Since his feature film debut in Robert Townsend’s ‘The Meteor Man,’ Jerome “Ro” Brooks has had an extensive career with many critically acclaimed and box office successful directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, Michael Bay, Michael Mann, and most recently, Tyler Perry on the hit television drama, ‘The Haves and The Have Nots.’ The West Baltimore native has learned a lot throughout his 20 plus year career and shares all of its positive influences with his peers, children, and aspiring actors. Ro, what he likes to be called, reminisces on past businesses, relationships, and life experiences. From being the man of the house to being the leading man, this actor has what it takes to be the star of any and every situation in front of and behind the camera.
AMPS – Growing up in a house full of females, how did that affect you. what type of atmosphere were you brought up in? Ro – . I’m the youngest of four siblings, the only boy. I was really active in all kind of sports outside of school. I did gymnastic on a mattress out back, everybody knows about those old mattresses that people use to throw out. It taught me how to be respectable to women, it taught me what to do in a relationship with a woman, for one, my sisters are at least three years older than me, so as they started dating or being interested in guys, I would always be around the house when they talked about what they were going through and who they liked and all that kind of stuff. I would just watch and take notes to see what interested women so when I got ready to date it would help me and it did. Even till this day, I open the car door for my wife; I make sure she walks on the inside of the curve away from the traffic. My job is to make sure that my wife feels safe when she’s with me. They say chivalry is gone, but I beg to differ. I learned a lot of great things from my Mom and just growing up around a lot of women; most of all, to respect all women and to never put your hands on one.
AMPS – At what age did you say, “Ok, I want to be an actor and I want to be on TV”? Ro – I would say around five. I know I was very young just watching television, you know how kids do. I used to watch a lot of cartoons and different television shows like ‘Different Strokes,’ and I would always wonder how it would be to be an actor, but I was frightened of the challenge. I wanted it, but I couldn’t understand how those kids would remember all that dialogue for the entire show. I wanted it but because I didn’t know anything about it, it scared me, so I strayed away from acting for a long time. As I grew up I got into entertaining, dancing and performing at venues around town. Finally, I said you know what, I’m going to go ahead and try this acting thing, dig into it, and learn more about it, because I know I can do it. I don’t like being defeated, if it’s a challenge I’m up for it. I had to make sure that I defeated that challenge so that’s what I did. I went and found out more about acting. I heard about this movie that was coming to Baltimore called, ‘Meteor Man,’ directed by Robert Townsend. In my research, I found out what I needed to do to be an extra in the film. I sent a picture of myself along with my phone number to the casting director and they contacted me. A few days later I was on set of my first real acting job. As you can see, I got bit by the acting bug, as they call it, and I just fell in love with it. Working long days, sometimes fourteen hour days didn’t bother me a bit, I really enjoyed it. I got to meet a lot of the cast members like Bill Cosby, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill and Luther Vandross to name a few. It was a lot of great talent in this film. It was really nice meeting everybody and everyone seemed so down to earth. It wasn’t what you would see on television back then where you saw security all around the actors. It was just like being around family, so from that day forward I was hooked and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else AMPS – How did your family feel when you told them your good news? Ro – My family is awesome, really awesome, trust me in all capital letters. They were very excited for me. They couldn’t believe their son was going to be in a movie. My parents were and continue to be very supportive in whatever we decide to do, but we had to finish high school and get our diploma first.
AMPS – Tell us a little bit about you reaching out to your community. Ro – I’m also an entrepreneur. I opened my first music store called Rome Records in the 90’s. We sold CD’s and DVD’s. Actually prior to that I owned a record label on paper, because I was running it out of my house where I was only allowed to receive mail and not run the day to day business from. So after that, my cousin and I opened up a music store called Rome Records and separated it; half of it was a record store and the other half was a record label and that’s how I got into the music business real heavy. Several years later we ended our partnership and Rome Records was closed. A few years later, I opened up several more stores on my own, another in Baltimore in my childhood neighborhood and the other in Atlanta Ga. They both were called, Sounds -N- Da Hood. Unfortunately, sales decreased due to the world wide web and bootlegging, as a result, I was forced to close in 2008. I also owned several properties in the inner city. I was in a rap group called, “Twice As Nice.” We were the first rap group to ever win on Showtime at the Apollo.
