Jojo Gonzalez is currently featured in the world premiere of Mlima’s Tale, written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage at the Public. This is his fifth show at the Public having previously appeared in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A and 365 Days/365 Plays, and Richard III.
Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale takes us on a journey that starts in a game park in Kenya and goes around the world. The play follows the story of Mlima, a magnificent elephant trapped in the clandestine international ivory market. Following a trail of greed and desire as old as trade itself, Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, and want and need.
We had a chance to chat after a preview performance over cocktails at The Library. In Mlima’s Tale, Gonzalez plays 5 very distinct characters – Geedi, Fu Goixi, Capt. Ramaaker, Thuy Fan and Li Jun.
Lia: What was the audition process for Mlima’s Tale?
Jojo: We were asked to prepare to do 4-5 different characters. Must have a difference in voice and physicality…but you didn’t know which ones you were going to be asked to do.
Lia: What has it been like to work with Lynn Nottage, your director Jo Bonney and castmates Ito Aghayere, Kevin Mambo and Sahr Ngaujah?
Jojo: Mind blowing. We all came in on the first read with very distinct, bold choices. Whether they were right or not did not matter because we needed to find those broad strokes from the get go. The rehearsal was quick. 2 weeks and then we went into tech. We were all still learning our lines and there were constant re-writes. In retrospect, the reason for jumping into tech after 2 weeks was because of the precision that we needed to go from one scene to the next with all the technical and artistic elements to make the storytelling clear. Switching from one character to another, one dialect to the next is quite the acting challenge. We’re all still tweaking. Jo Bonney is awesome in that she sees details that you may not be noticing. She challenges your choices constantly and pushing you to find them. She’s able to track nuance that is present in the other characters you play and helps you find very distinct ones for each of them.
Lia: Of the 5 characters you play, who is your favorite?
Jojo: I like them all for different reasons. GEEDI- for his honor in spite of his circumstances and what he has to do for his; Fu Goixi- for his lack of a greater sense of responsibility in spite of his position; Capt. Raamaker- because he tries too hard to be a person of honor and fails miserably in the face of adversity; Thuy Fan- for his unpredictability; and Li Jun- for his empty arrogance.
Lia: What is your take on the theme of the play?
Jojo: Our individual everyday actions and choices matter and affect all of us. So the question is, do we want to be part of the solution? Or do we want to be part of the problem?
Gonzalez’s recent favorite roles on television include Oscar, a badass hitman, on “The Blacklist,” General Ramon Purisima in CBS’s “Madam Secretary,” and Gede in Hulu’s “The Path.”
He can be seen as Agent Lopez in the upcoming Netflix release, “Maniac,” a new drama starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, and helmed by Cary Fukunaga.
MLIMA’S TALE is currently in previews at the Public, and will open on Sunday, April 15. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Tuesday, April 10 or Sunday, April 29. There is an added performance on Monday, April 9 at 7:00 p.m.). Purchase tickets by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.
Photos: Ito Aghayere, Jojo Gonzalez, Kevin Mambo, and Sahr Ngaujah in MLIMA’S TALE at the Public
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Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com