Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NEW Jill Marie Jones (Toni) from 'Girlfriends' interview

A huge thank you to Essence.com for doing this very clarifying interview with former Girlfriends star Jill Marie Jones:

Jill Marie Jones is the total antithesis of Toni Childs, the sassy, materialistic real estate broker she immortalized for six years on the award-winning series, Girlfriends. Perhaps it's the infectious yet faint lilt in her speech, a by-product of her southern upbringing, that makes her more wholesome than her shallow, on-screen alter ego. Although Toni Childs lives eternally in her loyalists' hearts, Jones has been busy breathing life into new diverse characters on the big screen with the same fervor and diva-next-door appeal in three new flicks. In the straight-to-DVD indie dramedy Redrum, she plays a meek housewife turned blood-thirsty serial killer; in Major Movie Star she gets tough and dirty with Jessica Simpson as a single mom who joins the army for a promise of a better future; and in The Comeback she plays a school teacher who mentors a young female student who has joined the town's football team. Essence.com spoke to the Texan beauty about home sweet home, living in the swamp, and why she left her Girlfriends behind.

Essence.com: I love that you live in La La Land, but at heart you’re a true southern belle. Do you get home to Dallas often?

Jill Marie Jones: (Laughs) Yes and no because when you live in Los Angeles people want to come and visit you. But I was there for Thanksgiving and I’m going this weekend before heading to Shreveport, Louisiana to finish filming.

Essence.com: Do you come from a big family?

J.M.J.: No, I have two older brothers: one brother who is my mother’s child and the other is my father’s.

Essence.com: So do you still get treated like the baby?

J.M.J.: (Laughs) I don’t think so, but someone else might think, Oh, honey you are definitely treated like the baby. When I’m home I don’t get any special treatment. You know what though? I guess I am the baby when I go home because I sleep with my mom and take over her bedroom and bring my two dogs, Ciao, a Yorkie poodle mix, and Luca, a maltese. So it’s usually the four of us and my mom is like, ‘How you gonna come to my house and [take over]? I don’t even sleep with dogs!’

Essence.com: And your mom is okay with having your pooches in-between her sheets?

J.M.J.: (Laughs) Yes, she isn’t necessarily an animal person, but she calls them her grandbabies.

Essence.com: So tell me about the film you’re shooting in Louisiana, The Comeback?

J.M.J: It’s a lighthearted drama about a working class town that loses all its hopes, dreams and ambitions when the factory closes because it puts a lot of people out of work. So they have a lot of heart in this town, but not a lot of money. And then this little girl, Jasmine (Keke Palmer), ends up playing the quarterback of this local football team. The town rallies around this team and it brings the spirit back to the town. I play Jasmine’s schoolteacher and her uncle’s (Ice Cube) love interest, and Tasha Smith plays her mom. It’s so cute; I was crying reading it because it just tugs at your heart.

Essence.com: We’re so used to seeing you play the fabulous “diva” roles. Can we expect you to get dirty in Major Movie Star?

J.M.J.: My character, Connie Johnson, is a single mother who’s been laid off her job for about seven months. She has dreams for her and her child’s future, so she joins the Army for job opportunities because it’s her last hope. And honey, this was not a fabulous role. If you consider swamp water and mud makeup, I wore that every day. It was real: we were in the swamps, we were dirty every day; so this was no “Toni Childs” character.

Essence.com: And let me tell you, Toni Childs is sorely missed.

J.M.J.: It was so much fun playing Toni Childs. I don’t walk that walk in my daily life. I like to think that I’m a pretty nice person, but to be able to play the diva and say some of the things those types of characters say was a lot of fun.

Essence.com: Do you miss being a part of "Girlfriends"?

J.M.J: I do miss Girlfriends. I don’t know if people know this, but Girlfriends was only my third audition. I booked my first audition for City Guys, a Saturday morning show. My second audition I didn’t book and then Girlfriends was my third, so you have to understand that I still very green to this industry and there was the whole film world that I didn’t know. So when I left Girlfriends after six years, there was just so much I wanted to know and do. I’ve just been having a ball having opportunities to do movies. It’s just been great.

Essence.com: Were you unable to pursue a film career while on the show?

J.M.J.: You have to understand when you do a television show that you go to work every day and come home and sleep in your own bed, which is great. It’s like having a regular 9-to-5. But you’re on hiatus for about two-and-a-half to three months in the summer. In order to do a film you would really have to book a job and shoot it in those few months. And because most television shows are in Los Angeles, it limits you. Already I’ve been to Louisiana twice to shoot two different films. I love the consistency of television, but it keeps you in Los Angeles and away from traveling to do other projects.

Essence.com: Nothing wrong with spreading your wings, which brings me to your departure from Girlfriends. Tracee Ellis Ross said in an interview that the reason you didn’t return was because the cast did not receive the huge raise they were expecting. Is that true?

J.M.J.: First of all, let me tell you why I left. I left because I wanted to do movies. My contract was up after my sixth season and people forget that just like the network can choose whether or not to renew your contract, I can also choose and evaluate whether or not I want to come back. My actor’s chair that has Girlfriends and my name on it, you know the director’s chair? Well, on the very last day of my sixth season, I told them to grab my chair and put it in my car for me. So why would I take my chair if I thought I was coming back? Believe you me, I would tell you. I’ve never made a decision based on money. I was on the show for six years and I think that’s a good run. There’s so much more I want to do in my career and so much more I want to know and learn, but my departure definitely had nothing to do with money.

Essence.com: So were you aware that this was the explanation given for your departure?

