Forget acting school, Khari Jones proves that football can be as successful a lead-in to a career in the performance arts as anything else. Jones, a veteran CFL player of nine years, is playing the lead role in the forthcoming Company of Rogues production of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. Jones defends his unique career overlap by explaining it to be a passion which dates back to his college days.
"I like to joke about it," says Jones. "I tell people that I was a professional actor before I was a professional football player. My first year out of college, no one wanted me as far as football went, but I was auditioning for plays, and I was in some shows down in San Francisco and Sacramento."
Jones, who won the CFL's most outstanding player award while playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2001, has been cultivating his acting ambitions on the sidelines throughout his career as a professional quarterback. Appearing in upwards of 30 stage performances elsewhere, this production marks the Calgary theatre debut for the burly-but-articulate Jones.
"I was shooting a film called I Dream of Murder with an actor named Joe Norman Shaw," says Jones. "We got to talking during a scene we were in together, and he called me a little while after that about this play he wanted to direct, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. He just needed to find the right actor for the role of Lucius, and he felt I would fit the part."
Shaw, the artistic director for Company of Rogues Theatre, cast Jones as the incarcerated sociopath Lucius Jenkins shortly thereafter. The play focuses on the interaction between Jenkins and fellow inmate Angel Cruz, who has been jailed for taking a life to save the life of a friend. The twist is that Lucius believes he has found God, and is determined to "save" Cruz.
"As soon as I read the character of Lucius I felt like I knew him," says Jones. "Even though he's very unlike me--I mean he's a death row inmate trying to make it in prison--he still feels like he's had a chance at redemption. He's killed eight people, yet he feels like he has been saved, and is living the right way now."
Whether Jones is living the right way now or not by acting remains to be seen. Jones notes that the response to his shift in career focus has been positive so far, so long as audiences can get past the novelty of seeing a pro football player in a stage performance.
"The biggest thing for me is making sure that when I'm acting, I'm an actor, and when I'm a football player, I'm a football player," says Jones. "I try to distinguish between the two in my mind, and hopefully in other peoples' minds, so they don't think I'm just a football player trying to act, or vice versa."
That being said, the fact alone that he's a quarterback-cum-actor playing a serial killer pushing God might just make Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train worth seeing on its own accord.