Published on December 29th, 2018 | by Dr. Jerry Doby


Empire’s Juan Antonio Goes Classic Man in ‘Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta’

Empire’s Juan Antonio is a celebrated actor, model and you’ve seen the cat in Cosmo a couple of times and GQ and he’s always sartorially resplendent. We got to talk to him about his new role in the Lifetime Network’s Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta and anybody who has done their reading in college has had an opportunity to read the comedic adventures in this crazy, crazy love story and Juan plays the featured character, the very reserved Mr. Will Darcy. The feature-length adaptation of the classic novel is set to premiere in 2019.

Set in modern-day Atlanta, Antonio will star as the eligible Will Darcy, the handsome bachelor in pursuit of Lizzie Bennet, played by Tiffany Hines.

Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta features an African-American cast led by Reginald VelJohnson as Reverend Bennet, a pastor of a prominent Southern Baptist church, and his wife, Mrs. Bennet (Jackée Harry), author of a self-help book on how to find the perfect husband. Needless to say, Mrs. Bennet is less than thrilled that all five of their daughters — Lizzie (Tiffany Hines), Jane (Raney Branch), Mary (Brittney Level), Lydia (Reginae Carter) and Kitty (Alexia Bailey) — are still single. When the very eligible Will Darcy (Antonio) arrives in town, Mrs. Bennet sets her sights on the handsome bachelor for daughter Lizzie, leading to a comedic modern-day take on themes familiar to fans of the novel.

Directed by Rhonda Baraka from a script by Tracy McMillan, its cast also includes Kellee Stewart, Victoria Rowell and Keshia Knight Pulliam. Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta is produced by Big Dreams Entertainment and Swirl Films, with Leslie Greif, Naomi Despres and Tracy McMillan serving as executive producers.

So you’ve had a fantastic career. Talk to me about coming in and playing the Will Darcy in Pride and Prejudice Atlanta and what you thought when you first saw the script.

It’s really a well known classic story obviously. So I had to actually go back and brush up on it myself and then after I got back through it I realized that, you know, it’s a great love story, but it’s also a story about perspective, the elements of judging a book by the cover, jumping to conclusions and assumptions, all those good things that we normally do in life as individuals, myself included. So, you know, I thought it’d be challenging too, especially play the role of Mr. Darcy as he shifts throughout the story, you get to see him and his perspective changed as well. So I thought it’d be an amazing challenge and I was honored to be offered the role as well.

It’s an awesome play and if anybody paid attention as we said, it’s Pride and Prejudice Atlanta, which is in Georgia, which is a crazy irony because the original play was set in Georgian era England in the UK, early UK. So I thought that was cool.

I don’t know if they did that by, choice or it just happened to work out that way.

What does an all-black cast bring to this story and as it applies to where we don’t see today, love stories from the black perspective?

That’s exactly what you get to see, is the black perspective, which you know, you can highlight it and say the black perspective, but at the end of the day it’s still, it’s all based in human perspective. So we still all deal with the same emotions and the same perspective, um, but you are going to see that slight spin on it since it is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s an all-black cast so you get to also see those sprinkles and elements coming from the black perspective, you know, a mother raising five children and getting married and just kind of what that’s like from that end as well. So you actually get to see a little twist on it.

How do you think that, or why do you think that black perspective might be important in this day and age with so much hatred? I mean, I think it has also maybe to do some, self-worth kind of issues as well and an attack from a unique African American perspective.

I think it’s super important to portray and to be seen, especially in the time that we live in right now because if you actually do your research, which most people don’t, in Georgia back in the day from the early ha1900’s and a little bit before there were wealthy black Americans that lived down there just as well as white Americans and any other race, but they just weren’t portrayed and highlighted. So you never really even knew about it. All you heard was more about the negative and what was going on down there, but there also existed something else. And so moving into the age that we live in nowadays, I think on a self-worth level, people just need to see that. It doesn’t matter what race you’re coming from, you need to see that we’re all the same and we all have can and will achieve wealth and prosperity.

I think it’s a great point that you brought up during that time there were black landowners, there were very wealthy, black families and still families that are still carrying on the early founders legacy today. There’s some old money out there in the south.

Absolutely. You just don’t hear about it. You know you don’t hear about it as much.

What was the most fun for you in stepping into this world? I mean we see you in Empire and that’s a completely different type of perspective. So this is kind of diametrically opposite.