We won in 1990, so I’ve been in the game for a long time. Recording artist would visit my music stores all the time, whether it was G-unit, LL Cool J, DMX, Luke, Obie Trice, you name it. It was really cool because we were in the hood, right in the heart of the city. A real popular neighborhood but a lot of violence. No one would ever think that stars would come to our hood. My neighborhood is all row houses; what I mean by row houses is all the houses are connected. I didn’t open my store in a mall or strip mall, I rented a row house and was giving permission by the owner to transform the living room into my store. A lot of people thought that it would never work, because it had never been done before. When I opened the store it garnered a lot of attention. We got support not only from the immediate community but also the surrounding communities. Best of all, I was able to employee some of the youth and inspire others. The kids in the neighborhood were given another outlet to consider possibilities other than those that the hood offered. They were able to meet these artists and converse with them. I would speak at the schools in the inner city. I spoke at my elementary school and it was an unbelievable experience. It was awesome visiting the schools. To see how the kids faces lit up when they saw a person who they considered a celebrity, Priceless. At that particular time, I was acting in a lot of music videos. I played the leading man in two of Syleena Johnson’s videos and one with Lil’ Mo. I’ve done over a dozen videos. Fast forward three or four years ago, I joined an organization in L.A.called MOCITI, it means, “Men of Color in The Industry.” It’s everything from producers, actors, directors, writers you name it. We mentor young men every Friday at the Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy. We teach them different things about life such as, how to interview for a job, filling out job applications, displaying manners, the correct way to dine at a restaurant and much more; small but very valuable information. We just want to give them some direction from some people who look just like they do. Everyone can’t make it every Friday, but it’s always at least 10 to 15 of us that show up and the kids love it. We do a lot of things that enlighten their lives, for instance, for Black History Month we have them research African American’s who contributed to society. These facts stick with kids forever. We want to help, it’s our duty as African American Men to help and it’s a beautiful thing. Give back and see what results it produces.
AMPS – How does that make you feel being a part of this and able to make a different? Ro – It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I love to give and help others, because someone took an interest in my life. All we need is something to believe in. Plant a seed.
AMPS – Why is your hometown so important to you? Ro- Baltimore raised me. Baltimore helped mold me into the man I am today, through all that I’ve been through and all I’ve seen; the trials and tribulations. The strength that I have comes from Baltimore. Baltimore is a tough city, so you have to have tough skin and at the same time you have to be gentle and kind. I always knew that I was going to be in the industry and I knew that when I got there I wanted to be different and make a difference in people lives. Treat everybody the same way, the way you want to be treated and I always did that no matter what. People love me the way I am and I won’t change. I’m the same guy that Baltimore molded me to be and that’s why I love my city. It’s a tough but beautiful city with great qualities and awesome people.
AMPS – How is it to be one of the familiar faces in the new Toyota Avalon commercial? Ro- Well, that was an awesome opportunity. I really appreciated it. I had done other commercials prior to that one, but I had never done a commercial at that level. Wow, it was like an action movie, they shot it like a movie with all the high speed chases, it was crazy. Not only am I an actor, I’m into directing and producing my own pieces as well. While I’m an actor, I’m still watching and learning how they create certain scenes. It was a blessing being able to witness how they put the action commercial together and get the results of a film; it was my best commercial ever.
AMPS – Can you tell us a little bit about ‘Sons of Anarchy’? Ro- ‘Sons of Anarchy ‘is about these bikers who run their town. They run the gun game, you know as far as supplying people with weapons and that kind of thing, it’s almost like a gang on bikes; it’s not just a gang it’s a Caucasian gang, they’re real slick. It’s a really popular television show. It’s been out for about six seasons so far and it has a huge core audience. I was blessed to get the job. My name was Kettle on the show, I played the boss of the African American inmates. One of the main character (shout to my man Ron Pearlman) Clay, gets locked up for a murder that he didn’t do and they wanted his head in there, so the boss on the outside basically put me on top of the situation to give Clay an ultimatum or murder him. I had a shiv, which is a shaved sharp object that resembles a knife. That’s what they make in prison, so I had that to his neck to give him an ultimatum,. We fought, we had a couple of fight scenes. It was really fun and I loved it. I never knew so many people that I knew tuned into that show weekly. It was just an awesome opportunity to have worked with such a critically acclaimed cast. I did my own stunts in the fight scenes. It was just a great shoot.
