Jalen Thomas Brooks on telling simple stories with universal messages

Jalen Thomas Brooks, who stars in Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, opens up about how shared experiences helped him connect with his character Bobby. He talks favorite on set memories, his journey from basketball to acting, and how spending time outside has made him a better actor.

Top and jacket ZARA SRPLS, pants RAG & BONE, shoes ZARA.

If you could swap lives with any fictional character for a day, who would it be, and what would you do?

Edmund is one of the youngest brothers in Narnia. I’m obsessed with the movie and all the books. I would want to swap lives with him just to be able to go from London to fantasy land. That would be sick.

What’s a unique talent you have that people might not know about?

You’re not going to expect this, but I’m actually a seasoned dungeon master for Dungeons & Dragons. I ran a two year campaign through COVID as a dungeon master. There were times where we would sit down and play for eight hours. It was crazy. We were dedicated. I don’t tell a lot of people about it, but when I do, they’re always surprised. 

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

I would want to have super speed like The Flash, strictly because if you have super speed, you would have super strength, you could control time, and you could do all these things if you used that superpower. As The Flash, you can run super fast and go back in time, you can beat people up because you can punch them so many times — you get everything in one.

Can you share a little bit about your background and what initially sparked your interest in acting?

I was born in LA, but I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and practically grew up there. I played basketball the majority of my life, and I had D1 interest letters to go to college and some offers. When I stopped playing basketball, I had a really hard time figuring out what to do next. I was watching The Hunger Games one day, and there were all these people who looked like they were my age, and they were part of this story. I wanted to be part of a story like that. My mom found me an acting class. I got my agent through the class, and my agent got me auditions in LA. My mom and I would drive down from Las Vegas to LA with six hour’s notice. We would get a call at nine at night for an audition at eight in the morning. I had to get my lines down, wake up, drive there, do it, and come back. Sometimes, I would get a call back, so I had to drive back. Then things started sticking and I was able to keep going. It happened pretty fast for me, but The Hunger Games is how I got into it, which is funny because Thanksgiving and the new Hunger Games movie have the same release date.

I also love that your mom was so supportive of you with your classes and auditions and everything.

She’s my best friend. I would not be here if it wasn’t for her. She drove so much and put in so much time. It was easy for me because I’d hop in the car, sleep, and wake up in LA, but she was awake the whole time because she had to drive. 

What inspired you to make the leap from sports to acting, and how did you navigate the transition from your initial interest in acting to actively pursuing it as a career?

I loved writing and reading. I had the opportunity to play at a high level really, really early in basketball, but I didn’t know if I really wanted to go through those hoops to play at that level. I’ve always wanted to have some type of impact in my community, but I didn’t think the way for me to do it was going to be through playing a sport. It was a gut decision where I didn’t really know the reasoning, but I was just done. Luckily enough, my parents said, if this is what you want, then we’ll let you do it. They weren’t hounding me about playing basketball or going to college. There was something deep down within me that was telling me that I should stop, so I listened to that. That initial response of listening to myself helped me navigate acting, because I wasn’t really listening to the outside world, and I was letting my intuition lead me through everything.

Top RAG & BONE, pants ORTTU, shoes DR. MARTENS.

You star as Bobby in Eli Roth’s movie, Thanksgiving, which is out in theaters soon. Can you share more about what drew you to Bobby’s character initially, and how you prepared for that role?

I don’t want to spoil it, but something happens, and Bobby has to re-identify himself. He disappears because something about his identity changes, and it’s not a choice, but then he comes back. For me, with basketball, I knew what it was like to reimagine yourself in some place. That helped me gravitate towards him and ground him because it was a real issue for me and I went through it in a different context. Bobby is going through the same thing. That’s how he comes back to the town and tries to re-engage with his old friends. That base drew me to him and helped me get his two feet on the ground.

What were some of your favorite moments from set?

I have a lot. The whole cast gets along so well. Every single moment that we had with each other was great. There was one specific time where I was doing a scene with Rick Hoffman. It was the first time I met him. He’s so hilarious. We were doing improv, and I’m not the best at improv, so I was nervous and I didn’t know what to do. The whole time, Rick was kind of making fun of me in the scene indirectly. He was throwing jabs at me that I didn’t know I was doing but in a light hearted way. It was so hard to keep a straight face because he was roasting me so hard, but it was so kind of him to do it. I had a come to consciousness moment where I realized, damn, I’m doing an improv scene with Rick Hoffman, and he’s roasting me so hard. I think about that all the time, but that was probably the best moment because it was just me, him, and Karen Cliche. 

I love it. I hope this made the final cut. I feel like I could watch Rick do improv for hours.

He is so funny. I came into it stressing, but he’s amazing. He’s a cool dude. He’s one of those guys where you get to know him, and his personality is so distinct that when he texts you, you just hear his voice. You can hear the way he says it. 

Is there a message or feeling that you hope audiences take away from the movie?

