Story by Imama Khawaja
Photos by Priyanka Podjale
Actors are known to be self-assured. Javoun Baker is no exception, and for good reason. At 19 he has already acted in a number of productions, including TV shows Chicago PD and The Exorcist, the 2018 film Savage Youth, and the upcoming film Ring of Silence set to come out June of this year. Javoun acts, he writes, he is quick-speaking and confident and full of stories that he is more than willing to share. We interviewed him and are here to share those stories with you.
Where are you from?
I’m from Waukegan. I grew up in a townhouse in the projects. I’ve seen it all, violence, gangs, the whole thing. Growing up I was told to stay in the house, so of course I would hang around other kids on the block. I’m cool with a lot of people there. Even though I didn’t do what they did, they respect who I am because I respect who they are.
How did you start with acting?
My mom put me into acting since I was five, but I hated it so much. I didn’t wanna be the weird kid. People ask questions and don’t understand how hard it is to be an actor. When people are like, oh, what you been in? Have you been on TV? That question is hard for people to answer because there’s so many kinds of actors, and not every actor has the same opportunity as another one. I didn’t wanna deal with that.
Don’t be mad, but I will be asking you that question later.
No, that’s cool! It’s what I do. I accepted being weird in high school, I wanted to be different. I was always the person starting trends. But I also felt like I was living two lives. My mom would drive me hours for auditions. I would be meeting these people who had money and had to learn how to adapt, to change how I spoke.
What’s your journey and struggle been like since then?
I grew up with a lot of adversity at school because nobody cared. And if they did, it was only because you already made it. They didn’t care about the process, they didn’t care about helping you get there. And I used to sell weed and I got expelled for it. That’s a whole other story. I didn’t have a phone, didn’t have friends, didn’t really have my family, I couldn’t even stay in my house. My mom didn’t want me there. So I was living out here in Chicago with my siblings. And I had to go to an alternative school - you couldn’t bring a backpack or a phone, or wear earrings or a belt, if you shared your lunch you got written up. I was dealing with kids that burned places down. I felt useless and forgotten about.
I didn’t go to college either, even though I got accepted into every school I wanted. I joined the actor’s union, and college felt like something unnecessary when I’m already acting and getting paid for it. I live with my brother and sleep on his couch, it kind of makes me feel like I’m in college anyway. My homework is reading through scripts that are 400 pages.
When I was like, fourteen I started doing short films for college kids in the city. I just did it for free so I could learn how the set works. I was a step ahead. Now when I get on set I know what works, I know what everyone’s job is, I know what I need to do, the importance of people on the call sheet. I’ve built a name for myself because of the people I hang out with. Like Congruent Space, I’ve known the owners of that place for years. I did a music video for them and they literally helped me figure out who I was.
I know you didn’t want me to ask this question, but what kind of stuff have you been in?
I’m always playing the role of a good kid in a bad situation. Chicago PD, The Exorcist, a couple indie movies - one of them, Savage Youth, is actually doing amazing right now... that’s a funny story. I almost couldn’t do that one because they gave me a two-day notice to take my braces off. I got them off though.
So your main thing is acting, but you have other endeavors?
I write a lot to release my emotions. I’ve always wanted to make music but I don’t want to invest myself into that yet. I want to use acting as a platform to get to everything I want to do.
What kind of music would you make?
2006 alternative rock punk.
Who are your influences?
Obviously, Denzel Washington and Will Smith. My writing is influenced by Basquiat and The Weeknd. A lot of my work resembles that rawness and authenticness. With Basquiat, it’s like there’s so much going on but it makes sense. One thing he used to do was rip pages out of different books and put their pages together and somehow it would still make sense. I try to do that with my writing, chop it up and rearrange it.
What kind of work do you want to to do in the future?
I don’t want to keep playing the kid who gets arrested, I want to be the cop. And definitely a superhero movie one day. I want to play Static, he’s a DC character that literally looks like me. I don’t know why they haven’t made a movie about him yet. Especially with Black Panther coming out.
"You have to look at context. Context and subtext. What is my character thinking before he even says anything? What’s his inner monologue? What’s he feeling?"
What’s your "process" with acting?
I have to drop everything I’m doing when I’m offered an audition. I take things from the script that I see in my character and relate them to myself. Or I observe other people. I may not be a rich kid, but I’ve been around rich people and know how they speak. I take my own experiences to figure out how to create a character. You have to look at context. Context and subtext. What is my character thinking before he even says anything? What’s his inner monologue? What’s he feeling? That’s why I love talking to people because everything they’re doing, their mannerisms, there’s reasons behind why they’re doing that. I like to listen to people. I feel like I was born in another lifetime.