• Neal Howard

The Shot List: Chosen Jacobs

Catapulted to fame by his role as Mike Hanlon in the 2016 reprise of It, multitalented Atlanta native CHOSEN JACOBS is taking another joyride on the Stephen King train with Hulu's Castle Rock

OZ: We know you first and foremost as an actor, but you also saw a bit of musical success with your It-inspired single, “The Losers.” Are you currently working on an album?

CJ: I won’t classify it as an EP or LP, but I’ll just say that I have something coming out soon. I have a lot of music I’ve been working on since It, so stay tuned for that.

You know, it’s just all fun. That’s the way I'm trying to keep it: all fun. Of course it’s work, but it’s so much fun just being in a creative space.

OZ: It’s probably good for preventing burnout, too, to flip back and forth between artistic mediums like that.

Right. Very true. You know, I remember I heard someone say before that the audience is smart. They can tell when you’re actually having a great time when you’re recording, or if you’re just kind of phoning it in.

The energy is even more important. It’s one of the most important aspects of a song. I could sound bad, but if you really felt what I was saying, you would feel attached to it if it was genuine.


"Every life experience you’ve had is driving the scene."


OZ: Good energy is even more important when it comes to acting, isn’t it? I imagine you’ve gotta do something to relax your mind before going on set.

For me, I just pray to be myself. I think that’s the biggest thing. Of course you’re getting into your character, but one cool thing about acting is that you’re only being asked to do things that you’ve felt before in real life—or that you’ve seen somebody go through—and just stretching it. If they tell me, “OK, your sibling died in the scene.” My siblings are alive, but I know people who have experienced profound loss.

Every life experience you’ve had is driving the scene. No matter how outlandish the scene may be, if I can find something real and something tangible in my life to attach to it, it can be genuine to me. Like seeing an alien: I’ve never seen an alien before, but as children, we think we see a monster under our beds. As long as I can attach something tangible or that’s real to me, the possibilities are endless. That’s the awesome thing about the acting industry: I play make-believe for a career.

OZ: Hawaii Five-O on CBS was more or less your breakout role, right—your first substantive paycheck, first substantive screen time?

That’s correct. Man, I love shooting that show. We shoot in Honolulu and it’s so much fun.

OZ: You literally couldn’t have a better location than that.

I know. It’s funny, because that was my first real gig actually being on set and shooting and having lines and everything like that. Most people are shooting in LA or Canada, but I get to shoot in Hawaii.

I’m a little spoiled now. You can hit the beach at 12 o’clock at night and it’s still warm enough.

OZ: In your mind, who is Will Grover, your character from Hawaii Five-O?

Will Grover is a very fortunate kid. He’s a kid who has role models he can look up to. He’s a strong believer in family. Even though he and his dad go back and forth, it’s all out of love.

I think that’s the most important thing. In families, you’re always going to have your problems, but as long as the love is still there, you’re good. He has a huge family network, from his mom, to his dad, to the whole Five-O family. I think that’s a really important thing for any youth to know: “I have somebody behind me who has my back.” Everything that comes from Will Grover comes from that foundation.

OZ: What are some differences you can note between working on a major network TV set and a major studio film set?

TV is much faster. A film is maybe an hour and 45 mins to two hours, and it takes months and months to shoot. But because you have that time, you can explore different things. When you’re on a TV set, you have eight days—something around that—per episode, so you’re much more on script, and it’s much more, “OK, let’s knock this scene out, then the next scene, then the next scene.”

When you’re on a film, you’re like, “OK, I have four months or five months. How about we explore this, or try that?” You have the luxury of time.

OZ: It’s a lot more immersive and much juicier as an actor, I suppose, to be able to get really deep into the character.

It’s like a movie is a stretched-out episode. When you’re shooting television, you get your problem, your catalyst, your climax, and your conclusion all within one episode. But with a movie, you actually get to sit with one problem for a whole shoot. You actually get the time to be like the character, and the problem is taking time, because it’s taking months to shoot the film. So, the bad guy—whatever the opposing force is—on the project, you get to sit with that and take it meticulously with each step, like you do in real life.

OZ: Again, sizing up both major films and network TV, which skills in your toolbox do you think you’ve sharpened as a result of working in each?

For film, the skill I think I’ve sharpened is the professionalism of just being able to do things on the spot—if that makes sense. Actually, I’ve sharpened that with both film and television, because you can say a line and it could look really great on paper, but sometimes they’ll just say, “Do what’s natural for you.” Sometimes the wording isn’t sounding right, but you want that message to be there.

