Fast Forward Friday with Phil Augusta Jackson

Phil_Augusta_JacksonFor this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed the multi-talented actor-writer-musician-comedian Phil Augusta Jackson. His writing credits include Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Survivor’s Remorse on the Starz Network, and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He’s received Emmy, WGA, and NAACP award nominations for his contributions on Key & Peele.  Phil was selected as a performer at the 2015 New Faces Characters Showcase at the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival. For more information about Phil, visit http://philaugustajackson.com/about/.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently writing for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a television series on the Fox network. I’m a co-producer on the show. It’s a cop workplace comedy starring a diverse and fantastic cast that includes Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Stephanie Beatriz, Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker. My job includes ideating new episodes, writing and re-writing scripts, and consulting on set as the episodes are filmed. 

As far as personal projects go, I just finished a short film called Long Lost, which I co-wrote and co-starred in with my friend and collaborator Aaron Covington. I also make music  – hip-hop with elements of R&B and spoken word – , and I just finished work on a new EP called New Palm Tree that I will be releasing in April. I’ve collaborated with director, Nic Stanch, and DP, Carlos Medina, to create two music videos to visually complement this EP as well.  

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

As far as Brooklyn Nine-Nine goes, I had always been a fan of the show. I moved out to Los Angeles from NYC at the end of 2013 to write for the sketch show Key & Peele and after wrapping that show wanted to get more narrative experience. I worked on a great show on the Starz network called Survivor’s Remorse which gave me my first professional taste of crafting narrative and after working on that show was fortunate enough to get an interview and land the job on Brooklyn Nine-Nine – I’ve written on season three and four of the show. 

As far as the personal projects go, I’m always looking to create work of my own to keep refining my voice. Also, at a basic level there is something very satisfying to me about finishing projects. Long Lost is an idea that came about while I was out at dinner with my friend Aaron. The movie Creed had just come out, and he co-wrote it. I was in the midst of working on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and we both felt like it would be cool to work on something together. We came up with an idea that night about the idea of two brothers meeting for the first time on a park bench. We wrote it over the course of a few months, and self-funded the project with no real goal but to create something and see it through to completion. 

And when it comes to the music, it’s something that I’ve been doing since I was in high school. It’s like my therapy. There is something so unique, challenging and rewarding about writing and creating music. I create music in waves, usually after or in the midst of life-changes. This new ep is pretty much inspired by my transition into Los Angeles, where I’ve been living the past three years. It’s five songs and I’m really excited for people to take a listen to it. 

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key – they are both geniuses and I was a huge fan of them both before getting hired to write on season four and five of their show. They are masters at collaboration, brilliant writers and performers, and all around good dudes. They also both have aspirations outside of comedy, and it’s fascinating and inspiring to see them both transcend the comedy genre that popularized them with such fluidity and ease. 

Basquiat – I love his art, and the documentary Radiant Child is amazing.

Rene Magritte – I love his art. I released a music album called False Mirrors several years ago and the idea for that album hit me when I saw Magritte’s False Mirror painting at the MoMa. It really spoke to me in a way art never had before.  

My parents – we are a product of our upbringing and my parents always encouraged me to think for myself and get stuff done. 

Anne Hathaway – she’s a great actress and I want to be a great actor. 

Jill Scott – I love her music. It’s so Philadelphia, and that’s where I’m from. She’s got her own flare and style and is so talented; musically she’s a genius. 

Kanye West — too much to get into, but I think Kanye is great. 

Ava Duvernay – she’s a trailblazer, and I hope to direct someday. 

Denzel Washington – he’s an icon. 

Edward Albee – The Zoo Story is one of my favorites — I read it as I was starting to realize that I really wanted to be a writer.  

There’s more, but those are the names off the top of my head. I will almost certainly regret some names that I can’t think of right now. 

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

I’m a huge fan of dialogue. Crafting scripts where the conversations feel real is something that I love to do – whether it be comedy or something more dramatic, I’m really drawn to things that feel like I could actually see happening, or see myself or someone else saying and experiencing. So that being said, listening to other people and their stories also keeps me motivated and inspired. And that is true whether it be a sketch, a pilot, a feature, making music or performing improv. 

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I have an indie feature that I wrote called Seven Days. My appetite for writing features has been growing steadily and I’m excited about the potential in this project. I’m sure there will be a lot of rewriting moving forward but it feels good to have a draft. 

I also started an improv collective called The Colin Kaepernicks. I’ve been studying improv for years and found am amazing group of people who are down to experiment with improv and what it can be. We often have sets that have a lot of tears followed by a lot of laughter – it’s cool playing with a comedic art form and inserting some drama into it while still delivering laughs when it feels right.  

Q:  What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

My first day writing for Key & Peele. Keegan came up to me and gave me a big hug. Jordan came over and gave me a high-five. And then 10 minutes later I pitched my first two ideas as a writer on the show. That moment still feels surreal and for me was a real moment of – “This is the very thing that I’ve been working towards. Now let’s not mess it up.” 

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Getting my supremely talented friends work. 

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

When it comes to writing, reminding myself to judge the draft and not judge the process. I can overthink things sometimes but it’s better to overthink once you have something to revise, so I try to stay out of my head while I’m writing, but it’s a challenge. 

When it comes to acting, I think the brutal process of auditioning. I’ve been performing for years, but there’s something about that audition room that I have yet to master. I’m working to get better all-around as an actor.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Taking trips to places I’ve never been before, and shaking up the “routine” in general keeps me connected to my creative self. I’m heading to Spain in a few weeks to vacation and to clear my head and experience culture like I never have. I’m pretty sure I will return with some creative ideas. 

I also take long walks – about five miles a day, sometimes more. I get a lot of ideas on these walks. It’s therapeutic and gives me time to think about an idea or just let my mind wander. 

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be? 

Self-doubt as an actor. Letting go of the unhealthy perspective that I wasn’t good enough for a role instead of the role just not being right. 

Also, not just telling myself what I want creatively but letting it be known to other people, including people that can actually assist in making it happen: i.e. sharing my vision. It feels crazy sometimes telling people what you think you’re capable of and I’m trying to get better about just letting it out without feeling odd about it. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

New York City.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Two people, Joseph and Oona Jackson, my parents. 

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Being a dope artist. 

Q:  If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Listener. 

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

The pumpkin loaf at Starbucks.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Don’t regret not going to law school, it will be one of the best decisions you ever make. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Fall and Spring in NYC. Winter and Summer in LA. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

Waking up and being happy. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Thank you for your time. 

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