You may know him as just the married dude from Insecure but Sarunas J. Jackson is much more than just the guy that’s ringed down on Issa Rae’s hit show. Yes, he’s the married brotha that has Molly dazed, confused, running back, and in and out of this “open relationship.” Sarunas is a family man at best, very close to his loved ones, and was raised with those very traditional values. At the height of 6’8”, this former basketball star decided to leave the court and pursue this acting thing seriously. The first person who co-signed his acting talents was his teacher in high school, Ms. Mastrioni. He originally took the theater elective for fun after realizing he had a real passion for the pursuit. He was going to college for sports, which is all he ever knew. He didn’t want to be boxed in any longer, which is easy to do, especially standing as tall as he is. After playing basketball overseas, back and forth home appearing in small roles and commercials, he landed bigger roles and opportunities. These roles have given Sarunas the name we have come to know today. The Quintessential Gentleman caught up with the proud Afro-Latino actor to talk family and his latest and most known role in Insecure.
Tell me about your beginning, growing up, and also do you feel like your culture has a lot of influence on your career today?
Well, growing up, I would say I had a pretty good balance of things as far as things in the arts, athletics, entertainment. My mother, she worked a lot. So by the end of the week, every Friday, she felt bad that she was working so much that she would take me and my baby brother to the movies basically every week. That was kind of my first love with cinema, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that world at some point.
I was always playing sports, and so that kind of took over for a while, but I always knew that I wanted to be in the film business. My father was a really good storyteller. He really gets into his stories, like anything that happened at work. He was a correctional officer for 30 plus years. When he would have something to say from work or growing up or something, he would always get real animated about his stories. So I think that kind of the storytelling kind of came from him because he would always have us so interested.
Culturally, being an Afro-Latino, like black American and Afro-Latino, I’m Black and Panamanian. I think I was always looking for, always connecting, and looking to relate to characters who I identified with later on. Earlier on, I think when you’re a kid, you’re kind of innocent and whoever you liked is whoever you liked, but then it really starts resonating when you start getting your identity and knowing what you are and who you are. Then you start relating to stuff.
One of my earlier inspirations was Will Smith on the Fresh Prince. That was like, oh, he kind of reminds me of me in a sense. So, when it came to black entertainment and black content, I was always watching. You know it was Martin, Wayans Brothers, Jamie Foxx Show, Fresh Prince, all those black sitcoms. When it came to movies I was always watching Fridays and all those types of movies. Then every other type of movie, but those ones really resonated with me because of the one fact, I understood the language, because it’s something like me.
On the side of being Panamanian, I would say I don’t think it’s necessarily been an influence on me in my career choice and my career. That being said, it’s because I haven’t seen a lane for Afro-Latinos, too often. Usually, we have to portray black characters or mixed with something else, but I think that’s why I want to create stuff though.
Moving forward in my career, I do look forward to telling those stories of Afro-Latinos and being able to create characters, and give opportunities to other actors looking for roles. I can speak on that because a lot of times when they’re looking for “Latino” they aren’t really looking for all types of Latinos. They’re just looking for Euro-Latino. It’s kind of the same fight that you would have if you’re black and white. It’s kind of the same with Latinos because when I say Latinos, they’re not being all-inclusive.
I found it interesting that you used to do this cultural dancing with your mom when you were young and you tried to hide it for a while. Since your success and being as busy as you are today, what was the last fun thing you actually did with your mom?
Well, we do anything that has to do with any Panamanian get-togethers and gatherings. We’ll have parties and stuff like that.
I will accompany her with that. Me and my baby brother will go with her. Usually, over the holidays, I have a half-sister, so sometimes we go over her side of the family’s house and it can be a good time there
How does your family feel about your success on Insecure now?
They are proud. My dad’s really excited with everything that’s going on because he has three sons and he’s always been the type to just talk about his sons with his friends or keep our family members in the loop with us. So he’s always kinda proud to talk about anything we’re doing and anything good we’re doing.
So this is something that’s been very exciting for him, some of the benefits I’ve been able to reap from the success. We just came back from Philadelphia, me and him, because we went to Game Three with the 76ers vs the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. You get to do fun stuff like that. We had great seats and he’s never been to a game and to have experienced it like that and meet other people; he met professional athletes from his favorite team and other actors and directors. So he’s kinda just really been having a good time with the experience.
My brothers. We always kind of have expectations for each other, so everything’s kinda going according to what we planned or what we set out to do.
The same thing with my baby brother, I’ll take him to some of these events or parties and he meets certain people that he looks up to and he’s like, ‘What!’ They have a good time with it. My sister and my mom, they get anxious, asking “What’s next?” I‘m like, “alright, I don’t have all the answers myself, you gotta take it one step at a time.“
Did your mom watch your sex scenes in Insecure? If so, how was that conversation?
Yeah, it was. Funny enough my baby brother recorded her watching one of the sex scenes. You just see it was hard for her to watch it. It was kind of funny, she was just kind of making noises and stuff so she wouldn’t hear it. She stood up and turned around, and was like “Ahhh, gosh.“ It was fine at first and then after a few of the sex scenes, she thought it was kind of too much. It’s my job, though mom, it’s HBO, what you expect. (laughter).
