by Frank Rizzo
Growing up in Chicago, Jerod Haynes—who is starring as Bigger Thomas in the stage adaptation of Native Son at Yale Repertory Theatre—had no interest whatsoever in becoming an actor.
Haynes’s dream centered on the basketball court and, for a while, it looked like that dream had a good chance of becoming true.
“I dreamt of going to the NBA and I worked extremely hard at it,” says the young actor over lunch at New Haven’s Atticus Bookstore Café, during a break in rehearsals.
A star athlete in a state championship high school team, Haynes received a scholarship to the University of Idaho, a Division One school, and it looked like he was on a path to sports glory.
“But when I got there I kind of fell out of love with the game,” he says, “and I hit a wall mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Coaching conflicts, lack of focus, and a bit of arrogance, he says, all contributed to his going off-course. He transferred to another college in Texas while trying to get a break in the minor league teams of the NBA, but nothing seemed to be going his way.
Back home in Chicago after college, he was sleeping on the couch at his sister’s, without prospects. He was depressed. Then, one day, he came across an advertisement for an acting school and decided to apply. Lacking the funds for classes, he worked out a work-study exchange.
The classes were therapeutic and “I was opening up—and it felt good.” Then he discovered that his acting skills were improving, too. He auditioned and got a part in a local production of August Wilson’s Jitney.
“I butchered the audition, but they must have seen something in me,” he says. “That’s when I made a decision to leave ball alone and pursue acting.”