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Joseph David-Jones Dishes About His 4400 Role, Representation, And His Time In The Arrowverse – Exclusive Interview

Joseph David-Jones Dishes About His 4400 Role, Representation, And His Time In The Arrowverse – Exclusive Interview

If you’re tuning into the CW’s new series “4400,” the character Jharrel Mateo — played by Joseph David-Jones — probably looks pretty familiar. The CW staple played none other than Connor Hawke/Green Arrow in both “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Arrow” and almost got a spinoff with Katherine McNamara’s Mia Smoak. Aside from his work in Star City, David-Jones has appeared in some pretty impressive projects.

Earlier in his career, he played Hollis in the “Divergent” sequel “Allegiant.” 2017 was an impressive year for David-Jones, as he acted alongside Anthony Mackie and John Boyega in the film “Detroit” and appeared as Marcus Jones in Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” That year, he also nabbed a recurring role as Clayton Carter in “Nashville.” Now he’s taking part in the CW’s reimagining of “The 4400” as Jharrel, the kindhearted social worker whose missing brother sparks his involvement in the 4400 case.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Joseph David-Jones dished on the new series “4400,” why this iteration of the story is important to tell in today’s climate, and how the show tackles critical issues of racism and other social problems. David-Jones also went down memory lane to reminisce about his time in the Arrowverse, the “Star Wars” role he almost scored, and what it was like working with John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Denzel Washington.

The casting that almost looked very different

What drew you to the role of Jharrel on “The 4400,” and what are you most excited about tackling with this character and this show as a whole?

It’s funny because I was drawn to the project first, and there were a handful of roles that I felt like I could fit into, but I didn’t know what I wanted to play or which role was the best fit for me. I just knew I loved the story. I loved what they were trying to do. 

I’d watched the original series, and my family really, really loved it. And we watched it together when I was a kid. So I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. What ended up happening was I initially got cast as the Rev character on the series, and through a very, very eventful day, we ended up canceling out my contract for that character in that role. And I ended up signing on to the role of Jharrel, and the rest was  … the rest was history.

But what I loved about this character, I guess it was a character that I hadn’t seen on TV before. We don’t often tell stories about social workers. But also seeing, I guess, a character trying to help people who is this man of the people try to navigate government, trying to navigate a system that’s not necessarily for the people, but mainly about, I guess, governing people and making sure that everyone is kept safe according to their understanding of it.

But it was, I don’t know. It was this sort of pseudo-disillusionment arc that I hadn’t seen before. I wanted to lend my own voice to that character.

A wild casting ride

Was that sort of a collaborative decision between you and the powers that be, or were you the one to say, “I think I would fit with this character better”?

It’s funny. Because when I was auditioning for it, I auditioned for both this and the Rev character, and they were like, “No, we think you’re like the Rev.” And I was like, “Oh, but I know we’re going to be testing on this date anyway. You’ve already seen my tapes and my auditions for this Jharrel role. Would it be okay if I just read for him as well? And we could send both of my tapes to the network?” And they’re like, “Oh no, no, no, no. We really feel strongly that you gravitate towards this.” 

That was like, “Okay, no big deal, no hard feelings.” And then, like a month later, when they were in the casting process, they kept coming back to my tape for Jharrel. And they were like, “No, like, you really are this character.” And then called me randomly a month after me getting the role of Rev to see if I would want to switch roles and cancel out my contract and then reissue another contract. Because they had to have contracts closed that day. So it was definitely a crazy, crazy day.

That’s, I think, the wildest casting story I’ve ever heard.

I know. It’s never happened to me before, but yeah, I guess I did kind of push to be seen as Jharrel, and it all ended up coming full circle and working out.

The 4400 stand for something bigger than TV

This reimagining of “The 4400” is such an innovative platform to provide the space for a set of characters to organically tackle critical history and current events regarding racism and the mistreatment of marginalized communities — as well as activism as a whole. Can you talk about some of those subjects that the show addresses and how these issues are woven throughout the series?

Man, it’s funny because all of that starts sort of with casting on these projects and because our cast is so diverse and not just in ethnic representation and backgrounds, but like in sexual orientation and, I guess, disabilities or the members of the handicapped community. And just through having these and seeing their stories told truthfully, you’re already advocating for the struggles that they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

There are so many that we highlight in this that it’s hard to pinpoint just a couple of them. We talk about the Asian hate. We talk about the civil rights movement just because we go through so many different time periods. We talk about credibility in, I guess, work that ties back to the 1920s and a doc story, Dr. Andre played by T. L. Thompson, and he does an amazing job.

