Acting runs in Mykel Shannon Jenkins’ family. A native of New Orleans, his mother was an actress. He’s been around the craft his entire life. It had such a stronghold on him, he decided he needed to chuck up the deuces to New Orleans, LA and move to other real L.A. — Los Angeles. Going against his father’s advice, who once told him there were no “benefits, money or health insurance involved” in acting, he answered the call. His confirmation came when was on the set of Double Jeopardy, and caught the attention of the director who told him he had the “look” of an actor.
Here, he tells us about his role in The Last Heist, a film about “a bank heist [that] descends into violent chaos when one of the hostages turns out to be a serial killer. Trapping the well-organized team of bank robbers in the building, the killer is now picking them off one by one.” He also talks about the joys of passing on the acting baton to his son.
Tell us about your role in the Last Heist.
I play this cold-blooded cat named Washington. If you mix a sniper with a Green Beret, and then add a criminal element, you get him. He’s a loner but he has a group of cats he has loyalty to. He lives life moment to moment. He wears the finest threads. He only has a penny left over after his capers. He squeezes all the juice from the orange. It doesn’t quite go how he would have liked it to.
How long did you film your part?
It was about four to six weeks in Los Angeles. The studio was basically a bank. You walked in there and there were vaults.
Do you prefer film, TV or both?
When you work with someone like Mike Mendez, he allows you to breathe so much truth into the character. With television you don’t have the freedom with your character like you do in film. It’s really nice to get the respect that I received when trying to develop Washington. He let the magic happen. I was really pleased with the whole journey. When you get the director that sets you free, you feel like Kunta Kinte. I ran for freedom.
Tell us about growing up in Louisiana.
I am a Texas-Louisiana boy. You find out real quick it’s hard to grow grass. When you have dreams and visions, you find that you have to leave the south, and come back later. I attended college in Louisiana. I felt at the time the industry wasn’t there yet when I left and came to LA. The industry has made its way to Louisiana. Things are done differently. There’s shooting in Louisiana. There’s shooting in Atlanta. But when they really want to put some money into a project … there are casinos all over the world, but when you want to gamble, you go to Vegas. You go where the people live and breathe this industry.
Your move to LA was good in so many ways. Your son is in the business as well.
Bryce … yes, it’s all about the young prince. I’m daddy so you know how it goes. He’s grown up around it. I really understand the Douglases and the Smiths. You think it’s nepotism, but what you have to understand is It’s like in the NBA with Klay Thompson [son of Mychal Thompson, No. 1 pick in the 1978 NBA draft who won three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in back-to-back-to-back seasons.]. If your daddy is always on sets, he writes movies, and all you’ve ever known is scripts all over the place it is you, even by default. A lot has come easy to Bryce because he’s basically lived it.
I don’t want to hold him back. He just got off Broadway doing A Raisin in the Sun. He just produced a movie with me which is out on Amazon right now and will be hitting Wal-Mart. It’s called The Gods. I am really happy. Yes, the move was really good for him. You’ve got to see The Gods, ’cause I do my thang.
What is your dream role? Is there one you haven’t fulfilled yet?
I was told one time by a great actor, Ernest Thomas, who said the role that scares you to death will be your role to own.
The role to me that would scare me would be the Great White Hope. James Earl Jones put his stink on it. I feel you on it [he utters as if he’s in the room with the unmistakable baritone-voiced acting legend]. The dynamics and the story that’s told, the environmental effects … you don’t realize the effect it has on you. I think there’s a wonderful opportunity to modernize it. At the end of it all, I want to impact people with what I do. I want them to relate to the characters I play. Hopefully you can see, like with the Last Heist, that if he would have just made a different choice here; he might not have ended up here.
THE LAST HEIST is in theaters and available on VOD and iTunes as of Friday, June 17.