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SIMPLY JESSICA: Jacob Ming-Trent discusses Showtime’s ‘White Famous’

Jacob Ming-Trent looked out the large window of the Greyhound bus he was on. He wasn’t concerned that he was a 17-year-old boy leaving Pittsburgh for the first time in search of an acting career.

He was about to begin his acting studies at Stellar Acting Conservatory in New York and the Public Theater Shakespeare Lab.

“New York embraced me 20 years ago,” Ming-Trent said.

It was Rosemarie Tichler, head of casting for public theater, who gave the teen boy the added confidence he needed to chase his dreams.

“Rosemarie convinced me that I needed to act,” Ming-Trent said. “She is a 26-year-veteran of Off-Broadway Public Theater. I still run into her from time to time in New York. She really was a huge inspiration in my life.”

Ming-Trent is now on Showtime’s “White Famous,” a collaboration between show runner and writer Tom Kapinos (“Californication”) and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, based on Foxx’s personal experiences coming up in the business.

The show focuses on the comedian, Floyd Mooney (Jay Pharoah), whose star is rising, forcing him to navigate the treacherous waters of maintaining his credibility as he begins to crossover toward becoming “white famous.”

The series is written and executive produced by Kapinos, and executive produced by Foxx, who has guest starred in a recurring role. Cleopatra Coleman plays Floyd’s ex-girlfriend Sadie, the love of his life and the mother of his son. Utkarsh Ambudkar plays Malcolm, Floyd’s frustrated agent who wants his client to do whatever it takes to make it big.

Ming-Trent plays Ron Balls, a mailman on the show. He is Floyd’s best friend, muse and roommate since Floyd split with his baby mama. Balls is level headed and wise. Floyd relies on his advice for everything. Balls is in love with all kinds of food that he loves to talk about on the show.

“Ron Balls is a grounding force for Floyd Mooney,” Ming-Trent said. “The relationship runs deep. I think that it’s one of the better parts to the show.”

It is Balls’ take on life that makes him a unique character to play.

“Balls is an everyman kind of guy,” Ming-Trent said. “He has a way of understanding the world that is very simple. He knows how to block out the noise. Balls is a lot like me with some differences. I don’t go to work stressed out wondering how am I going to take this great leap today.”

Floyd and Ron share a meal in a scene from ‘White Famous.’ (Photo by Michael Desmond/Showtime)

The theater actor doesn’t consider himself to be a comedian.

“I have a master’s in acting,” Ming-Trent said. “I come from doing Shakespeare and Shaw. I have pursued a career on stage for 20 years. I don’t consider myself a comedian but I do comedy.”

Ming-Trent isn’t a comedian but he enjoys working with them.

“Jay Pharoah is easy to work with,” Ming-Trent said. “Jay does impressions and he is a stand-up comedian. Stand-up comedians are sensitive. I don’t mean their feelings are easily hurt, but a stand-up comedian is in tune to what is going on around him. He listens to people in a way that is unique.”

Ming-Trent points out the differences in him and Pharoah.

“Jay and I come from two different backgrounds,” Ming-Trent said. “We bring the same level of discipline to what we do. ‘White Famous’ is an engaging place to work with really intelligent people which was great for the work. It was fun to discuss the script as a group and go through that process with them.”

Ming-Trent’s favorite colors are black, blue and rust orange.

“If I say black only is my favorite color and when I hear myself say it then I think what is going on with this person’s soul,” he added. “I like black because I like the simplicity of it.”

His favorite food is sushi. He has a routine that he does every day.

He goes to the juice shop to get a beet juice with cucumber.

“After I leave the gym, I have sushi,” Ming-Trent said. “I’m the healthiest fat man you will ever meet. I have given up red meat and dairy.”

Ming-Trent has been acting since he was 11.

The other loves of his life are the Pittsburgh Steelers and music.

“I’m working on an album,” Ming-Trent said. “Music has been with me since I was a child. I am not so up to date on what just came out this month but I’m always going back further and listening to the blues and classical music. I enjoy listening to Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix. I love what Jimi did for the guitar. I’m also a fan of Robert Johnson and Son House.”

Ming-Trent only reads non-fiction books.

Floyd and Ron have a conversation in ‘White Famous.’ (Photo by Eddy Chen/Showtime)

“‘The History of God’ by Karen Armstrong changed my life,” Ming-Trent said. “It changed my life spiritually. I grew up in the church. It really freed me from the shackles from my upbringing with religion. I’m still spiritual and a man of faith. The book allowed me to have more imagination about my faith. ‘Flying Close to the Sun’ by Kathy Wilkerson is another book that I really enjoyed reading. Politics also fascinate me. In 2008, I went door to door for Barack Obama.”

Ming-Trent explains what the title of the show means to him.

“The title ‘White Famous’ can mean different things to different people,” Ming-Trent said. “For me, the title struck me because when I was in high school in the 90s, the term ‘White Famous’ was thrown about because for us that was the ultimate goal for a performer of color. “If you became white famous then you were as white famous as Tom Cruise or Matt Damon. Only a few black actors had gotten to that level. Denzel Washington was one.”

He explains what white famous means to contemporary performers.

“We have to ask ourselves what is white famous for the modern-day performer,” Ming-Trent said. “I bring up that title to Floyd because he is struggling with that and does he accept the term of white famous.”

Foxx has a huge influence on the television show.

“The show is based loosely on Jamie Foxx’s career,” Ming-Trent said. “Jamie has a lot of influence on the show. He was in two episodes with us. Jamie watches everything that we film and do on the show.”

Ming-Trent is having a blast on “White Famous” but the theater actor favorite thing to do is Shakespeare in the park in New York.

“The public theater does two Shakespeare plays,” Ming-Trent said. “I have had the opportunity to be on that stage three times. It is a 2,000-seat outdoor theater. You have the wind blowing and helicopters flying over. It is the most magical thing that I get to do.”

Ming-Trent wants to work on projects that change people.

“Cave men would kill and then they would tell stories,” Ming-Trent said. “Those stories would change what they did the next day. I want the projects that I work on to help change the way people talk to their friends. I want to make people laugh and feel good.

“The second thing that is important to me is that people that come behind me have a clearer path about the instructions of how to do this. I hope this one day becomes more about how good one is than anything else. This will never be easy because anything worth having is not easy.”

Ming-Trent was recently seen as Mose in AMC’s “Feed the Beast.” He also has appeared in “Law & Order,” “Bored to Death,” “30 Rock,” “Unforgettable” and “Forbidden.” On Broadway, he has appeared in “Shrek the Musical.” His Off-Broadway credits include “Twelfth Night,” “Father Comes Home From The Wars” and “The Tempest.”

Be yourself! I’m Simply Jessica JcAden. You can reach me at jess.gosnell@gmail.com.