We talk about, I guess, the idea of detainment and keeping people locked up under the guise of public safety, which I feel like we see a lot of at our borders with families being separated from their kids or being locked up or just seeking asylum and turned away when they’ve just trying to find a sense of safety or home in there.

Standing apart from the OG

And it’s all done under the guise of keeping people safe, and that as a whole is sort of how the 4400 is being treated. So like you see instances like what happened with the people coming over from Haiti. And if people were on horses with whips and everything and it’s like, this show does such a good job just through its premise and the casting that it has and highlighting how much things have changed and how much things haven’t changed.

You mentioned that you watched the original show. How do you think the CW reimagining of the series sets itself apart from the original, and why do you think this particular story needs to be told now in today’s climate?

I feel like what differentiates us between the original series is the cast that we have. We’ve already talked about how there’s so much more inclusivity and diversity in our cast now. But on top of that, we spend more time in the story, shining a light on what has happened to each one of these characters. When the original series was kind of like superpower of the week, and who’s this person, what they’re doing, and like, what is their power or how we handle that. 

Then a lot of times, it would just be tied up nicely at the end of the episode. This story lets you live more in not only the past of these people before the event and what led up to it, but also how they are reintegrating into society throughout the entire season. So you really get a chance to learn, fall in love with, grow, and understand these characters in a way that you didn’t in the previous series. So that in itself is what I feel like people will love more about this series than in the previous one.

A new iteration of the 4400

What are the biggest challenges in tackling a project like this? And what’s the most rewarding aspect of it?

I feel like because it is a sci-fi project and a pre-existing IP, there’s always this extra weight to do justice to it because there are so many fans of the original series who, like me, watched it religiously as a kid, or with their families, or whatever. And they were huge fans of it. And unfortunately, that series ended on a cliffhanger because of the writers’ strike. 

And we never got that closure for the series. And this isn’t a continuation of that. It’s a new revisiting of the series and of the concept of the premise, but I’m hoping that we do justice to it for the fans. And I feel like that has been the biggest challenge with coming onto something like this. But the reward is that I freaking love every aspect of the show. I’m very, very heavy into sci-fi.

That is my genre and being able to take just like a concept, but grounded into a universal world that feels so real and so relatable, but flesh it out and use it to highlight different disparities or things in our own time or, just want to say time period in our own world. I don’t know. 

That’s like everything that I’m about. And even from reading the script, which is why I gravitated to the script first and foremost, I was like, “This is exactly the thing that I want to be beyond as an actor and what I want to lend my creative voice to.” So that’s been the most rewarding.

Defying the romantic partners arc

I love your character’s repartee with Keisha — especially because it doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere romantic, like we see a million times over, because she has a girlfriend.

You don’t see our love arc? I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. We joke about that all the time on set [laughs].

Given that Jharrel is so soft-spoken and empathetic and Keisha is a little bit colder and a little bit more no-nonsense, how do you think these two characters will balance each other out and impact each other and sort of change each other as the series continues to move forward?

I felt like both of them help each other grow. And it’s funny. It was one of the aspects from the original series that I think people really liked, having these two differentiating viewpoints come together and learning to understand each other, and learning to help each other grow. And we do that. I love the fact that each one of them has sort of a different perspective on the best way to, I guess, engage, help, or understand the 4400.

And that lasts like, I guess currently we’re shooting episode 10, so that lasts throughout the series up until now, but it gives you a unique view of both sides of an argument. And I think through that, audiences are able to formulate their own opinions that aren’t biased in any way — like being able to both understand Jharrel’s story and why he is the way he is and why he has the views he has. And understanding Keisha’s story and why she has the views that she has, and why she is the way that she is like, I don’t know, helps hopefully find common ground between other people who may have different opinions than you.

Jharrel's journey

How do you hope Jharrel progresses through the season and the series? And are there any plot points that you’d love to see him tackle? Maybe either stuff they did in the original or new things that you’re interested in?

It’s funny. The interesting thing that I feel like because of how they’ve set this character up, he is unbelievably empathetic to the 4400, but there’s also this emotional connection that he has to the 4400 — which is that his brother has gone missing. Like his brother went missing a year prior to the 4400 coming. And so he is trying to find his brother, and that is, I guess, the driving force behind why he’s even working for the 4400. And he does want to help them. But he needs to find answers to what happened because it’s like, he’s the only family that he has. 

