A native New Yorker came to Michigan to make it big in films.
By Lynne Konstantin
Photos provided by Paris Jones
Paris Jones had his first taste of the spotlight at age 3. His mom, Mable Elliott, had an acting and dance troupe, the Symbols of Love, in New York City. During one night’s performance, Paris ran out on stage, to applause.
His next experience on stage was a bit more up-close and personal.
“She studied dance and did these one-woman shows,” says Jones, 38. “We traveled all over the U.S. When I was 10 or 11, she put me in one of the shows, acting and dancing.
“That was my first breakout,” he laughs. He knew then that this was something he wanted to pursue.
Jones, born and bred in New York City, lives with his wife and three kids in Livonia. He and business partner, Andre J. Ray, are currently receiving raves in Metro Detroit for their short film, Elevated Remedies.
Focused and determined, even in sixth grade, Jones began work on his newfound dream. He attended I.S. 44 Junior High, an Upper West Side school of the arts that incorporated art, dance, singing and drama. When it came time to pick his elective focus, he says, “I chose acting, 100 percent.”
He then was accepted to the Talent Unlimited High School. It was an honor, but students weren’t allowed to perform until senior year.
“When I was in 11th grade,” Jones says, “my mom asked me, ‘Is this really what you want to do? Do you really want this?’
“She told me about a new program at Repertory Company High School.” The school’s new curriculum offered students six months with no academics — strictly performing arts.
“Not all parents were happy about it,” he says. “But my mom …”
He enrolled in the middle of 11th grade and began performing immediately. “Half of the kids I went to school with are on TV,” he says. “Game of Thrones, Gotham. That curriculum could have been a big fail. But the ones who really wanted it are working. It pushed us hard. It gave us the focus.”
It gave Jones the confidence to audition for Anna Strasberg at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York — where he was awarded a scholarship. “I did two monologues,” Jones says. “One was from Antigone and the other, my friend and I wrote.
“To get accepted by Anna Strasberg was huge,” he says. “Robert DeNiro, James Dean, Marlon Brando — they all studied Method. It was crazy.”
At the time, an emcee known as D. Brown, working with Star Trax Events, was huge in Detroit. “He was flying back and forth, studying acting at Strasberg, and I met him in class,” Jones says. “We became acting partners, and he says to me, ‘Man, I think you’d be phenomenal.’ I had no idea what he did, what this business was. I’d never heard of a bar mitzvah. That was 1999.
“At first I was focused on my acting,” Jones says. “But I decided to check it out — it’s in entertainment, I was 19 years old and I could make good money. So, I went to check out a bar mitzvah — and I fell in love with it.”
As an emcee at Star Trax, Jones’ job is to ensure guests at a party — wedding, bar or bat mitzvah, corporate event — get up on the dance floor and have the time of their lives. It’s a talent that can be honed with practice, but ultimately comes from within. And Jones was a favorite at Star Trax from the start. An innate, magnetic and enigmatic energy draws party guests to him on the dance floor, making them want to be a part of his exclusive world. And he makes sure they have fun — all ages, hundreds at a time.
Bottle up that draw and burst it on a movie screen, and there is Paris Jones’ talent as an actor. But he wasn’t acting.
“I loved what I was doing,” he says. “But I wasn’t doing what I intended to do.” He got calls for auditions in L.A. and New York, wanting him to come in the same day, but he couldn’t. He went to L.A. for a month, got a feel for the climate there, then returned to Detroit for three years of extra work and learning on the sets.
“But I realized that what I really wanted was to create my own opportunity,” he says. He decided to start his own production company, Paris Films.
Though not a writer, Jones began writing down concepts. Then a friend called. She was helping out the Motion Picture Institute in Troy, acting as a casting director for student films.
“I said, ‘No, I’m done with student films,’” Jones says. Then he told her to send the script anyway.
“I was blown away,” he says. “I thought, this 18-year-old kid is a genius. So, I auditioned for it.”
The kid, Andre J. Ray, loved Jones in turn, and wanted him for his film.
“Student films never have any money for decent production,” Jones said. “I told him I was starting my own production company, and the script deserves to be shot the right way.” Foggy Relations was the first film the pair pushed as partners.
Ray, who acts as writer, director and co-producer, and Jones, who is actor and co-producer, have a similar vision for their company: “We want good characters, good stories and social awareness,” Jones says. “We want real-life situations that people can relate to. We don’t want to hit people over the head with an ‘issue’ or produce a PSA, but we want it to have meaning. The bottom line is we want to entertain people.”
Elevated Remedies, just released in late May, is all that. It opens with a man sitting in a car with a gun in his mouth. The man hears a noise in the parking structure and sees another man preparing to jump off the roof. Instinct kicks in, and the first man forgets his intentions in order to save the second man.
Co-starring Jones and actor Mark Rodriguez (who happens to be his brother-in-law), the film allowed Jones to realize he was born to produce.
“I’m an actor first, but I really love the creativity and control that comes with producing,” he says. “Andre and I are always talking about what we can do that hasn’t been seen yet. Mental health is an issue that hasn’t been touched on a lot, and it’s not talked about a lot in the African American community. If it’s an all-black cast, or an all-Chinese cast, or whatever, it becomes limited to a specific audience. We wanted to present it in a way that it could speak to anyone, from any culture or community.
“It’s about watching a good movie.” NS