I met Robert Anthony Jones, or RAJ, as he is affectionately known, on the national tour of 101 Dalmatians. (My friendships from the show lasted much longer than the show itself.) I soon learned I was not alone in my adoration of RAJ. He knows and loves half of New York City. After years and years in the business, Broadway finally got hip to RAJ, and he made his debut in Finding Neverland. Shortly after it closed, he joined the touring company of Phantom of the Opera as Monsieur Reyer: a far cry from his stilt-wearing Dalmatian days as one of Cruella's henchmen. People who spend as many years in this business as RAJ has tend to become bitter and jaded: RAJ is just the opposite.
City Audition (CA): Where are you from originally, and when did you move to New York?
Robert Anthony Jones (RAJ): I'm from Islip, New York, which is a town on Long Island. But Long Island is so close to the city I feel like I've been there all my life.
CA: Did you study anywhere?
RAJ: I did study at Hofstra University on Long Island, and graduated with a BFA in Theatre Arts. Five of the best years of my life. Hahaha.
CA: What was your first paid acting job?
RAJ: A national tour of a condensed version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the now-defunct Biggs Rosati company.
CA: What was your first paid AEA theatre gig?
RAJ: I got my equity card playing Marcellus in The Music Man at my beloved Cherry County Playhouse, also now defunct. That's my jam, I work places and shut their asses down!
CA: What was your first gig in New York?
RAJ: My first professional gig in NYC was the off-Broadway production of The Prince and the Pauper at the historic Lamb's Theatre. It was a dream come true. I had been with the show for five years prior and in that time, they condensed the cast, so the one part I played turned into three different parts. So I had to audition for it all over again to see if I could do them all. One of my characters was a Cockney grandmother in London. I had two sandbag boobs. Didn't seem odd at the time.
CA: Tell me about an epic failure.
RAJ: This one isn't so much an epic failure as it is questioning all my life choices. Hahaha. I was auditioning for a traveling production of The Wizard of Oz. In this particular production, you had to travel to malls and blow up the sets...and then do the shows on an inflatable set...in a mall. I called to make an appointment. Their child picked up the phone and called for her mommy or daddy, saying someone wanted to audition. I got the appointment and went in for it. They wanted me to sing but didn't have an accompanist. So they just said, "Sing to the window if you feel awkward." I didn't feel awkward, but then I felt awkward because I didn't feel awkward, so I turned around and sang to the window. While singing "I Got Rhythm" to downtown Manhattan, I was really searching as for why I do this.
CA: But did you get it?
RAJ: I didn't book the job, but I'm pretty sure 39th and 9th felt like I should have.
CA: Tell me about an epic win.
RAJ: My epic win was the day I got my Broadway phone call. I went in for a call back for Finding Neverland. We danced and then read the sides. There were five of us there, all basically the same type. I left feeling fine, but not knowing if I got it or not. I went out with my friend and we were crossing 49th and 9th Ave. The phone rang, and it was my agent and she said, "You're going to Broadway." I crumpled like a $2 bill.
CA: When did you feel like you "made it?"
RAJ: It's so funny, I have been working consistently since I was out of college, but it wasn't until last year, when I stepped onstage for the first time at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre that I felt "I did it, I made it". Which of course was not the case, I had made it years before, but just reaching that lifelong dream made it a reality. I actually remember standing backstage in the wings the night before I went on and watching the nursery scene in Finding Neverland, and thinking about my father, who would have been so proud of me. I felt him by my side that night, and I just broke down into tears, so grateful that I was exactly where I was.
CA: Who were some people who helped you along the way?
RAJ: My parents, immeasurably. My husband has been literally my advocate for my career since the day we met. My sister, who got me into the profession, and my brothers. My godmother, as well as my entire family really. I am lucky enough to have an incredible support system. Also, my professor, Peter Sander, at Hofstra University. He unlocked an actor in me that I never even knew existed. I'm forever grateful for that.
CA: Did you have any bad habits that hurt you, either as an actor or as a person, or both?
RAJ: I'm actually very OCD and superstitious. I wouldn't call them bad habits though because they are a part of me.
CA: Ooh, what are they? Maybe I could borrow some.
RAJ: I'm too superstitious to talk about my superstitions. Even answering this is giving me the shingles.
CA: What did you feel not particularly well prepared for when you came to New York?
RAJ: I definitely didn't have the right material. I was singing lots of young leading male songs, when I've been a character actor literally since I popped out of the womb.
CA: I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people reading this are also character actors and don't know it. What first clued you in that you ought to be working on different material?
RAJ: WELL, my first clue was my man boobs. My second was that I realized that I was kind of funny. Growing up, my mom made me feel like I was a super model, so I always wanted the lead roles. And then I went in for Pirates of Penzance and DESPERATELY wanted Frederic. I got called back for Frederic and the Major General. After I finished Major General, they were all laughing and said "If you had one wish, what role would you wish for?" I said "Frederic." Awkward pause. Then quickly, "Or the Major General!!" To which the head guy said, "Well, at least I got one right".
My advice is embrace you. I would go in being someone I thought they wanted instead of who I am. I mean, we're all actors so we inhabit different characters. But I always try to put a little bit of myself into any part I'm playing. When you're auditioning with 30 other people who look JUST LIKE YOU, the most unique thing you can give them is you. I always take that Judy Garland quote; "I'd rather be a first rate version of myself then a second rate version of somebody else". I have so many friends who are like "I guess now I'm the old, fat roles." I'm like "Listen, you can go a lot of years on old and fat. I've been playing 60 year olds since High School. Guys!!!!! I got the Major General!!!!!!!).
Character actors are in demand. If you can create a niche for yourself that's uniquely you, you're golden. My niche, you ask? My back hair.
CA: Did you ever have a moment serve as a wake-up call?
RAJ: I was in a job right before I got Finding Neverland that I was just miserable at. I was watching my Broadway dream drift further and further away. I would wake up and just be so sad. But then, and you're going to think this is crazy, I had a dream where my father came to me and hugged me for what seemed like forever, and he whispered into my ear, "Everything is going to be fine." So that wasn't so much a wake-up call as it was a calmness I found to say "Ok, I can get through this."
CA: Did you ever want to quit?
RAJ: All the time.
CA: What kept you going?
RAJ: Nothing would ever make me happy as what I'm doing now.
This profession is hard, impossible at times. There is a grind to it, and it can get tiresome. There are some people who aren't as kind as others. You have to develop a thick skin because you're rejected on a daily basis. Bottom line: we're all human. But when I walked out the door on opening night of Finding Neverland, and there was a crowd of people cheering, including 30 of my family and friends, and I got to hug my husband, who was crying and saying "You did it," ...that is why I never quit.
CA: What do you love and hate about the theatre industry?
RAJ: I love the camaraderie of a cast. I love getting into a show, and by the time you come out, you've become a family. They're not all like that, but many of them are. I have some of my best friends still from things like a two-week gig in West Virginia.
I don't like to say "hate" about anything, but I'm not a fan of or any good at "networking". I think your work should speak for itself. If I'm talking to you, it's because I want to, not because I think it's going to advance my career.
CA: You say that, but you literally know and love almost everybody. Maybe the key is working from an honest and cheerful place!
RAJ: I do believe that has a LOT to do with it. In this profession, we have to field a LOT of BS being hurled at us. If you do it with a positive attitude, you make a shift in the room. You make it a safe place for other people too. That's my favorite. Be kind. Don't be a doormat, but understand there are a lot of different people and personalities. People will always want to work with you.
You can follow RAJ on Twitter and Instagram at @justcallmeraj. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, RAJ!!!