Any Grenadian who has aspired to a career path that differs from the ‘doctor/lawyer/ accountant’ route is likely to have experienced frustration at the narrow fields to which our elders often encourage us to aspire.
Hopefully, the success of a new generation of Grenadian creatives such as this weeks’ interviewee, actor Brandon Jay McLaren, can inspire young people at home and in the diaspora to have the confidence to expand their horizons and to follow their dreams, in whatever form they may take.
Brandon landed his first paid acting role at the age of just 12 when he starred in an ad for Honeycomb cereal. However, his parents’ concerns about their son entering such a precarious career lead Brandon to continue along the traditional route of school followed by university.
Having won a football scholarship to the University of Albany in New York, he studied human biology but his passion for acting remained. His first major role was as Jack Landor aka the Red Ranger in Power Rangers: S.P.D. He’s since appeared in feature films like noughties teen romance, She’s the Man, but it’s on the small screen where Brandon has made the biggest impact.
He has had roles in television series such as The Chris Isaak Show, Smallville, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Being Erica and The Killing and Brandon currently stars as agent Dale “DJ” Jakes in Graceland, the hit series about a group of undercover agents from various US law enforcement agencies.
Is it correct that your dad is from Grenada? What was it like growing up as a child of West Indian parents in Vancouver?
My father is from Grenada, yes. Grenville to be exact. My mom is from Trinidad (I have to include that or she’ll be upset). Growing up in Vancouver, there was not a large West Indian community, and as a result I think that made the West Indians who were there closer. We would always find one another, and my closest friends growing up were West Indian.
How, and why, do you keep your link with Grenada alive?
The older I get the more important Grenada has become to me. My grandmother passed last year, and going back to Grenada for the service really made an impact on me. In fact every time I go back, I am impacted more and more. Knowing where you come from, the idea of history, lineage, tradition; these are all themes that have been central to the human experience for centuries. For me, Grenada is at the center of these themes.
Quite often, children of West Indian descent are pushed by their parents towards ‘traditional’ professions. How did your family support you and your brother’s artistic ambitions?
I agree that a lot of West Indian parents push their children towards more tradition career paths. It could be a result of fear, of wanting to protect, and maybe simple lack of exposure. My parents were not particularly supportive when I first forged my way into acting.
A lot of that had to do with not knowing how one would even go about having a career in my field. The great unknown. To their credit, now they are very supportive. I just had to show them what an acting career looked like. As for my brother, by the time he came along, I had broken them down enough to where they understood what life as an artist could look like.
We liked your Ice Bucket Challenge video. Why did you choose to donate money (in addition to getting water dumped on your head)?
I think it’s great when the masses can get behind any cause that helps people. It was also a great excuse for getting in those red spandex.
What’s the least enjoyable aspect of being an actor?
My favourite thing in the world is to act. So the least enjoyable aspect of being an actor is when I’m not acting.
Who are you inspired by?
I am inspired by people who accomplish things that are not expected. My parents inspire me, my brother inspires me. People who step outside themselves, who push themselves, who demand more from themselves.
The phrase, ‘be the change you want to see’ is one that quite a few people we’ve featured take meaning from. What, if anything, does the phrase mean to you and how do you interpret it in your life?
To me, that phrase has everything to do with self-responsibility. The idea that before I can expect anything to change, I first must change. It reinforces the idea of leading by example.