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Brandon T. Jackson Interview

In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, actor Brandon T. Jackson plays Grover Underwood, a friend of Percy’s who reveals himself to be his protector – and a mythical satyr as well. He’s also done stand-up comedy, plus had appearances in films like Tropic Thunder and the upcoming Tooth Fairy. Here he speaks to View London’s Matthew Turner about working with celebrities, flirting with Rosario Dawson and what his friends had to say about playing a half-goat.

You grew up in the mid-West. It's not a natural path from Detroit to Hollywood – how did that come about?
Brandon T. Jackson (BTJ): Well, my parents are preachers and it's pretty much forbidden to do anything out of the ordinary of that box – being a movie star, you're not supposed to even dream that, but my parents told me I can do anything and I really believed them. I think they wanted my faith to go into the ministry and do that, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to do something where I could express myself artistically. But at the same time, coming from Detroit and doing stand-up and then being the only guy on Tropic Thunder with all these big guys and then coming back and doing a fantasy film is definitely something that I know that I'm not really in control of this whole thing, so I just try to do what I can do.

What did your parents think then, when you took this part, if your parents wanted you to go into the ministry?
BTJ: Oh, that's not even the weird part. The weird part is seeing your grandmother going ‘Oh, that's my baby's booty sweat!’ at the premiere. But at the same time, they understand that it's a career and that I'm not out there in the streets doing something negative. And they understand that this is what I love to do, but it's still weird. When I go home, there's still a little tension, but it's cool.

It's a big commitment, in career terms, to say that you're signed up and available for the next four films in the franchise, should they come up. Is that also a big leap?
BTJ: It definitely is, but at the same time, I'm going to fight to do different things. I did Percy Jackson, here's my other franchise I got for you guys, here's my other franchise – I'm like that, I'm a go-getter. Even if it happens or not, I've got to at least believe, you know. I'm the kind of person that wants to do things that's bigger than me. Because, I'm short, so (laughs) – I like tall girls too and it's a problem. I don't know what it is, but I always like things that are bigger than me. I'm such a normal guy and to come from something that's normal and to be put in an extraordinary situation, I've always admired those stories, because it shows that the average person, if you look at any heroes from even the Bible – Moses, he could barely speak and then he was supposed to preach the word and do all this stuff – so every hero has a flaw.

And the fact that Chris [Columbus, the director] did a great job, making those flaws in our characters that we had to overcome. That's one thing I liked about that. And I take that in my personal life too. Because a lot of people say – first call I got was someone saying, 'Oh, they're going black with the role.' I'm like, 'Oh, yes, let's go!' I'm not saying that's a problem, you've got to go with the creative choice, you've got to go, 'Okay, these are the numbers here, blah blah blah,' so you can still say you've got this genre, you've got that, the President and all this stuff but still, you've got to think about numbers and entertaining people. And so you have to bring in numbers and to do that is not easy, no matter what colour you are, it's hard, so just bringing everybody in internationally, being in London, it's amazing, it's a blessing. So I love to do it.

What did your friends say when you told them you were playing a half-goat in a movie?
BTJ: My friends don't understand it. I mean, it's such a different genre. First of all, you've got to have a certain taste for the whole Twilight thing and whatever, but you've got your brothers from the 'hood or, you know, some people in your community that will be like, 'Hey, what's up with them goat legs, man?' It's funny, because there's a certain masculinity that comes with being an African-American male that's put out there, so you walking around with goat legs, brothers are like, ‘You can't whup MY ass,’ you know what I mean? But you've got to say, 'This is cool.. You've got to tell everybody that it's cool to love – not even this genre. You're got to bring everybody into this situation, so it's definitely tough, but you've got to have fun with it.

I'm sure everyone that mocked you for having goat legs took back their comments when you said, 'Yeah, but Rosario Dawson comes onto me...'
BTJ: I didn't even tell them that, either! I didn't say nothing about Rosario so I'm going to wait till they see it and then I'll be like, 'Yeah, yeah, that's what goat legs get you.'

Were you not tempted to push for a kissing scene?
BTJ: No. I'm not this guy, I swear to God, I'm not this guy. Look, I'm so dumb when it comes to girls who are really, really pretty. I play smooth but if a girl is like too pretty, I kind of shell up a little bit, so I go to Rosario and I didn't know what to say to her and I'm like, 'Hey Rosario, could you be my mentor?' and she was like, 'What the - ?' It was such a funny story, I almost broke the ice, because I was such a goof. I'm a goofball and it was such a weird situation, so I play it cool, but when I'm around girls that are too pretty, I get kind of scared a lot and I don't want to seem really stupid, so...

With your background in comedy, did you get to improvise a lot?
BTJ: That recession line, I wrote that. That was a take that I didn't think he was going to keep, I just said it and he kept it, which was really cool. Sometimes you don't want to reference too much pop culture, because it will date the movie and that would take away from it, but I think everyone can relate to the recession, so I was happy he kept it. But it's tough, because you try to do movies where you don't want to be too funny and take away from the film and that's what Chris was good at - moments that were meant to be funny were there. You've got to have some entertainment value, but you don't want to be too ridiculous.

Was there ever a sense of being overwhelmed by the bigger stars in the film? How did you feel when you heard Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman were involved?
BTJ: The ice was broken for me when I did Tropic Thunder, working with celebrities or whatever you want to call actors who have been in the game longer. Sometimes you find yourself getting lost in the scene, just watching them, because they're so great, but I kind of got, like, Robert Downey Jr. did that for me, so when I was able to work with Pierce and Steve Coogan (even though I worked with him on Tropic) and Uma, who I didn't do too much with, I was ready. Rosario was the only one that kind of shook me up, to be honest.

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Content updated: 26/02/2020 00:55

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