Joseph David-Jones studied mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky because a career aptitude test pointed him in that direction. But after a few semesters, he realized the field wasn’t for him.
While exploring other options, Jones went to Lexington’s Images Model & Talent Agency to see whether he could earn some money while in school.
Images owner Janie Head said beginners often come to the agency, where they can take classes and learn skills to get work.
“The thing about JoJo (Jones) that I really like is his work ethic,” Head said. “He was so determined and really was a pleasure to teach.”
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Shortly after he arrived at Images, Jones competed at an International Modeling & Talent Association Convention, where he won actor of the year. After that, “the rest is just kind of history,” Head said.
Now, more than seven years later, Jones, who was born in Los Angeles but was raised in Florence in Northern Kentucky, has a role in “Detroit,” the new drama from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. He also had a role on the CMT drama “Nashville” and in the 2016 “Divergent” series entry, “Allegiant.”
“When I did the competition, I had no idea I was capable of what I’m doing now,” Jones said. He said he has heard people say it usually takes a new actor about five years to have his work be recognized, and he’s at that point now.
In “Detroit,” Jones played a singer in The Dramatics, a soul music vocal group. Jones, who plays the piano and guitar, said “it’s just worked out” that several of the characters in the roles he’s landed are also musicians.
Jones said “Detroit” is unlike any film he’s done before. He said none of the actors got full scripts to the movie, and to get a natural performance from the actors, director Kathryn Bigelow didn’t allow anyone too much time to prepare with their scripts.
The movie is set in Detroit in 1967, during the 12th Street riot, and it focuses on the Algiers Motel incident, recounting the torture and murders of three unarmed black men in the Algiers Motel by police officers.
Jones knew about the Detroit riots, but he didn’t know the details of the Algiers Motel incident.
“The main goal of this (film) is to educate about this particular event, to have this story told,” Jones said. “A lot of things get swept under the rug.”
Viewers will notice parallels between events during the riots and headlines today related to police brutality, he said. He hopes the film gives people a better understanding and an empathy for people in Detroit during the film’s period and for victims of racism today.
Jones recently finished filming “Roman Israel, Esq.,” an upcoming legal drama starring Denzel Washington.
Head said some of her former students get lost in their success, but Jones stays in touch and gives credit to Images for launching his career.
“I feel really good about what we do,” she said. “I think he’s a good example of what hard work and good training can do.”
If you go
Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language. 2:23. Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.