Welcome John P Pickett, actor and percussionist. Born in the northern bayous of Louisiana John is no stranger to the world of acting and music. In the music world he is known as Voodoo John and plays congas, bongos and timbales. I have watched his demo tapes and whether he is acting evil or comedic his transition is flawless. His acting experience began as a child doing plays for his family and classmates which naturally transitioned into adulthood. He played supporting roles in the movies: Tommy the Great, Gumbo Vision and The Promise. He was featured in Sin City 2, Machete, Man of the House, She Gets What She Wants, Serving Sara, Pendulum and Any Given Sunday.
His theater credits include: An Evening with Myrna, Vivat! Vivat! Regina!, Brigadoon. John has extensive training with the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute , Actors Arena, Bright Lites Studio, Alex Newman Casting Director Workshop, Ryan Giorioso Workshop, Brent Caballero Workshop, Audition Techniques Workshop, Brook/Allen Casting Workshop, Shakespeare Workshop and the Institution Theater Improv Workshop.
PSW (purelysimplewords): Welcome to New York John and thank you for sharing your time and experience with us. What brought you here to New York?
JP (John P Pickett): I moved to New York September of last year (2013) with my friends, Myrna and her husband Daniel. We had a mass sell off of most of the items we didn’t think we would need, packed a U-Haul with the remaining items, loaded up the F-J with the pups and left Austin, Texas on Labor Day.
PSW: What was your reason for moving here?
JP: I had a full time job and was a part-time musician in Austin, Texas as are most of the people that live in Austin. I lived in Austin for nine (9) years and played in a couple of bands. The first band I played in was called “70 Through Selma”. It was a trio but definitely not a power trio. As the band slowly progressed playing mostly open mics Myrna Cabello came and auditioned as a singer. She was amazing and I later found out she is a working actress. After a couple of gigs and getting tired of open mics we decided to form our own band. We decided to make it a Latin-Blues band. Additional musicians, including Daniel, were gathered and Myrna and the Gris Gris Blues Band was born. (Sometimes bands should not be named after a long rehearsal and many drinks.)
We recorded a CD, Myrna Cabello/Letting Go. We were fortunate to have some notable musicians play on the CD such as Rock Roll Hall of Famer, Jerry Martini who was a co-founder of Sly and the Family Stone. When it came time for the inevitable CD release, Myrna wanted to do something different. So, Myrna developed a multimedia stage show around the songs on the CD. From the great response we got, Myrna suggested that I take a serious look at acting. Prior to that I did background work in movies and one independent film shot in Dallas, Texas where I lived prior to moving to Austin. So, I began taking acting classes in Austin and was cast in a couple of short/student films.
Myrna came to New York and had a very successful three (3) day acting intensive at the Actors Connection. From the intensive, she returned and said let’s move to New York. So in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Let’s put on a show” kind of way it was decided we would move to New york. After many starts and delays which included a burst appendix on my part, we made it to New York.
I guess you can say it was one giant leap of faith. Not moon landing leap but big nevertheless.
PSW: Do you like New York so far?
JP: I love New York. You know, I’ve never been to New York prior to moving here so my first time seeing New York outside of television or movies, was when we crossed the George Washington Bridge into New York.
PSW: I read your extensive and impressive resume, tell me about your role in “The Promise”.
JP: “The Promise” was an independent film I did for a friend when I lived in Dallas, Texas. My role was that of the main characters best friend. The story is based on the two (2) main characters promise from high school to get married if neither are married by a certain age and the situations involved when one is more committed to a promise than the other.
PSW: Was “The Promise” based on a book?
JP: No it was an original script.
PSW: What are the challenges to being an actor and musician?
JP:They are both hard and challenging industries. In both, the goal is to get booked. As a musician, do you play the style of music that suits the venue, can you bring in people and will you play for little or no pay. As an actor, how good of an actor are you, does your look fit the idea of the role and are you an established/bankable name.
