What inspired you to become an entertainer in such a competitive industry?
I was inspired to become an entertainer in this industry because I love stories and storytelling. My big sister was the one who initially had the courage to step on to a stage. Back in the day, I would follow her anywhere. She was the courageous one. I saw her in a play while we were in high school, Shiloh High School, and the seed was planted. Later, my Senior year, I would find myself in an audition for a musical. Once On This Island, next I was cast as PaPa Ge in the production. I loved it.
However, it wasn’t until much later that the power of storytelling and my part in it would be made clear.
I was changed by the craft of Acting. The relentless curiosity it requires of me, and the empathy it breeds. I believe in the power of stories, and of the purpose of the storyteller. So, for me, it is something, a craft I am called to. A way of serving my community, and the people whose stories I am fortunate enough to embody. As far as the industry being competitive, which it is, I try not to engage in it through the lense of competition in its most rigorous sense. I don’t believe in Scarcity. I believe there is a pot big enough for everyone, and I believe that even if there is a role I feel called to, if it doesn’t end up in my hands to steward there is purpose in that. What is for me won’t. pass me by, so I best be ready to show up and do the work when the time comes.
Tell us about your process in selecting a role.
My process in selecting a role is very much rooted in auditions and the process of sending in tapes, then doing callbacks, then tests, then offers. I have been on the receiving end of few ‘straight offers’ in my career thus far. At least when it comes to TV & Film. That day will come in due time. However, to get back to the question, I am ‘drawn’ or ‘connected’ to certain roles. I read them and the ‘resonate’ with me for whatever reason. Most times I trust that gut response, and in the process of doing the ‘reason’ or ‘purpose’ becomes clear. Other times I send in tapes for roles that don’t necessarily resonate in my soul space, but they provide other opportunities. Collaborative, monetary, a physical challenge. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been building a body of work with an assortment of roles that ‘resonate’ with me as an actor, and allow me to live inside of stories that align with my goal of cultivating healing, connection, and empathy through specific and courageous stories.
Tell us about your character on P-Valley.
My character on P Valley’s name is Big Teak, Thaddeus was his government name. He is a gay, southern, black man. One who experienced a great deal of trauma as a child, and spent years in prison as an adult. Including extended amounts of time in the hole. When we meet him in the show he is being released from prison and sees his Ace, Lil’ Murda, along with Woddy, another one of the homies. In Big Teak’s story we see a man trying to assimilate into the world after being taken out of it for quite some time. A world that has moved on without him. Along with relationships that have done the same. Big Teak and Lil’ Murda were lovers in while incarcerated. They were each other’s rose in the midst of thorns, and Teak looked forward to reconnecting with Murda upon release. However, Lil’ Murda’s affection moved on to another Uncle Clifford. Big Teak is a character filled with Love and Joy, and also wrought with scars and the ghosts that come along with them. Teak was mentally and emotionally afflicted as well, without any of the tools we take for granted today. No therapist, or way to process the traumas of the past, let alone the traumas of the present. A soft and sensitive soul in a world not built for him.
What preparation did you do for that role?
Preparation for the role began with the Text. P-Valley, Katori, our writers, top down, it all begins with the text, and the mind and heart space of Katori Hall. There was work with dialect, body, imagination, and research into what Teak had lived through. The process varies for every character, most, for me, make themselves known in some way distinctly. Teak was very musically driven.
What does success look like for you?
Success for me looks like telling incredible stories. Stories that reflect the world that we live in, and a world that we can aspire to. That can be through drama, like P-Valley, or musicals like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, or animation, or Romantic Comedies or or or, I mean there are so many different kinds of stories to tell. Success to me also very much looks like telling stories that reflect specific facets of specific black lives. Black people are not monolithic, we have so many kinds of stories we have yet to tell. I want to be a part of those. I want to live in the worlds, I want to create the worlds, I want to facilitate the creation of said worlds. Success also looks like freedom. Freedom to tell the stories I want, with whom I want, how we want. Freedom to take risks in various mediums. Success also looks like doing the work. It all boils down to that at the end of the day, all the lofty ideas and ideal converge into moments where we show up prepared to engage and hold space for magic in an courageous effort to mine the truth.
What advice would you give someone who seeks to work in the entertainment industry?
The advice I would give to anyone in the entertainment industry is probably don’t take my advice. I jest, but the truth is your path is going to be different from mine, different from anyone else’s. I had a friend tell me one time, ‘Remember that everything I say, the opposite is also true.” It was so frustrating, but the longer I live the more I see its value. There are so many paths to any destination, and whatever destination you set as a goal, it will evolve and change. Sometimes once you get there, other times before. you get there. I say remain curious, stay in conversation with yourself about what you want because wants can change and evolve. If you want to engage in a specific part of the ‘entertainment industry’ learn about it. I’d also say this, in terms of curiosity, notice what lights you up and be willing to explore why.
Where would you like your career to be in the five years?
In the next five years I want to have continued building a legacy of playing complex, interesting characters that span varying genres. I want to star in both big studio/franchise films as well as mini series and gritty indie fair. I want to be a NYT best selling author. I want to release an album. I want to have established myself in the industry as a successful multihyphenate. Creating the runway to tell the stories and facilitate the telling of stories I love.
John can be seen on the sophomore season of the Starz! crime drama series, P-VALLEY as Big Teak, created and written by Katori Hall. John starred on NBC’s ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST as Simon alongside Jane Levy and Skylar Astin. He reprised his role for a holiday-themed, feature-length film based on the Emmy-winning show, ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY CHRISTMAS which aired on RokuTV this past holiday season. John can also be seen on the Netflix anthology series WHAT/IF opposite Renee Zellweger. Prior to that, he recurred on both seasons of the Netflix / Marvel series LUKE CAGE. His other television credits include HAWAII FIVE-0, THE GOOD FIGHT, BLUE BLOODS, THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA, and GOTHAM.
John Clarence Stewart