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Interview: Orlando Jones Experiences ‘Tainted Love’

In the digital series, “Tainted Love,” writer/producer/star Orlando Jones plays Black Berry, a down-on-his-luck thief who is about to become a father. The stakes are raised when he has to protect the love of his life, Jezebel Jackson (Deanna Russo), from his vengeful mob boss. “Tainted Love” jumps from the screen with its colorful comic book stylizations. Orlando Jones chatted with MTV Geek about how the idea came about, playing an action star, and the graphic novel aspects of the series.

MTV Geek: Tell me about the inspiration behind “Tainted Love.”

Orlando Jones: It was several. One was, I probably call myself a nerd for sure. I guess in looking at the landscape of what was out there, I didn’t feel there was a lot of inclusiveness into the world of comic books/graphic novels. Everything has become commercialized, cookie-cutter, I wanted to create something that was inclusive to comic books. I wanted to see if I could possibly launch it in the digital space, as opposed to drawing it and putting it into the print business. All of those ideas, and I play videogames, like “Halo 2,” a lot.

One day, I really wanted to create a graphic novel that was the world I am a part of in 2013. My now wife-then-girlfriend and I argued all the time. I would say this is a graphic novel. She’d say, “It’s a comic book. It’s a book with pictures and has words, so it can’t be.” I said, “Look! I don’t want to fight about this anymore. In the realm of people who love this stuff, A is different than B.” Basically she said, “You love this.” I responded, “Yes, but I know I’m not supposed to love certain things, but I do.” And when I said that, the idea popped into my head and I guess it was born.

Geek: Tell me what interests you about Black Berry.

Jones: I think what interested me most is that I’ve always been a fan of the villains – Sinestro, Bane, Gorilla Grodd. I’ve always liked the villain for whatever reason. I think there’s some interesting dynamic the way there are people who look at and say things as if they have no dignity. What they do might not be dignified, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have humanity. It’d be sort of interesting to explore the humanity of two people that are mostly viewed as trash. The best way to do that was present them with what every couple deals with; the moment they are getting ready to have a kid. All of a sudden, their mindset in some degree must shift. I don’t think they’re ever going to change. They love what they do but at the same token, they have to step it up and do better. I don’t think they’re ever going to get it right per say, but I love them for trying. In making the attempt, it’s what we all do. That’s what interested me in those two characters.

Geek: Tell me about Deanna Russo.

Jones: She’s amazing, man! It’s really difficult when you’re doing a graphic novel/action/comedy, you need a comedy partner to make it actually work. It’s sort of hard because in my world, Berry is not the catalyst. She’s not some wallflower. She’s not the girl in my arm. She’s her own identity, her own release. I was looking for someone who could carry the comedy of it and also be likable; someone you can root for. In my mind, she’s the perfect torch for that. I think she killed it!

Geek: Tell me about the graphic novel aspect of “Tainted Love.”

Jones: It was interesting. I’d say it was a lot of trial and error. The first thought, if you’re going to do a graphic novel and launch it within the digital space, it has to be live. I guess the first step was figuring out the look of the live-action stuff. And then, figuring out what the energy of those panels were. One of the first elements that was actually difficult for us to explain to graphic novel artists was that we were looking for covers. I’m sure if you know, in photographic novels, the panels that are telling the story are generally never as sophisticated in terms of the art as the cover. We wanted cover art and we explained we wanted a book’s worth, 130 panels or something. They were like, “Wait! Wait! Wait! You want 130 covers?” We kept saying, “No, we’re telling a story with this.” They said, “Yeah but the art you’re referencing is covers.” So that was part of it.

In the eyes of the viewer, you really feel like you’re watching a graphic novel come to life. We really went through a lot of different artists to establish the hell of it. We didn’t want it to be too dark, but wanting it to have a gritty feeling. If we had a larger budget, we would have tried to push it further than we did, but I’m really happy with what we landed.

Geek: Was it a different style of acting for you, to pick out the right poses and expressions for the graphic novel?