PSW: Are there benefits to the type of work you do in acting and music? You must meet a lot of girls.
PSW: Girls like musicians.
JP: Girls may like musicians but very few middle-aged musicians. The benefits come as you get established. Here it is about getting started, seen and known. I just completed a movie on Staten Island with the working title of “Frankenstein vs. The Mummy”. I played an unsavory character of “Carter”. I believe the scheduled release date is toward the end of the year. Who knows? If the right people see the film it could be a spring board but you keep grinding it out.
PSW: What was your life like growing up in Louisiana?
JP: I had, what I consider, a normal childhood growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport is in north Louisiana close to the Texas/Arkansas border. At that time Louisiana was like two (2) different states with the line drawn through Alexandria, Louisiana. I have an older brother and sister which makes me the “baby” of the family. All in all, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s had to be the best time because of my family. Louisiana was and to some extent a conservative state and I can say I am not a conservative person.
PSW: You are not supposed to be conservative. You are an artist. When you are an artist you have license to do the weird wonderful things artists. do. You can be unusual. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If people don’t like it:tough on them. When you are young and you don’t know any better you want to fit in but who you are and what you are always comes out.
No matter what a person does, no matter how hard you try to fit in somewhere else it is not going to work. If you are not in a place you are supposed to be it will not work out. If you are meant to be in the theater that’s where you will be. I am a firm believer you must follow your dreams.
When was the first time you felt strongly about acting?
JP: I guess it was in first or second grade. My teacher was somewhat progressive for the time and developed a play around the song “Puff the Magic Dragon:. My role was that of “Little Jackie Paper” (who loved that rascal Puff). As I was growing up, going to the movies and watching television I thought I can do that. It can’t be that hard. Well, it is. I guess it was always in the back of my mind but at the time there was nothing to move it forward. So, instead, I started playing music, percussion, in junior high school and have continued playing in some form since then.
PSW: I know the name of your band was Myrna and the Gris Gris Blues Band and you played congas, bongos, timbales and assorted percussion instruments. What kind of music did your band play?
JP: Initially it started out as Latin Blues but morphed more into a more contemporary rock with a touch of Latin Blues. We played mostly original songs written by Myrna and Daniel with the occasional covers to fill out the set.
PSW: What is your favorite music?
JP: I like the blues, zydeco, which is a style of music from South Louisiana. I also followed bands from New Orleans such as the Neville Brother, The Radiators, The Subdudes, Funky Meters and Dr. John. I guess you can say I like jam bands such as The Grateful Dead and Little Feat.
PSW: What will you do to increase your skills and knowledge?
JP: I will continue taking classes here in New York because acting is an ongoing process. Myrna started me in acting classes when we were in Austin and continues to be my best coach. I took more classes in Austin with the last being the Actors Arena with Terry Kiser who is a very established actor best known as “Bernie” from “Weekend at Bernies”. Here, in New York, I’ve taken classes at the Actors Connection.
PSW: What insights have you learned that you would like to pass on to others who want to persue a career in acting?
JP: Study, observe, research. There are a lot of methods of acting and there is no right or wrong. I am inclined to lean toward the Strasberg method. But no matter the method/style, you have to bring yourself to whatever role you play and believe in the work you are doing.
PSW: Is your family supportive of your pursuit of acting?
JP: Yes, my family is very suppoetive. They don’t always understand what I am doing but they support me. In fact, my mother and father were my first audience. I would put on little plays, mostly around the holiday, with my brother and sister but my best performances when I was young was the acting I did to get out of chores and going to church. I had asthma as a child and learned early on how to use that to my advantage.
PSW: On a personal note, what makes you happy?
JP: Little things. Memories of the times shared with friends and family. The little things that made me laugh, watching an old television show or movie from the past that brings back happy times. A good song will also bring a smile to my face.
PSW: Do you think you run more on your gut feeling or facts?
