Grand Army is now streaming on Netflix and TV audiences have already been raving about how the show is approaching numerous issues head-on. One actor who has a unique perspective on the series is Alphonso Romero Jones II, who stars as John Ellis. Dom’s (Odley Jean) love interest.
Alphonso had worked with Grand Army creator Katie Cappiello before the series, and with a stage background of his own, is particularly prepared for translating a play (the show is partly based on Cappiello’s play Slut) to the screen. Get to know both Alphonso and his work in the Netflix hit in our interview, and you can continue to stream Grand Army now.
Brittany Frederick: How far back do you go with Katie Cappiello, and did having that pre-existing work rapport help you in the making of Grand Army?
Alphonso Romero Jones II: I trained with Katie through high school. To be able to work with her on this project was a dream come true. Katie knows how to bring the best performance out of you. It definitely helped to a certain degree because of the experience I’ve had with the show’s subject material. I was in another production that Katie did called Now They Were Men, which had an all-male cast. It ran as a double-header show with Slut. I got to see first-hand what Slut did for people. Knowing that was being morphed into Grand Army, I knew I was in for a powerful piece of art.
BF: This is your TV debut. How was it making the transition from theater to the small screen?
ARJ: I would say that it is different from theater because with theater, you don’t get the opportunity to do a take over again. Also, you don’t have the freedom to adapt or try different motivations, take to take. On the stage you really just get one shot and it has to be authentic so that it comes across well to the audience. That part of the process was a little bit difficult for me, because I’m just used to having only one chance to do it. With TV, you have different angles and different setups and that was all new to me.
BF: There are a lot of different characters and stories in Grand Army. Is there anything you think viewers need to know going into the show, especially since it is based on source material?
ARJ: I think people should try to be as open-minded as possible to everyone’s experiences. Try to take them on a very human level, because I feel like sometimes people see younger people have issues and they don’t take them seriously. So I would hope that when people go into watching this show, they don’t just look at it like kids doing crazy things. I hope they actually see young adults trying to be successful and trying to be the best version of themselves.
BF: There’s no shortage of TV series that want to be about younger people and their issues, but many of them miss the mark. What was it about Grand Army that stood out to you and made it feel different?
ARJ: What hooked me was reading the script for the first time. I honestly felt like I had heard some of the things that I was reading on the pages in real life. So it felt authentic first and foremost. Then knowing Katie as a writer and as a creator, I know that she uses a lot of real-life experiences from the many teens she’s talked to over the years to help create the stories. It’s that part of it that hooked me – the real grit and honesty with these characters and how much you could see yourself or experiences that you’ve been through played out on screen. I thought it was brilliant!
BF: How would you describe your character? What was your take on him?
ARJ: John Ellis is a senior basketball student at Grand Army working part time at Target in Atlantic Terminal. He lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn with his mother and also has a thing for Dom. However, I think the most interesting part about him is the fact that he’s passionate when it comes to politics, leading his school’s black student union. He uses his voice on the school campus to prepare himself to be more than just an athlete. He is not your average jock.
BF: What are you watching as a fan? Is there anything recent that’s resonated with you?
ARJ: I just finished The Boys on Amazon Prime. It’s a really cool take on a superhero show. It’s not just about the heroes learning how to use their powers and saving the day. The heroes are layered characters who have issues and I love it. It makes you look at the whole superhero thing in a completely different light instead of just glorifying them.
Grand Army is now streaming exclusively on Netflix. You can also learn more about Alphonso Romero Jones II on his website.