AMPS – Who motivated you to be an actor, artist, entrepreneur and all of the other things that you have done? Ro- Well, I can’t really give credit to any person other than God. It was already in me, I also knew what I wanted to do. It wasn’t like someone said you know what, you should be this or you should be that. If I would say anyone other than God I would have to say my Mom and my manager from my old rap group. My Mom would always tell me at a young age that I should be a model, back then you always thought modeling was for women. My Mother always cherished me, always told me things about myself that I never saw for myself, even with acting, she would always say things to encourage me and as I got older I started seeing myself falling into those same lines of business that she spoke to me about as a child. So my Mom did all of that and I love her dearly for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My manager in reference to entrepreneurship, always saw a leader in me. She knew that I wasn’t the one to work for anyone. I had jobs and I would get fired from them because they would always say that I thought to much. I would be given a task and a certain way to complete it, but I would always find a quicker and easier way to complete the task at hand. So they would get really pissed at me and fire me. Secondly, I’m a math guy and the money never really added up anyway. If I made a thousand dollars a day for your business and on pay day my check was a couple hundred dollars, something was wrong. That’s when I realized that I needed to be my own boss. I said, ” you what know, let me just start my own business, this is how I’m going to make my money and be successful” and ever since then, I’ve been an entrepreneur.
AMPS – Can you share with us about the ‘Today’s Leading Man’? Ro-Well, I came up with ‘Today’s Leading Man’ a long time ago to call myself, because I always felt that I was a leading man, a leading actor. I’ve done a lot of independent movies and in the majority of them, I played the lead role. I always felt that I could be the lead in a movie, so if you want to do something or be something you have to speak it into existence. I took that title and branded it on my life. I am ‘Today’s Leading Man’, so when it does happen for me it will always be today. Just like they say, God may not come when you want him, but he’s always on time. I even took it one step further, because it’s bigger than me. Today’s Leading Man also represents all the men out there who are leading men in their own lives. Whether they are being a positive inspiration to someone, taking care of and providing for their children or just being supportive to friends and family. That’s what I say to all men,” Be the leading man in your life, handle your business, do what you need to by the people that love you and that love you. I salute you all.
AMPS – How did you end up on Tyler Perry’s ‘The Haves and The Have Nots’? Ro- Well it happened pretty fast, my manager called me for an audition. I went to the audition and I didn’t hear anything from them so I moved on. In this business, if you don’t hear anything back in a day or two, they have most likely given the role to someone else and that’s just part of the game. 90% of the time you won’t get the job. All you can do is go in and do your best and keep moving and that’s just how it works in this business. Anyway, I was out with a business partner of mine about a week later and I got a call from my manager, he told me to pack my things because I was going to Atlanta, and I asked for what and he said, “Tyler Perry wants to see you”. I was like, ” WHAT!, when do I leave”? He said, “tonight on the red eye” and I was like, “this is awesome”. Four other guys and I flew to Atlanta and auditioned for Tyler. After the auditions, he came out of the room and shook my hand and I was called back into the room and was offered the role. It all happened so quickly. The following day, I was on set shooting. It was surreal; I couldn’t catch up with myself for about a month just to realize what had happened. I was really excited. In this business you have to always be prepared, because you never know when you’ll get your opportunity to shine.
AMPS – Out of all of the other movies and commercials that you’ve done, was there a difference with those versus ‘The Haves and The Have Nots’ and if so why? Ro- First let me say I love working with Tyler Perry, he’s an awesome director, he works like a robot and he works very hard. I really appreciate him. He’s a leader and he’s very inspiring. He’s the one you would want to work for, because he pushes you and he works really fast. It’s just a great experience working with him. The cast is awesome as well. I really loved working with everybody, everyone was so professional; all great talent, it was beautiful. It felt like a big family. The difference is that ‘The Haves and The Have Nots is unique. Big Ups to Tyler for writing it. To me this is his best effort in writing. He wrote, the you know what out of this show. I love the dialogue, it’s easy to get into. The words feel like something I myself would have said or thought of, that’s how good the writing is, so that in itself is a good reason to want to be on this show. It’s just a different feeling being on the set of ‘The Haves and The Have Nots,’ it doesn’t feel like anything that I’ve ever done before. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it just feels different. I’m not saying that my other works didn’t feel good but this one feels just feels right. I’m really enjoying the ride. It was awesome and I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to work with one of the world’s greatest. AMPS – What can we expect from you next, do you have any new projects that you are working on? Ro- Well, I have a project that I’m trying to get picked up now called, ‘Under The Sun’, it’s a television drama series that my business partner and I both co-created and co-directed. My website is www.robrooks.com