Ron Cephas Jones is an American actor, best known for his performance as ‘William Hill’ in Dan Fogelman’s ‘NBC’ drama series ‘This Is Us.’ The role has earned him three consecutive ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nominations and one win. He is one of those actors whose face is more recognizable than his name. He has appeared in innumerable small roles in TV series and telefilms since the mid-1990s. While he did not have much to talk about in terms of film and TV pedigree until recently, Jones is a veteran of the New York theater scene, with over 30 years of stage experience. His most memorable stage role has probably been in ‘Richard III’ at the ‘The Public Theater.’ As he was about to devote the rest of his life to theater, after failing to establish himself in Los Angeles, he started getting substantial recurring parts on TV all of a sudden. He was cast in ‘Mr. Robot’ and ‘Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage.’ With ‘This is Us,’ he was finally propelled into the league of well-known and decorated screen actors, at the ripe age of 60. Jones is also a poet and has garnered critical acclaim for his work ‘Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café.’
Childhood & Early Life
Jones was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on January 8, 1957. He attended the ‘John F. Kennedy High School’ and later graduated from ‘Ramapo College,’ a public liberal arts college in Mahwah, New Jersey.
According to him, he wished to be a theater actor even as a kid. “I wanted to be a great stage actor, because those were the actors I admired, and those were the ones I was able to see...there weren’t a lot of African-Americans doing television. And I’m talking about the ’70s, when I went to high-school and college,” he said in a March 2017 interview.
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Jones has performed in many stage productions over the years, several of them with major theatrical companies. He has done ‘Broadway’ and ‘off-Broadway’ theater and has even served as a standby or understudy in productions such as ‘Gem of the Ocean’ (December 6, 2004, to February 6, 2005) and ‘The Motherfucker with the Hat’ (April 11, 2011, to July 17, 2011).
His early stage works include ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ with Don John, ‘Black Codes from the Underground’ under the ‘Director’s Lab’ program at the ‘Lincoln Center Theatre,’ ‘Everybody's Ruby’ at ‘The Public Theater,’ ‘House Arrest: First Edition’ by Anna Deveare Smith at the ‘Arena Stage,’ and ‘Holiday Heart’ at the ‘MTC,’ New York.
He won the ‘Audelco Best Actor Award’ for his performance in ‘Don't Explain’ (‘Nuyorican Poets Café’) in 1991 and the ‘Critics Circle Outstanding Performance for an Actor’ award for ‘Thunder Knocking on the Door’ (‘Yale Rep’) in 1997.
Later, he appeared in a few big productions, such as ‘Head of Passes,’ with the ‘Steppenwolf Theatre Company’ in Chicago. He was also seen in ‘Prometheus Bound’ at the ‘Getty Villa,’ followed by ‘Hurt Village’ and ‘Two Trains Running’ with ‘Signature’ and ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Satellites’ at the ‘New York Shakespeare Festival.’
Some of his other stage performances were for ‘As You Like It’ and ‘The Tempest’ (‘Old Vic London’), ‘Wildflower’ (‘2nd Stage’), ‘The Overwhelming’ (‘Roundabout’), ‘The Wooden Breeks’ (‘MCC’), ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ (‘Alliance’), ‘The Exonerated’ and ‘Othello’ (‘Royal Theatre,’ London), ‘Our Lady of 121st Street’ and ‘Jesus Hopped the A Train’ (‘LAByrinth’), and ‘Storefront Church’ (‘Atlantic Theatre’).
He was nominated for the ‘The Lortels’ award for ‘Outstanding Featured Actor’ in 2003, for his work in ‘Our Lady of 121st Street. He was nominated for the same award in 2007, for ‘Two Trains Running.’ He won the ‘Sustained Excellence of Performance Gold Star’ at the 2007 ‘Obie Awards.’
In 2012, he landed his biggest on-stage stint when he was cast in the title role in ‘Richard III’ at ‘The Public Theater,’ New York. According to a ‘Playbill’ report, the production also put up charity performances at homeless shelters and youth centers, among other community service venues, throughout the city.