You hit it right on the head and that’s among other things, one of the best parts about it and that’s something I’m going to continuously do is shift complete shifts because you know, you don’t want to continuously do the same character. Hey, you know, there’s some fun in that as well, but for me, I find more excitement in having to shift because it requires more from me. So going from Empire and that character to this 360 all the way change that’s the fun in it. And then the elements of the actual story that come with it. I didn’t come from wealth, I wasn’t raised on inherited trust fund money, but this character did so I get to step into those shoes and kind of play in that world with the mansion, the cars, the perspective of him coming from New York down to Georgia to run for Congress. And I would say the number one highlight man, I learned how to ride a horse in 10 minutes and that’s going to be in the film as well.

I saw the stills of you on the horse, that was a magnificent animal too…no Nag.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t a pony.

Did you have any particularly exciting moments learning to a building this relationship with this horse that you were going to be on?

Man, the whole thing was exciting, man. I was with the trainer, we broke for lunch and I stayed back with the trainer for like 10, 15 minutes and he kinda walked me through it and then let me get familiar with the horse. I had never been on a horse in my life. And there was another challenge in that spot as well, you know, to jump into these types of things. It took me, allowing myself the space to kind of build that relationship and you know, kind of move fear or any doubt aside that, aww, can I pull this off? It’s like just dive in there and trust what the trainer is telling you. And within 10 minutes, man, I was up and riding and it’s a new-found hobby, let’s put it that way.

You’ve been immersed in huge situations before, so being faced with this massive animal was definitely just another challenge and another phase. So yeah, I don’t suppose that they had a lot of horses in Rockford, Illinois where you came up.

You’d be surprised to know I actually grew up out on the country side of town. So there were some farmers out on that side of the town that had horses and you would see them throughout the day, riding the horse in the street.

Give us a little bit of your backstory, man. What brought you to the entertainment industry, acting and modeling specifically?

Yeah, that’s a great question, man. Well, you know, my family was involved in a little real estate, so I started out young as a loan officer doing some real estate in Chicago and you know, made some money and made some traction on that. But realized that it just wasn’t worth the money. The time invested and the energy investment wasn’t worth the money even though it was good money. So I decided that I was going to drop everything and try to figure out what I enjoy doing, which I already had an inclination that it was in the field of music and the field of entertainment. And that’s also something I work on as well as music as a hobby. So I do that just because it makes me happy. And that brought me to the arts and I do Improv comedy. And so once I started doing that in college, man, I just found a passion for it in that drove me because I like to challenge myself.

It drove me more towards trying to train, find the best training, become the best athlete in this field, and that’s what I strive for today. Now I’m literally talking to you as I’m finishing the session at the gym. I haven’t even changed my clothes yet.

Speaking of Improv comedy, you’re on the set with Reginald VelJohnson who plays a southern Baptist church preacher and Jackée Harry and knowing the characters of these two, and their affinity for practical jokes and stuff, in front of the camera, did they pull anything on you that made you employ your Improv on skills?

On me and in general, I mean  Jackée Harry she’s just a beast man and you know, we all probably, you know, grew up watching and seeing and some part of her and her journey and just to be around them was such an honor man. It was something that was really cool and it didn’t actually even really hit me until afterward because we were so involved in what we were doing, but the set was filled with energy and then afterward I realized, yo, these people have had careers. Jackée, Reginald, funny. Very funny. Um, they’ve had long careers and I was like wow. To be able to be considered among them and joining them is all fun for me man. So yeah, the set was filled with jokes and laughter and, and me and Jackée probably definitely pranked. Like I’m photobombing her when she’s doing serious work and it’s a little bit of everything. It was a lot of fun.

It sounds like something that’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing. Is there anything special that you wanted to cover about this iteration of Pride and Prejudice?

Man, I just want everybody to check it out because like you said, it is a very classic well known story and so just what I’ve been hearing from people is that they’re excited to see it because people already are familiar with the story, so I think the twist that’s put on it, it’s just going to pull you in more and it’s going to take you on all those rides. It’s full of emotion and there is going to be laughter in there. They’re calling it basically a RomCom (romantic comedy), you know, so it’s gonna have all, that what you look for in it. So I just want everybody to check it out, man, and then look forward to what we’ve got coming next because I’m already back to work onto the next one.

Was there a moment, just to digress for a second, was there a moment in filming that it just caught you and you went wow, this is so dope. Was there something that just hit you?

Man, like I said, being around that cast. I have a handful of pivotal scenes where because it’s an ensemble cast, there are some scenes where the entire cast is present and I think in those moments, it hits me even more because I’m seeing everyone as we’re telling this story and as I said, it just fills me up and it motivates me to keep going. I’m already self-motivated, but moments like that, that’s all you need, man. That’s the payoff.

About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, Media and SEO Consultant, Journalist, Ph.D. and retired combat vet. 2023 recipient of The President's Lifetime Achievement Award. Partner at THM Media Group. Member of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, the United States Press Agency and ForbesBLK.

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