Jock McKissic on working with Bryan Cranston in ‘Your Honor,’ his latest role in ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ and more

Photos: Storm Santos

Jock McKissic knew from the time that he was a little kid that he was meant to be in show business. 

The Alabama native grew up mimicking actors such as Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington and entertaining his family. By The time he was six years old, McKissic was telling his family that this was what he wanted to do for a living.

“I had such a love for it,” said McKissic. “I had the realization that I wanted to do this at age 6 when I was watching Oprah [Winfrey]. She was interviewing someone. I would often see her interviewing someone and see how joyous she would be, how entertained she was by whatever they had going on. I just kind of knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

McKissic would start to perform in school and church plays in his youth because the opportunities for professional work were scarce in Alabama. After graduating from Clemson University in 2009 and a brief stint playing pro football, McKissic reignited his desire to work in entertainment.

He picked up and moved to Atlanta, which at the time was a budding new market in terms of show business and was also close to where he grew up and went to college. After a few years in the business, McKissic finally got the opportunity to work with the woman who sparked the dream.

“In 2015, I booked a show called ‘Greenleaf,’ which Oprah produces,” said McKissic. “My scene was with her, she also acted in the first season. Once I had that role, I got to set and I saw her, I had that conversation with her and told her that story. She pretty much solidified and confirmed that everything came full circle for a reason. That kind of hit home for me, it let me know that anything was possible from now on.”

McKissic recently landed a role in the new Showtime series “Your Honor,” which premiered on Dec. 6. The show stars Bryan Cranston as Judge Michael Desiato, a judge whose son is involved in a crime that intertwines an organized crime family, leaving the judge to face impossible choices between his career and his son’s life. McKissic plays ‘Alan Underwood,’ the bailiff working in Desiato’s court.

McKissic is a huge Cranston fan, stating that “Breaking Bad” is one of his favorite shows to date. He initially went into the audition for “Your Honor” for a role called “Little Moe,” which McKissic found upon entering the room may not have been the role for him. He still gave it his all during the audition, which caused the casting directors to call him back in that same day to read for additional roles.

“My whole goal was to go there and do a great audition for that role. And no matter if I was right for it or not that they would see something else for me and give me another audition, and that’s exactly what happened,” said McKissic. “[The role for Little Moe] was definitely for a little guy, I was the only big guy in the room. After I read it, Peter Moffat, the showrunner, said they wanted me to read the role for Duane. I did the audition on the spot.”

After doing the second audition, McKissic thanked the room and said “See you later,” he recalled. As he went back to his car, the casting director ran out to the parking lot to get McKissic to come back and read for the role of Underwood.

They wanted me to read for the bailiff. It said Alan Underwood, 40-50-year-old white guy. I thought, you never know,” said McKissic. “When I got there, the director said, ‘You told us you’d see us soon, bet you didn’t think it would be this soon.'”

McKissic was ultimately given the choice between the two roles he was brought back in for, and he chose the role of the bailiff because the role had more interaction with Cranston’s character.

For McKissic, working alongside Cranston was a once in a lifetime opportunity that offered him a chance to learn.

“It was like a daily masterclass anytime I was on set with him,” said McKissic. “In between takes, I would get the chance to converse with him. He’s a very curious person and interested in the people around him. He would just inquire about my life and journey, it felt nice to be seen and appreciated alongside him. To be beside him and watch him and get advice from him was irreplaceable. You can’t pay for those experiences.”

For those who are watching “Your Honor,” McKissic says to expect the unexpected.

“It’s one of those shows when you think you kind of got it figured out, you don’t,” said McKissic.

McKissic is also taking on a role in the new film “Breaking News in Yuba County,” which is set to premiere later this year. Starring Mila Kunis and Allison Janney, the film follows a suburban wife who goes on a city-wide search in Yuba County to find her missing husband. McKissic will play the role of ‘Lennie,’ the owner and producer of an independent news station.

“Lennie was described as an independent news producer, and that’s all they gave about the character. It’s not a role I normally play. I love these characters that let me step outside of the box and let me be an everyday guy and to be cast based on my talent and not how I look,” said McKissic. “My take was that Lennie was this big guy who was just a pushover, kind of nerdy, and kind of afraid of Mila Kunis because he knows she’s the star reporter and if he pisses her off, his career is over.”

McKissic landed the role and was originally only supposed to be there for a day or two. However, after the film’s director Tate Taylor saw how McKissic was playing the role, he added him on for more.

“I was only slated for one day. After my scene, Tate said ‘Holy s–t I love it!’ and started throwing different stuff at me,” said McKissic. 

McKissic was elated to get to work alongside his fellow costars for the next few months of filming.

“It was very welcoming, it felt like a family,” said McKissic. “There were all these dope people there like Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Awkwafina, Regina Hall…It was very entertaining on set.”

Outside of work, McKissic is passionate about giving back to the community. He always found himself volunteering when he was in high school, and when he was in college he won a national award for being the student athlete with the most amount of volunteer hours. 

“When I think about people who were cornerstones of childhood and development, I remember those people more so for what they did for me rather than what they gave. I remember the time they spent and the advice they gave,” said McKissic. “I didn’t have a dad growing up and many of my friends didn’t. People would see the recurring problem or issue with the people in my community and other communities and they would use it as a crutch. I like to say I use it as a slingshot or a trampoline — the fact that I didn’t have a father motivated me to do more and to do the opposite.”

McKissic teamed up with his childhood friend Jeremy Gray to start up the Curtis House in their hometown of Opelika, Alabama. The Curtis House is a nonprofit center that is a safe haven for the elderly, adults, and children. The property where the Curtis House previously belonged to Gray’s grandfather, who passed away.

For McKissic, he wanted to create a place where kids could come after school and have a safe space to unwind. 

“It’s a safe space for people in the community when they are not in school. There are tutors there, we have a full kitchen, a lounge center for video games. It’s a place where the kids can come and hang so they don’t have to be out on the streets,” said McKissic. 

The Curtis House holds events monthly to get the community involved. One aspect of the Curtis House that McKissic likes the most is that they teach the kids new skills and ways to manage their stress.

“There’s an organic garden where we grow everything. We teach the kids how to plant and how to water the plants,” said McKissic. “We have a pavilion for yoga and meditation, allowing kids to find a new outlet to release stress and anger. That’s not valued or taught in black communities. A lot of kids have taken to that.”

For more information about the Curtis House, visit thecurtishouse.org. Stay up to date with McKissic by following him @jayfifty on Instagram and Twitter.

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