As an actor, I’m better able to define my characters now. I don’t need the script; just memorizing my lines and going out there and doing it, I’m actually being a creative and saying, “OK, what do I think my character would say? How would he react to this?” And I think that’s a very important thing, because it makes you more attached to your character. No one is telling you what to say; you just know how you feel in the scene, and therefore, your words will stem from that.

OZ: Let’s talk about It for a minute. First of all, what a great film to be your boxoffice breakout.

It’s a blessing. I’ve been a professional actor for about four or five years now, but just being out in L.A., a lot of my friends were in Pampers commercials. They’ve been doing this their whole lives. But some things are just a blessing.

I can’t make a director like me for a role, but [Mike Hanlon, my character from It] will have a special place in my heart for eternity. It really was a special thing to be able to say, “Man, this was a great experience.” And outside of the acclaim, it was so much fun; my first introduction to a big set was so much fun. We were having sleepovers every night after shooting, going out to eat—you know, just having a real summer.

That’s what kept the feeling genuine, like we talked about with music. It all ties together. If the feeling is there, then things work out.

OZ: Isn’t it cool how that happens? Specific to you guys—and girl—in the main cast, i.e. “the Losers Club,” that bonding offscreen seems so critical to the onscreen chemistry.

Yes, we hang out so much. Like I said, because we were together so much and had such a great time, we’re friends outside of the film. Every time we’re in each other’s cities, we all hang out. When we do events together, we all hang out; we have group chats and things like that. We’re gonna be lifelong friends because we did It together. Everybody has a special place in one another’s hearts.

OZ: To me, Mike is the most layered character from a backstory perspective. The other kids are dealing with a range of typical adolescent issues, but Mike’s struggles are compounded by the race factor. As a young black man, how did Mike’s plight speak to you personally?

Looking at Mike’s character, I think he just represents being human. Like you said, all the Losers—actually, everyone in [the town of] Derry—has their issues, everyone has their conflicts. That’s what makes it a great story, a great movie, and a great script.

The thing that makes Mike’s character special is that being himself is something that he’s having to contend with. It’s one of the few things that makes him special within the film. Most of the other guys’ problems are external, but Mike’s conflict has less to do with somebody’s expectations of him than it does with somebody’s idea of what he isn’t. It’s more of an internal struggle, rather than, “Oh, somebody’s coming to hurt me.”

The real struggle is, “Man, I’ve gone through all these things; I’ve seen things happen. I don’t even know if I’m worthy, or if I can even handle good things in my life.” That is what’s so special about Mike the character, because that’s so real.

The hardest battle is the internal battle. “If everybody doubts me, but I have faith in myself, I can make it. But even if everyone has faith in me, if I doubt myself, I won’t make it.”


"Was I proud of it? Was it something that I learned from?"


OZ: Excellent point. And things are made even more difficult for him, because he’s the most isolated of the kids until he meets the other Losers.

Right. He’s never experienced that. I even feel like, when you look at his grandfather, some people may say he was harsh to him. But, as a grandfather, we don’t know the things he has experienced.

I don’t even think he’s trying to be harsh, I just think he’s trying to prepare him for what the world is going to be. And as a child, you can’t understand that. You’re like, “I don’t understand why you’re being like this,” because you don’t know the consequences of what life is yet.

So, even that outside pressure of, “Man, I go to town and people are bullying me; I come back home, and I have all this pressure from my grandpa. I don’t get a break.” But that’s what he gets from the Losers: people who aren’t pressuring him. “Just be you. Do what you like to do.” That’s why he cherishes those relationships.

OZ: Tell me about It director Andy Muschetti’s style on set, with regard to working with his actors.

He’s an actors’ director, man, he’s awesome. The whole production team, they are so amazing. Being on set, it’s dangerous to work with young actors, you know? Because we are young, I bet there are times on set when we’re goofing off a little bit too much, and that just comes with it.

They let us know, though, that they have faith in us, and that’s a real boost in confidence. It wasn’t, “Hey, are y’all gonna be ready?” No, it’s, “I know y’all are ready. Have a good time and I’ll see y’all on set.” And that energy he brought to the table boosted our energy. It was, “We can do anything, because our director, our producer, everybody thinks that we’re capable. Therefore, we must be capable.”

And that’s the thing I love about Andy, the fact that he’s an actors’ director who cares about his actors. He doesn’t just care about the bottom line—“Oh, I’ve gotta get this film done.” He cares about, “Oh, what do you think about this? What do you think your character would say? How does this make you feel? As an actor, how do you think Mike feels in this situation?”

It’s really empowering, and I love that.

OZ: Are you still friends with any of the Losers in real life?

Yes, we hang out so much. Like I said, because we were together so much and had such a great time, we’re friends outside of the film. Every time we’re in each other’s cities, we all hang out. When we do events together, we all hang out; we have group chats and things like that. We’re gonna be lifelong friends because we did It together. Everybody has a special place in one another’s hearts.


