Emmys: Ron and Jasmine Cephas Jones on Family's Nominations and Celebrating Amid the Pandemic
By Stacy Lambe
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While multiple generations of the same family have won Emmy Awards over the years, it’s rare for a father-daughter duo to be nominated for acting prizes in the same year. Ron Cephas Jones and his daughter, Jasmine, achieved this milestone in 2020, when they were recognized for their respective performances on This Is Us and the Quibi series #FreeRayshawn.
For Ron, 63, it marks his fourth consecutive nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for playing William on the NBC series, whereas Jasmine is up for her first Emmy -- Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series -- for her gripping performance as Tyisha.
While Ron has won one Emmy so far, Jasmine tells ET’s Nischelle Turner he deserves so much more. “He has worked his tail off to get to where he is now and everything that he does is all about the work,” the 31-year-old actress says. “It's pretty remarkable.”
But Ron is just as in awe of his daughter, who’s had a meteoric rise over the past few years thanks to Hamilton on Broadway and the recent release of her EP, Blue Bird. Despite growing up in the shadow of her father’s acting, there’s no nepotism here.
Explaining why she deserves to be nominated, Ron says it’s because of “her perseverance and her level of understanding of what it takes to achieve or try to achieve and be the best at what you do and her willingness to put in the work and to do the things that are needed of her.”
In a conversation with ET, the two actors share what it means to be nominated in a record year for Black performers and how they plan to celebrate amid the pandemic.
ET: As happy as we are for you guys for both being nominated for an Emmy, I can’t even imagine how the two of you feel getting to share this space with one another. Ron, you’re nominated again for This Is Us, but what it like when you heard your daughter was nominated as well?
Ron Cephas Jones: I’ve been trying to find the words [but] I can’t quite find the words. It’s like this duality of speaking as an actor being nominated with your daughter and just speaking as a parent, you know? And I always end up saying that it’s the ultimate blessing for a parent to see your child healthy and happy and pursuing what they love to do and doing it while living in the moment… I always end up saying how much more could a parent want than to continue to support that and as a parent, to sit back and just enjoy it? The guiding and the learning and the teaching will constantly go on but to sit back and watch my daughter revel in [this moment] and feeling like this is the first of many for her, that’s just a wonderful feeling.
ET: Jasmine, what news did you get first? That your dad was nominated or that you were nominated?
Jasmine Cephas Jones: That I was nominated. To be honest, I didn't even know that it was Emmy nomination day. I was so out of it. I didn’t even think I was going to get nominated. Somebody texted me and my response was literally, “That would be awesome but I don’t think I’m nominated.” You know, it was just like something that didn’t compute the first time that I heard it. Then, once it sunk in, I was freaking out and I was crying in the middle of the street. I called Dad and Dad didn’t know. He was talking to his publicist or something like that and I was like, “Congrats, Dad! This is so awesome.” He was like, “Yeah, this is great.” And I was like, “Do you know that I am nominated too?” And he was like, “Wait, what?” and then he said, “Wait, I need to call you back.”
Ron: I mean, it was one of those moments like, “OK, wait a minute.”
Jasmine: He was like, “I have to call you back because” —
Ron: Let me figure this out.
Jasmine: We need to properly talk about this, you know?
Ron: It literally took my breath away.
ET: Has it set in with you yet, Jasmine?
Jasmine: It’s such a weird time. If it wasn’t the pandemic at the moment, we’d be talking about flying over and getting ready and all of that stuff. But it’s such a weird, crazy time that we're in and sometimes I forget, sometimes it’s still something really hard to wrap my head around that this is all happening the same year as my dad too. It's just almost too much to process. Sometimes my friends have to remind me like, “By the way, congratulations.” They’ll make fun of me but also [get] kind of serious like, “Girl, don’t forget now.”
ET: Ron, I don't even know if I have to ask this but you know getting accolades for your work is always meaningful, but which is more meaningful for you, this fourth one for This Is Us or getting to watch your daughter go through this process for the first time?
Ron: By far, watching my daughter. I mean, it doesn't compare really.
It's astounding to be able to have a character for the first time in my career that has such an arc and the confidence that Dan Fogelman and the writers have put in me to continue to grow in this character and build a fan base, build my career to another point where my work can be seen on a consistent basis as opposed to one season or one episode, which is the history prior to This Is Us.
I've done series that were canceled. I've done series that only went two seasons. I've done a series where I get killed off in the first season. So this is the first [time] that I've had an arc and over those four seasons, be able to have the work acknowledged each year. And then to win in 2018 changed the trajectory of my career and gave me an opportunity to come into the next level scene based on my work. And that is a phenomenal feeling because I put in a lot of years on the stage and in different roles focusing on the work and putting my faith that the work will eventually get me to things that I want to get to. It afforded me to actually end up doing great work with some of the most phenomenal, gifted, talented craftsmen in the business around the world.
