EXCLUSIVE: Aaron D. Spears Talks Series Regular Gig in BET's Being Mary Jane, Black Hollywood and His 'Bold and Beautiful' Future
Shortly after beginning a conversation with Aaron D. Spears you quickly realize why his bio states he's into poetry and spoken word performances. This cat has a lyrical quality to his responses that recalls Larenz Tate's character Darius Lovehall in Love Jones. I recently caught up with The Bold and the Beautiful actor, who is in Atlanta filming the pilot for BET's high profile, hour-long drama series Being Mary Jane.
Spears snagged the series regular role of Marcus Bradley, co-anchor of the titular Mary Jane, a high-powered, cable TV journalist played by Gabrielle Union. We talked about how he reacted when he learned he'd gotten such a plum part in this much-buzzed about vehicle from Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (The Game, Jumping The Broom). We also chewed the fat on the current state of Black Hollywood. As Think Like a Man tops the box office for a second week, Spears believes we're experiencing another "renaissance" for filmmakers of color, but this time, will it last?
I also found out how Spears' Bold and Beautiful boss Brad Bell feels about his new gig, as well as what the future holds for Justin Barber, the suave, publishing exec he portrays on the world's most-watched daily serial.
Daytime Confidential: Congratulations on booking a series regular role in BET’s upcoming drama series Being Mary Jane! How did you react when you first learned you’d been cast in the high profile project?
Aaron Spears: You know, in this business you have so many up and down, roller coaster rides; it was satisfying knowing I have a way to provide for my family. That was my initial reaction, the satisfaction of knowing there’s a possibility of me having a weekly check that will substantiate my expenses.
Daytime Confidential: In Being Mary Jane, you play Mark Bradley, the co-anchor of the title character Mary Jane, played by Gabrielle Union. What has it been like working with her?
AS: She’s really cool; really down to earth. She has a great sense of humor. She’s very witty — smart and witty. She has great comebacks. So it was like, cool. You know how you have some women that can be your, like your friend, so to speak? You know? As a guy, you feel as though “Yeah I can hang out with her” and go to different locations and it would all be good. Everything would be fine and kosher. I feel like she has adapted to various locations and circumstances.
Daytime Confidential: From what I’ve read, Mary Jane will spend a lot of time trying to balance her career and personal life in the series. Could we be seeing any romantic sparks between Mark and Mary Jane?
AS: You know that’s a good question. I am not sure. They have been keeping everything pretty much under wraps. I don’t know if we’re going to end up love interests. If we’re just going to be friends, or just remain co-anchors. RIght now they have pretty much everything under wraps, and they’re not giving us any additional information. I even tried to get some additional information and they said no! [Laughs]
Daytime Confidential: Gotcha, gotcha. With the story being so under wraps, does that call for you to sort of have to create the backstory for your character yourself?
AS: I’m going to find out more backstory, because I know that they’re still writing. Stuff could change in the current script, pilot script, that we’re working on and my character may or may not change in the process of the show getting picked up and then going to actual production. At present, I know he’s a co-anchor. You know, charismatic, definitely a friend of his co-anchor and that’s pretty much all I’ve been given. So I would say yes, I’m creating that backstory myself, to give him some depth and some layers.
Daytime Confidential: Being Mary Jane is from Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, two of the most prolific and powerful black showrunners in Hollywood. Do you think that with the success they’ve had on the big and small screen, and the success of others like Tyler Perry, Will Packer and Rob Hardy, that Hollywood is finally coming to the realization that people of color can create quality products that make money?
AS: I think what’s happening right now is its own little renaissance in the entertainment industry. There are a lot more grains of sand, so to speak, being built up on the other side of the hourglass, and fortunately—or unfortunately—the same people are controlling the bottom of that hourglass. What is happening is that there are grains of sand that continually seem to slip through and to our benefit, those grains of sand that slip through are being supported by our community. Because a lot of times, I don’t know if it was maybe inferior products, but the products would be out there and it was either one of two things, something being repeated or something we felt wasn’t representing us well. Now at the present day and time, it seems like we’re finally getting an opportunity to show and prove. Though there’s always loops within this cycle that happen, and once it gets too lucrative or too beneficial, it seems to..not necessarily dry up on its own, but it is evaporates, whether it be on purpose, or it just happens. If you look back to Fred Sanford and The Jeffersons, Good Times. I mean, you would think they would have had 10,000 freaking shows, after the runs that those shows had, and the success that they had.
AS: You know, but then all of the sudden, you go through this blank area. Then you get Cosby that comes along, and you got a couple of other shows that come around that. I don’t necessarily get mad at the machine, because you gotta remember this machine was created for a purpose and it’s serving its purpose. Anything outside of that purpose is kind of extracurricular. I always say, Sprite isn’t going to start promoting Dr. Pepper, neither will Coke. They’re going to wholly promote the brand that they created and the reason they created it for, and anything outside of that is extracurricular. So we as people of color, we have to create our own mediums and our own stories, and stop going to the refrigerator, opening the door, looking for something to be there, knowing that the first 12 times you went to the refrigerator there was nothing in there. Now all of the sudden, the 13th time, you’re expecting there to be a sandwich, a roast beef club on the shelf. That’s just not the case. We gotta continue to push the envelope, continue to put our product out there. We have to continue to tell our stories. The more we do that, the more mediums will open up for us to display our talents.
