Taylor Iman Jones is ready. The actor, currently starring as Mopsa in Head Over Heels, has shown up for her feature photoshoot early, and now under the warm glow of the Renaissance Hotel Midtown’s Thread Bar, she is perched on a stool, asking if there is anything she can do to help get set. It’s that same kind of preparation and energy combined with raw talent that led the young performer to book her first Broadway show (Groundhog Day) just two months after moving to New York City.
Playbill caught up with Jones to chat about her experience creating a new musical, training for Broadway, and making the theatre more inclusive.
You’re currently starring in Head Over Heels playing Mopsa! How has that experience been so far?
Amazing! On many levels: being on Broadway is one thing and being a lead on Broadway is another thing. Being in a new musical is another challenge and excitement in and of itself. And then specifically with Head Over Heels, it’s been really encouraging and educational to be in a show that is more accepting than any other show that has been on Broadway thus far and is making history with a trans woman originating a role… even having words like non-binary and having a non-binary character in a Broadway show at all. Having lesbians onstage. Having curvy body appreciation onstage. All of that in one show is a delicious treat that we get to bring to the world. And to carry on the metaphor, it’s something they’ve never tasted [laughs]. But it also is very important for so many other people. Because representation matters.
For you as an actor, is there a certain responsibility that you feel each night as you tell a story that is so important and life changing?
I think, now more than ever, I try to make sure that I am as educated as I can be in this field. It is now my duty to be a leader among our own community and to progress further in the world. We’ve had a lot of conversation about gender identity and how it is a system in our world that we’re all conforming to because that's how we’ve been raised. It’s important to realize that people are on all sorts of spectrums and that’s okay. And it’s cool. It’s what makes us individuals.
What was that learning process like?
It’s just a shift. It’s more being aware of what you say and when you say it. You don’t even realize how much you do it at first. Especially with our show, we have a lot of non-binary friends at our stage door. I think people initially feel like it doesn’t matter, “you are who you are.” But some people are fighting every day to be [acknowledged as] how they feel inside. It’s up to us to take that extra step, which is just a paradigm shift, to find a new language and open up your own vocabulary to everyone. It’s only going to help you and benefit everyone.
Wow, we just dove right into the deep stuff first! Now let’s start at the beginning: Tell us about Mopsa in Head Over Heels.
Mopsa is the royal handmaiden to Princess Pamela, who is the most beautiful princess in the world. Mopsa has a crush on Pamela, and while our world is fiction it is still in that Elizabethan world. The word lesbian hasn’t even been coined in our world yet. So that’s a challenge: “How do you love someone when you’ve never heard of [a love like] that before.” But also Mopsa is strong and she isn’t afraid to say what she wants and what she means. Eventually she finds the strength to come out about her love, not only to Pamela but also to her dad.
In Mopsa, I’ve found a little more strength in myself. I’ve learned be true to your heart and who you are no matter what. And also because Mopsa is lower status than the rest of the family (she is part of the staff and not Royal family), she doesn’t always get to speak all of her mind and so I’ve always learned to listen and take things in, both onstage and as a person.
While you’re tacking this Elizabethan world, you’re also tackling the Go-Go’s music. Did you know the Go-Go’s music before this experience?
I knew “Vacation” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” but I didn’t know the deep cuts and that’s been really cool. It’s been great to hear their other music and to find out that the songs we knew had a much deeper meaning when you unfold them and put them in this new context. We’re giving them a new birth for a new generation!
And I read that you’d only been in the city for two months before you booked your first Broadway show. If you could give advice to anyone who is just starting out or new to New York, what would it be?
Know your strengths and know your weaknesses. If you have a great voice but you’re not so great of a dancer, go to some dance classes. You don’t need to be the best dancer – sometimes, you just need to be “good enough” and your other strengths will get you through. Like, I did the American Idiot tour in 2014 and I felt like a weaker actor so then I went to A.C.T. for a semester. Classes are expensive but just choose one thing for a little. You have your whole life ahead of you. You don’t need to be amazing at all the things right now. But every little bit and every day counts.
Last question: If you could sum up your experience in Head Over Heels in one word, what it be?
I think I’d have to choose “eye-opening.” Creating this new Broadway musical, I’ve met so many people in all walks of life and I think every day I learn more about myself, this craft, and this community!