By GWEN OREL
For Montclair Local
Gerald W. Jones III is fighting vampires.
On Netflix, that is.
The 17-year-old Montclair High School senior stars as Bobby in “Vampires vs. the Bronx.” It is one of his first starring roles, though he’s been acting since he was 11. Many of his roles have been as small, unnamed characters such as “fire escape kid” in the movie “Joker” or “African American boy” in the movie “Eighth Grade.”
Snagging a lead has been one of his dreams.
He got the role when he was 15; the movie was released this past October. It has received an excellent 89-percent approval rating on the film review site Rotten Tomatoes.
“So that’s five years of just auditioning,” Jones said. He’d received callbacks, but then missed the roles themselves.
But, he says, he kept believing in himself and knowing one day his hard work would pay off.
Director Oz Rodriguez (“Creating Saturday Night Live”) said Jones had a great take on the character of Bobby.
And on the set Jones was a hard worker: “Vampires vs. the Bronx” was hard to make, Rodriguez said. “We had many constraints with our young cast. I need young actors that could perform in those difficult situations. Gerald knocked it out of the park. That’s why we’re working together again in Michael Che’s ‘Community Service,’ his new sketch show on HBO Max.”
Rodriguez wrote the film with Blaise Hemingway.
The movie, Jones said, is about a group of kids who try to save their neighborhood from monsters, like the movies Rodriguez saw growing up.
Except for one thing: The movies Rodriguez saw did not star children of color.
In the horror/comedy, a bunch of teens are worried when real estate development threatens their local bodega. Then they find out the people buying up the property are vampires.
And though Jones has played roles listed as “African American boy,” Bobby is more than that: He’s a brave kid being pressured by a gang-leader to join the gang, who instead becomes part of the vampire hunters.
“Bobby’s vulnerability gives the movie a sense of gravity,” writes Nick Allen in RogerEbert.com.
The grown-ups don’t see the monsters, just real estate transactions. If the pale vampires make you think of gentrification and even white supremacy, that’s fine. Ben Travis at Empire called the film “a witty and likable horror-comedy that manages to put a stake to the heart of some real issues while it tickles your ribs.”
Among the jokes: The kids watch “Blade” for tips on how to handle the vampires. The real estate firm is called Murnau Properties: Vampire experts will know that’s a call-out to “Nosferatu” director F.W. Murnau.
A few people at MHS know of his acting, but he has not had time to act in plays at school.
Bobby, and an earlier named role, Benji, in “Benji the Dove,” are characters that had some depth.
The Michael Che show was supposed to begin filming some weeks ago, but was postponed due to weather, Jones said.
FILMING DURING PANDEMIC
COVID-19 shut things down for a while, but Jones has been steadily working. Instead of going to the city for auditions, however, he makes tapes and sends them in.
He misses the live auditions; he liked to feel the live energy in the room, he said.
Things were very slow for a while, but they have picked back up.
“We have to get tested a lot,” Jones said. He was tested 10 times before the Michael Che filming because the date kept getting pushed back. His father, who takes him to the sets, had to be tested also.
Everyone wears a mask when not actually acting or in their own trailer, Jones said. He had to take a test on-set as well.
There is a lot of waiting around on-set, but he loves the whole process.
“You have a purpose, and it’s something that you can do that gets you going every single day,” he said.
Caring so much about it sometimes gives him nerves. “I’m really trying to overcome that,” he said. “I’m a lot more comfortable with who I am as a person. So I think that going out to auditions, now I’m not going to be as nervous.”
Acting is what Jones definitely wants to do, and as he applies to colleges and acting schools, he’s looking for institutions in New York where he can continue to film. He’s also into producing music tracks.
He loves expressing himself through art, he said: “I want to continue creating movies, creating anything. It’s as simple as that.”