Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

Jon Jon Briones Talks about “American Crime Story: Assassination of Gianni Versace,” MISS SAIGON and Receiving the 2018 East West Players Visionary Award

Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

Congrats to Jon Jon Briones who will be receiving the 2018 East West Players Visionary Award at the East West Players (EWP) Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction at the Hilton Universal City tonight.

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work is celebrating THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Gala Benefit.

Lily Mariye, Suzy Nakamura and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund will also be honored. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, proceeds from the gala fundraiser  will benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada. Photo by Lia Chang

Actor Jon Jon Briones was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. At 9 years old he was sent to live at Santo Domingo convent as a boy soprano in the “Tiples of Santo Domingo” choir. This was to be his first formal training. In 1989, he joined the original London cast of Miss Saigon. Recently, he played the Engineer in the London 2014 revival (Olivier Award nominee, What’s One Stage Award winner) and its Broadway transfer (Drama Desk Award nominee, Theater Award winner). He has appeared in several other productions of Miss Saigon, among numerous additional stage credits. He has had the privilege of working with East West players in La Cage Aux Folles (Ovation Award nominee) and A Little Night Music. He was proudly involved in the pre-Broadway development of Allegiance at The Old Globe. Last month, Briones received raves for his chilling and brilliant portrayal as Modesto Cunanan on the television drama American Crime Story: Assassination of Gianni Versace.

Lia: Congratulations on your 2018 East West Players Visionary Award.What does receiving this award mean to you?
Jon Jon: It’s always nice when you get compliments for your work but to be honored is totally different and very humbling. It really means a lot. It’s the highest form of “You’re alright”.

Original cast of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Photo courtesy of Michael Lamont.
Original cast of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Photo courtesy of Michael Lamont.

Lia: What shows have you performed in at East West Players?
Jon Jon: My first show was A Little Night Music in 2012 and I played Fredrik Egerman. And then I did La Cage Aux Folles for them in 2016 and I played Georges.

Gedde Watanabe, left, and Jon Jon Briones in "With You on My Arm" during East West Players' production of "La Cage aux Folles." (Michael Lamont)
Gedde Watanabe, left, and Jon Jon Briones in “With You on My Arm” during East West Players’ production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Michael Lamont)

Lia: How were you cast as Modesto Cunanan in “American Crime Story: Assassination of Gianni Versace.”
Jon Jon: Darren Criss told me that when they started filming at the beginning of 2017, he and head writer Tom Rob Smith were talking about the role of Modesto Cunanan and they thought that I might be right for the part(they both saw me in Miss Saigon in London). They then started talking about me to the producers of the show. My agent contacted me about an audition that I have to tape because the audition was in LA and I was in NYC doing Miss Saigon. I taped my audition, sent it and as they say the rest is history.

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "Creator/Destroyer" Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) -- Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY “Creator/Destroyer” Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) — Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

Lia: How did you develop the character?
Jon Jon: Research about Modesto on line did not yield a lot but reading Maureen Orth’s book and talking to her, discussing the character with writer Tom Rob Smith really helped me understand Modesto better. The two of them were a wealth of information.

Lia: How has your life or career changed since appearing on the show?
Jon Jon: It’s a little better, I have to admit. Hopefully this will lead to better and complex roles not just for me but for other actors of Asian descent.

Jon Jon Briones, Nicholas Christopher, Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, Laurence Connor, Devin Ilaw. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Jon Briones, Nicholas Christopher, Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, Laurence Connor, Devin Ilaw. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: You were in the ensemble in the original production of Miss Saigon. What did it mean for you to lead the show on Broadway after all these years?
Jon Jon: It meant so much to me. A couple of years ago I’ve accepted the fact that making my Broadway debut will not come into fruition because of my age and the lack of roles in shows for people like me. And I can’t seem to get cast in other Asian shows like The King and I. They probably think I’m not regal enough. I can’t blame them. I’m as blue collar looking as anyone out there. But when Cameron asked me if I wanted to do The Engineer on Broadway, I couldn’t believe it. The dream was not dead. And I made my Broadway debut at the age of 52.

Jon Jon Briones and the company of MISS SAIGON. photo by Matthew Murphy
Jon Jon Briones and the company of MISS SAIGON. photo by Matthew Murphy

Lia: Did you enjoy working in New York even though you are LA based?
Jon Jon: We used to live in New York a few years ago and I just love the city! And everyday when I walk down the street on my way to the theatre, I get this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for living in the city and playing the lead in a Broadway show. Life was good!

The cast of MISS SAIGON at the closing night party at the Dream Hotel in New York on January 14, 2018. Photo by Lia Chang
The cast of MISS SAIGON at the closing night party at the Dream Hotel in New York on January 14, 2018. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How did you balance the stage and TV shooting schedule?
Jon Jon: That was interesting and pretty cool. A few times I had to take the red eye after an evening performance in NYC, arrived in LA early morning, took a short nap and then get picked up for an early morning shoot. I filmed for a few days and then took a red eye back to New York after a late night shoot, arrived in my New York apartment to sleep for a few hours and then do 2 shows. And then repeat. I credit my agent for making it work.

Isa Camille Briones won the 2018 Ovation Award for Featured Actress in a Musical.
Isa Camille Briones won the 2018 Ovation Award for Featured Actress in a Musical.

Lia: Your entire family is in the business. Was “American Crime Story” the first time that you worked with your daughter, Isa Briones, on screen?
Jon Jon: That was the first time I worked with my daughter and it was pretty cool.

Lia: You must be so proud of her LA Ovation Award for Featured Actress in a Musical for East West Players’ production of Next to Normal, which garnered the top awards. How was she cast in Hamilton?
Jon Jon: We’re very proud of her! They really loved her even the first time she auditioned that they kept calling her back to work with her. Maybe it was a combination of her being a little young (18 at that time) or know where to put her but she finally booked the show after 7 months.

Lia: What’s next for you?
Jon Jon: I’m hoping to announce something good soon. We’ll see.

Reggie Lee, Jon Jon Briones and Billy Bustamante. Photo by Lia Chang
Reggie Lee, Jon Jon Briones and Billy Bustamante. Photo by Lia Chang

Also joining the evening’s festivities are Reggie Lee, Deedee Magno Hall, Cliffton Hall, Justin W. Yu, and company members from David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power (produced by Center Theatre Group in association with East West Players) and East West Players’ upcoming production of Nathan Ramos’ As We Babble On.

Seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May. Standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
SOFT POWER cast and creative team – seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May; standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang

East West Players’ 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. VIP Reception for Premium Table Circle sponsors, silent auction, and no-host cocktails starts at 5:30pm. The dinner and awards show begins at 7pm.

Individual tickets are $200- $1,500. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information please contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or galaguests@eastwestplayers.org.

For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2018 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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