Daytime Confidential: As a black actor and filmmaker, what do you think of the success of Think Like a Man; Number 1 movie in the country, two weeks running?
AS: It is definitely a breath of fresh air. I think that Will Packer, who I spoke to briefly a couple of days ago, and Rob Hardy have been able to find a machine that works, as well as Clint Culpepper, who is president at Screen Gems, who I also know. You know, they found this niche and they’ve been able to, for lack of a better word, exploit the niche and at the same time, now broaden into different stories. Clint, considering he’s a cool cat, he’s down, you know, down with everything that’s hip. He found a person that he could entrust in Will Packer to be able to get stories out. I mean they go back as far as Stomp The Yard, Two Can Play That Game, Three Can Play That Game, Stomp The Yard 2. So they’ve now run this process a couple of times and for a studio, it’s becoming lucrative. For them to kick out X amount of millions and make twice as many millions back, I think it says a lot. And now they’ve begun to encompass Caucasian Americans within the African American story, just as the Caucasian story may slip a black or Latin or Asian person up in their story. So it’s kind of the same outline, but now done in a flip-flopped type of perspective, where you have a predominantly black cast, but you may slip in three or four Caucasian people, so therefore you round off the spectrum of individuals that can come and possibly enjoy that movie. I think it’s definitely good for every person involved in the entertainment industry that two weeks in a row, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. We’ll see how long this trend lasts. Last time I remember a trend such as this, was when everyone was looking for a rapper, or some kind of music industry mogul to be in their movie, and that was the formula. It will be interesting to see what this formula will be, contingent on how Think Like a Man has been doing so well.
Daytime Confidential: We’ve been talking a lot about Hollywood power players, you’ve already been working for one of the industry’s most lucrative showrunners for a few years now, The Bold and the Beautiful’s Brad Bell. How did Brad react when you told him you booked Being Mary Jane?
AS: You know what? He was really supportive, man. He emailed me, actually sent me a personal email, just thanking me, congratulating me for the position. He said he thought I was a great actor, that I would do well. He wished me the best. He also let me know that he still intended to use the character on The Bold and the Beautiful, so it’s been a blessing that I’m able to have the best of both worlds. I’m still able to continue with the fanbase of The Bold and the Beautiful, which has a worldwide fanbase, as well as dibble and dabble into primetime. For me, it’s kinda full circle, because I came from primetime television and doing movies. This role [on The Bold and the Beautiful] came about; I thought it was a great role. I didn’t see the difference between acting in daytime and primetime, regardless of the stigma that daytime television may get. The people that I’ve worked with have been consummate professionals. Their emotional libraries have been exercised to the point of “WOW!” [Laughs] Sometimes the places they go, in the short periods of time they are given to prepare certain scenes and emotional dialogue...it’s amazing. For me, it’s been a really welcome experience and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to do both.
Daytime Confidential: While story for your B&B character Justin Barber has cooled of late, he still fills the pivotal role of publishing czar Bill Spencer’s right hand man. Will you continue on with B&B now that you’re on Being Mary Jane?
AS: Yes. I will be doing both. I pretty much will be coordinating the schedules between the two shows. It seems as though fans really enjoy the relationship that Bill and I have, so I’m pretty sure they’re going to continue to facilitate that. I’m looking forward to this as well — to be getting into some discussions and dialogues with my son [Justin’s son Marcus played by Texas Battle]. I know there are some upcoming episodes that I shot, right before shooting the pilot, that should be coming out sometime here in the near future. I’m assuming three or four weeks from now, that allow me to have some interactions with my son. So, I know that the outline of Justin Barber is one that has been set up in a way that he can branch off in many different directions. It’ll be just very interesting to see what direction he will go in now. I think that one great thing about Brad Bell and those writers and the team that produce the show is that they understand the more you go outside of the box, the more attention you bring back to the box. He never really traps us in, not letting us do other things outside of the box. He always encourages that, very vocally. Especially with a character that you continue to use, all that is going to do is now bring more attention to the show that he came from, or in my case, am still on.
Daytime Confidential: A lot of fans were bummed when Justin and Donna, high school sweethearts, broke up, after being apart for so long! How did you and your costar Jennifer Gareis feel about the storyline coming to an end?
AS: You know, we both weren’t looking toward an ending, because in our eyes we never got started [Chuckles]! So how could we be ending, when we never really engaged in one another?. We did our courting, you know, prior to being married, but once married we never really got a chance to express our love for one another. We never got a chance to indulge in the depths of our relationship. We just kinda were onscreen together at various different times. It really, to me, I felt like it could have been exercised a lot more, but who knows? When you're on a soap, things can happen in so many different ways.