In 2014, he became part of the hit ‘Broadway’ production ‘Of Mice and Men,’ starring ‘Golden Globe’-winning and ‘Academy Award’-nominated actor James Franco. Jones played the character ‘Crooks.’ The production was filmed by ‘National Theatre Live’ in New York.
Film & Television Career
Jones started his on-screen career in the mid-90s, with a couple of non-descript African–American-centric projects, the more notable police drama ‘New York Undercover,’ and a few hit shows such as ‘NYPD Blue’ and ‘Law & Order.’
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The late 1990s brought him bit parts in big-banner Hollywood projects. He was part of Spike Lee’s Denzel Washington-starrer ‘He Got Game’ (1998) and Woody Allen's double-‘Academy Award’-nominated ‘Sweet and Lowdown’ (1999).
A slew of smaller indie projects and action films followed. He was also part of some shorts and telefilms, until the mid-2000s, when he earned a part in the ‘Academy Award’-nominated Ryan Gosling-starrer ‘Half Nelson’ (2006) and the ‘Academy Award’-nominated musical ‘Across The Universe’ (2007), which was Hollywood’s homage to ‘The Beatles.’
The late 2000s and the early 2010s proved to be lean periods for Jones, with only a handful of small projects, the highlight being ‘Titus’ (2013), which featured him in the title role.
Things started to look up soon. He made guest appearances in a few popular, big-budget TV series between 2013 and 2015, such as ‘AMC’s crime drama ‘Low Winter Sun,’ the ‘Emmy’-winning ‘Cinemax’ show ‘Banshee,’ and ‘The Blacklist.’
2015 marked the golden period in Jones’s TV career, with him landing the role of ‘FSociety’s’ resident hippie and cynic ‘Romero’ in Sam Esmail’s cult thriller ‘Mr. Robot,’ starring ‘Academy Award’-winner Rami Malek. The show won the ‘Golden Globe’ twice.
Following this, he earned major roles in the musical series ‘The Get Down’ and in ‘Marvel’s action-hero series for ‘Netflix,’ titled ‘Luke Cage’ (2016–2018), where he played Harlem chess-master ‘Bobby Fish’ in 13 episodes.
2016 also brought him the life-changing role of ‘William Hill,’ the biological father of ‘Randall Pearson,’ Sterling K. Brown’s character, in ‘This Is Us.’ This was a heart-wrenching performance that contributed greatly to the show’s success in its first season. Despite playing only a recurring character, Jones earned a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ nomination at the 2017 ‘Primetime Emmys,’ primarily for his performance in the episode ‘Memphis.’ He was also nominated for a ‘Gold Derby Award’ and an ‘OFTA Television Award.’ He won a ‘Black Reel Award,’ too.
The second season of ‘This Is Us’ saw him returning to the 2018 ‘Emmys,’ this time winning in the ‘Best Guest Actor’ category. He also won his second ‘Black Reel Award’ and received a ‘Gold Derby’ nomination in the same category, besides winning the ‘Best Ensemble,’ along with the rest of the cast, at that year’s ‘Screen Actors Guild Awards.’ In 2019, he received yet another ‘Primetime Emmy’ nomination for the same show.
Jones has also done a few small films lately. He has made one uncredited appearance in ‘Marvel’s big-ticket blockbuster ‘Venom’ (2018), starring Tom Hardy.
His upcoming projects are the crime-drama series ‘Truth Be Told’ and ‘Hulu’s ‘Looking for Alaska,’ a TV adaptation of John Green’s debut novel of the same name, where he is slated to play ‘Dr. Hyde,’ a “one-lunged” history of religion teacher.
Family & Personal Life
Jones dated British singer Kim Lesley (now Rev. Kim Lesley) for many years, but they never married. They have a daughter, Jasmine, born in 1989. The couple separated when Jasmine was about 2 years old.
Like her father, Jasmine is an accomplished theatrician and an upcoming screen actor. She is also a singer and part of the ensemble for the record-breaking ‘Broadway’ production ‘Hamilton.’