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Netflix's The Upshaws' Jermelle Simon Talks About ​His Hollywood Journey

From short films to TV series, Jermelle Simon is making strides in becoming a notable star in Hollywood. Known for his roles in Animal Kingdom, Sojourn, A Rodeo Film, and currently as Bernard Upshaw Jr. in Netflix's new hit sitcom, The Upshaws, he's one to watch.

The Upshaws tells the story of an African American family's struggle to navigate the ups and downs of life with humor and heart. Alongside Simon, the series also stars the renowned talents of Mike Epps, Kim Fields and Wanda Sykes.

In an interview with The Quintessential Gentleman, he shares how he got his start, managing work life balance and portraying characters that defy stereotypes associated with African American men.

Simon discovered his love for acting when he performed in a play during the third grade. Even at such a tender age, expressing emotions through the portrayals of different characters appealed to him. From that moment onward, he was hooked. A spark of creativity had been ignited and would become a defining element in his life.

"I always loved family dynamics on television, even at that time," he reflects. "So, ironic now that I'm on a family sitcom."

Every endeavor has its unique challenges, and landing acting roles in Hollywood was no different. Simon faced rejection head-on and learned to readjust his thinking to help retain a positive self-image.

"And instead of looking at it as a failure, you just look at it, as I have a different opportunity that's going to present itself, " he explains.

"The more no's I get, the closer I am to a yes. And so, I think, in the beginning, it was just learning how to have thick skin, so to speak, and not let it tear you down. Because there can only be one person to get the role. It can come down to hair color or body type. Sometimes it's everything but your actual talent."

While pursuing acting roles, Simon hired a personal trainer. He hoped it would give him an edge in securing leading roles. Even though this wasn't the result, he discovered something equally substantial.

"It sparked the personal trainer in me because I realized how good it made me feel as a man and as a person," he said.

"I felt stronger. I felt more confident. And I wanted to spread that to other people. So, as I finished my six months with him, I learned everything, and I applied that to my studies. And then I went and got certified, and the rest is history, as they say."

The current pandemic didn't hinder Simon's success as a fitness trainer. When he was no longer able to hold in-person classes, he developed the app J Rambo Hit.

" I started doing classes via Zoom," he said.

"And then Zoom turned into me working with an app developer and doing pre-recorded content on the app. That way, people can do it anytime they want and not have to worry about the times that I was going to go live."

As the title suggests, the app was named after the iconic movie character Rambo. Wearing a bandana while working at a commercial gym earned Simon this nickname. It inspired him to merge his first name with the movie character.

"It just stuck in that type of class that teaches high-intensity interval training," he recalls. "So, that's what the hit is. So, then I just combined J Rambo Hit, and it just has a nice ring to it."

When shifting the conversation back to acting, Simon speaks fondly of his character, Bernard Jr., from his latest TV show, The Upshaws.

"He's a UPS worker, for one," he states.

"He is the oldest out of all of the children. He's the child that they had when they were in high school. But you see a little bit of him just growing up and just going through the struggles of life just like everybody else."

When reflecting on past projects, he acknowledges Sojourn and A Rodeo Film as being the most memorable. Simon revels in roles that allow him to portray Black men as vulnerable and nuanced.

"I just love to do projects that kind of change people's perspective over us as Black men," he said.

"Because I do think that sometimes the world views us as these strong men who don't cry, we don't show any emotion. We're just there to protect and provide. And we are, but we're also multifaceted. We could be anything that we want, just like anybody else."

Although having portrayed an array of diverse characters, Bernard Upshaw Jr. is his favorite role to date. When considering what would be a dream project, Simon expressed interest in taking on a film similar to Sojourn, in which he played the titular character. The short film is an exploration of racial trauma and self-awareness.

"So, I don't know if it's a specific character I want to play," he said. "I want to change people's ideas about what it is to be a Black man. So, if it's a film that can showcase that, then that's my dream role."

When reflecting on the challenges of juggling a career and family life, Simon believes that time management and learning to adapt are key factors. Like many parents, he wants his children to be proud of him.

He offers a bit of advice to anyone who may be considering becoming an actor.

"I think the thing is just to keep going," he advises. "No matter how difficult it seems, no matter how impossible it looks, keep pushing. I do believe that everyone on this planet will have a natural progression. "

Even amid the pandemic, he remains focused on his craft and is excited to be a part of The Upshaws.

"Everything was kind of a blur for the first five episodes," he said.

"And that time off gave me time to realize exactly what I was doing, exactly how amazing this opportunity was. Because sometimes when you're in it, you can't see it. Things are moving so fast. And that helped slow a lot of things down for me so that I could realize exactly what I was doing."

Aside from staring in The Upshaws and working on his fitness app, Simon is also auditioning for roles. He looks forward to what the future holds.

The Upshaws is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Photo Credit: Russell Baer


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