It’s hard out there for a police captain in a town like Sleepy Hollow, what with all the time traveling Colonials and headless horsemen and witches. But for Orlando Jones, Fox’s hit TV show is letting him indulge the nerdy side of himself he’s been nurturing since he was a kid. The Mad TV veteran explains why The Big Bang Theory gets it all wrong, discusses his addiction to video games, and the perils and pleasures of giant eyeglasses in this exclusive interview.
How did you get here, career-wise? What’s the Orlando Jones origin story?
I was a theater actor, turned television writer, turned dramatic actor, or sketch comedy actor, turned dramatic actor. That’s been the trajectory of my career, which has really been unusual compared to virtually everybody else who was in the same categories with me. I was writing on A Different World on NBC when I was 19 years old. I wasn’t in “the comedy club.” When I went in for the auditions for Mad TV or even for The Replacements, I noticed a line of comedians that were from the stand-up world and I thought, “I’m never getting this job. These guys are hilarious. Why am I here?” I called my agent going, “Dude, there are some funny guys here, why are they calling me?” But for whatever reason I’ve been able to experience some level of success, of which I’m proud of, but it’s also weird to me.
How did Mad TV help your career?
Not really at all. If you look at Mad TV as a television show, it ran for 14 years. So name somebody else from Mad TV who had a future or a television career of note that wasn’t in animation. For whatever reason Mad TV, on some level, was always seen as a stepchild of Saturday Night Live. So Saturday Night Live actors made that transition to movies, but Mad TV actors just did not translate into the feature and television world the same way. Mad TV was a great opportunity for me and I enjoyed it, but it’s funny to me that I’m back on Fox doing a one-hour drama after I helped launch the network with Mad TV.
Do you still have people that expect you to be funny having that background in comedy, or have you established yourself as a serious actor as well?
It’s funny because it depends on the individual. I started off in Liberty Heights, the Barry Levinson movie with Adrien Brody, Shane West and Ben Foster. I’ve done Drumline and Runaway Jury and The Time Machine, so for people to still be going comedy only with the amount of drama that I’ve done … it is funny to me. But I don’t take it as an insult. I just think they’re not really clear that my career has been very different then a lot of other people’s careers — meaning if we’re talking about Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, or anybody who’s in the comedy movie business, they all were former stand-up comedians. I was an actor. I only started doing stand-up three years ago. I’ve always been somebody who was a comedic actor and not from the stand-up comedy world. I think people thought I was a stand-up comedian even though they’ve never seen me on a stage before until three years ago.
You also worked on video games like Halo 2. What are your thoughts about how gaming has evolved even since then?
Gaming is so immersive. I was a gamer kid, loved it, still love it. I don’t playas much as I would like to. It’s no fun getting my ass handed to me by a 14-year-old girl from Croatia playing Call of Duty. I was like, “I am done with this. I will find your number. I will call your mama and I will cuss your mama out because I cannot say these things to you because you are a 14 year old little girl.”
How good was she at Call of Duty?
You know when you throw a grenade on the ground and it bounces up in the air, if the grenade is in the air when it explodes it clears the room. If it’s on the ground, half the explosion goes into the ground. This girl figured that out. So what she decided to do — and she told me this — was that she wasn’t going to waste her time shooting me. She would just run past and I’m chasing her trying to shoot her and every time I came even remotely come close, she would bounce a grenade off a wall and blow me out of the room. The entire game was basically me regenerating. I got off like three shots — three shots that weren’t even close. It was the most humiliating thing ever. But I love that that exists in the game world.
You said you’ve been a gamer since you were a kid. When did you notice a quantum shift in how good the games were?
I was a huge fan of Myst. That was a game changer. It was just so different than anything back then. Now you’ve got these story world games where you can almost do anything. A lot of my original early memories are of being a kid asking for quarters. Once games moved home with Pong, I’d ignore whatever my parents were doing. I had the Atari and the Nintendo 64. I got a TSR-80 and I was programming BASIC when I was a kid to make the machine turn into a keyboard or talk or whatever. So most of my memories are just like any other nerdy kid, which was you go to Radio Shack and grab a bunch of stuff and hook a bunch of circuit boards up to try and make this big cool computer to make it do cool shit. And I’m still that level of nerd.