But as the parent, you're willing to sacrifice all that for the happiness of your children. So the answer to that question, by far, is watching my daughter shine as well as her fiancé, Anthony Ramos, together building this power base is phenomenal.
ET: Speaking of the next big Hollywood power couple, what a year, Jasmine, you and Anthony are having. Did you have to stop planning the wedding or are you still trying to figure out a way in this climate to do something?
Jasmine: We had to push [until] next year. It was supposed to happen this year and with everything that's happening, it just it wasn't the right time. People need time to come back from this and we just thought it was respectful to other people and also we want to have the experience that we want, so we're not in a rush and we'll, you know, wait for exactly the right time. So that's kind of where we're at at the moment.
ET: Since the show is going to be virtual this year, it feels like you two are getting slighted of that father-daughter red carpet moment. Any plans to try to virtually hang out and watch?
Jasmine: We have gone back and forth. There's definitely going to be a call or a FaceTime around when they start announcing our categories. It’s a special moment, so we’ve got to figure out how to connect.
Ron: Also, we’re on different coasts, so it’s difficult to actually physically get together. But it all happened so fast that we still haven't really had time together to really absorb it. We had a few moments but she's been very busy and the climate hasn't allowed us to really [be in it] and enjoy it with family. So I think our plan is eventually to go have a beautiful family dinner and we'll either go somewhere or someone will cook and we'll sit around the table and we'll share it with our family.
ET: It’s also such a banner year to be nominated, especially as a Black actor with 33 acting nominations -- the most ever. Ron, you’re a veteran in this business, you've seen a lot, been through a lot, done a lot. Do you feel a sea change?
Ron: I do. I'll be honest with you, it feels like a better Band-Aid on the wound. You know, we're looking deeper and -- I spoke about this before -- I think that's starting to happen. There’s starting to be an understanding of how to build a power base so that we start to be able to own your garden. The garden that you can reach back in and feed your family from. The garden that you've grown, not someone else's garden you're going to buy or someone else's market, but to be able to own the land, plant the seeds and nourish the growth and reap the benefits of that growth. I think that we are gaining ground and getting to the market, having a little more access to better fruit, better vegetables, but we're still seeking to own the land, get the seeds, plant the seeds, put the water on it, watch it grow, reap from it and then share it with the community. If that makes sense.
ET: It does.
Ron: Jasmine and Anthony are starting to do that. Her generation is starting to understand that it's not just acting. It's writing, producing, executive producing, developing, creating and then hopefully distribution.
ET: Jasmine, do you feel it as well? In the future of Black storytelling, do you think there's a change there?
Jasmine: Yeah, I think we're starting to get there… and we're seeing more Black actors get recognized and giving the credit when the credit is due. But, also, behind the scenes, Black production companies, Black directors, Black writers are the people that we need behind the scenes in order to create and make the stories happen. And that's what I'm seeing more of.
And as the youth, I think my generation is really seeing that come into fruition, really knowing and starting to understand the idea that I don't have to wait for somebody else to write me a story or write my own story. That dream is not as far away, I feel for people of color, as it was 10 or 15 years ago.
ET: Ron, what advice do you have for Jasmine on this first go around with the Emmys?
Ron: Well, number one, I always remind her to count her blessings. This is a hard business to keep your ego in check and stay focused on. So count your blessings and don't take advantage of that. That'll help you go a long way. But that's basic stuff that I always say to her. A lot of other stuff that she's learning and you have to let them learn.
ET: Ron, you talked about your body of work and all of the years that you put in. But you're never too old or too deep in the game to learn. So have you watched your daughter and learned anything from her acting?
Ron: All the time. We're at the level where we can actually talk about the work in that way, you know? All the way down to, “When your head leaned that way, I noticed this.” We actually get into the scene and talk about stuff, so I learn from her all the time. That’s one of the things that make you a good actor is learning how to listen.
ET: Ron Howard once said that he can't ever watch Bryce Dallas Howard’s movies just as a viewer. He always watches them as a director. Is that the same? Can you watch her just as a viewer or are you always watching as an actor?
Ron: I'm learning how to watch as an actor and try to keep my parental stuff out. Sometimes we're able to talk like that and even more so now that she's a little older and she's wiser and she understands what the conversation is about when it comes to the work. We're at that point now where it becomes constructive criticism and she advises me on a lot of things from basic stuff like how to work a computer.
Ron: She's constantly teaching me about what to do, how to do it. So now I have to refer to her and people like my assistant and people to kind of guide me… She's constantly teaching me about things like that, so I have my ears open. I'm learning more from her now than she's probably learning from me.
ET: Finally, if you can indulge us, what would it be like if you did both come away with a win?
Ron: It’ll be like I expressed before: It would be like putting very sweet icing on an already very, very sweet cake.
Jasmine: I don’t know. I'm just trying to bask in this moment right now that we're both nominated at the moment. I think, again, that would be absolutely amazing. It would have been so cool if we were in the same room together and celebrating. But just even to be able to have this conversation right now is pretty awesome.