So I would love if something came up to where he would have to pursue one at the cost of the other. And I feel like what he chooses to do in that instance would be more character-defining than anything that’s taken place in the series so far. So I would love to see him choose between doing what is right for them or potentially finding or having a chance to get his brother back.

Human vs. superhuman

Would you want to develop powers in the future, or do you like being human?

Bro, I have been begging our showrunners [laughs] for powers since before the show even started shooting, and I’m waiting for them. I’m waiting, maybe not this season. That’s okay. But Season 2, come on now. Like somebody in the 4400 has to have the power to give power, and hopefully, those powers get given to me. That’s what I’m waiting for.

What powers? What are you hoping for?

Oh, it would be cool to fly on the show. It would be cool to move things, fire, electricity. I don’t know. Like I’m going way, way, way too comic book with this. I feel like if I had powers in this world, I want to like … I’m exhausted wearing multiple hats in this industry. 

I know I’m working on this show, still writing, and also working on an album, everything that I’m hoping to release it through, like maybe midseason of this show, but I would love to be able to split myself into multiple versions of myself and make copies of myself and then go out and do all of those various things.

Like a time turner-esque power.

Oh, that is a good way to put it. Yes. I would want to have Hermione’s time turner from Harry Potter. I don’t know why she only used it in that one movie.

She scarred herself. She’s like, ‘I can’t handle this anymore. I’m done. [Laughs] This is causing too many problems.’

No, no. Can’t use the time turner. I got to go. [Laughs]

Connor Hawke and Mia Smoak: a dynamic duo

So switching gears, in “Arrow,” you played Connor Hawke, a future version of Arrow, opposite Katherine McNamara as Mia. What was it like working with Kat and acting alongside Stephen Amell as Arrow?

Kat, I don’t even understand how she has the level of energy and focus that she does. I am still to this day awe-inspired by it because even coming on now where I’m leading this series and everything, the amount of work that I’m doing on this is so much more than the amount of work that I was doing on “Arrow.”

And she’s been the lead of a series for about five or six years now, from “Shadowhunters” to “Arrow” and beyond. But the work ethic that she has that was like, “Dude, I need to get into that mind state,” and I’m doing it now, but it is unbelievably exhausting. 

And it makes me appreciate both her and Stephen Amell so much more because they were able to do it and not let, or not make it seem like — they must’ve been exhausted. Like they were ever too tired or too, I don’t know, drained to do something to be out somewhere to make an appearance for kids or whatever the case was. So I feel like I’ve learned a lot from both Stephen Amell and working with Kat on how to navigate the workload in this industry.

Hangin' with the Arrow cast

Do you have any fond memories with any of the “Arrow” cast or any fun moments from set that come to mind?

Man, I don’t know. It’s funny. Because there’s so much, I wasn’t even expecting to be asked this. [Laughs] We were ballet dancing on set or whatever with me and Kat or like Stephen teaching me how to do the salmon ladder. 

There were so many, I don’t know, there are so many good memories from that set, and it helps it. It was pre-pandemic. So it’s like sets are just different now. We’re dressed to the nines in PPE, and interactions are a little bit different. Like we find a way to make it fun as a cast. This is a fun cast on this show, but it really makes you appreciate the different set dynamics that I had before.

And “Arrow” was one of them. Unfortunately, we were going to have the spinoff, but right when they were developing it, it was when COVID hit — and 2020 happened. So it just ended up being one of the series that went by the wayside because the network and the studio didn’t know when or how they were going to proceed with it. So she was like, ha, but it all worked out because here I am on this beautifully amazing series.

Becoming a legend on Legends of Tomorrow

You originally made your debut as Green Arrow in “Legends of Tomorrow.” What was it like working with that cast? And do you think there’s a space for Connor to show up on another Arrowverse show?

I don’t know. I know that I would be open to it, and I’m still connected with Mark Guggenheim and everything. So I feel like we could find something to do and a right place for me to pop back in there. But I think Kat just like popped back in on “Flash” or something.

Yeah, it’s upcoming. It’s a crossover event.

Ah, that’s got to be so cool. So I don’t know, maybe there is still room or a world where I could pop in and do something. And I feel like that would be really, really cool. And I love the fans in the Arrowverse. I love DC fandom just as a whole, so I would want to do something cool just for them just so they could, like, I don’t know, have something, a little piece of Connor to go to or something, you know?

Is there a specific show you’re dying to go on in that universe?

No, it’s funny because I’ve been watching “Superman & Lois,” or is it Clark and Lois?

