When it comes to skewering stereotypes, Brandon Scott Jones is a natural.
The Maryland-born actor is a standout in “Isn’t It Romantic,” a new romantic comedy that aims to skewer and deconstruct the stereotypes of its own genre. The film, which hit theaters Wednesday, follows Natalie (played by Rebel Wilson), a New York architect who grew up idolizing Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” but has discovered that finding real-life love is nothing like it appears in the movies.
Knocked unconscious after being mugged on the subway, Natalie wakes up to find herself living in an alternate universe that looks an awful lot like, well, a romantic comedy. Suddenly, she’s got an enviable apartment, a to-die-for wardrobe and even a hunky love interest (Liam Hemsworth).
Jones stars as Donny, Natalie’s reclusive stoner neighbor in the real world who, in true rom-com fashion, becomes an extra-sassy gay sidekick in the fantasy world. Taking cues from Rupert Everett in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and Damian in “Mean Girls,” the 34-year-old actor plays the cheeky, scene-stealing role for satire with one-liners and over-the-top clothes.
“There was no interest in trying to poke fun at an already marginalized community,” Jones, who is gay, said of the film. “If this were any other movie, [Donny] would be two-dimensional, so we wanted to poke fun at the way that character is portrayed, not who he is.”
Best known for his role on NBC’s “The Good Place,” Jones spoke to HuffPost about the new movie, the thrill of wearing designer fashion and what he’d like to see next for queer characters on the big screen.
What intrigued you most about “Isn’t It Romantic”?
It reminded me very much of that RuPaul quote: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
I felt like the movie really celebrated that concept. I loved the idea of taking a romantic comedy and flipping it on its head and telling a story that you don’t see often enough. I remember reading the script and just laughing out loud.
One of the interesting things about this film is that every actor gets to portray essentially two roles — the “real-life” character and the “fantasy” character. It must have been a lot of fun for you to play those contrasts.
One of my favorite movies ever is “The Wizard of Oz,” which was the first thing that really got me interested in performing. The spirit of “Isn’t It Romantic” reminded me of that. I loved being able to play those two different sides of Donny — one was very grounded, whereas the other was heightened, mid-1990s “Sex and the City” gay. I think it was really fun to go from one spectrum to another.
What was the collaboration process with Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth like?
This is my first big movie, so to look around and see those literal superstars was unbelievable. I did most of my work with Rebel, and she was so wonderful, helpful, kind and generous to me as an actor and just as a fellow cast member. We tried to find the best rapport that we possibly could, and it was fun. She really shepherded me through doing a big budget Hollywood studio comedy.
As “fantasy” Donny, you get to wear lots of amazing fashion, too.
I loved it! It’s probably the only time in my life I’ll get to wear Dolce and Gabbana that much. Our costume designer, Leah Katznelson, and I just had an absolute blast trying out as many different types of clothing as we possibly could. I think Donny found his rhythm in, like, some two-piece romper-inspired clothes, but I loved it.
You also play a small but pivotal role as a used book buyer in another big movie this season, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” which couldn’t be any more different than this film…
I’m very happy to show that range, first of all. I absolutely love (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and Marielle Heller is such a fantastic director, so to get the opportunity to do that was absolutely insane. It’s a great example of a story that’s unique, fascinating and incredible. As important as it is to tell the queer experience, it’s also important to tell stories that just have queer people in them. To get to do a couple of scenes opposite Melissa McCarthy… I’ll do that any goddamn day of the week! (laughs)
Your background is primarily in improv and sketch comedy. Was it always a goal for you to succeed in film?
I didn’t go into it with any other goal than just, like, this is a creative outlet for me. I had no other goal than just to get onstage and try to perform and from there, I started to explore new opportunities, and I saw different paths of writing and performing and so forth. But the satisfaction I get from doing an improv show is unmatched in my life. So I’m very, very excited to be able to continue to do that as much and as often as I possibly can.
Are there performers whose body of work and career paths you’d like to emulate on your own terms?
I don’t know if there’s a queer performer that I’ve always identified with, but if I were to pick someone whose career I absolutely love, it’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I think she’s about as great as you can get. Also, Amy Sedaris. Both of those people are not afraid to show the ugly side of a character, and I think that’s really exciting.
As far as queer representation in comedy is concerned, what do you see as the next big hurdle?
Well, Billy Eichner is about to have a major studio rom-com. So hopefully we’ll see really big budget studio comedies and dramas featuring queer actors and find out how universal those stories can actually be. There’s hope in knowing we’re going in that direction, and we’re going to be able to make that stuff.