Pop-Culturalist Chats with Rebecca Naomi Jones

Rebecca Naomi Jones

Rebecca Naomi Jones is wonderful. She’s an accomplished stage actress; she’s performed brilliantly on Broadway in American Idiot and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (not to mention the numerous off-Broadway productions she’s been a part of). She’s also been steadily making a name for herself on the silver screen in shows like High Maintenance and Blue Bloods. The woman is a triple threat: she can act, sing, and dance. So, we were super excited to be able to chat with Rebecca about one of our favorite recent Broadway plays, Significant Other, what comes after that play, and why being kind to people is at the top of her must-list.

P-C: You have been a part of several big musicals and now you’re in a play. How does performing in a musical differ from performing in a play? Do you have a preference?
Rebecca: Well, performing in a musical is a lot more work. It’s a lot more work and a lot more stress. Because, if you’re doing it right, you want to do the same amount of work on the script and the character and your acting and rounding the character out and, on top of that, you’re keeping your voice conditioned. [There’s an] added amount of stress that comes with knowing you’re going to have to sing tonight. The voice is vulnerable. It can change—it depends on how much you eat, how much you sleep, and what kind of exercise you do. You can do everything in your power, and there’s still a little bit of a question mark about how fatigued you are and how much people will be able to hear that. So, if you’re somebody who tends to overthink those kinds of things, it can be really stressful to be in a musical.

That being said, musicals can be so delicious and joyous and fun. There’s just this childlike freedom that comes from doing them. There’s something magical that happens when you’re in the middle of a beautiful harmony on stage; there’s nothing really like that. I love musicals, and I’ve loved them since I was a kid. I love music, and that’s why I love being in them. But, right now, I’m so enjoying being in a play. I’ve [also] been enjoying doing more film and TV in general because there is this bit of relief at not having to wonder where I’m at vocally. It’s nice to sort of be a real human being during the day and not just have my life dependent on how much voice I’m going to have. Something like doing this interview would be stressful for me [if I were in a musical] because i’d be thinking about using my voice too much.

P-C: For Significant Other, you joined the cast for the Broadway run. What was it like joining a cast that had already been performing together?
Rebecca: I was certainly trepidatious about it. I was a little nervous because even though I knew like 90% of the people involved on the creative team and the cast, there is a natural thing that happens with a group of people who have been doing a thing together—a hard thing together—for a long time. They have a built-in relationship, and the show is so much about that relationship. Also, there’s a fear about when you replace someone in a show. There’s always a question of, “Are they going to let me do my version of this character? Or, are they going to expect me to be a robot and fill in the hole the other person left?”. I knew that was not going to be the case in this production, though, because I did already know the director, Trip (he’s a good fried of mine), and I know he doesn’t work that way. [I know that] the reason he asked me to do this is that he trusts me and respects me and my work and my being as an artist, and he wanted to see my take on it. But, still, it is a little bit of a scary thing. You never know how it’s going to be with the cast and the chemistry. From the very first second I walked into the rehearsal room, though, I felt welcomed so generously, and it’s continued the entire time. I’ve felt like I’ve known all these guys for years. The aspect of the friendship of the play comes so naturally and easily.

P-C: The play is super relatable to 20-30-somethings. What drew you to the play?
Rebecca: I love, in general, the way Josh Harmon writes. I think some people are better than others at writing contemporary language. All the commas and the “um’s” and the “likes” sometimes can get overcrowded and turn out more awkward than natural. I think his version of it is just done with so much ease that it makes the actor’s job straightforward; we don’t have to apply too much bullshit on top of what he gave us—which is great. What I love about his writing is it’s a really wonderful balance of gut-wrenching and very funny. That is what I feel is the most relatable thing. We young people…I feel like we move seamlessly in and out of those things all the time. The way contemporary friends talk to each other is so honest and blunt, and we can talk about really dark things, and feelings, and take deep dives, and then come back from it with something really hilarious.  

In terms of the storyline, something that really got me was—aside from, of course, Jordan’s (Gideon Glick) overall storyline of trying to find love, the fear of loneliness, and the fear of being one left standing—how friendships change as a necessary part of growing up. That is something that I’ve felt, and I think we all feel when we move on from different schools and different work-life. Sometimes you get so close to people, and due to circumstances of people changing and growing, we move away from those groups of friends. And it’s ok, but it’s also, in a way, very sad. It feels like a marker for time passing. Sometimes I think about old friendships that felt so powerful and huge and impactful in my life. When I think about how long it’s been since I’ve spoken to a friend I’ve felt that way about, it’s a marker for how much time has passed…and that’s really scary in a way which really relates again to the loneliness in the play. There are so many beautiful themes that are explored in a way that I haven’t seen in theater before—especially not on a Broadway stage.

