Boomerang is an undisputed classic film. For ‘90s babies, the 1992 rom-com neatly sits in the pantheon of aspirational features that depicted the luxury apartments, high-powered jobs and grown-ass relationships we wanted when we grew up. Twenty-five years later, cut to Tetona Jackson, one of Shadow And Act’s 32 RISING Award honorees and the lead of the film’s eponymous TV series.
In the show’s small-screen return, produced by Lena Waithe and Halle Berry, Jackson plays Simone Graham, a new age marketing executive and the daughter of womanizer-gone-good Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) and art director Angela (Berry). Under the financial safety net of her parents, the quick-witted, confident young creative guides the narrative of challenges and dynamics twentysomethings face, from sexual identity to situationships to dream-chasing. Alongside Bryson (son of Jacqueline Broyer played by Tequan Richardson) and longtime friends Crystal (Brittany Inge), Tia (Lala Milan), David (RJ Walker) and Ari (Leland Martin), Simone shines.
In real life, Jackson understands the scenario of being the offspring of a majorly successful parent. Her father, jazz musician Fred Jackson, Jr., exposed her to music legends Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations very early on. “I would go on his gigs with him when I was younger,” she says. “Being able to watch them perform, that’s how I got into all of this.”
But before making a splash into acting, she dabbled in musical theater and was a figure skater touring with Disney On Ice. “I loved skating, I loved touring, but after a few years, it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. I always knew that I wanted to end up as an actress, but my path to getting here was a little all over the place,” she says. “Around 2012, I decided that this is what I want to do and I started to take acting classes and take it really seriously.”
Though the recent resurgence of reboots and remakes are hit-or-miss, it’s clear that BET’s got something with this one–and with Jackson. Shadow and Act caught up with the blossoming Black actress to talk her start in acting, the importance of her role in Boomerang as a dark-skinned girl and what’s it’s like working under the tutelage of powerhouses like Waithe and Berry.
Shadow and Act: Ok, so you’re music royalty, sis!
Tetona Jackson: [Laughs] Not music royalty but I did grow up watching and being around [famous] people. When you’re younger, you don’t realize who you’re around, and how big [they are]. But now, as an adult, I appreciate it so much more and I’m so thankful that I was able to grow up in that world.
SA: Let’s talk about your role in Hulu’s All Night. What that your first acting look?
TJ: It wasn’t. I did a few indie films prior, but All Night was the biggest thing I’d done and started to put me on.
SA: In the show, you play series regular Cassie, an out lesbian. Did you feel pressure to represent the LGBTQ+ community?
TJ: I was very excited and honored to play that role. At the same time, though, I wanted to make sure that I played that character correctly and represented the LGBTQ+ community properly. I loved Cassie so much because she is young and out and confident about her sexuality, and that’s a great message to send to the youth of the LGBTQ+ community who are not so comfortable being out and living in their own skin.
SA: What is the difference between Cassie and Simone?
TJ: What’s cool is that there are a lot of similarities. Simone is obviously older than Cassie, but they’re both very confident, independent young women and at the same time have their own internal battles within themselves.
SA: Speaking of Simone, I must admit that I was skeptical of this series at first. I am like, a Jacqueline stan, ok?! And I was concerned that the series wouldn’t do it justice. But here I am, pressed for it to air every week! Were you worried about the big shoes you’d have to fill, much like Simone?
TJ: Yes and no. There’s definitely a level of wanting to do this role justice because the show is connected to such an iconic movie, and it did so many things for the Black community. However, with that said, the beauty of this show is that it’s not a remake. Even though it’s connected to the film, it’s also its own show with its own characters following a completely different storyline. So yes, I felt like being the daughter of Angela and Marcus Graham, I did have to bring my A-game, but also I love that I got to bring this whole new character to life.
SA: There’s so much more creative freedom when you can add to the original story instead of remaking it.
TJ: And the cool thing with the series too is that we do pay homage to the movie. We pay tribute to the movie in so many ways, like through Tiffany Hasbourne’s styling where Simone wears a beret in the first episode that her mom wore in the movie, or the boys’ scene in the gym. You get to see little easter eggs.
SA: What was your audition process like?
TJ: I auditioned like anyone else. Got the call from my manager, read the script, fell in love with the character instantly, and I went into the first audition. I actually called my manager after the audition because I felt really good about it. But with our industry, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. I got a callback that day, got a call back for a chemistry read and then I got the part.
SA: It was meant to be. How are you similar to Simone or these women, if at all?
TJ: I’m similar to Simone in the sense that she’s a go-getter. When she sets her mind to something, she does it. And I’m the same way. I’m very driven and passionate when it comes to my work, and I push for whatever I want to get. And also what I love about everyone on this show is that it’s very real. You see these characters trying to figure out their lives. We all go through that at a certain point in our lives. As young Millennials, we’re all at some point trying to figure out our lives. We live very different lives than our parents, it’s a very different generation, a very different society that we live in, so it’s cool to see that on screen.
SA: Yeah, the episode where the crew does game night is such an authentic scenario. Down to the details of Postmates and some random pulling up.
SA: Are you aware of how important it is that you’re a dark-skinned woman leading this series that’s filled with other people who are Black and brown? That’s huge.
TJ: One hundred percent. We say it in the promo: There’s not just one way to be Black. I love that it shows different shades, different body types, different sexualities—and that’s definitely what we need to show the community. The fact that we touch on Black men in therapy, the fact that we touch on lesbians and sexual fluidity, that’s such a great message to send to our community because there are still people who are not open and accepting of those things.
But being a young Black lead, I’m so blessed and honored because up until recently, the roles were very limited. You could play a guest star, you could play the friend of the lead, but to be the lead is huge. And I’m so happy that I get to be in this position and I hope it sends a message that you can do whatever you want to do. And if [what you want] isn’t there, make it happen.
SA: So what’s it like bringing all of these experiences on screen guided by Halle and Lena?
TJ: I met Halle for the first time the day of our premiere. She was out of the country filming John Wick 3 while we were filming, but when I met her I was like this is insane. She is such a light and more beautiful and radiant than in pictures. Like, how are you this gorgeous?! She was glowing. To be attached to a project that her name is on and to play her daughter is crazy.
And man, Lena is a powerhouse. She would fly back and forth to Atlanta to be with us on set, and if she wasn’t in Atlanta, she would be getting text messages of the scenes and sending notes from LA.
SA: Super hands-on.
TJ: Yeah, and such an inspirational woman. She motivates me so much because she’d be with us on set and be writing a script but still very present with us. Any time we had a question, wanted to vent or needed something, she was ready and available whether it was a text or phone call. It was and still is an honor to work with her.
SA: That speaks volumes about her character, outside of what we already love about Lena. So, what do you want audiences to take away from this show?
TJ: I want audiences to see themselves. I want them to know that as a young Black male, it’s OK to be in therapy. As a young Black male, you can be a businessman and the boss. I want our audience to know that you don’t have to limit yourself to anything. You don’t need to look a certain way to do something. You don’t need to be a certain way to be something. Be comfortable in your own skin, stand in your power. I want audiences to learn while we’re learning because the six of us are all learning about life, relationships and work and love in the show and you’re not alone.
SA: What’s next for you?
TJ: I have a scary movie coming out soon called Severed Road, and hopefully we’ll get a second season of Boomerang. I’m just so present in this moment and I’m just riding this wave.