J.M.J: Someone sent that article to me a long time ago when it first came out, and you know, I love Tracee, I love Golden, I love Persia, I love Reggie. I really do feel like I was in the University of Girlfriends. I learned so much from them. I mean, where I started on Girlfriends and where I ended up is like night and day and that’s because of the great cast I had to learn from. It’s difficult when something has been set up for six years and then something changes. I didn’t get upset about the comment. It’s all good.

Essence.com: That’s great to hear. I think most folks speculate that you all had beef because you never responded. But that’s not the case is it?

J.M.J: Well, no one asked me a question. I don’t believe in adding grease to fire. If I were doing an interview about something I’m working on and someone wanted to ask me something, I have no problem answering it. But for me to make a statement or a rebuttal, to me it’s just silly.

Essence.com: Well, the second part of Tracee’s quote expressed her sadness that after six years of working together you didn’t share your decision to leave with the cast. Is that true?

J.M.J: I’ll be completely honest: I just didn’t really. I wish I had a better answer or could tell you that I even thought about it. Maybe it was a lapse of judgment, maybe I should have called—I didn’t really think about it. When my call came in to say, ‘We’re going to pick up Girlfriends for another season, does Jill want to come back?’ My management and I were like, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ So maybe I should have made phone calls, but I didn’t really think about it. When the cast first came back for their seventh season, I sent them all—individually, every single person of Girlfriends—a big bouquet of flowers. I didn’t leave Girlfriends because I was upset or wanted more money. It really wasn’t that deep. It’s so disappointing that because I wanted to dream bigger or experience something new, it received all this hoopla and drama around it. I really just wanted to do movies. It really was just that simple.

Essence.com: Do you still keep in touch with the cast?

J.M.J: I’ve talked to them individually at different times. I have so much love for all of them. But are we hanging out and having some wine and cheese on a Saturday night? No. Do I think of them as friends? Absolutely. In a way, I think of them as extended [family], like cousins. I’ve talked to them individually throughout this, but I don’t talk to them on a regular basis. I wish them all well and I still watch the show.

Essence.com: Would you ever return to the show?

J.M.J.: You know anything is possible; it just has to make sense in terms of the direction I’m going in my own career.

Essence.com: Thank you for setting the record straight because people always want to pit Black women against one another.

J.M.J.: Yeah we do that and it’s disappointing, especially when it’s Black women, and I don’t like that. I just had lunch with Mara [Brock Akil, the show’s creator]; we met for a coffee like a month and a half ago. When I say we’re all good over here, we’re good.

Essence.com: Good and busy! A lil’ birdie tells me that you’re a screenwriter. What’s next for you?

J.M.J: I write and I’m developing and writing scripts. I’ve just been living my dreams and having the time of my life. I was able to go to New Jersey for a month and work with one of my best friends, Gabrielle Union, for Perfect Holiday. It’s been great.

Essence.com: Well how does it feel to be immortalized in Kanye West’s song “The Glory” from his album Graduation when he says “House on the hill two doors from Tracee Ross and I'm asking about her girlfriends yea the dark skined one"?

J.M.J.: (Laughs) Really? That’s really cool. I wasn’t aware that he references me, I actually have that album and I’ll have to listen to it again.

Essence.com: So are you a hip-hop fan?

J.M.J.: I love all genres, even country. I love Jay-Z, Kanye, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def...I guess people would say I like all the conscious rappers.

Essence.com: Would you ever consider doing a hip-hop video?

J.M.J.: Yes, for sure.

Essence.com: As a former Dallas Cheerleader can you bust a move that isn’t choreographed?

J.M.J.: Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’ve studied modern, jazz, ballet. I would say yes. I loved when Golden and I used to go out to a party and make up choreography and dance and not have a care in the world.

Essence.com: Well you’re pretty fit. Do you still box?

J.M.J.: I do still box but I took a little break for a minute. I like to find fun ways to work out because I’m not that type of person who just wakes up and lives for working out. I do it because I know it’s the healthy thing to do.

Essence.com: Do you have a special someone who might be a little jealous of you appearing in a hip-hop video?

J.M.J.: No, I just got out of a two-year relationship, and have been dating and enjoying it the last six months.

Essence.com: Are you interested in getting married?

J.M.J.: It’s not the first thing on my mind in the morning when I wake up, but all my friends back home are.

Essence.com: (Laughs) I hear you. So when folks talk about you and your success, what do you hope they’ll say?

J.M.J.: That I’ve inspired somebody, somewhere. I think success could be a birth of a child but I’d like to think in some small way that I helped somebody in life breathe a lil’ easier.


Anonymous said...

My favorite season of Girlfriends was season 7. Reason #1 being the fact that the character Toni Childs was no longer on the show.
I for one had just about enough of her after season 4. I'll never forget her accusing her husband of cheating on her, coming to his job making a scene. I mean she didn't even give him the benefit of the doubt, didn't even try to apologize to him even after realizing she was wrong.
Believe me, getting rid of Toni's ass was just what the doctor ordered.

Anonymous said...

It was a show and she had a job to do . If she hadnt acted the way she did she wouldnt have been Toni is well known on the show for childish antics . Just like Joan is way too soppy sweet for me but she helps to balance out the other personalities.I for one miss Toni on the show . She was my favorite !!!!!!!

LisaSelena said...

I LOVED Toni and IF everyone noticed,the show damn-near collapsed after Jill Marie (Toni Childs) left; AND when they tried to add that Toni wannabe, in the form of Monica, it was hilarious! I was disappointed to see the character go but after reading the comment that Jill made regarding her departure, I understand! I hope to see more of her and maybe, just maybe, a reunion show of Girlfriends? (Signed Wishful Thinking and much positive love to Jill Marie Jones)

Ree Lynn said...

I hatedwhen Toni Childs left the show. Joan got on my nerves. She was a mess and really got on my nerves. Thays why it was hard for me to watch her new show. I just don't like her acting.

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