Jonathan Brooks has had quite a few passions in his life. Growing up in Grapevine, he was a basketball star who went on to play college ball. While in college, he caught the acting bug, which eventually led him to star in Undermain Theatre’s current production of The Black Monk, based on a Chekov story. Between his college days and now, he discovered a love of rock music so strong that he fronted a band for four years. And he learned that perhaps his favorite form of artistic expression is painting.
During an interview steps away from the Undermain stage, he discusses his many artistic pursuits as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A.
Art&Seek: Your character in The Black Monk, essentially, is insane. Functionally so, but insane none the less. What interested you in playing Kovrin?
Jonathan Brooks: I was very drawn to Kovrin because I did relate to him in several ways. And what a journey – I’ve never seen a character in a play take the journey that he takes. He just really intrigued me. I’ve always been fascinated with what makes people end up in the position that they end up. When I was living in New York, anytime I would see the crazy homeless person, I would always wonder, “What happened in his life to get him to this point?”
A&S: You said you related to the character in several ways. How so?
J.B.: His environmental circumstances I related to a lot. He lost both his parents … and I lost my mother at an early age, and my father wasn’t really around. So right off the bat, I understand the orphan, lost spirit of when you lose your parents at an early age – or you lose one and one’s not around – the sort of life that happens after that. You’re figuring things out on your own or are at the mercy of these gracious, loving people that you meet. All along the way after that happened, I’ve always had these families that have taken me in. In my present circumstance, I’ve been dating a girl for about three years, and her family has taken me in as their own, their son. So when I’m having any sort of dialogue with Bruce [Dubose] playing Pesotsky, it’s so easy for me to picture her father. It’s the same relationship – just love, love, love, love, love.
A&S: What is the most challenging element of playing the part?
J.B.: Man, initially it was the line load. I’ve never done anything close to this magnitude. … I started in the middle of December memorizing lines.
A&S: Is there a trick to learning all that dialogue?
J.B.: You know, I’ve been fortunate – I’ve been blessed with not a photographic memory, but it’s not that hard for me to memorize it. But I usually tape everyone else’s lines and leave blanks where mine are and just run it scene by scene. And then I’ve got the whole show recorded, and when I’ve got everything down, I’ll play the whole show and just do the lines over and over again.
A&S: In your bio in the play notes, it says that you appeared as Little Mary Sunshine in Chicago. Would you care to explain?
J.B.: Probably 60 percent of the first paying gigs I got, I was wearing dresses. I don’t know how it happened, but just all the shows that I got in just happened to have characters who wore female clothing and I got ’em. I was at this summer theater up in New Hampshire and we were doing Chicago. Before I sang a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, I used to have a very, very good falsetto, and I really wanted to do that part. And I got it.
A&S: So how tall are you?
J.B.: I think 6’3″
A&S: That’s a pretty tall woman.
J.B.: Yeah, I was a big, big girl.
A&S: A few years ago, you returned from living in New York for 10 years. What made you decide to come back?
J.B.: I’ve always loved music, and I got in a rock ‘n’ roll band and ended up doing the rock ‘n’ roll thing for like 4 years and just ended up living a pretty unhealthy lifestyle and not taking care of myself. It’s so easy to get caught up there in the pace of it, and it was just unhealthy – spiritually, mentally physically.
A&S: The MySpace page for your old band, Have Her Home By Ten, is still up and has some really good tracks on it. Have you put any thought into forming a band here?
J.B.: I’m trying. I’m still doing my solo singer/songwriter thing. But actually, in Greendale, Kenny [Withrow], the guitar player and Paul [Semrad] the bass player – Kenny was the guitar player for the New Bohemians and Paul was the bass played from Course of Empire – they were the band, and we’ve been jamming and trying to put something together. But it’s still in the beginning phase. It’s really hard. I figure if you don’t meet these guys in high school and do the band thing, it’s hard once you’re an old man.
A&S: Why do you think so many actors also enjoy being in bands? If you look around, there’s a ton of them – Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Leto, Bruce Willis, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner …
J.B.: I guess it’s just another kind of rush, but it’s still onstage. Because most of your actors eat up being in front of people and performing. So maybe it’s just another avenue. … And it’s just fun being in a band. There’s no pressure.
A&S: As if the music and acting weren’t enough, you are also getting into painting.
J.B.: That’s my favorite thing to do.
A&S: It seems like such a different artistic expression than being in a band or being an actor.
J.B.: It’s the first thing that I’ve ever done artistically that I never once think about anyone else seeing it. I could paint a million paintings and have them stacked in my apartment and not care if anybody ever sees it. When I’m painting, I’m just not thinking about anything else, and I’m not thinking about the end result – I’m not thinking about whether people are going to like it — I’m not thinking about getting it done at a certain time. I’m just strictly doing that in that moment, and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s completely for myself, and I have complete control over what I’m trying to express.
A&S: How do you think working in one discipline informs the others?
J.B.: Discipline, first of all. I’ve always loved the arts, but I’ve never had the discipline. But when I started painting, I recognized the discipline that naturally I didn’t even have to look for – it was just there. I wanted to spend time doing it, I spend time doing it and I really, really make it a priority. And that has taught me how to do that in other genres. It really takes discipline and priority and time. Not caring about paintings people like has lead me to question not caring about what other people think about anything I do, whether it’s writing a song or doing a show. Obviously, you want people to enjoy it or get something out of it. But it’s helped me to do what I’m doing for the purpose of what is being done instead of doing it for a response from somebody – which is what you should be doing anytime you’re doing anything. Whether it’s to create something or it’s to express your emotions or it’s to exercise a demon, do it and when you’re done, be able to walk away from it with you being satisfied and content instead of thinking, “Oh, they didn’t clap loud enough.” Or “I don’t think they liked it.”
A&S: So have you thought about going forward which of your interests you would like to pursue professionally?
J.B.: I just want to be able to do something that I love, artistically, and be able to survive. As long as I can do that, I’m cool.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.