The actress talks 35 & Ticking, new play and hanging with the girls.
It’s been five years since the hit modern-day comedy classic Girlfriends left the air and since that time Jill Marie Jones has been a very busy actress. The 36-year-old Texas native is currently starring with Nicole Ari Parker, Meagan Good and Mike Epps in the indie film 35 & Ticking, about a group of 30-somethings at various places on the ticking biological clock of life. Jones is also touring the country in her theater debut, Marriage Material. The actress, formerly known as Toni Childs, spoke to BET.com about her new film, working on stage and reuniting with her Girlfriends co-stars onscreen and off.
For some reason when I heard the premise for your latest film, 35 & Ticking, I assumed you’d be playing one of the women longing for babies. But you’re playing the ‘party all the time, don’t wanna take care of her kids’ deadbeat momma.
I had a good time with the role. The character I play, Coco, really just jumped off the page to me. When I talked to [writer and director] Russ Parr, he was like, 'That’s who I wanted you to play but I was nervous because some actresses don’t like to be seen as the unlikable character.' But I love doing things that I never had the opportunity to do before, so I was up for the challenge.
You’re thirtysomething. Is the sound of a biological clock deafening you yet?
I’m not married, zero children. Hopefully one day I will be if God blesses me that way. I don’t hear the ticking. I live in the real world but I also live in the entertainment world where I’m constantly seeing older woman have babies. I think if that’s really what you want, you’ll do it. When I go home back to Dallas most of my friends are married with kids and most of them were married at age 26 through 28. So I guess it all depends on where you are [in your life].
There’s a large segment of Girlfriends fans who felt the show ended when you left. Do you ever hear that?
Yes, I do. People are always telling me, "I stopped watching the show when you left." I know it comes from love and it’s really sweet to hear, but I would always tell them they should have kept watching. It was a great show and I’m proud to have been a part of it for six years. It’s like a spice cabinet; we [the cast] all had a different spice. If you take one spice out of the cabinet, especially if you’ve seen that spice for six years, it can do a little something to the sauce. But I’m proud of the work we did on Girlfriends.
You left the show to do movies and challenge yourself as an actress and not over more money or contract negotiations as was previously reported. So would you be open to a Girlfriends reunion?
I think anything is possible. I was talking to Mara and I really did want to finish out the series and do two shows at the end. But Girlfriends never got a last episode, so that wasn’t able to happen. It just went off the air, so certain things were unresolved. Our fans were so loyal. I’m sure they would have loved to see Joan get married. And see our friendship get resolved. I would love to be given the opportunity to be able to wrap that up for our fans. I think Girlfriends: The Final Season would be hot—maybe a film. We worked so hard on the show. I think we did such a great job and I really think I was part of something groundbreaking.
Do you keep in touch with your cast mates from the show?
Black Hollywood is really small, so I see them all the time. Golden [Brooks] and I went to lunch recently in L.A. I saw Tracee [Ellis Ross] at an event and we hung out for some time. I just saw Persia [White] and we had a good 30-minute conversation about her daughter and how big she’s grown and that she’s in college now.
Since the show ended, you’ve really populated your acting card with roles completely different from Toni Childs.
I’m really a character actor. I have a film out right now with Jeffery Tambor called Meeting Spencer, and I play a transsexual. I had a movie out seven to eight months ago called Drool and I played a lesbian. I’ve also played a serial killer. I’m just turned on by the woman who's a little bit off the sidewalk, those characters are more interesting.
Tell us about your new play, Marriage Material.
It’s written and directed by J’ecaryous Johnson and it’s about a woman who doesn’t believe in love because she’s been burned by ex-boyfriends in the past. She meets a great guy who takes her to a marriage retreat and one of my exes and his wife, who’s also my ex-best friend, are there too. It’s funny, but my part is heavy. I got the drama in it. Every single person who has come to the show who I’ve signed autographs for afterwards has come up to me and said, "You really made me think, Am I marriage material? Or "Is who I’m with marriage material?" There are a lot of nuggets that you will take away from the play.
What do you like most about theater versus film and TV?
Every night the audience is different, every night I’m different. It’s helping me grow as an actor and it’s sharpening my tools with memorization. You have to get up there and be on. I love it. People scream out, "I love you, Toni Childs." I always say that Toni Childs is more famous than I am. I could introduce myself and say hi, "I’m Jill Marie Jones.” And they’ll be like, "Girl, Toni you did that thing." I’ll be like, "I’m Jill." They respond, "Toni, you’re so crazy." But I love that too.
35 & Ticking opens in limited release May 20.
For more information on Marriage Material, go to http://www.imreadyproductions.com/imready4/
(Photo: David Becker/Getty Images)