HPU student Blake Jones has landed roles in several, major Hollywood films.
Blake Jones calls it a hobby.
He’ll step into his family’s small studio in their basement, ask his mom or younger brother, Cade, for help and produce an audition video for a role in an upcoming film.
For every 75 roles he goes after, Blake knows he may only get one. But he’s done well. Just look at the A-list celebrities he’s worked with and appeared with in films.
And Clint Eastwood.
Blake is a senior at High Point University, double major in international business and marketing with a minor in Spanish, and he has discovered the confidence and skills to see how he can turn his hobby into a career.
Blake wants to work behind the camera. But how did he get in front of the camera?
He simply stepped onstage. He was just 8.
The Crucial Thumbs-Up
Blake was a third grader, and he was so nervous.
Sweating and feeling scared, he walked into a small theater at Mt. Bethel Elementary in Marietta, Georgia, to audition for a role in “The Cheese Stands Alone.” He was to play a farmer in overalls. He felt more comfortable playing second base.
He stepped onstage and started to sing. When he finished, he spotted in the back Blake Cooper, the school’s drama teacher.
Cooper gave Blake a thumbs up.
“You nailed it!” Cooper shouted.
That response, Blake says today, made all the difference.
“I got this tingling feeling in my chest, and it felt right,” he says. “I had never felt that kind of adrenalin before. I got a taste of it in sports. But this was a different ballgame. I had a pride, an excitement about what was going to happen.”
Blake found he loved being someone else. He found it in the role of Farmer Boy.
Blake never was a shy kid.
At age 6, he started modeling for commercials and magazine ads. It was his parents’ idea. When he visited his maternal grandparents, he’d sometimes turn the couch into a stage and sing songs from Disney’s film, “Tarzan.”
But after “The Cheese Stands Alone,” he realized he loved acting. His parents, Julie and Ty, signed him up for acting lessons with Ken Feinberg, an acclaimed acting coach in Atlanta.
Blake took acting classes every Sunday afternoon. After two years, he asked his mom a big question.
“What can we do with this?” he asked.
Feinberg helped. He took Blake and at least 10 other students to California to meet agents. A few weeks later, Blake went west to audition for roles.
Julie loaded her two sons in her SUV along with Bailey, their Golden Retriever, and headed to Los Angeles. They drove four days straight.
In Los Angeles, Julie rented a studio apartment, homeschooled her children and took Blake to at least three auditions a week for what’s known as “pilot season.” They stayed three months. Blake was 10 years old.
“I had lived in Georgia my whole life and going to California was a huge step because I was going to the Film Capital of the World,” he says. “I was nervous, excited and I kept thinking, ‘Hey, if this happens, this is where it’s going to happen.’”
Donning Superman’s Cape
Los Angeles became Blake’s home twice.
He went back as a seventh grader, again for another three months with his brother and his mom. Cade was three years younger than Blake, and he auditioned, too. Cade got work. So did Blake.
Blake scored work in commercials, print ads and the role of a young Clark Kent in a Mexican pilot about Superman and Batman called “When Clark Met Bruce.” The filming took place in Mexico City.
Blake never ventured west again because he found work closer to home. Tax incentives began to lure directors and producers to Georgia, and filmmakers saw the state as a viable alternative to California.
Blake scored roles in five projects, including the HBO comedy series, “Vice Principals.”
Blake played the lead vandal in an episode. He wore a rubber ram mask and led troublemakers into a school, spray-painting walls, flipping desks and shepherding a herd of rams through the hallways.
That’s five rams with horns.
“They were like, ‘OK, let the rams go first and you go after them,’” Bake says. “But one of the rams got confused, went sideways and got stuck. I jumped around him, thinking, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you hurt me!”
Then came the summer before his senior year in high school.
He was picked to play the teenage version of Chesley Sullenberger, the commercial pilot who flew his plane into the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 155 passengers in January 2009.
“Sully” came out in 2016 with Tom Hanks playing Sullenberger and Clint Eastwood directing the film.
