We had the good fortune of connecting with J.Stephen Brantley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi J.Stephen, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
Actors are taught to take what we get and never say no to a job, but we’re much more powerful than that – or could be. It’s a belief in the power of storytelling that gets us into this business in the first place, and we should be using our power as storytellers for good. For me that means applying an antiracist ethos to everything I do. It means saying no to projects that don’t align with those values. And it means pursuing and championing projects by historically excluded artists in which I can help tell the hard truths about our society. So I play a lot of racists, great! Actors of color have been relegated to stereotypes-in-supporting-roles for a very long time. Now it’s my turn. It’s one way I can serve. We’re finally beginning to hear the voices of folks who are not straight, white, cis men. As a queer artist, as a white person, and as an advocate for equity and representation, I’m here to amplify those voices any way I can.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started acting and writing plays when I was a kid in Texas. That’s what I wanted to do from a very young age. And I was well on my way when depression and addiction brought my whole life to a screeching halt. I spent ten years unhoused and living with a substance use disorder at a time when my peers were building their careers. So I always feel like I’m a decade behind – in every part of my life – where I want to be. But I also have a wealth of experience, and compassion, and gratitude, not to mention some really great stories. I try to bring all of that to my work as an artist.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I wanted to visit Griffith Observatory from the first time I saw Rebel Without A Cause as a teenager. On September 5th 2018, I proposed to my husband there. We hiked up through the park, scouted out the filming locations, and found a spot to take in the view on the west side of the promenade. I gave him a ring and he said yes – four times! So that will always be a magical spot for us. We’re kind of architecture nerds, so another place we love is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Art Park. Los Angeles has so much great architecture in an extraordinary variety of styles. I had no idea. Pick a neighborhood, park the car, walk around, and gawk. If it’s Silverlake, check out Flore Vegan. I like the Comfort Food Bowl.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to shout-out my on-camera acting teacher Heidi Marshall who taught me to trust my instincts, take risks, and stop underestimating casting directors. Having dedicated so much of my life to theatre, I had some resistance to working in television and film. I didn’t want to be “typed”. I didn’t want to worry about being marketable. I just wanted to be creative. Heidi showed me how to find freedom in a medium I’d thought too restrictive and to trust there were people who”d want me for exactly what I am, weird as that may be sometimes.