Purpose-Driven, Passion-Fueled, Faith-Based — A Conversation with Mark JP Hood
If you think finding out your purpose makes life easier, you’re half correct and half wrong. It can be very gratifying knowing what you are meant to do and solely focusing on that, but seeing it come to fruition requires hard work and determination. If your purpose falls within a competitive industry like entertainment, you constantly face highs that remind you that you belong and lows that may make you question if it is worth carrying on. For Chicago-bred, Los Angeles-made actor and singer Mark JP Hood, his faith in God along with the early discovery of his love for entertainment empowers his journey.
In the creative space, setbacks and failures are commonplace. The viewing public may only see the victories, but it’s the unknown losses that fuel creators to accomplish their goals. Having a spiritual foundation helps to ground the 30-year-old and keep his eyes locked on the mission. Even with a co-sign from Pharrell, multiple TV appearances, and the lead role in R&B musical film Love You Right, he still isn’t satisfied. There is more to do until he is called back to the Lord.
Our conversation began with a genuine check in on his mental health and overall being, to which he replied “Everybody says you take life day-by-day, but, no, really it’s moment-to-moment because each day is different. It’s a blanket statement to say ‘Just take it a day at a time.’ No, you’ve got to take it a moment at a time. Today, this moment, I’m good. The pandemic has been a crazy time, but God is good and my faith is good.” The Bible says you only need faith the size of a mustard seed, but Mark clearly has an entire garden’s worth. It’s necessary because moments come along that will test it.
In the scope of his acting career, he proposes the idea of being tested regularly. “Imagine you went to your job, whatever job it was, and you had to interview for the position every day before you start work. You’d be crazy. People are lying when they say you get desensitized to it unless you’re a robot. You’re a human being, you’ve got feelings. There’s some that you can skate by, there’s some disappointment that you can move by, but inevitably, there’s always one or two that affect you. It’s an uphill climb, but we do what we do.”
What an uphill climb it has been for 2011’s Rated Next Artist courtesy of Rated RnB. Since then, he appeared on The Voice in 2015, captivating viewers with his own take on Bill Withers’ “Use Me” before joining Team Pharrell. His legendary coach described him as “marked for the entertainment industry.” Six years later, it is a comment he holds near and dear. “He said ‘Your first name is Mark, you’re marked for this industry.’ I’m still hearing that in my head from time to time when things get a little tough or when I’m worried about an audition. I tell myself ‘Yo, you’re marked for this. If you believe that, it is true. What you believe to be true is true. So, shut up.’”
Belief makes things real, but belief is difficult to stand on. It often takes certain moments to help you remember your calling and being in the right place at the right time. One of his “I belong here” moments came back in 2014 when he entered a trailer prior to shooting one of his many television roles. “Now I never turn on the TV in trailers, but that was my first one, so I turned on the TV and the little fireplace even though it wasn’t even that cold outside. I literally was just happy to be in the trailer, because it was more than a trailer — it was symbolic of a step that I made in a place that I met. What I mean by met is I never made it, I never arrived. I don’t even know if when I win an Oscar, Golden Globe, or Tony that I will think in my head that I’ve arrived, but at that moment I felt good. I was just like ‘Yo, you’re doing it boy,’ and those moments continue to happen.”
It can truly feel unreal to be in the place you dreamed of as a four-year-old, especially in an industry where not everyone makes it. Thankfully, Mark JP Hood had a strong, familial support system; something many creators lack or crave. Whether due to lack of understanding or being too pragmatic, not everyone’s family backs them in their pursuits of something so uncertain. Hood’s father was a pastor, mother a principal, and the rest of his family went the academic route before securing roles people would deem “more realistic.” However, none of them discouraged him.
“I was looking at some pictures the other day like ‘Damn, this has always been it.’ My parents knew it was it too. They were taking me to tap class, acting class, and piano lessons whereas some others’ parents put them into things that could steer them toward something academically. Since I was three, four, five, they always knew. I did feel like I had to go through a point when I was a bit older of proving it to them because they had seen me doing this for so long and, at that point, not on a grand successful level. In my mind, I wasn’t necessarily showing them because I was still young and just happy to be doing this. I was grateful to have the opportunity, but you can ask my parents or any family member to this day; there’s nothing else that they would have thought I would have done or wanted to do. I’m literally living my dream, even at the level I’m on now.”
