The consummate New York actor, Tisch graduate Hubert Point-Du Jour has performed in over 20 plays commissioned by the likes of the Old Globe (The Two Gentleman of Verona), the Public (Tiny Beautiful Things) and Shakespeare in the Park (Kenny Leon’s Much Ado About Nothing) and has been honored in two Obie Award-winning productions (A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes; A Map of Virtue), all while simultaneously balancing a growing television career. After a string of appearances on Happyish, Madam Secretary, The Path, Blindspot and Elementary, he recently made his series regular debut alongside Ethan Hawke in Showtime’s series The Good Lord Bird. An adaptation of James McBride’s novel by the same name, the series follows Hawke’s abolitionist John Brown as he leads Point-Du Jour’s Bob, Joshua Caleb Johnson’s Onion and a small army of anti-slavery insurgents on a journey to raid the federal armory in Harpers Ferry in effort to ignite a slave revolt. Point-Du Jour is currently filming Peacock’s Dr. Death opposite Joshua Jackson, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater. (Photo by Eric Hobbs.)
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I must have been in junior high. My mother and I were in her and my father’s bedroom when the topic of music came up. For a while, I’d been making the case for why it was so important for me to have the fancy Panasonic Walkman I’d been yearning for. I looked at her and said, with a confidence that belied my age, “Music makes the world go round.” She kinda leaned back with a surprised look on her face and said, “Oh, really?” “Yes, it does,” I responded, ready to argue that point if need be. But there was no argument. She just absorbed my claim and a few weeks later, we took a trip to The Wiz, a local electronics store, where she bought me the fancy Walkman I wanted so badly. I don’t know if I can still defend my old statement about music, but I can say with confidence that music makes my world go round.
For half a day during my junior and senior years, I attended a performing arts high school in Syosset, Long Island, about 40 minutes from my parents’ place. When traveling between there and my local school (where I continued to take core academic courses), I’d use my Walkman to listen to radio stations that played hip hop and R&B, the two most popular types of music among my peers. When investigating the origins of samples contained in some of those songs, I gained an appreciation for less popular music, like old soul and funk. Some days I’d play Haitian folk music on a cassette tape as I started my homework on the commute back home. My aunt Nadine lived in my parents’ basement for a few years and she would let me explore her digital music collection, which had some of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. At night, I’d shut the lights off in my room and play whole bossa nova albums and daydream about girls I had crushes on. On the Aiwa stereo gifted to me by cousin Gesper, I pumped out show tunes I was singing at school. In my senior year, with my best buddies, Phil and Billy, I discovered rock music and spent countless hours listening to and creating music in that vein. On weekends, my sister Roberta and I would watch classic films together, and she showed me how I could continue to experience the world of a movie through its soundtrack.
Music helped me connect to the people in my life, but it also helped me process my emotions. As I continued to explore different types of music throughout college and make time to absorb them, I was rewarded with transformative listening sessions. The kind where something in me would change after listening to a certain song or album, and I was never the same from that point on. One song would elicit an involuntary fit of laughter, while another would make me sob. I couldn’t always explain my response to certain pieces of music, I just knew that the emotions I could experience were potent. This became very useful to me as an actor when I needed to be in a particular emotional state for a role.
His name was Ukpong Ekpeyoung. He and his pregnant wife Abasiama were sent to America by their families in the 1970s to attend college and bring the knowledge they gained back to their home in Nigeria in order to help their community flourish. Ukpong dove headfirst into what American culture had to offer and quickly lost sight of the mission he was on. The food, clothing, political rallies and music of America all served as a distraction. The play is Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners, and I had to be teeming with excitement when I, as Ukpong, entered the stage for the first time in Act I.
I don’t usually have a playlist of songs that help me get in the zone before each performance, but this role lent itself well to that practice. The song that got me most hyped was called “Again” by Fetty Wap. At the start of the first verse, he proclaims that he is just a young man trying to live and flaunt the money that he has. With the vast amounts of money his family supplied him for this sojourn, Ukpong totally sees himself in that way. But when, upon his return after yet another multi-day absence caught up in American culture, Abasiama does not share his excitement, he has no choice but to apologize. The subtext of his apology is articulated so well in Fetty Wap’s chorus. “I know my lifestyle is driving you crazy / I cannot see myself without you.” The reconciliation at the heart of the song helped me blur the line between my feelings and Ukpong’s, and I carried that onto the stage as I tried to charm my pregnant wife with singing and dance moves every night. It was a blast!
The night before I had to film a particularly difficult scene for the Showtime mini-series The Good Lord Bird, I couldn’t get a song by the late saxophonist John Coltrane out of my head. The series takes place in pre-Civil War era America, and I play an enslaved man named Bob who is trying to reunite with his family after being removed from bondage by the abolitionist John Brown. The song is called “Dearly Beloved” and it helped me access the range of fear my character Bob needed to convey in a harrowing situation he finds himself in with Onion, the series’ main character. I never knew an artist could convey so much emotion with an instrument before I heard Coltrane’s music. In turn, I discovered new depths of emotional involvement with music through his work. In this song, his saxophone had always evoked for me a preacher in the midst of a furious sermon. That seems apt when you take the title into consideration, but there are many different ways to interpret a song. Because Bob’s fate seems so grim at this moment in The Good Lord Bird, I chose to view the song in a different way. I looked at pianist McCoy Tyner’s crashing piano chords and the consecutive splashes of drummer Elvin Jones’ cymbals throughout the song as musical elements creating a chaotic atmosphere. In this context, Coltrane adds to the sonic fray with repeated cries for help, his horn hoarse from all the wailing. Before each take, I would take a moment to compose myself and let the song swell in my mind, evoking a cauldron of feelings I was able to access whenever I needed throughout the course of the scene.
Incorporating music into my work has only helped solidify its importance in my world.
Featured image shows Hubert Point-Du Jour as a teenage musician; and Hubert with Ethan Hawke in The Good Lord Bird (image by William Gray/Showtime).