Jones: I don’t think it was a different style of acting. As you know, you need to have the negative space for the words if they’re going to come out of your mouth. There has to be a place for them to go. I think the biggest adjustment was probably the lighting and framing. They were able to do these things in terms of the way we frame things. To cover so much action, you need to be totally aware of in a way you might not have to do in a traditional actor’s space. I was certainly mindful of it because I was the writer and part of that discussion. Deanna was totally fine. She didn’t know any of that was going to happen. So, I don’t know if I would done anything different because she was so fearless.

Geek: You’re involved in a lot of action scenes. What’s that like?

Jones: I always try to choose roles that break some ground, even though we were inside a studio-formula. This was fun to do! It was a lot of work obviously because you’re doing it 20-30 times. And then, the director says, “You’re tired?” I really enjoyed it! I enjoyed the action element of it, but I also liked adding the action element with comedy. They’re human. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to caught up in side arguments that they shouldn’t be really thinking of. The action elements were a lot of fun and I look forward to doing the next one. It was down and dirty. The worst part was for Deanna because she had to run in six-inch shoes. I don’t know how she did it. It was crazy!

Geek: Tell me about playing the convenience store robbery from “Chapter 1: Baby Mama Drama.”

Jones: It was one of those ideas, where you go into one of these convenience stores, you see a person encased in this booth with glass. It struck to me, somebody works in that environment. It means you come to work every day with the mindset that it’s a pretty good chance, you’re going to get robbed. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be working behind a booth with glass. I thought, the mindset of that individual has to be one of either fear or just ballsiness,, no fear whatsoever. What you would normally expect in a robbery is all of sudden completely different; when the person you’re robbing isn’t afraid of you. And in fact, the person is antagonizing you.

I just got tickled by that idea. One, that wouldn’t cross Jezebel’s mind. That Berry would ultimately go with her because that’s his girl and he loves her. Berry realizes this is going to be a tough robbery to pull off, but we’re already in it. It just starts to spiral downhill so fast. He never gets ahead of it. As soon as they get in there, Jezebel is yelling her tough line and gets in danger by arguing with the girl behind the counter. I just wanted to take a left turn. Berry realizes this is probably not the best place we should be robbing. It was a lot of fun to do, especially with the customer cursing me out.

Geek: What’s it like seeing yourself as a comic book character?

Jones: Weird and fun! It’s one of those things you don’t really imagine. For me, the biggest thing was to leave the comic book character alone. I don’t try to adjust it. I don’t want to give it a note. I want to step out of it as best I can. I wanted to allow the artist to tell how he sees it. Avi Youabian, the director, was really guiding the process. As much as I could, I tried to be out of it. I didn’t want to be there and go, “My eyes look like this,” or “My face looks like that.” I wanted the artists to tell their story in pen and paper. I was really excited to see what they did. I really love the graphic novel version of me. But I will tell you, for a minute there, I did wonder what I would look like; I had no idea.

Geek: What can you tease about “Chapter 2?”

Jones: To me, “Chapter 2” is the aftermath of the robbery. The problem that they’re in, which is that they need money. What you discover in “Chapter 2” is that next step. They need money and Jezebel has her mind set. Berry loves this woman and wants to provide for his family, but there are limitations. “Chapter 2” leads them down that road and it becomes “Tainted Love”! [Laughs]

Geek: What other projects are you working on now?

Jones: I just wrapped “Sleepy Hollow” about two weeks ago. It was a lot of fun. Roberto Orci wrote it. He did “Spider-Man” and “Transformers.” We had a lot of fun. It’s been really cool. Been touring doing stand-up. And a movie coming out called, “Bad Country.” Peter Hyams directed that. It was a lot of fun. Jean-Claude Van Damme is the bad guy, that cracked me up.

After that, when we finish the show, it’s a project about Henry “Box” Brown. In 1849, this dude, Henry Brown, shipped himself from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a box. I found out about his story. I shipped myself in a box from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was really crazy! He shipped himself off to freedom because obviously he was a slave. He went out to become a performer and traveled all around the world. I just thought that was an extraordinary thing to do, especially in the 1800s, so I recreated that act. We just finished shooting that as well. Between standup, “Sleepy Hollow,” “Bad Country,” and “Tainted Love,” my dance card has been really full.

Orlando Jones’ digital series, “Tainted Love,” airs exclusively on the Machinima Prime channel on YouTube. Watch, “Chapter 3,” right here!