Interview: Castle’s Tamala Jones on Her Career, the Show and One Line Auditions!

Despite having a résumé of starring roles in both films and television, Tamala Jones (Daddy Day Camp, The Tracey Morgan Show) still went into her audition for a new ABC pilot.

That audition called for her to say one line (one line!) in a show called, Castle.

She took that one line, booked the show, quickly became a series regular and is now an integral part of the show as Dr. Lanie Parish. How cool is that?

I talked to Tamala about how she got her start, that one line audition and how she gets that medical dialog memorized.

Castle airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC

You started out as a model. How did you transition into acting? Did you always wanna pursue it?

Tamala Jones: I always wanted to act so while I was doing the modeling stuff, I was always going to an acting class or an acting workshop and the one I ended up staying in the longest was this workshop that that everybody was in Brittany Murphy, Seth Green, Jamie Pressly. I mean we were all there and it was Ernie Lively’s acting class who is Blake Lively’s father.

They became managers and started managing most of us in that class and got as great agents and we started to just going to work. Doing little guest stars here and there once I started acting, I kinda like put the modeling the down little bit and focused more on acting and I just kept going, kept going and I kept working and I’m here.

So, it sounds like they helped you out a lot?

Tamala Jones: Yes they did. Do you remember them show The Wonder Years?

Oh yeah.

Tamala Jones: Jason Hervey, who played the older brother, his mom and Scott Grimes mom, they were managers and they were also friends of Ernie Lively. So when they became agents, Ernie took over the management and they became our agents.  And it worked out for the best because those two mothers really had a lot of connections in this business because of their sons. They’re still working and are great agents. I send people starting off over there all the time. And they work, they work. These women are powerful and they’re fantastic and if it weren’t for them and Ernie Lively, I don’t think my career would have shot off as smoothly as it did? Because it was like one, two, three, four and then I was on my way. It was really weird. But great. (laughing)

You’ve appeared in so many shows and films and you obviously have a huge fan base. Is it still a struggle to get parts or audition for projects you want to work on?

Tamala Jones:  I think it’s always gonna be a struggle to get parts that you want. I’m at a certain point in my career where things do get offered to me and I’ve taken some and some are just not worth going into because I’ve done it a million times already. So, I need to grow out of that and try to broaden my horizon in this business. The things that you want, you’ll always gonna have to go and audition and it’s never gonna be easy for you to say, “oh I want that give it to me.” Even Halle Berry for Monsters Ball had to convince Lee Daniels that she could play that role. Its about the things that you want and what you’re willing to do, how hard are you are you willing to try and make that happen.

Now let’s talk about Castle. When you first auditioned that part was either a guest star or recurring role?

Tamala Jones: Yeah it was a guest star with a possible recurring role if the show got picked up.

So how did you go from a guest star role to a full on series regular?

Tamala Jones: This role was not written for an African American actress and we knew the casting lady and she had cast me in a million things before. She allowed me to come in. She checked with the producers and allowed me to come in. I think I was really only black actress in the room. It was just one line.

One line?

Tamala Jones: One line. “Aren’t you Castle? Oh, I’m such a big fan.” And that was it. And then once I got the job, I got two more lines, which was cool.

We shot the pilot out of New York we had great time. I just had a good time and was warm with everyone. Stana [Katic] who plays Detective Beckett, she and I had been out in New York for a while and we needed some underwear. And we went to Victoria Secret and the kids that worked there recognized who I was and Stana was like, “Who are you?”

And I was like, “I’ve done a lot urban movies. They know me from those movies.” So she goes back and tell the producers and they’re all talking about it. Smash cut to the show being picked up, it’s a whole other pilot season and I’m still auditioning and about to go test for another show. And I think it was the influence of Stana letting them know the “star power” that I carry. We called and let them know that I was gonna test for something else when we heard the show got picked up and they said “No, you’re not you’re gonna be a series regular over here.”

I’m sure looking at my credit or whatever that helped them make the decision, but I truly believe that was a combination of my attitude, my work ethics, Stana saying what she saw and them going doing the research of who I was because they didn’t know either.

So at the end of the day, I really think its about being professional and having a great personality. I think that gets you a long way.

One line auditions are the hardest things ever to do.