Except today nerds and geeks are considered cool.
Well, they say it’s cool, but when you’re that kid in middle school or grade school or whatever, it’s anything but cool. I don’t care what Hollywood says. Alright? The cool guy got the girl. That same guy randomly pushes you for no apparent reason, other than you were breathing too close to him. I’m sorry. I don’t know what those people are talking about. It wasn’t cool. It’s like, “Do my homework for me and maybe I will stop punching you.” You had that element going on. “Did you do homework? Of course you did, nerd.” That’s what I remember. I don’t know what they’re talking about it being cool.
That was before The Big Bang Theory, right?
Yeah, totally, I’m like, “Yes, I know those guys.” When you go look at my yearbook photo you will see me wearing glasses so big —my entire initials were in the corner of my glasses and it no way impairs my sight. “OFJ” in the corner of my glasses, like that was cool. I thought it was cool because my mom was like, “Oh look, you can put your name on your glasses and you won’t lose them.” And I was like, “This is awesome. I’ve got my initials on my glasses. But when I get to school they’d ask, “Why are you wearing glasses that are bigger than my grandma’s glasses?” I would go, “These are Pierre Cardin.” And they’re like, “Who the fuck is Pierre Cardin?” And in the Hollywood version if you’re the smart kid the pretty girl is somehow sympathetic for you and she likes you and really wants to hang out with you. I’m like, “I don’t know what y’all are talking about.”
So outside of getting beaten by Croatian preteens on Call of Duty, what else do you play?
I’ve always been a Halo fan, so I always get into that any time I can. Gears of War I really like, the Call of Dutys have all been pretty incredible. Occasionally, I’ll go backwards and play Medal of Honor. I recently fired up my old PC and played Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and it was crazy. I wanted to go through World War II again and enter the beach on D-Day and that was what I did. We were up late shooting Sleepy Hollow, because we’re on nights. I also play a lot of mobile stuff too like Mob Wars and Zombie Driver, which is stupid awesome because you basically drive down the street and try and knock zombies off your car. Whenever I have time I’ll just drag some crazy game up, usually a first-person shooter, and just play. I really want to get back into all the sports games. I used to be obsessed with playing those and for whatever reason I just sort of fell out of that. I kind of miss those, but I played a lot of games. A lot of time was spent messing up plasma TVs by leaving them on all night with that “save game” screen up, when the game realizes you’re not playing because you’re asleep with all-natural soda and popcorn all around you, your mouth open and your cell phone in the popcorn. And when you wake up you realize that you have burned that one screen into your plasma. So yeah, I’m that guy.
The Walking Dead has its own video game — what would the Sleepy Hollow game be if you were in charge?
Oh, dude, first of all can you imagine that you’re the Lieutenant for the dark side in a game with Headless [Horseman] and Moloch and all these things? And all you have to do is assert yourself to get into their world and then you go about the business of killing all of them. It’s like, here’s the Book of Revelations and here are all the different Sleepy Hollow characters and you have to find Katrina and Ichabod Crane and then join together and take down the forces of evil. That would be a bad-ass game.
You need to talk to Fox about that.
Like they care what I say. I’ll be like, “That’s a badass game,” and they’ll be like, “That’s awesome, Orlando. So your mark is right here. Do you know your lines? Great. Camera is going to be here and…action.”
If you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to go put those Pierre Cardin glasses back on.
Now you understand what I’m saying. The glasses with my initials and I’ll be carrying my plasmas and my Radio Shack TSR-80. I had real nerd credentials, bitch.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for 25 years for outlets like Playboy, Wired, Fortune, The Hollywood Reporter and Reuters. He’s also a co-owner of gaming site www.shacknews.com. He tweets at @JohnGaudiosi.