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Jasmine Cephas Jones: 'Blindspotting' dramedy about couple surviving

Jasmine Cephas Jones (L) and Rafael Casal star in the dramedy series, Blindspotting. Photo courtesy of Starz
Jasmine Cephas Jones (L) and Rafael Casal star in the dramedy series, "Blindspotting." Photo courtesy of Starz

NEW YORK, June 13 (UPI) -- Hamilton and #freerayshawn actress Jasmine Cephas Jones says she was honored to hear Starz wanted to continue exploring the Blindspotting universe, but this time through her character Ashley's eyes.

Debuting on the cable network Sunday, the half-hour dramedy is based on the 2018 film by the same name.

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The Oakland, Calif.-set movie was about childhood pals Miles (Rafael Casal) and Collin (Daveed Diggs), whose adult friendship is tested because of Miles' immaturity and impulsiveness. Ashley is Miles' longtime girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Sean (Atticus Woodward).

The Blindspotting TV series kicks off with Miles being sent to prison and Ashley and Sean moving in with his mother, Rainey (Helen Hunt), and sister Trish (Jaylen Barron). Benjamin Earl Turner and Candace Nicholas-Lippman play Earl and Janelle, who live next door to the family.

Casal and Diggs wrote and produced the film and the series. Casal reprises his role as Miles in the show.

"In the film, we see these very intense sides of her, but we don't really know her as a woman, deep down who she is," Jones told UPI about Ashley in a recent Zoom interview.

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"In the show, it's amazing to see her journey and how she deals with her life partner, all of a sudden, being taken away from her. Her journey and how strong she is, and how she deals with a lot of situations is just amazing to watch. She keeps it together for her son and for her family."

Because Ashley and Miles truly care for and are committed to each other, the single mom won't walk away from the relationship, regardless of how difficult it is to sustain.

"She's been with him so long," the Emmy winner said. "What Rafael and I really wanted to show is a couple surviving something so drastic and traumatic like this. It was really important to us to show the love."

Viewers who have experienced upheaval in their own lives -- or lost or reconnected with loved ones this past year because of the coronavirus pandemic -- might relate to what the characters in the show are going through.

"Life isn't perfect and people are thrown crazy things. There is a lot of trauma in people's lives," Jones said.

"What is beautiful about the show is the cast and the love and the family dynamic and knowing sometimes your blood isn't just your family. It's your friends and the new people, like Earl, that become your family and your support system. We need each other."

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The show has humor and heart, while tackling important issues, but it also incorporates dance, poetry and the occasional action sequence.

Jones said playing these many different notes is "kind of a dream come true."

"What I love about it the most is I get to do it with my friends and my friends that are super-super-talented," she added. "We get to create meaningful art and really explore all these creative ideas."

Hunt -- who is known for her roles in Mad About You, As Good As It Gets and Twister -- said Rainey is unlike any woman she has ever played.

"They did such a good job of imagining her that she is not like anybody else. She's not a derivative of other things. She is all herself, which is what you pray for as an actor," the Oscar winner told UPI in a separate Zoom chat.

Hunt describes Rainey as someone who enjoys her kids immensely, knows exactly who they are and is joyful in spite of the pain and suffering she has witnessed and personally endured.

Being a mother in real life helped Hunt understand Rainey, as a mom, mother-in-law and grandmother.

"You care about something so much. It is so untenable how much you care, so I have that," she said.

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"I held on to that and then allowed the fun to come out of her loudness and her willingness to be embarrassing. I think she knows more than she lets on. She knows she is tickling this very controlled character that Jasmine plays. But I would say mothering with a capital 'M' was the way in."

Hunt recalled seeing a trailer for the Blindspotting movie years ago and immediately wanting to watch it because "it's about everything I care about."

After she screened the film, she posted on social media about how much she loved it, which caught Casal's attention.

"Suddenly, we were talking and having coffee and trying to work together and hanging out together and he was talking along the way about this series of Blindspotting," Hunt said.

She was pleased when Casal not only included her in the new version, but also was able to maintain the spirit people loved about the original, while moving the story forward in inventive ways.

"The smart thing is that they just said, 'This is a new thing with a new aesthetic.' The tone is new. There are elements that weren't in the first one that are in this. They didn't try to make it an extension. They just gave birth to a whole new beautiful thing."

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While the show is essentially a comedy, the actress hopes viewers will also consider how mass incarceration impacts families.

"I hope they get that because they are having so much fun watching it and laughing that they don't even realize that they are being reminded of that," she said, adding the diverse cast means most viewers will find someone to relate to. "There's lots of entry points."

Casal and Diggs worked hard to transfer the integrity and energy of the film while setting up Blindspotting, the TV series.

"It was really easy to watch it expand," Casal said, noting they decided early on to focus the show on Ashley.

"Then you just go, 'Well, who does she hang out with? And what's the family around her? And what's the neighborhood like?' We'd always hoped, while we were making the movie, that we would have time to investigate all these other characters and introduce the multitudes that [inhabit] the place that we call home."

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