Tamala Jones: (Laughing) They really are. Cause you don’t have a lot to work with. You only have one line!

Going from that one line, how did you go and create a full on interesting character that people like and want to see more of?

Tamala Jones: Well, I call it the Jaleel White/Steve Urkel package. He was only supposed to be a guest/possible recurring and he went there and he had something in his mind that he was gonna do with this character and people liked it and once the show aired they loved it. The fans loved it. So that’s what happened to him. He was just a recurring guest star into taking over the show. Now I definitely don’t want to take over Castle. That’s a hard show to do. You know, 8 days of shooting. But just to be a part of it and for them to keep involving me and keep making more out of my character that’s such a huge blessing.

What is it like to work with different director on each episode of the show versus the same director throughout a film?

Tamala Jones: I like it. We rotate a few directors that they really love and have worked with before and then we have guest spots. Directors that are new and you get to just learn different techniques and the way that different people see things differently. We’re used to Brian Spicer shooting a scene this way and then we get another director come in and its same sort of scene, let’s say the crime scene or whatever, and their camera angles a lot different. So, it’s like two brilliant minds working different ways and giving you amazing results.

I want to direct one day, so I really pay attention to what the directors are doing with the camera angles and whats the most important thing you could get out of the scene. And I think it’s great. It’s definitely a learning experience to me and I’m sure everyone else to work with different directors throughout the season.

It broadens your character too. They give you things that other directors that are usually there don’t give you because they’re used to seeing you there.  “Do that Lanie thing.” But when you get a new director there, they give you different things that they’ve seen watching the show that they wished you would have done more, you could have done more. And it’s great.

What are the struggles of learning the technical medical dialog. You’re so great at getting those words out of your mouth.

Tamala Jones: (laughing) If they only knew! It took me a while to get the rhythm of having to spew it out in such little time, it has to be fast and you have to pronounce your words properly and really know what you’re talking about. So I go to the medical encyclopedia dictionary and I am looking at words and what they mean and how to pronounce them and if I don’t get it I’m at work asking “what is this? How you say this?” I’m watching Dr. G Medical Examiner, I’m watching Forensic Files, I’m watching the First 48, I am everywhere. But then, I have to get it into the lines that are written. And those guys that I work with, they’re so patient with me. I finally got it now. But when I finally got it, they gave me a round of applause because I was stopping and starting so much. (laughing). They were like, “Yay, she got it!” It was a celebration and I was so embarrassed because, I mean, it’s a lot of pressure.

You have to get it out and you can’t say “I can’t do it”. You have to do it. And that’s why I love playing Lanie because she’s definitely a challenge as an actress. And you never wanna get comfortable doing one thing as an actor, you always want a great challenge and she’s that for me.

Yes it is difficult  to learn all those terminologies but once you figured out your rhythm on how to do that, and mine is singing it or rapping it and get it down. After I learn what I’m talking about. (laughing)

Singing it? That helps you memorize it?

Tamala Jones: Yes, because it’s so wordy. Like the other day, I was saying “the time of death” in one sentence and the next sentence after that was “the cause of death.” And I kept flip-flopping it, so I was like, “time of death, it’s a robbery. He was killed at 11:15. Hey! Sing it with me!”  I got to set, singing the song so I won’t mess up. Its the craziest thing but it works! (laughing)

What’s your advice to actors?

Tamala Jones: Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever give up and yes you’re gonna hear “No” a lot and you’re not gonna like it and no one likes to hear “no”. But somebody, one day, is going to say “Yes” and when they do, that’s your foot in the door.  The only thing you have to do after that is get  the rest of your body through there. Getting your foot through the door wasn’t easy and neither is getting the rest of your body in there. Like right now, I’m not fully through the door. I have half my body in there.  It’s a struggle, but nothing in life worth having comes easy. And if you really, really want this, you really, really have to want it. And not give up. I mean it’s like, not like you haven’t heard a “No” before.

You just have to stay at it and really do everything that you can to improve and take the constructive criticism and know what it is and how it can help you.

Because some people they’re gonna be jealous because maybe you got it and they just never could. And there’s some people, they’re gonna be able to see what you’re capable of and what’s inside of you. So you gotta learn what information to accept and what information to let go. Just keep going and don’t ever stop.

You can find Tamala on Twitter!