I was talking to Eli about this, but there is a huge message about consumerism and what people will do to get a waffle iron at a Black Friday sale, and it’s very interesting how Eli wove it in there. The movie is going to be a cult classic. It’s a horror film or slasher film like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the other OGs. I hope people are entertained. It goes back to the old tropes but also turns old tropes on their head and reimagines things. It’s really going to be what people have been waiting for with a slasher film. I don’t think people are going to be disappointed by it at all. 

I feel like everyone has been talking about the movie because there hasn’t been one like it in a while.

The closest one has been the Scream franchise, and that’s a franchise. This is a new thing. New killer, new costume for Halloween, and all that stuff. This could be a new November or Thanksgiving tradition in the gap between Halloween and Christmas. 

Sweater ALL SAINTS, pants BODE, shoes NEW BALANCE.

Is there a piece of advice you’ve been given about acting that has stuck with you throughout your career? 

I can’t remember his name, but a voice actor from an old cartoon popped into my acting class one day, and he told me that the best acting class is outside, and to go outside and experience life. I see some of my friends hound themselves about going to acting class and molding their skills, which is important, but it’s also really important to have a life outside of acting. There’s a lot of down time in this business, especially for actors, so finding other things that can round out your life actually helps your acting in the long run. That has been freeing for me. Working on the ranch in Oregon grounds me. It helps me act and be more mellow. Him telling me to go outside to learn about acting has been really beneficial to me, and I think about that every day. 
Brian Cox said that anybody could be an actor. It’s not necessarily a hard thing to do. We all get in our heads a lot. Of course, there are roles where you have to really, really dial down and think hard and really get to the bones of it. It’s equally important to allow yourself the space to do something else, be interested in other things, and get out of your head, so when you see these things, you can approach them truthfully.

How has the way you approach roles and storytelling in general changed as you’ve continued in your career?

Of course, starting out, you want to get the lead role, and you want to be the big person in the movie. Then you start doing it, and you start falling in love with the puzzle pieces and how it’s a team thing where everyone has to hit their notes. I’ll be completely honest, when I was first getting into it, I was kind of selfish. I wanted to do all this stuff. Now, I just want to make sure that I know my part. However big or small it is, I want to make sure that my part is the best I can make it, so I can help the project in the best way possible. Going back to basketball, my coach used to tell us to be the energy maker, not the energy taker. I approach acting like that. Even if it’s a small role, I’m going to put so much energy into that role that it helps everyone else, and take the ego away from everything.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your acting career so far? 

Meeting so many cool people and being able to travel across the country at a young age has been really rewarding. It’s been great to see new places that not everyone would get to see, explore different cities on your off days, try new food, and work with a lot of great people.

You touched on this a little bit earlier, but how do you handle the highs and lows of working as an actor or being in the entertainment industry?

Everything ebbs and flows in life. My mom and my brother have been anchor points for me and helped me understand that this is just the way everything in life is. The entertainment industry is a huge rollercoaster all the time, but so is everything else. You have to understand that if it’s down, it’s going to go back up. When you’re up there, enjoy it, because you could go back down. You have to be at peace no matter where you are. My mom and my brother really helped me be present and grateful for what I have in front of me. Even if what I have in front of me is not what I dream of having, it’s still important to recognize that I’m on this journey, and this might not be the destination, but it’s all part of it.

If you could collaborate with any actor or director, living or deceased, who would it be and what kind of project would you want to work on? 

I would love to work with Barry Jenkins. He did Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, and he also adapted one of my favorite authors, James Baldwin. If Barry Jenkins ever adapted any other James Baldwin books, I would love to be a part of that. I love James Baldwin, and I love Barry Jenkins.

If you could pick any James Baldwin book to be adapted into a movie, which would it be?

Giovanni’s Room is really, really good. Go Tell It on the Mountain is also really good. One of those two. I’d say Giovanni’s Room. Somehow, if I could be in that, that would be amazing.

Are there any themes or messages in your roles that you hope to continue exploring in future projects?

Right now, I want to tell really cool, simple stories. I love simple stories with simple yet profound messages. Inside Out is really simple, but it’s so original and the message connects to all ages. It’s timeless. Art can be a very simple thing, and when it’s simple, it lasts a long time. I hope that I can add simplicity to stories that people of all ages and backgrounds can gravitate towards. 

There is a quote from one of my favorite movies about time based art. That’s why paintings are so cool. They’re just there. You can look at a painting one day and see something that you didn’t see yesterday. It could be a painting of a sunset, but then you see a certain stroke of the paint, and it changes how you see it. If you go back and watch Monsters, Inc. now, the movie is really crazy. It’s really sad. As a little kid, it’s so fun and so simple, but when you get older, you realize that there’s a lot of deeper meaning that’s layered in.

Photography IRENE CHEN





Retouch K.HOUSE

Special thanks to IMPACT ARTISTS GROUP

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *