Get to know actor/podcaster Patrick Oliver Jones
Patrick Oliver Jones may be recognized for his co-starring roles in Blue Bloods and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. However, the road he took to get there was winding in ways many aspiring actors and actresses can learn from. Thankfully, Jones is more than happy to share more than a few anecdotes.
Jones is an actor/singer with 25 years of professional experience onstage, from musicals and straight plays to concerts and revues. Jones is also the producer and host of the Why I’ll Never Make It podcast, featuring honest conversations with creatives and challenging the notion of what it means to “make it” in the entertainment industry.
With such a lived experience in a field so often overlooked in an increasingly online world, we were lucky to share more than a few moments with the actor on what’s ahead for him.
When did you first fall in love with performance?
It was in the fourth grade when I was cast as the lead in a Christmas musical. I was a shepherd boy and had all these solos to prepare and scenes and that was the moment I knew I loved doing this.
While I enjoyed sports and competing, there was a different kind of energy onstage that I’d not found anywhere else. And also hearing that applause and the compliments afterwards can become very addicting. But really it was the music that did it for me, a chance to sing and express myself in a unique way.
What were some of your favorite shows and films growing up?
I actually didn’t see a lot of theater growing up. My first show was a national tour of CATS that came through Birmingham. And I did not like it. While my appreciation for dance has grown through the years, I’m still not fond of that musical.
On the other hand, I did see a lot of movies. I grew up in the era of SUPERMAN and Indiana Jones, and loved going on those adventures and imagining this life so exciting and different from my own. But FIELD OF DREAMS remains one of my all-time favorite films.
It meshed my love of baseball at the time and a glimpse at what fatherhood looked like. Growing up the only child of a single mother, that really stood out to me and captured my heart in a way few movies or shows had before or since.
Which actors would you say are your biggest influences?
Even though I wouldn’t consider myself to be a comedian, for some reason I’ve always been drawn to them as performers. There are the greats like Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and more recently Will Ferrell.
But top of the list for me is Ricky Gervais. Not only do I find him and his writing to be so viscerally funny, But I also love his story of not really finding success till his 40s. It shows that persistence and determination have as much to do with the trajectory of our careers as our talent does.
Belief in yourself is also crucially important. But as far as someone I would love to emulate, Patrick Wilson is the kind of actor I want to be when I grow up. He has found so much success onstage and onscreen, with a variety of roles and characters that I can only imagine has brought so much fulfillment and enjoyment to his own career.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
In the world of musical theater, I love listening to voices that range from Richard Kiley and Philip Quast to Rebecca Luker and Jennifer Hudson.
They have such ease and freedom as they sing and show such vocal power, whether in soft tender moments or in passionate 11 o’clock numbers. In the pop world, my interests are even more diverse, with an affinity towards Imogen Heap, Above & Beyond, Michael Bublé, and Oleta Adams just to name a few.
I’m drawn to those who not only show a skill with their voice or instrument but use them in a way to tell a captivating story and express ideas or emotions in powerful ways.
Do you think of yourself as an actor or a musician first?
While my voice is certainly what got me into performing and remains the main reason I’m cast in shows, in recent years I’ve grown more comfortable and dependent upon my acting abilities to convey character and connect with an audience. This has been in large part due to the increase of character roles I’ve gotten to play.
The leading man type does have a certain appeal to me, but it is these unique and rich characters that I really gravitate towards.
Can you tell us about how you got your start in the acting world?
While that shepherd boy I mentioned earlier was the first role I was cast in, it’s not really until the 11th grade and being cast as curly in OKLAHOMA! that I would consider my acting career to have started. That was when I first thought of acting as a viable career path, one that I can actually enjoy making money from.
Now, I had been doing school and church musicals for years, but it was this show that really bolstered my own confidence and belief in my own abilities. And afterwards I started looking for show opportunities and training that could improve my skills and help me find work going forward.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered early in your career, and how did you overcome it?
One of my earliest professional challenges actually came from a personal setback, when a relationship suddenly ended midway through my first performing contract after college. Handling the emotions of a breakup while still having to go on stage and perform was really tough. I was playing Lancelot in the musical CAMELOT, and portraying that confidence and singing those love songs were at times unbearable.
At one point in the show I actually broke down during a scene with Guinevere. I think and hope it came across as just a very emotional scene for the audience, but for me and the actress who knew what I was going through it was actually a very private moment that just happened to be on a public stage.
It taught me the importance of that adage “the show must go on” and to place equal importance on the job we’re given as actors as well as the very real issues that come up in our personal lives.
In this day and age where mental health has taken the front seat, and deservedly so, there must still be a place for us as actors who have been cast in these roles to perform them to the best of our abilities, finding ways to separate our personal lives from our professional careers.
Not only are paying audiences sitting there waiting for our performance, but the jobs of our fellow actors, stage technicians, managers, and producers are also dependent on us stepping up and fulfilling our artistic duties.
Certainly mental health is important and should be taken seriously, but I’ve also learned there is a balance to be struck between my personal needs and my professional obligations, and it is one that I take very seriously.
What do you love most about performing in the theater?
While my work onstage is certainly a big reason I chose this career, it really comes down to the friendships and relationships I form with my fellow artists. Getting to explore these stories and characters really builds a bond between us all that is hard to match in other industries.
Lifelong friendships have been made from these short contracts, where trust has to be built quickly but also deeply. That’s why the pandemic was such a blow to us, not just for the lack of work but also for the lack of these connections and friendships.
What’s your mission as an actor and creative?
It all goes back to that sense of connection again. I want the work that I do to connect with an audience, relate to them somehow and show them a life and a way of being that may not be familiar to them, but one that they can still identify with.
There is an energy of connection and community that can happen within the theater that provides a shared experience and understanding of common humanity. I think one of the ultimate desires of most of us is to know and feel that we’re not alone, and theater is one of the best places to find that much needed connection.
What do you consider the biggest success of your career so far?
While I’ve had contracts that paid more or lasted longer, one of my biggest successes was getting to play a dream role: Don Quixote in the musical MAN OF LA MANCHA. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows and I’ve actually been in four different productions.
But the one where I played the title character certainly stands out for me and is one that I’m very proud of. Fortunately, I have many years ahead of me to play this role again, and I look forward to revisiting the beautiful music of the show and the idealistic fervor of this character.
You host the podcast Why I’ll Never Make It. When did you first decide that was something you wanted to embark on?
It was actually in 2017 after working with another actor in the workshop of a musical that I had the idea of asking him to join me in creating a podcast. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to create, but I knew I wanted it to be bantering back-and-forth with entertaining conversations.
So we brainstormed and came up with what we wanted to talk about. It originally focused on conversations with everyday actors and the daily grind of this business, but after my co-host left, then the second season began to revolve around the challenges and setbacks we face as artists.
And in showcasing other actors and creatives like myself, I hope to show that none of us are alone in our thoughts and experiences in this business. We all go through hardships and it’s important to remind people of the light at the end of what can seem like a very long tunnel.
What’s the biggest thing you think young artists misunderstand about “making it”?
That success is a fixed idea rather than an ongoing journey. Making it can mean different things to different people, but it’s also important to recognize that it changes over time as well.
The things we want, the priorities in our life change as we go from our teens into our 20s and 30s and beyond. So while it’s important to set goals for yourself and work toward achieving them, it’s just as important to allow yourself the freedom and the grace to tweak those goals or change them completely.
And I think in some way this is a mark of making it, to recognize your own ability to pursue the life and career you want and have it be something very personal but also malleable to meet you exactly where you are at any given point in your life.
Do you think it’s easier or harder to “make it” in today’s highly digital world?
I definitely think it’s harder to figure out what success looks like today. Yes, there’s the likes and follows we receive, the podcast downloads from listeners, the picturesque moments from our life that we can share with others. But there can be so much focus on these superficial metrics, that the idea of what real success looks like can be difficult to figure out.
Because there are people with hardly any recognition or followers that are doing wonderful things in their communities for the people around them, while at the same time there are huge celebrities that offer us no real substance or meaning from their fame or status.