Acting on its own is tough, but combining the musical aspirations can boost one’s portfolio while also adding a level of difficulty in trying to break into the music space simultaneously. A lot of people don’t want you to excel at multiple things and try to keep you in a box. This is something he struggled with but saw as an opportunity for one hand to wash the other.
“It would be an internal fight. I never like to say that I’m better at one than the other, which is why I like to find roles where I can combine both. They’re both my passion and I’m great at both of them.” Now, given his experience as a supporting vocalist for Snoop Dogg, Kelly Rowland, 2 Chainz, and Kirk Franklin, to name a few, this may be an eyebrow raise-worthy statement, but it was all part of a larger plan.
“I’m not at the place right now where I’m looking to tour as an artist or put out music. I’m on the mindset right now of ‘actor motions and acting approach.’ I went on The Voice because I thought it was another way to act. Jamie Foxx wanted to sing, so he did comedy because he saw it as a door to the industry. I remember fighting with the producers because I wanted them to make sure to introduce me as an actor from Chicago. Yes, it’s The Voice and I just happen to know how to sing, but I ain’t on here to get no record deal.”
Sometimes the gifts you are born with can open more doors for you to shine, and Mark never sought to limit himself. It is why he jumps at any opportunity to perform with Kirk Franklin to this day and doesn’t mind just being a backup vocalist.
“Singing background vocals can be a very lucrative career. There are people who are career background singers who don’t want to be to be in the front. They just want to sing, do sessions, and they live great. Then there’s people like me, who consider that my side gig. When I wasn’t acting, I didn’t mind it because it’s not like I was working a regular job and I was still in the industry and able to be creative. You have to make money. I will continue to sing with Kirk until I physically can’t anymore. Kirk is such an amazing, upstanding guy. Over my five or six years singing with him, he’s become like my brother; a real friend, confidant. I thank God for him. It’s been great experiences with everyone else I’ve worked for, but Kirk has been my longest boss and I rock with him. Even if I’m filming Batman, it’ll be ‘I gotta go do a show with Kirk real fast. I’ll be back.’”
What a beauty it is to do what you love in a space where one’s faith can be expressed to the fullest on top of making a living off of it. It isn’t cheap to live in Los Angeles, but it is the place to be when trying to make it in entertainment. Mark realized this early on, despite having deep roots in Chicago. “I get emotional because I love that city to the core. Chicago is my heart, Chicago is my soul. I don’t know many people who love Chicago more than me,” he said while tightly gripping a crewneck with the city’s name front and center. The media often shows the downsides of Chicago, but Hood never felt a chip on his shoulder or a lack of support from the community.
“People from high school will reach out to me today and say ‘Mark, you’re doing exactly what we all thought you would do. If there’s one person doing exactly what we envisioned ten years ago, it’s you.’ I used to get kicked out of class for singing and making people laugh but that was always my thing. When I left to go to LA, people were like ‘You got to do it.’ I felt like I had to. There were a lot of opportunities there, but there is more here. I can’t wait to bring more opportunities back to Chicago. This is not an endzone for me.”
While it may not be the final goal line, he has certainly scored many touchdowns appearing in Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Sirens, and The Resident, as well as theater productions like Sister Act, The Color Purple, Dreamgirls, and The Curtis Mayfield Story. His lead role in Love You Right finds him playing R&B artist Will Clay, who is at the top of his game. Due to having the wrong people around him, he makes some choices that lead him down a less than ideal path. It is an accurate depiction of the industry and how the decisions you make determine your future. “The title itself describes how you have to push past everything and love yourself right before you can love everyone else right.”
The most enjoyable aspect of this conversation comes from how easy it was. Mark seemingly doesn’t have a Hollywood bone in his body despite an impressive resume. The guy is one of VOGUE Italia’s 30 Ground-Breaking Black Creatives, a two-time nominee for Chicago Music Award’s Best Male Vocalist, and received Best Leading Actor in a Musical from the Black Theatre Alliance for performing the role of Prince Charles in The Other Cinderella. Still, he is pressing onward. Mark JP Hood’s story is one of hard-work, determination, and faith. Even when his work required him to leave his college classes and take a chance, he bet on himself. As God continues to order his steps, he proudly walks with the confidence that a way will always be made. It hasn’t failed him yet.