John Clarence Stewart is an actor, writer and singer-songwriter widely known for his roles in Marvel’s Luke Cage and Netflix’s What/If. In an interview with QG, he shared his story about self-realization, choosing a life path, and remaining true to a creative vision. He also gave his perspective on honoring the human experience through storytelling that reflects people from all walks of life. Stewart’s journey to becoming an actor began in his last semester of high school when he and a friend auditioned for a school play. After overcoming reluctance, he sang for the teacher and was selected to be part of the cast.
Expressing one’s self through the art of storytelling is what inspires Stewart most about acting. It allowed him to break away from the conservative beliefs he disagreed with growing up and find personal liberation by creating his path in life.
High school teachers and college professors were instrumental in encouraging him to follow his passion. He feels fortunate to have so many positive, influential people in his life that helped him along the way. “The universe has always brought the right people in my path at the right time to say the right things in the right season of my life,” Stewart states.
He found his big break in theater acting by being cast in the titular role for Kimber Lee’s play, Brownsville Song (B-Side Tray). It was a life-changing experience for Stewart as an actor. The play tells the tragic tale of an African-American boy growing up in Brooklyn whose life is unexpectedly cut short. This was his first time playing a lead role in a play, and he felt a deep connection with the character and the story. This was the pivotal moment that catapulted him to stardom.
The characters Stewart has portrayed appeal to him because they are very human. He describes Alex Wesley from Marvel’s Luke Cage series as an “honest, flawed black man.” The character becomes embroiled in a negative situation because of misplaced trust. He feels that audiences will find Alex Wesley relatable as they might share a similar experience. He connects with Lionel from Netflix’s What/If because he feels the character embodies what love should be. “Love isn’t about possession. It’s about wanting your partner to fully exist and be everything that they are,” Stewart explains.
Stewart feels a deep appreciation for each role that he plays. There’s an appeal and strong connection, especially with creative content, focused on people of color and the LBGTQ+ community. He’s excited that more content is being produced to celebrate diverse communities with a rich array of stories showcasing their unique experiences.
Aside from acting, Stewart excels in creative writing and is a singer-songwriter. He began writing after his father passed away twelve years ago. His younger brother Joshua, who is a poet, teacher, spoken word artist and songwriter, inspired him to write. When Stewart was younger, he understudied in Choir Boy at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and this placed him on the path to becoming a singer.
Although Stewart views every opportunity that arises throughout his acting career as a highlight, the current one would be portraying a character who’s experienced loss and conveys the moment in a heartfelt song. Having this experience allowed Stewart to honor his father through song performance.
In the near future, fans can look forward to NBC’S Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist (a quirky musical drama about a young woman who can hear people’s inner thoughts as songs) and a documentary about identity, black men and masculinity. He’s currently making strides toward producing as well. Through acting and producing, Stewart hopes to share stories with fans and the world that reflect his beliefs and provide an experience that’s as meaningful for him as it is to the audience.
Stewart advises acting hopefuls to know their worth and believe in what they have to offer. He encourages curiosity about life and the world. He is a remarkable example of embracing the creative spirit and finding ways to channel it through performing arts.