lot of time at the Steamhouse Lounge in Midtown as well as a really cool lounge called Rock Steady [in West Midtown]. Both places have a great ambience and were great locations for us to unwind after filming so heavily each day.

ArtsATL: You were nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020. How does sports inform or influence your work in front of the camera?

Jones: Hollywood has been an incredible post-football career choice for me, partly because of the intangibles I used to be successful in the NFL. Hard work, dedication and consistency are what it takes to be successful in this business and the NFL collectively. I had a very competitive spirit and expected greatness as a football player, and I have that same approach when it comes to my filmmaking.

“For too long, Black men have been portrayed in a negative light,” says Jones, who plays Omar Johnson, “and ‘Johnson’ is an opportunity to show us as the complex and vulnerable human beings that we are.”

ArtsATL: How did you get into show business?

Jones: I was introduced to Hollywood through a project I randomly started producing and acting in once I retired. I worked with the legendary Clifton Powell, and the role I played in the project was his nephew. After a few scenes, he told me that I had raw talent and that I should pursue acting as a second career. I took him up on it, and 10 years later I’m a working actor and producer. I’ll always be grateful for Cliff and his encouragement. It changed my life for the better.

ArtsATL: Do you have a residence here, or where do you live?

Jones: I’ve definitely been thinking of getting one. It’s turned into the hub for Hollywood in terms of production and casting talent. My permanent residence is in Miami, but I have an apartment in Hollywood, as well.

ArtsATL: Do you hope to do more projects in the A in the future?

Jones: More projects in Atlanta are for sure on my wish list. The locations in Atlanta and the culture are unmatched. We have a feature film that we are scheduled to start production this fall, and Atlanta is the perfect location for it.


Candice Dyer’s work has appeared in Atlanta magazine, Garden and GunGeorgia Trend and other publications. She is the author of Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon.


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