Junior acting major Dharon Jones auditioned for a role in the Broadway musical “Mean Girls” but instead received an opportunity to appear in a Netflix hit.
Jones was a dancer and extra in the final episode of the series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which Netflix released Jan. 25. The scene he is in is a colorful rendition of “The Lion King,” in which the character Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) gets to live out his lifelong dream of appearing in the Broadway show.
Staff Writer Hannah Fitzpatrick spoke with Jones about how he first got the role, his experiences on set and his plans for his future in acting.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hannah Fitzpatrick: How did you come upon this opportunity to be on “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”?
Dharon Jones: During this past summer, I auditioned for a show called “Mean Girls.” I was invited to audition for them for an immediate replacement. … The assistant choreographer of the show — his name is John MacInnis — taught us a choreography, I got a callback and I sang for them. Ultimately, I didn’t get the role … but a couple of weeks later, he inboxed me on Facebook saying, “Hey, I have this opportunity for you. It involves ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ Can you send me a resume, your headshot and availability for these dates?” I sent in all the information, and a few days later, I got an email from their stage director saying the dates of filming, the pay rate and what I was going to be. … The first day, we recorded the singing, and then the second day, we filmed us doing the choreography along with the singing. That was pretty dope.
HF: Could you go into some more detail about your experiences on set?
DJ: It was really cool because the people I was working with were mostly African-American because it had to do with “The Lion King.” The first day we all met each other, we were in a recording studio somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and I was in a room with all this melanin, which was awesome, and I was singing stuff from “The Lion King,” which has a nourishing effect on me. That was one of the first Broadway shows I have ever seen in my entire life, and I was so young when I saw it, so I can barely recall how I felt, but I just know that “The Lion King” was my favorite movie when I was a kid. … Working with them was really great. They were really professional, and I learned a lot of things just by being with them on set. I’ve never been in a recording studio to record an ensemble track, so that was a really awesome experience too. … I got to interact with the cast on set, which was awesome, too. This wasn’t my first time being on film or TV, but it was my first time being a part of something so large-scale, so it was really interesting to see all the factors. We had our own dressing rooms, and I got my makeup done and everything. It felt like I was being treated like royalty, and that was an amazing experience.
HF: You said that you were able to interact with a lot of the actors on set?
DJ: Definitely! … There was a scene where Titus had to walk through as we were stretching, and we said hi and got to interact with him. I got to sort of just watch him film the scenes, and to me, it was like getting paid to learn, so that’s awesome. This is a great motivation for me as an artist, too, because that’s what I want to do, so being able to see it happen firsthand was really cool.
HF: What was the most memorable part of being on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”?
DJ: I think it was when we were dancing in a circle around Titus. He was singing as Rafiki in “The Lion King,” and his voice is incredible. I was blown away by just being able to be on stage, sort of praising this god in a way, and I was like, “This is gorgeous.” The whole experience was full of melanin and full of culture and people who have shared experiences similar to mine, and it was so fulfilling to have that happen to me. It felt like my heart was full.
HF: How do you feel that your training at IC and other experiences that you may have had in the theater or acting field have helped you with being on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and other opportunities that you might have in the future?
DJ: I’ve been dancing since the fourth grade. Before that, I played baseball for about 14 years, but I was also dancing for eight of those years. There was one point where I made the switch and I was like, “I want to dance because I think it’s more fulfilling.” I went to LaGuardia High School in New York City, where I was a dance major there, so I spent about five days a week, three hours a day just dancing my heart out. That school changed my life and gave me the foundation for a lot of the skills I have today, along with creating relationships with people that I still have today. It also gave me a platform to work with. … I think coming to IC has allowed me to slow down and hone in what I need to work on and develop myself as an artist and as a person.
HF: What are your plans for the future?
DJ: I’ve got some huge news coming out. I don’t know when, and I wish I could say it, but I’m not allowed to. It’s a really big opportunity, and it comes full circle to me because it’s the first time I was introduced to theater and this is what I saw. … I’m also currently working on a show, “The Wild Party.” It’s a one-night-only show at the end of March that is basically a concert, but I’m actually doing the choreography for the show as well, so I’m pretty excited about that. You should also see “Little Shop of Horrors,” running April 24 to April 28. You may see a familiar face.