JP: My gut. For each character, of course, you have to do your character development but once that is done it still comes back to a gut feeling for me.
PSW: If you could have any super power in the world what would it be?
JP: Growing up my superheroes were Batman, Superman, Spiderman but I think it would be great to be invisible. I could watch and observe what is going on. If I saw someone doing something stupid I could slap them in the head and say stop it.
PSW: Why do you have “Voodoo Man” as a reference to your name?
JP: As you know I am from Louisiana. Long ago my friends in Shreveport decided to go to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. On the first trip I went to Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and I bought a chicken foot necklace. Every time we would go I would add something like a gator foot, boars teeth and an iguana foot I got on a trip to Mexico. Over time a “Voodoo” necklace emerged and my name went from “Chickenbone” to now “Voodoo”. “Voodoo” John was also a character I developed further in the band along with other characters like “Voodoo” Claus for holiday shows and “ Voodoo” Libre for other shows in which I wore a Mexican Libre mask. I still have the necklace.
PSW: I saw the necklace in the photo section of your website. It’s a real Voodoo necklace as far as I am concerned. Tell me about your website.
JP: Myrna created and designed my website: johnpickettactor.com. My demo reel is based on movies I have done and class work that was taped. My goal is to have the demo reel contain only work I have done and delete the class scenes. I like the class scenes but they are soley a learning experience and not representative of film work.
PSW: How do you get into character?
JP: When I receive a script for an audition or role, I read through it first and learn the lines. After that I work on the character depending on the action in the script or a backstory I develope for the character.
PSW: Where do you see your career going in the future?
JP: My goal is to be a working actor. To continue learning the craft. I really don’t have a desire to be famous. I leave that for the current “reality stars” on the “unscripted/scripted” shows. I remember a time where there was more creativity in television. Now, you just point a camera and people act stupid.
PSW: What are you thankful for?
JP: I am thankful for everyone who has been in my life and helped me along the way. My family, Myrna and Daniel, Rachael, Stacey, Stephanie, Bernadette and Brandye from Dallas and all the drinking buddies from Ben’s Halfyard House. Pedro Martinez, Andrew Levy, Walt Collins and Mike Crossan who allowed me to continue working for the company from Austin here in New York. All my acting coaches and classmates over the years and being allowed to fail in order to achieve. And I can’t forget Ester and Jorge.
PSW: What is a typical acting day like?
JP: On a typical acting day I try to be the most prepared I can be. Have a good idea of the character, know the lines but be willing to change depending on direction. I also try to get to the set early. I have always done that even when playing music. For me, getting to a set or gig early helps me put the trip behind and relax and concentrate on the job at hand. When I was playing music I would get to a venue about two (2) hours early to make sure everything is set up correctly and make it easier on my bandmates.
PSW: Will you be doing music gigs in New York?
JP: I don’t know if I will continue playing music in New York at this time. Mainly because I sold all my equipment prior to moving. It takes time to re-aquire equipment that was obtained over the years. Maybe I will but on a smaller scale.
PSW: Thank you again John. And the best of luck in all your endevors. As a native New Yorker I feel it is my duty to take you on a little sight seeing.
At this point we loaded our selves in the car and started sightseeing. I took him on a mini tour of Long Island City and Astoria.
JP: I enjoyed the personal tour of Long Island City, Astoria Park, Roosevelt Island. It gave me a prospective of New York I may not have seen otherwise and a different view of Manhattan. Thank you very much.
After spending some time with John I realized he is a very laid back guy. It doesn’t seem too much bothers him. However, I am deeply impressed by his leaving all he knew with a leap of faith, courage and belief in his path and come to New York. Most people don’t have the burning desire to change their lives for the better like John has. He is a role model for anyone who wants to pursue their heart’s desire.
I hope John Pickett is an inspiration to all of of you. It is my sincerest hope that everyone takes the same leap of faith as John did and march forward toward the path of your dreams.
To contact John go to his website: johnpickettactor.com.