The Game’s Jay Ellis
Talking to Jay Ellis for the first time is like watching the first episode of Season 6 of BET’s “The Game.”
Ellis plays Bryce “The Blueprint” Westbrook, the cast member who replaces beloved Derwin Davis (played by Pooch Hall) of the San Diego Sabers. Davis led the show—and the fictitious NFL team—for five consecutive seasons before being traded to Baltimore’s team for Blue, who apparently runs a “4 flat.”And if you know anything about football—that’s a big deal.But with nothing to judge Ellis off of except minor roles in a few network series and the occasional ad for Abercrombie & Fitch and The Gap, die hard fans of the show weren’t buying The Blueprint. Instead, raised eyebrows and comments of disapproval flooded various social media sites and blogs.Ellis’s answer: Fair enough.“People didn’t know who I was, “ he says. “They had never heard of me, had never seen me in anything.”Irrespective of the outrage, on March 26, Jay Ellis premiered on the season opener to nearly 4 million viewers.That’s blurring the lines between reality and fiction a bit. But it’s tempting. Most of The Game’s viewers’ first experience with Ellis is him as Blue—mine included.That said, it takes a lot of gusto to lead a show that already has a solid cast with undeniable chemistry and a die-hard fan base (in case it’s slipped your mind that it was essentially the fans that brought the show back when the CW killed it).No worries. Ellis is used to being the new kid, he tells me. His father was in the Air Force, which meant his family city hopped every few years.To which I respond, “Oh, so you’re a military brat?”“I think the ‘military brat’ attitude is something I’ve been told I have, but I don’t think that I have it,” Ellis says. “As a kid, whether your family is in the military or not, I don’t think you really have a true grasp of what your true condition is or your experience in life is. I don’t think you really understand it until you get a little bit older.”As a child, Ellis recalls, all he knew was moving. He says he sometimes envies people who boast a 20-year legacy in one town—a life he never knew. His parents, for the most part, were his best friends growing up.“And it sucked especially, because I’m an only child on top of that,” he adds.To which I respond, “So not only are you a military brat, but you have only child syndrome as well?”I am, in fact, giving him a hard time. And luckily, Ellis has a sense of humor.“Now what you’re doing is telling me all these things I need to work through,” he says in regard to my last two questions. I tell him I can relate, as I was an only child once. And that it’s probably only me that needs to work through my only child syndrome. Ten years of “me, me, me” behavior is a long stint to just immediately erase.“Being an only child, I think you grow up fast,” Ellis says. “You learn things on your own a little bit faster.”You learn that people, unlike siblings, come and go. And from spending so much time alone, he says, you quickly figure out “the things that make you tick or the things that you love.”However, in retrospect, what Ellis loves most about his childhood was the nomadic lifestyle. “Moving around is really cool. You get to learn how people interact with each other, the culture, in all these different places.”Ellis now values his experiences in South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas, to name a few, something he couldn’t quite appreciate as a kid. “But now I think I have a really unique story because of it.”Unique is right— Ellis’s story begins with parents fresh out of high school.“My parents had me when they were really, really young,” he says, adding that one of his biggest fears is letting them down.“We defied the odds,” I tell him, as I know a thing or two about having teenage parents and the increased odds of experiencing adolescent childbearing, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, and incarceration, among other associated negative outcomes.“I tell some of my friends, ‘Hey, there’s a few of us out there,’” Ellis says. “We defied the statistic. We are bigger than that.”“To see how hard the two of [my parents] have worked since then; they put so much of themselves into everything,” he continues. “That work ethic—I feel that if I don’t do the same, then I’m not representing my family in the best way that I know how.”With where he comes from always in mind, Ellis’s concern for the present is how well he’s representing his character on The Game.“I think I am definitely getting to tell a story that we don’t see or hear about that often,” he says.He has a point. Blue is an African-American Stanford graduate who won the Heisman trophy and was a first-round NFL draft pick. And, according to Ellis, Blue is not just a well-educated, business savvy athlete.
“Blue is one of those guys who works harder than anyone,” he says. The “last one to leave the gym at night, first one there in the morning” type.
“He wont be outworked. So I think I’m getting to tell a story that hard work pays off.”And I have to ask if he relates to his character in that way.“I. Work. Hard,” he answers. “Nonstop, around the clock.”And though I do ask him to explain this workaholic mentality, from the way he answers my previous question, I have no doubt that he does indeed work as hard as he says he does.But with all this “work,” is there no play? To be tall, dark, handsome, and a rising star has to come with some fun, right? So I ask Ellis about the single life, because—well, because I can.He hesitates, laughs and then describes it as “cool” first and then “interesting” a few seconds later.I can’t let him off easy. I speak for a ton of American viewers when I say I would probably not watch a show called “Jay Ellis’s Cool, Interesting Single Life.”“I’m a lover, hardcore,” Ellis explains. “I’m a dater.”He goes on to list a few rom-com worthy dates: dinner, movie, and miniature golf.“I believe in courting,” he adds. “And in 2013, that’s not necessarily what happens anymore.”Jay Ellis’s Full Court-ing Life? Now that’s a show I might just tune into.
In the meantime, catch Ellis on BET’s The Game. Season 6 returns on Tuesday, July 2.