Being in a digital world certainly has its advantages with its ability to connect and inform so many people, but we can’t lose sight of the impact we are truly having on ourselves and the immediate people around us. That is where the truest and deepest successes can be found.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while working on the podcast?
I think it’s really shown me how much of a perfectionist and control freak I can be about certain things. I’m a stickler for audio (which is why it takes me hours to edit one episode), and I can get real nitpicky with the things that I write.
So I’ve had to learn a lot of patience and allow myself more grace when it comes to putting out episodes each week. But I think the hardest thing with podcasting that I wasn’t really ready for is the marketing aspect and trying to reach new listeners.
More than half my time is spent creating or promoting content that hopefully will be seen and shared by others, often with varying degrees of success. I am definitely still a work-in-progress when it comes to this aspect of podcasting, and one that I hope will get better and better with each and every season.
What do you really hope your podcast audience gets from listening to the show?
There’s a listener I have named George, who I’ve had the privilege to chat with on social media, and he sums it up perfectly. He told me that he gets a lot of inspiration listening to these big-name performers and recognizing that he faces some of the same problems. And that listening to my podcast inspires and motivates him to continually work to become a better artist himself.
I was really moved when he sent me that message and I’m extremely grateful to have listeners like that who understand what I’m trying to accomplish with my oddly-titled podcast and the assortment of guests I bring on.
Who are some creatives you think deserve more attention than they’re getting currently?
There’s been a recent push to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of understudies, swings, and standbys in theater.
This pandemic continues to affect the health and ability of leading actors to remain in their roles. And these behind-the-scenes performers are stepping into the limelight and knocking it out of the park. They are allowing shows to continue running and providing audiences with tremendous performances and a glimpse at the future stars of tomorrow.
So the next time you see a show where an understudy is going on for one of the principal characters, then get ready to see an amazing performance and the hard work of someone stepping into a role they were born to play.
Can you tell us about your upcoming event at The Green Room 42?
This is going to be my first-ever live interview for WINMI Podcast! I’m both nervous and excited to have an audience there as Emmy Winner Kevin Spirtas joins me on January 28th to talk about the own ups and downs of his career.
He’s known to many soap opera fans from his long-running performance on DAYS OF OUR LIVES as well as his time on Broadway as the standby for Hugh Jackman in THE BOY FROM OZ, among other shows.
It’s a full evening of singing and storytelling (accompanied by Eugene Gwozdz) as we walk through Kevin’s setbacks and successes in the entertainment business as both an actor and producer, particularly his award-winning series AFTER FOREVER and the death of his co-creator and writing partner Michael Slade.
This will be a chance to get to know another side of this multi-talented performer and creative, and people can join us either in-person or streaming online.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Post-production is wrapping up on a pilot episode I’m in called IMPOSTERS. It’s a great cast featuring the likes of Barton Cowperthwaite and Candace Maxwell. It’s dramedy set on a college campus, and I play the president of the school with a troubled father-son relationship.
It’ll be shopped around later this year with hopes of finding a home on one the streaming platforms. I’ll also be having my second live event in July with a panel discussion at BroadwayCon, the annual conference for all things Broadway and theater here in New York City.
I’m gathering previous podcast guests like Mykal Kilgore, Bianca Marroquín, and Hannah Elless to share their own unique journeys to Broadway and the bumpy paths to get there.
I do love the comfort of recording in my home studio behind a mic, but these chances to have a live audience will certainly give new energy to my conversations with fellow actors. I can’t wait!
Lastly, a question that might be impossible to answer. Can you tell us your top five musical theater songs?
Boy, that is a tough one, but if I had to choose I’d go with these in no particular order: “Find Your Grail” from Spamalot. Next would be “I Miss the Mountains” from Next to Normal. Next would be “Dulcinea” from Man of La Mancha. Next would be “Into the Fire” from The Scarlet Pimpernel. Finally, I would go with “How Could I Ever Know” from Secret Garden.
What else are you eagerly awaiting Patrick to take on next? Let us know in the comments. Would you love to attend the live interview? Tickets for the live interview start at $19. http://tickets.winmipodcast.com