From Richmond to Hollywood: Jerome Elston Scott

by Cesca Janece Waterfield

 

Filmmaker and actor Jerome Elston Scott spent childhood summers with family in Richmond while growing up in New Jersey and Florida. When Jerome told his family that he wanted to go into acting, they responded with the support that he says they’ve given him all his life. When still a teen, he went to Hollywood, where he studied directors as he appeared on television shows including “Freaks and Geeks” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” But as a young African-American male, he was discouraged at the limited number of roles he saw available. So he wrote the loosely autobiographical “Anderson’s Cross,” released this week. It’s the coming-of-age story of three high school friends, including the title character played by Scott himself. It stars veteran performers Michael Warren (“Hill Street Blues”) and Joanna Cassidy (“Six Feet Under”) and has won several of this year’s film festivals. Now Jerome is preparing to helm his second film, another ensemble study of teenage life, “Prep School.” He keeps in close contact with his family including those in Richmond. Jerome talked to Urban Views Weekly from Los Angeles.

 

His Richmond Connection
“My mom grew up in Richmond and my dad also. My grandmother, who’s passed away, lived on Northumberland Avenue. I was just talking to my sister about all the great times we had sitting under the apple tree. I haven’t been back for some time. I’m trying to get back for Thanksgiving. I always went there for holidays. Hopefully one day I’ll have the money to buy the house she lived in.”

 

 

Getting Down to Business
“Anderson’s Cross has opened up a lot of doors for me to continue to make films. I really enjoyed the process. I knew it had to not only come out well but to have it be a springboard to a career. I was so frustrated as an actor. There are roles out there but there’s a lack of roles for young people. I felt like I could continue working but I wouldn’t necessarily have a career. I had to figure out what I was going to do that was going to separate me from everybody else and also what was going to fill my creative urge.”

 

Writing Screenplays
“I’m not a trained writer. I think I just had a really great love of movies. It stretches back to my childhood. We used to have a theater in our town when I lived in New Jersey. They would show old movies, like All About Eve and I would go watch those movies and also talk to a lot of the elderly people there. I think movies were so well written back then. One of the things I think people connect with is my dialogue. That comes from me knowing what I liked to sink my teeth into as an actor, and I can make the dialogue pop.”

 

Learning on the Set
“Judd Apatow had a very open set and I could watch how things were done. For me, it’s about surrounding myself with people who are so experienced that I could learn from them. I didn’t want anyone on that set to have less experience than I had. That was a great opportunity to be able to watch, even doing extra work. There was a hierarchy but it definitely wasn’t an environment where you couldn’t speak.”

 

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The First Time Director
“I come from a very strong family. My mom grew up in Virginia and my dad grew up in Virginia. My uncles grew up on Northumberland Ave.[in Richmond]. I felt like people were [on the movie set] because they believed in the material and I felt like I was the spark that did that. For me it was just about establishing that from the get go and making sure that people were in a situation that they were free to speak up. For me, being a writer and director, people knew I had the movie in my head and I was looking for them to bring the magic to it. I wanted to make sure that everyone around you is someone that you would want to have dinner with. I didn’t feel like I had enough experience to work with people I don’t like. It was a pleasure working with these people.”

 

Creating Roles for African American Actors
“I want to be sure that a young African American actor is getting the right kind of role to start his career off. Barry Gordy, Diana Ross, these people really busted their humps so that we could make great movies. We are still as filmmakers trying to duplicate the kind of class that a film like Lady Sings the Blues had. We have to remember that these people really beat down some doors. We need to try to not always go for the dollar and really put some great films out there. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun, but we definitely have to realize that the spotlight is on us.”

 

Selling Out?
“What Will Smith is doing is extraordinary to be on that level of filmmaking. [Some stars] get to this place where people say they’re selling out. I saw an interview a long time ago when Whitney Houston was accused of selling out and she said, “I think you have that wrong. I’m ‘out selling,’ as in everyone else.”

 

Honoring Legacy
“I remember Diana Ross would come out. She was always at the end. I asked my parents, why did everyone just stand up? My mom said she earned it. All those performers before her that came on and broke a sweat and worked for that standing ovation wouldn’t be standing on that stage if she hadn’t knocked those doors down. And she didn’t always get credit, just like Sammy Davis Jr. before her. These people worked really hard. It’s such a hard path for an African American, for any minority, that’s in show business. We can complain about it, or we can try to put out quality work and take those chances.”

 

Standing His Ground
“When I was putting together Anderson’s Cross, some of the producers who wanted to put money up wanted it to not be an African American family. We could have made the movie for a lot more money if I had just said okay. And it was hard for me, when someone waved a check in front of [me]. But this was my story. This was something that I wanted people to see. There’s a family that was alcoholic and they said, “We can have this family be African American.” I don’t think people are even aware. I think they’re thinking in dollars and cents. I don’t want to say that people are ignorant. It took another year and a half for me to find the money.”

3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Nice to see someone so young appreciate those that came before him. Good looking guy with obvious talent and a good head on his shoulders. Love that he tossed in that quote from Whitney Houston. I remember that quote. And she was right.

  2. How cool that he actually has roots here in Richmond. It was also good to see that he knows and respects the real entertainers that have paved the way. So many of these new show business people don’t seem to know or respect anything. This kid mentioned Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr., Whitney Houston, Berry Gordy, and Will Smith in one interview! Somebody knows their stuff. Really enjoyed the movie and looking forward to more. And can we just mention those eyes?

  3. I met this fine young Black man! My girlfriends and I saw him at the movie theater and (unsuccessfully) hit on him and his friends. Still he was quite nice and quite attractive. I love the movie and will keep an eye out for him. I have to say I don’t know much about Berry Gordy or Sammy Davis Jr but will start my reading.

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