It’s “Superman & Lois.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Yeah, it’s so good. It is so good. I don’t know how I would fit into that universe, but it would be really cool to pop up in that. They really did a good job on that, on that franchise, or on that series. Plus, I love Tyler [Hoechlin], man. Tyler’s the coolest dude ever.

Working with Anthony Mackie and John Boyega

In your film “Detroit,” you work with other incredible actors like Anthony Mackie and John Boyega, and the story focuses on an integral part of history: the fight for civil rights in 1967. What did being on a project like this mean to you, and what did you take away from working with Anthony and John? Did you have any discussions with them on the significance of the film’s message?

We all felt like what we were doing was important on that film just from day one. I know that [director Kathryn Bigelow] didn’t want us to dive too deeply into the story. Like, she wanted us to live through every moment of it. So a lot of our scenes were given to us on the day.

So every moment we felt would be real, and we would be living through it. They did a really, really good job of capturing that and hiding the cameras, and letting us live through those moments. It honestly ruined me for other projects because so much of acting on TV and on other projects is hitting your marks and being, I don’t know, a pawn on cue and all this stuff.

And that was like an opportunity to just live through a moment. And regardless of what you did, they would find it. However, working with John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, a lot of the other cast of it, even Kathryn Bigelow and the writer, Mark Boal, like, I don’t know, it taught me so much about this industry. And when 2020 happened, and there were all of the protests that were happening all across the country.

I had messaged a couple of the producers about the film, and it was like, “Man, it’s crazy how far we still have to go.” Like, it’s bizarre how this movie that we made about the ’60s is happening right now. Again. Still, to this day, that is still the project that I feel the most proud to be a part of.

Awkward intros with Denzel Washington

Did you get a chance to work with Denzel Washington on “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”? And what was it like sharing a set was such a legend?

I got super starstruck when I saw Denzel Washington. And it’s funny because, I don’t know, being a fan of his for so long. I was like, “I got to say something to be profound. I got to let this guy know that I am a smart and savvy, profound actor.” I had anecdotes that I was going to say to him at this table read.

He didn’t come in until maybe like 10, 15 minutes after everyone had already taken their spaces around the table. So I was like, all right, I’m going to go get coffee. Maybe somebody else is reading his role because he’s too busy. 

So I’d go there. And like he tapped on the shoulder when I was pouring coffee, and I froze. I couldn’t think of what to say. So I just kept saying my name, and he was like, “What?” And I never get starstruck. I never do, and Denzel, he got me, he got me, I was starstruck, and I was like, “Jojo, that’s mine. That’s my name.”

Luckily, by the time we got to shooting, he didn’t remember that I had done that, but he was an incredibly cool dude. And we talked about sports. We talked about the industry. We talked about his son and how his son played football against my college and everything. So it was real cool to see how grounded, down-to-earth he was, and approachable.

Right. At least you didn’t spill coffee on him. It could have been worse.

So much worse.

The never completed Divergent trilogy

You had a role in “Allegiant.” What was it like being on that set and working with that cast? Taking you back a bit again.

That was my first big role, and even seeing, like, where a lot of the people who have gone, who were just like also sort of starting out in that cast, has been sort of awe-inspiring and humbling. I remember walking around with Bill Skarsgård, who’s now Pennywise and doing films left and right. I don’t know, and just talking about the role, talking about the industry as a whole and his family and everything. 

But I don’t know. I was super intimidated when I got that role in that film. Working with award-winning actors like Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts? And then all of these kids who were blowing up — I just was trying to find my place and how I could lend myself to the series and everything as a whole. So it was sort of a trial by fire in that movie where I hit the ground running. And it was just trying to like, I don’t know, become who I should be on that set as an actor without actually knowing how I should be.

Changing Hollywood for the better

Representation is such a critical component of pop culture that Hollywood has lagged on since its inception. How has it felt being such an important part of this movement by taking on so many vital roles that tackle different subjects and lend a voice to underrepresented groups of people?

That’s exactly the type of thing that you want to be a part of as an actor as a whole, but I don’t know. It’s almost self-aggrandizing, but like there’s also an incentive as an actor to be a part of that representation because we don’t have much or we haven’t had much of it in the past and filmmaking. 

So it’s like, I want to find work for myself and in doing so, hopefully, that broadens people’s scope on inclusivity and allows for when our projects become successful, other networks and other studios to be like, “Okay, like we need to be putting out more stories with diverse faces on it.” But it’s this drive to work and under living, doing what you love. And it’s just been hard for me and other people who look like me or other marginalized communities to find roles where we have that representation.