"That's what's so unique about this group: We weren't just acting, we're real friends. And it carries through the film."


OZ: Have you talked to Finn Wolfhard since he started shooting Stranger Things Season 3?

Yeah, yeah. His band, Calpurnia, they had a show in Atlanta, and I hit him up to wish him good luck. It’s just a real family vibe, you know? With each other’s successes outside of It, it’s like, “How you doing? You did a good job on this. Good luck, and I can’t wait to see it.”

OZ: That’s nice to hear. Because from what I’ve gathered in the 12 years I’ve been interviewing entertainers, it’s somewhat rare to retain close friendships after filming.

That’s what’s so unique about this group: We weren’t just acting, we’re real friends. And it carries through the film.

OZ: You were born in Massachusetts. At what age did you move to Atlanta?

Very, very young. I grew up in Atlanta, it’s just that my family is from Massachusetts. Like, my sports teams are all Massachusetts. I always let everybody know, because once a sports conversation comes up, I’m siding with those teams. But I love Atlanta. I love Georgia.

OZ: Is it true that your first acting job was for a Hot Wheels commercial? How did that come about? Did you just audition like every other kid?

Yep, I just auditioned, man. I got an agent, I auditioned, and I got the Hot Wheels commercial. I was ecstatic and I got to play with Hot Wheels all day. I came home with a Hot Wheels set. I couldn’t have asked for more.

OZ: Who was your agent at the time?

J Pervis in Atlanta.

OZ: You mostly live in LA now, but is it refreshing to still have a home base here in Atlanta, so that you can bounce back and forth?

I love it. Whenever I just need a break and need to slow it down, we have a place in Buckhead, right around Lenox. Atlanta is awesome for that.

You know, just coming home, I know where the good food is, and I get to see family and friends … It’s just different vibes. Totally different. You get a different cup of tea.

Everyone’s going to LA to chase after their dreams. Here, everybody’s just trying to have a good time and eat. “You need some sugar? Come over and knock on my door. I’ve got you.”


""I think the main goal is always just growth."


OZ: Let’s talk It: Chapter 2. Have you guys already started filming?

No, we haven’t. We haven’t gotten a date yet, we just know it’s this year. I don’t even know who’s playing my older version yet. (Editor’s note: Shortly before deadline, it was announced that Isaiah Mustafa will play the older Mike Hanlon). They haven’t released that information, but I’m excited for when it comes out.

OZ: Let’s move on to what we’re here to promote primarily, which is Castle Rock. (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to Castle Rock’s July 25 premiere on Hulu.) I’ve read as much as I can on it, but I'm not sure I fully understand the format over the course of the season. Is it a continuous storyline, or is it individually wrapped episodes within the sphere of the town of Castle Rock?

The best way I can explain it, without giving up too much, is that Castle Rock is a compilation of Stephen King stories. I can’t say too much about what’s happening within the season, but if you watch the trailer, you’ll see different Easter eggs for different Stephen King projects. Therefore, it’s a big jumble of Stephen King material with a touch of J.J. Abrams. It’s going to have that similar vibe that Stephen King always brings to it.

OZ: Will there be any new Stephen King material, or are we repurposing classic pieces?

It’s everything. I can’t specify which ones, but it’s everything. I can say that.

OZ: Have you signed on for any new projects for the near future, or is your plate pretty full with It: Chapter 2 and Hawaii Five-O?

Actually, I worked on a new show called American Woman that premiered June 7. That was actually the first time I had ever shot in L.A. Other than that, right now it’s just It: 2, Castle Rock and Hawaii Five-O.

OZ: If you could have your way, where would your ideal career trajectory ultimately lead you?

Well, first off, I think the main goal is always just growth, whatever form that comes in. As long as I can look back and see that I improved—let’s say from 16 to 20, 20 to 30, and so on and so forth—as long as I get better.

You know, “What’s my best?” It’s all about improvement.

OZ: In other words, you’re all about mastering the craft and letting the rest follow?

Yeah, just homing in on it. The biggest joy and obstacle to acting is just choosing the roles you’ll love and the roles that are going to stretch you. Choosing It was a no-brainer for me because I loved the history and I knew it would be an awesome experience to shoot that film. So, that was one choice for me.

Going forward, it’s about, “What is that role that’s gonna be different and unique for me, and am I gonna grow from it?” It’s about being very meticulous about the roles and everything else I choose— the music or the acting. Whatever adventures I get into, it’s about choosing the opportunities that will suit me best.

If it’s successful or unsuccessful, that’s not the point for me. It’s, “Was I proud of it? Was it something that I learned from?”

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