This is Us star Ron Cephas Jones is so superb at portraying William Hill, the onscreen biological father of Sterling K. Brown’s Randall Pearson that he’s already been nominated for his second consecutive Emmy for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.
Jones told ESSENCE that he drew on the men in his life to inspire his performance.
“William is a historical figure for me,” the actor explained. “He’s the culmination of the men in my family and in my neighborhood. He’s August Wilson and Amiri Baraka. He’s the men of the 60s, 70s and 80s.”
Part of bringing himself to his character included Jones witnessing a close friend battle the same cancer as his character, William. That experience, among others, prepared the 61-year-old actor for one of the most iconic contemporary portrayals of Black masculinity onscreen.
“There were so many layers to this man with a dubious past, confronting it and trying to make the best of his present,” he said of his character. “So many people tell me how touched they were by it and it is beautifully overwhelming. I am incredibly grateful.”
While Jones said he didn’t expect the overwhelming reception to William, he’s not surprised thanks to the “many people working to make the show wonderful.”
While fans have gotten used to Jones portraying the cool grandfather in the Pearson household on This Is Us, which returns to NBC on September 25, Jones recently stepped away from the tear-jerking scenes in the hit drama and into a lighter ensemble comedy, Dog Days, in theaters now.
In Dog Days, which centers on dog owners in Los Angeles, Jones plays a recent widower named Walter, adjusting to life without his spouse and a renewed focus on the couple’s family pet. Drawing on memories of his pet Sparky, Jones told ESSENCE he was “excited” for the role because of his love for dogs and the opportunity to work with such a young cast, including Nina Dobrev and Vanessa Hudgens.
Yet, it is Jones’ real life role as father that gives him the most joy. In the film, Jones co-stars alongside his daughter, Jasmine Cephas Jones, who has several musical performances throughout the film. Currently starring in Blindspotting and a member of the original Hamilton cast, Jasmine continues to become one of theater’s breakout stars.
Jones remembers the little girl who accompanied him to auditions “and going to the Nuyorican Poets Café together,” he reminisced. “To see her today makes me extremely proud.”
While Jones and Jasmine’s mother, jazz singer Rev. Kim Lesley, were not together during her childhood, Jones said healthy co-parenting is the key.
“It took sacrifices on both sides and … therapy,” he admitted. “We were separate parents but we were committed to being parents. We’re proud of her success but, more than anything, she’s happy and she’s healthy. And that’s really all a parent can ask for.”
When asked about the role of the artist in such a politically-charged moment in U.S. history, Jones reminded us that not much has changed.
“We have always been a people who made things. Everything about our art is political. William is political. ESSENCE is political. I grew up on the magazine, looking at the covers. Seeing ourselves on the cover is political. There is a history and support for each other there,” he boasted.
As he looks at the work of artists and activists, Jones is inspired and encouraged.
“When you know your history, you have a better vision of where you’re going,” he said, wisely. “And, when you have that, there’s no stopping you.”