So a lot of us end up writing, a lot of us end up creating our own projects just to get that, and in doing so, it moves the needle. Right? But I love that this project, this show, both does that in representation and also in the commentary that the show is making as a whole. So it’s not just representation because we’ve cast a bunch of people from all diverse backgrounds. It is speaking on representation, speaking on having these people’s voices be heard and on giving power to the powerless.

Joseph David-Jones' comic future

I spoke to Azie Tesfai about the episode of “Supergirl” she wrote. And it was one of the most incredible episodes of the series because it tackled so many of those issues. Would you ever want to write for a Berlanti series or take on that sort of role and write more superhero-type things within that scope?

I feel like that would be really, really fun. I would definitely be down to do it. I mean, it’s already sort of what I gravitate towards when watching things. So I feel like I would have a unique and interesting perspective in that, in that genre, in that world. And I would love to work with Greg Berlanti again — be it as a writer or an actor. Hopefully, we’ll find something cool to both collaborate on.

It sounds like you’re into lots of comic books, lots of sci-fi stuff. Are there any projects that you’re just dying to be on? Anything Marvel, “Star Wars,” something like that?

Oh, I’d love to be on “Star Wars.” I was close. I was close to being Finn on the new movies. Yeah. It was like top three or four, for it. And then, like the top two was, well, John Boyega and this other actor Dayo Okeniyi, but I was right in the freaking mix. But I would say the comic book character that I would want to do more than anything else is that Batwing. 

It’s funny because another one of my friends is playing them right now on Batwoman. That’s Camrus [Johnson]. But I want to do like the OG Batwing, not Lucius Fox’s son, but the one from Egypt: just kind of like a mix of Black Panther meets Batman, and do the film version of that. That would be my ideal comic book role to tell that story. It would be in that movie.

A star war or two

So for “Star Wars”: Jedi, Sith, alien, something else? What do you most want to do?

I love the idea of playing, I guess, the middle ground between the dark and the light side of the Force. So I guess there’s always that character who’s pulled between both sides and doesn’t know which one to take. So I would love seeing, I don’t know, even a disgraced Jedi regain his honor or like refind the light side.

That’s cool. I like that

Yeah. I want to be on one of those series, one of those Disney+ series.

Which one would you like to be on the most?

I don’t know. I guess “Mandalorian” is over now, or the next season of that won’t come for a while, and they’re going to do “Boba Fett.” And then I can’t remember what other series are doing after that.

“Obi-Wan,” I think, wrapped. They haven’t announced whether there will be a second season, but that would be my pick.

“Obi-Wan”! Agh!

Some of the OG in there. Or “Lando.” I’m so excited for “Lando.”

Ah, that would be so cool. Would Donald Glover be in that?

They haven’t really announced anything super specific, but I’m going to be upset if they try to cast another actor to play young Lando. Because we already have “Solo.” And he did so well.

He was perfect.

The music man

Is there anything else about “4400” that you want to talk about? Anything about your character, the show?

There are going to be powers. Those powers are going to get crazy. You’ve already seen it. The powers get crazy. There’s going to be a heist. There’s all kinds of stuff coming up. So I don’t know if you guys love sci-fi, if people love sci-fi, people love powers or comic books. We have all of that. So hopefully something in there speaks to everybody.

Do you have anything else coming up?

The album I’m planning on dropping maybe midway through the season. It might be closer to the end of the season, but it’s a playlist through all of the different genre influences that inspired my love of music. So a lot of them are going to be released as singles, and the culmination of those singles will be like a playlist of me. 

So I’m hoping if people gravitate towards one genre, music, they’ll hear something that’s different, but still, they can connect, and it’ll blend and help them grow different loves for different genres. Everything. I also have a film that I co-wrote and produced and starred in, I guess, during 2020, during the pandemic. And we shot at the peak of COVID, which was incredibly difficult to do, but that film is starting to make its rounds at film festivals and is actually premiering at SCAD this weekend. So I’ll be well, yeah, I hope people go out and see that, but it is a little piece of who I am as a filmmaker as well.

What’s the name of the film?

It’s called “These Final Hours.” It’s a medley of spoken word, moving poetry, and a visual narrative that all culminates in the song at the end.

Fans can tune into new episodes of “4400” Monday nights on the CW. If you miss an episode live, new episodes are available to stream on the CW website the next day. 

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