Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Korey Jackson: From Howard High to 'House of Cards'

Korey Jackson says he had two big reasons to be happy when he found out he had landed the role of Sean Jeffries, a super-ambitious young journalist, in Season 5 of “House of Cards.” It was the largest TV role in the 37-year-old performer’s career, and he would be coming home to Maryland for seven months of location filming.

“It was such an incredible experience for me, an actor who primarily lives in New York, to get such a great opportunity on a great show that brought me home to Maryland,” he said. “That was really special to be part of an incredible series right in my home state and be able to share that with family and friends.”

Even though Jackson only lived in Maryland for four years while he attended Howard High School, he said his mother and father are both from the state and consider it home. And he considers those years at Howard High while his family lived in Elkridge to be the “building blocks” of who he is as a professional actor.

He said he still returns for events involving teachers and friends from the area and will be back this summer for the 50th anniversary celebration in Columbia.

“I did a bunch of theater of Howard High, and I spent some time at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts where I worked with Toby Orenstein from Toby’s Dinner Theatre,” Jackson said. “I did my first professional job there at Toby’s. I learned a lot and I’m grateful. And I keep in touch. I’ll be back in Columbia this summer after I get back from Italy.”

Jackson spoke on the phone from Florence, Italy, where he is playing Odysseus in an adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” He is performing with the Continuum Theater Company, which consists of alumni and alumnae of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Jackson earned his bachelor’s degree at Penn State University in musical education. But he says as much as he loved the idea of teaching, he wanted to give theater a try and and went on to study acting at NYU.

Since graduating from NYU and earning a postgraduate Annenberg Scholarship, he has worked off-Broadway, in feature films and such TV series as “Law and Order: SVU,” “Homeland” and “Nurse Jackie.”

“I’ve done smaller parts on a bunch of different shows, but this is definitely the largest role I played in a series,” Jackson said.

In addition to considerable screen time, Jeffries is a character who is not easy to read — and that adds to the overall drama of the series.

“Sean is ambitious,” Jackson said. “He starts as a journalist in the fashion section, but he wants more. And he continues to navigate his way to finding more and seizes every opportunity – sometimes steals opportunities – to get where he wants to go.”

Like a lot of characters in the series, Jeffries is beset by demons, Jackson said.

“He's a man who is facing demons internally and externally, which make his journey through this political world a little more challenging,” he explained.

Outside of a few trips back to New York, Jackson said he was in Maryland from July to mid-February living inside the skin of Jeffries. That time frame made a difference, he said, because of what was happening in American politics with the election of Donald Trump.

“You think about where we were last July, and then we were in February,” he said. “And it was strange to be on set working on that show on Inauguration Day.”

Jackson said he had a moment on the set when he thought, “‘You know, ‘House of Cards’ may have just become reality in America.’ And I just took that moment in and let myself think about how sometimes reality and fantasy align.”

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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