P-C: Do you have one favorite moment of the show?
Rebecca: There are really a lot of fun moments. I certainly enjoy the dance we do at Kiki’s (Sas Goldberg) wedding to Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” with Jordan and Laura (Lindsay Mendez). It’s just so fun. And, I’ve been there so many times my life: you’re at a serious event, a dumb song comes on, and you’re sort of embarrassed to dance, but you’re also sort of embarrassed to stand still so you choose to dance like idiots. You do interpretive dance, make stupid faces, and make your friends laugh. What’s so great about that moment in the show is that it feels [not just] appropriate to the show, but also to us too. I can just be trying to have fun and [trying to] make Lindsay and Gideon laugh. So, it feels very authentic to Vanessa trying to make Laura and Jordan laugh. That’s a blast. 

P-C: Is there a character you personally identify with the most?
Rebecca: I actually really super-duper identify with my own character a lot. I love Vanessa. When I first started working on this character, I thought she was much more dark, contained, and unemotional than I am. I realized that her darkness is not just, like, a random depression. It’s not, like, “Oh she’s the goth girl.” You can’t just put her in a box like that. She’s a lot more complicated and complex than that. I think her darkness and the dark things that she says are more about [her] worldview and about seeing the world without rose-colored lenses. I think she’s been through a lot and is trying to work out how to be happy and how to have fun but have a realistic view of the world—which is really messed up in a lot of ways even though it’s a beautiful gift. So, I love her because I think she’s real. I relate to her a lot because she does want to have fun, and she does love her friends, and she does want to be happy, but she gets pulled into the darkness because she’s just aware of the complications of being a person and in being in this world.

P-C: After a show, how do you unwind and relax?
Rebecca: I’ve actually been working on that recently. When I first start doing a show really often I’m so wound up afterwards—like [thinking] how [the show] was that day. When it’s the first few months and I’m still navigating with how to do it with the audience, their reactions, and navigate my own emotions and reactions to the story…coming home is often like “Ok I’m still wound up so I’m going to distract myself with TV, eating, and drinking.” That’s all fine and good, but, eventually, my sleep patterns are confused. So recently, I’ve been trying to wean myself off of eating after the show. I’ve been trying to eat before the show and eat enough before the show so that after [it] I’m not completely famished. Usually, honestly, it involves a little bit of a snack, maybe a glass of wine; sometimes a little TV action.

P-C: Do you have a dream role you’d like to perform someday?
Rebecca: I don’t really have a dream role. I think because I don’t really see myself in roles that have been done. You know, there’s not a lot of me that I can see. Which is unfortunate, but it’s also kind of exciting because there’s a lot of possibility.

P-C: What is a piece of advice that you’ve gotten, or you’ve come to learn that you;d pass on?
Rebecca: I have always felt that the most important thing is to be kind to people. I know that sounds hippie dippie as hell, but I feel like in any business—especially this business—I think it’s important to be interested in other people besides yourself. Be curious and ask questions because you’re interested. Learn as much as you can about everything that interests you because being an actor and being in this business should be about communication and humanity—not just about trying to be famous or be liked or thought of as good (even though those things, of course, bleed in because of the way it’s structured as a career). I think the nicer we can be to each other, though, and the more interested we can be in each other, the better we can be at acting. The other thing I’ve learned recently is that you have to have patience with yourself because you’re just going to get better as you get older. You relax more, and life happens. You experience loss and heartache and love and all kinds of things. You’ll experience more as a human being, and you’ll be able to be more as an actor since [as an actor] you’re pretending to be someone experiencing life.

P-C: What is coming up for you since they just set the closing date for the show?
Rebecca: Right now I’m shooting a small role in a fun comedy film called Most Likely to Murder. It’s with a bunch of fun comedians so I’m excited for that. Other than that, I don’t know. I have a couple workshops of musicals coming up—that I don’t think I can talk about yet. [I’ve got] a bunch of little things cooking.

Pop-Culturalist Speed Round

Guilty pleasure TV show or movie
Law and Order

Favorite Book
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

Favorite play or musical
Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hidden Talent
I’m really good at closing one eye independently of the other without squinting.

Go-to karaoke song
Bjork, “It’s Oh So Quiet”

Make sure to follow Rebecca on Twitter!

Taraneh

Taraneh has been happily living in NYC for over a decade, but originally hails from the Midwest. Enamored with books at a young age, she grew up making stories, playing make believe, and loving the musical and performing arts. She is great at binge-watching TV shows. Some current favorites: Schitt's Creek, A Court of Mist & Fury, Prince Harry, and The Magicians.

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