Let me be honest. The idea of interviewing Jill Marie Jones was a bit nerve wrecking. I was a huge fan of Toni Childs, the unbridled and materialistic real estate entrepreneur from the hit television show, Girlfriends, and it was hard for me to separate fantasy from reality. “Is she really a diva?” “What if she hears that I’m totally nervous and thinks my questions are trivial?” “Will she not want me to ask anything about the show?” But to my pleasant surprise, what I got was the exact opposite. It was literally like talking to one of my BFFs. She opened up and we dished on everything—from men and soap stars to the entertainment industry and the perception of skin color in America. All in all, Jill is as classy, tough, funny, and candid in her screen roles as she is in real life.
Q: How are things going for you these days?
JMJ: Things are really good! I can’t complain.
Q: So let’s just jump right in at the beginning. You started your career as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. They’re one of the most famous dance teams in the world—not to mention a pretty tough squad to make. How would you describe that experience?
JMJ: It was amazing. It enabled me to travel the world at a young age, at 18. We did a lot of work with the USO and USDD, and went all over the world—Israel, Korea, Egypt and Japan. I think I tried out with 1400 girls, so it was a huge thing! I have girlfriends to this day that I cheered with. It was a great experience.
Q: Did it help open any doors in terms of pursuing a career in entertainment?
JMJ: It didn’t necessarily open doors, because it’s so different. In any way, I can say it helped me because I was kind of shy when I was younger. Cheering for that many people out there on the field helped me with my stage presence. I remember when I first moved to L.A., I didn’t want anyone to judge me like, ‘oh, she’s a cheerleader, she’s not an actress.’ And it wasn’t that I was embarrassed about being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. That wasn’t the case at all. Then one of the first talk shows I did, they brought it up, and I talked about it. It was in that moment I realized, ‘this is who I am and I’m proud of it.’ I just didn’t want to be pre-judged before I had an opportunity.
Q: Was it easy getting acclimated to the L.A. scene or did you feel like a fish out of water?
JMJ: Again, that’s why I think if you can travel at a young age, it’s such a great education. I didn’t think there was a difference between ‘me’ in Dallas and ‘me’ here in L.A. I’ve also lived in Chicago and Miami for a bit as well. But traveling the world, and seeing different cultures and the way people live really helped me a lot.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to perform?
JMJ: It’s interesting. In life, I believe we choose what we’re doing. If you talk to my mother, her stories are so funny because apparently it was always in the cards for me to be doing what I’m doing right now. I grew up watching ABC soaps—my grandma loved ABC soaps! I grew up watching Erica Kane, Jenny from All My Children, Frisco and Felicia’s wedding on General Hospital, and my mom said I used to repeat Susan Lucci’s lines. She might say, ‘oh my goodness,’ and I would repeat ‘oh my goodness!’ in the same way she would.
Q: If you could play any character—on television or in film—who would it be and why?
JMJ: That would be Diana Ross—hands down. She’s literally one of the reasons I’m an actress. She’s the first brown woman I saw as an actress. When I saw her I knew it was possible.
Q: You’re scheduled to hit the silver screen soon—tell us about your upcoming projects.
JMJ: Well, I have a film coming out this month called The Perfect Holiday, and that’s with Queen Latifah, Terrance Howard, Morris Chestnut and my girl Gabrielle Union. It was an amazing cast and I had a really good time!
Q: What are some of the things you had to get used to with filming a movie versus a television show?
JMJ: For one, it took me to New Jersey, away from my home. Also in film, there’s a lot of downtime. TV shows normally move a lot faster. But I enjoy it, though. I really enjoy the research. I enjoy breaking down the character. It’s cool to have a character down, and explore it and you play them for two months. Then you get to go and do something else.
Q: I have a Girlfriends question. How much of Jill did we see in Toni Childs, or would you say the two are like night and day?
JMJ: I created Toni from various people I know. She wears her heart on her sleeve, everything is right there. With us, I think her insecurities and human side are the most similar. But, I don’t even think we look alike! I have a very funky couture style . . . Sienna Miller, Diana Ross in Mahogany. I love putting vintage with some really hot ‘now’ shoes, and mix and match. Really funky. Toni is very posh, so we’re quite different.
Q: You always look red carpet ready—like you’ve never picked up a Krispy Kreme doughnut a day in your life. Do you follow a strict diet and exercise regimen, or do you just attribute it to good genes?
JMJ: I wish (laughs). Girl, you should see me now! No, but the thing about living in California is there are a ton of mountains and it’s always beautiful weather! I hike, I box. And you know what? My house has literally 47 steps to get up to the front door—no joke! I feel like any day I couldn’t get to the gym, I can go up and down a couple times and feel like I’ve done some work.
Q: Now that we’re talking about body image, I think it’s important that young girls are shown that beauty doesn’t come in a standard package. Growing up, I can remember feeling inadequate compared to what I saw on television and in magazines. Did you ever feel pressure to look or act a certain way to gain acceptance when you were younger?
JMJ: It’s crazy, but I really didn’t. I have to say I never really felt that way. In my elementary school I was one of three black children, and then bussing happened in the 5th grade, then everyone looked like me. That was kind of my life growing up. Everybody looked like me, and it was fine. It wasn’t until later in life when I talked to my girlfriends and they talked about that light skin/dark skin thing.
Q: In that same vein, you often hear Black and Latina actresses talk about the challenges of working in Hollywood. Have you experienced any not-so-ideal situations since starting out in your career?
JMJ: Of course, but I have to say I’m very blessed because I’m living my dream. I left Girlfriends coming on two years, and I’m still working. I’ve heard things, “I’m not black enough” or “you’re too this, you’re too that.” Knock on wood it hasn’t stood in my way.
Q: So, are you single and loving it or happily off the market?
JMJ: Well, newly single—and loving it (chuckle)!
Q: When it comes to men, what are some definite turn ons/offs in your book?
JMJ: No ambition is a turn off. I like a man who has something to do. Someplace to be.
Q: I hear you! For instance, why would it be okay if I’m out making things happen, and my man is content with just sitting around all day?
JMJ: It’s not even attractive in my friends. I just find it unattractive all around. As far as what turns me on (pause) goals and aspirations are very sexy to me. I want someone to make me laugh. Respect is a turn on . . . and a must.
Q: How do you unwind after a long stint of shooting?
JMJ: Spend time with my girls. I like projects, so I normally throw myself into things around the house. I’ve come to love The Home Depot.
Q: What is your definition of success?
JMJ: Success could be the birth of a child; it could be some beautiful words that you gave to someone and it turned their day around. Success is being a good person and being responsible. If someone can live their life greater because you have lived, I think that’s success.
Q: One last thing. You’re headed to a red carpet event, or meeting friends for a night out on the town. What’s in your clutch?
JMJ: My credit card, ID, my crackberry, this minty lip gloss I like that you can put on your lips and you don’t need to chew gum—I think chewing gum is tacky on a girl when she’s out! Those are probably the must haves. If the crackberry doesn’t fit, then we can’t take that purse!
Photo Credit: Michael Powers