She’s handled it decent, though. Better than I expected. She handled it any way you’d think a mom would.
Are you anything like your character Dro in real life, and if so, what are the similarities?
I would say that that character has a laid back and ease to him. That’s something that I would say me and him are very similar, where there’s not so much of a stretch to portray the character. I’m also not opposed to everything he’s doing, or what he’s exploring. Like I, myself, on a smaller level, on a lower level have done the same at some point.
I don’t share all the same feelings exactly the same he does… I wouldn’t necessarily mess with, or start something intimate with a best friend, maybe. Well, not a best friend like my “wife” would know, you know that’s testy waters. But, other than that I’m not judgemental of what he does at all.
You can’t be, usually when you’re an actor, you can’t be. You can disagree and not judge, but there’s nothing Dro does where I’m like kind of on the fence about or anything like that. I said he’s kind of calm, cool and collected and I think there’s a similarity with that between us. So it’s fun to play because it’s not too much of a stretch to portray.
Do you think that a man and a woman can be just friends for the long haul, for instance like how Dro and Molly were childhood friends turned lovers?
I think the dynamics change. I feel like something like negative really has to happen for the attraction to be lost. If nothing really negative happens, I think the dynamics do shift a little bit. I think it could be possible, it’s just that there are so many layers to human beings, that it makes it difficult.
So you’d really have to have two individuals that are fully committed to moving past the idea of what they were, and a lot of times that’s not the case. So I don’t think they could go back to be like how they were. I think they could still be friends, it’s just going to be at a different capacity and I also think the intake of each other has to be lessened because then you get to sort of spark something up again.
So I don’t think you could see each other or talk as often as you did, but you could still be friends and cool, and like every once in a while y’all see each other. You see each other in a group setting or if you just happen to be in town and just like, alright let’s grab a drink and it doesn’t go anywhere from there. That’s fine, but I don’t think it could be the same way. I think you’d be lying to yourself, acting the same as if like nothing had ever happened.
Especially once you been sexual, and intimate, and been involved, like that it just changes things because you know what’s up.
I read somewhere, you were in an open relationship yourself at one point, right?
Being that you have experienced that in real life and also on the show, what would be your advice for someone going into an open relationship?
I think the main thing is you got to have your boundaries, but you have to be exploring that with someone you fully trust and that you connect with mentally, physically, spiritually, where you can have that trust to experience that with someone.
I don’t think the answer to do it is, oh we don’t trust each other, but we still want to be with each other, but I still want to do this, and you still want to do that, so let’s do this. I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer, not that it can’t shift things and make things work. I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer though because that’s just going to grow insecurities with one another.
I think if you are fully clear and communicate with one another and you have your boundaries, whatever those are because some have more than others, some don’t have many, but as long as you’re clear about what they are. That would be my advice as far as starting it out and then just kind of seeing if it is for you.
Make sure you’re doing it with someone who is interested. I wouldn’t force anybody if that’s not them. Don’t force anybody into that. You got to be with people who are open to that type of idea in a relationship because it’s definitely not for everybody. There’s a lot of traditionalists out here and it’s not going to necessarily work with people like that.
How do you balance work, time with your family, as well as time for yourself?
Well at the level I’m at right now, I go through a surge where you’re just mad busy and I’m just going city to city, but even doing that I’m enjoying myself so that is time to myself or with friends. If I have a friend go with me and I’m hosting or doing other gigs, shooting something else, exploring other things, or having fun…that’s all in one to me. I’m enjoying that. Then I have downtime like right now, we’re shooting season 3, so there are days I’m needed and there’s going to be stretches of days I’m not needed at all because they’re shooting other character’s stuff.
So you have downtime. I just went back East with my dad and spent some time with my family back East in Philly. My father was born and raised in Philly, so we’re back there, enjoying each other’s time for a little bit. Come back here [LA] and I think you do with what you’re given. You can’t make time. I just think once you make a conscious effort, which is not hard, it can be at times, but overall it’s not.
You can really find good balance and balance is key. So you don’t want to do too much of anything. That’s how I kind of keep everything leveled.
What can we expect this season of Insecure and what will we see from your character since the last time?
This is a different season. I think we’re going to explore some characters and get to know some other characters that we’ve been wanting to know more.
Which is an interesting take on some things. I think there’ll be some surprises in there. I think they’ll be continued conversations and unique conversations that shows like us and Dear White People, Blackish and all those shows do. We’ll continue to make people bring stuff to light.
With my character, I think we pick up where we left off and kind of just see how this navigates and see how Molly handles things more so important. I mean at the end of the day Dro’s married.
I will say we will get confirmation, because people questioned… the authenticity of if he’s really in an open marriage a lot of times, for some reason. Even though we’ve vocalized verbally, I’ve confirmed things, but people just want to see. I think we’ll get visual confirmation on his open marriage.
Things like that. It’s an interesting season. It’s going to have a different feel at first. It’s going to be fun, of course. Our writing team is amazing and they know what they’re doing, so they make our job easy for us.
Season 3 of Insecure airs on HBO Sunday, August 12th.
Make sure to follow Sarunas J. Jackson on Instagram.