There were the down years when he was riding the bus. Then for four years, he drove the bus.
“This Is Us” actor Ron Cephas Jones had his hit-the-wall moments and thought about quitting acting.
“I’ve always had this hustle in my heart, so I couldn’t stop,” said the actor, who has found success in his 60s with an Emmy win for his work on hit NBC series.
And just like his “This Is Us” character, the late William Hill, Jones, he has a little life philosophy to share.
“There is always a way to make some money,” he said. “When you come to an age where you’re comfortable with yourself, you come to understand what life really is. … It’s not about money or other things. It’s about following your dreams.”
Winning the Emmy and the Screen Actors Guild were amazing experiences, but the day when he knew he’d made it happened at a Los Angeles grocery store.
He turned around because he heard the lady in the cart behind him sniffing. “When I faced her, I could see she had tears rolling down her cheeks. She asked, ‘Can I just hug you?’ Then she told me about her mother who recently passed away from cancer.”
“Those are the moments,” said the man whose character, Randall Pearson’s biological father, died of cancer. “The sweet moments.”
Jones, 61, is on the phone today to talk about another family drama, his new Netflix holiday film, “The Holiday Calendar” debuting Friday. The movie revolves around a struggling photographer who inherits an antique holiday advent calendar that has magical powers and can predict the future. He plays the wise and wonderful Gramps.
“I do love Christmas movies. I have a daughter I raised on Christmas movies who at age 29 still watches them with me,” Jones said.
An accomplished stage actor, he spent several months in 2013 in Chicago, playing a role in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Head of Passes” at Steppenwolf Theatre.
“I had such a memorable experience in Chicago because the play was so good. The writing was fantastic,” he said. “What a joy to work with Steppenwolf.”
Some of his stay was during the winter, but still got the opportunity to check out the city. “Oh, I made sure to check out the soul food restaurants, and I took a picture with the Ernie Banks statue. I’m such a jazz aficionado, but I didn’t get a chance to check out too many of the clubs. I did drive around the South Side.
“What I loved about Chicago was staying in and studying my lines. I made home meals and had people to my place for dinner,” he said. “I do want to get back to Chicago when the weather is nice. I’d love to go back and work with Steppenwolf again. They’re top-shelf. They also treat their actors so well.”
The idea of acting was a given for Jones, who grew up loving theater and movies in his native Paterson, New Jersey. After graduation from Ramapo College, he decided to bus it to Los Angeles to start his career. One day while making the rounds to audition, he was on the bus and saw they were hiring. “I drove a bus from 1980 to 1984 while trying to start my acting career. I was such a New Yorker at heart. I missed it and came back to the East Coast,” he said.
He said his Emmy win this year for guest actor on a drama series was “a bit surreal. I was with one of my best friends that night. I heard my name, but I didn’t really hear it. My friend had to hit me with his elbow, and then I went up to accept.”
He also treasures his wife, British jazz singer Kim Lesley, and their actress daughter Jasmine Cephas Jones, from “Blindspotting” and the original cast of “Hamilton.”
“I gotta tell you, I can talk for hours about her. She’s my pride and joy,” he said.
Did she give her dad some “Hamilton” tickets? He laughed. “Absolutely, and my wife went three or four times.”
He does not give her “This Is Us” secrets, but shared a few here. Jones promises that this season he will appear during flashbacks “in five or maybe six episodes. You’ll definitely see me in the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes.”
Should we break out the Kleenex? “Oh, we’ll pull on your heartstrings. The writing, the way those stories are connected, the beautiful way the show touches on the human side of it. No matter who you are or what age you are … we all have those feelings. So, I’d say there is a 99.9 percent chance you will need those tissues.”