Today, Lexington native Jeremy Gillett is a working actor in Los Angeles, booking commercials and feature film work in addition to producing his one man show Black and 25 in America. This weekend, local audiences can see him on stage in David Mamet’s Race, produced by BCTC theater program.
But just a decade ago, Gillett was struggling to find a sense of purpose.
A point guard who played for Tates Creek High School, Gillett had always identified as an athlete, not an artist.
“Basketball was all I knew from a young age,” Gillett says.
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After high school, a stint playing basketball for the Jarvis Christian College in Texas, a historically black college, ended early when he didn’t keep his grades up.
So, he came home to Lexington and enrolled in Bluegrass Community and Technical College, but he didn’t know what he wanted to study or who he wanted to become. For the first time in his life, he knew those answers would have nothing to do with basketball.
“I didn’t know what my next step was without basketball,” Gillett says. “I didn’t know how I would contribute to society or what I was good at. Basketball gave me a purpose and an identity. That purpose and identity was removed from my life, and I needed to fill that void in my heart, in my life”
An academic advisor at BCTC suggested Gillett take at least one class for fun and steered him toward BCTC’s brand new theater program. Gillett enrolled in an acting class taught by the program’s director Tim X. Davis, but it wasn’t until he found himself acting in the classroom — and later, onstage — that Gillett began to see a new purpose and identity unfolding.
“I found myself in this class enjoying the interaction between Tim and myself and other students,” Gillett says. “His whole aura, his whole presence, how he conducted the class and the program — it was new and fresh, and he was excited about it.”
It didn’t take long for Davis to encourage Gillett to audition.
“That moment I stepped into our first day of rehearsal is when joy and identity began to fill in my heart and grow,” says Gillett, who completed the theater program at BCTC before transferring to UK, where he earned a degree in theater.
Gillett’s appearance in Race, a courtroom drama in which three attorneys, two black and one white, explore their feelings about race while defending a racially-charged case, is part of a celebration of the the 10th anniversary of the BCTC theater program. Gillett appears along with Davis and fellow program alums Meredith Crutcher and Eric Henninger.
Gillett went on to earn his MFA in theater and film from Arizona State University. During his studies there, he secured a prestigious internship with the Broadway League and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. Gillett’s New York experience steered him on a path to the business side of theater, prepping him to step into a career as a manager of touring Broadway shows.
But in Gillett’s final year of his MFA program, he was cast in the feature film Car Dogs, where he worked alongside recognized industry names like George Lopez and Nia Vardalos.
“I had a very good supporting role, and I was on set every day,” Gillett says. “It was my first big set, my first paycheck.”
After graduation, Gillett found himself facing a choice many theater professionals face: New York or Los Angeles?
New York would put Gillett on producing and managing path for the stage, while his L.A. efforts would be acting for the screen.
“I chose to go with the acting side,” says Gillett.
Since moving to L.A. in 2014, Gillett has landed an agent, booked two national commercials, scored roles in feature films and performed his play, Black and 25 in America, at the E Spot Lounge, a popular entertainment venue run by Sheila E.
Gillett says the key to his success is perseverance and focusing on small successes.
“If you even get called in for the audition, that is a success. If you get a call back, even though you don’t get the role, that is a success. So you have to chart your individual successes because no one is going to just magically be on the big screen,” Gillett says. “If you can’t embrace the small victories on the way to your ultimate goal, then you will not make it.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If You Go
What: BCTC Theatre production of David Mamet’s play.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 3-5.
Where: Farish Theatre, Central Library, 140 E. Main St.
Tickets: $12 general admission, $10 students; cash or check only at the door.