Blake didn’t meet Hanks. But he did meet Eastwood, the film legend who started his career in 1955.
At an airstrip in rural Georgia, Blake spent an entire day with Eastwood. They talked, Eastwood gave Blake acting pointers, and when Blake helped fly a bi-plane, Eastwood followed in a black helicopter filming his every move.
Julie, Blake’s mom, watched from the ground. She was spellbound.
Since Blake was 17 at the time, he had to have a parent with him. So, during the day-long shoot, Julie sat two chairs away from Eastwood. He introduced himself, and at lunch, he sat next to her and talked.
“He put his hand on my knee and said, ‘It’s a silly way to make a living, isn’t it?” says Julie, an accountant for a construction company. “It was amazing. I had to pinch myself all day long.”
In “Sully,” Blake is onscreen for 63 seconds and says eight words. For two seconds, his face fills the entire screen.
“I didn’t tell hardly anyone I did this stuff,” Blake says. “When my high school friends saw me onscreen, they were speechless, and at High Point, people will come up to me and say, ‘You look so familiar.’ When they find out I was in ‘Sully,’ they go, ‘Oh, that was you? I knew I knew your face!’”
‘High Point Has Opened Him Up’
Blake found HPU through a recommendation from a friend’s mother. When he visited, he knew HPU was the place for him because of the small classes, the receptive faculty and a TV studio that awed him.
Blake came in as a Presidential Scholar and enrolled in the university’s Honors Scholar Program. He found roommates who became his friends and a beach volleyball court outside Finch Hall that became his playground.
He and his roommate, Nick Kirby, created a beach volleyball team they called The Nickelbacks after the Canadian rock band. Blake and his teammates put nicknames on the back of their jerseys and gave a jersey to HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein.
Dr. Qubein’s nickname?
“You know,” Blake tell his friends, “Tom Hanks played me in a movie.”
His friends laugh. Those HPU friends created a home Blake never felt at his high school in Georgia. He went to a huge high school where he felt lost. At HPU, he found an honors program that helped him grow intellectually and a group of friends he calls his “second family.”
Blake has thrived.
“He knew he had potential, but I think High Point has opened him up,” says his dad, Ty, owner of a personal fitness company and Blake’s former baseball coach. “He believes he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to do.”
Blake’s Next Move
In his first semester at HPU, Blake started working at the Survey Research Center, where students collect public opinion data. By his sophomore year, he joined one of the university’s a cappella groups, Offbeats, and began taking families on campus tours as a University Ambassador.
He’s now a campus leader.
He supervises 12 people as a University Ambassador captain, represents the Offbeats with HPU’s student government and works as a lead interviewer at the SRC, supervising 40 students making survey calls to people across North Carolina.
As for being an actor, he never told Brian McDonald, SRC’s associate director who hired him. McDonald found out from one of his students. When he did, he started a conversation with Blake with a comment.
“You’re really good at phone calls,” McDonald said. “You should be an actor.”
That’s when Blake told him. As for his hobby, he’s still busy.
Blake has appeared with Christina Hendricks in “The Candy Jar,” the 2018 Netflix film about two high achieving high school seniors. Blake is Hendricks’ boss at a coffee house.
He also has appeared in “Irresistible,” Jon Stewart’s 2020 comedy about American politics that stars Steve Carell from NBC’s comedy “The Office.” Blake is an employee at a Wisconsin bar.
Carell asked Blake for advice for his college-bound daughter; Hendricks from AMC’s acclaimed series “Mad Men” gave Blake advice about life.
“Here is your first chance to be an independent person,” she told him. “You get to choose your own way.”
He wants to use his two degrees and his Spanish to help market international films. He got that idea from his studies at HPU.
“High Point is a different caliber school,” he says. “Other schools give you the knowledge, and you take a test on it. But High Point focuses on real-life applications. That’s why we’re going to college — to get those real-life skills — and I feel High Point has done a great job with that.”
That’s helped how?
“I got a chance to bloom into the person I want to be.”