Since actor Jerome "Ro" Brooks landed in Baltimore on Saturday ahead of his 46th birthday bash, he has been ripping and running through his old stomping grounds.
The West Baltimore native, best known for his role as Michael on the Tyler Perry TV series "The Haves and the Have Nots" on OWN, surprised his mother for her birthday last weekend. He was a guest speaker at five schools — including his alma mater, Walbrook High School (now Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy) — and had lunch with the mayor, all by Thursday afternoon.
His acting life within the past 22 years has been just as busy.
The soon-to-be-46-year-old, who pursued his first acting gig as an extra in the 1993 Robert Townsend-directed movie "The Meteor Man," has played dozens of small roles in music videos and TV shows including "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "The Wire" and "Sons of Anarchy." Most recently, Brooks wrapped up the filming of a new miniseries on the male R&B band New Edition, which is set to release in 2017.
Being back in Baltimore is "the greatest," Brooks said in a phone call Thursday night, while taking a break from his errands in the parking lot of a KFC. "I miss it. I don't get to come home a lot. I at least get to come home once or twice a year, but sometimes I get lucky. ... It's beautiful."
Every so often, he calls out to a passerby he recognizes from back in the day.
"You act like you don't even know nobody no more ... I knew you when you were a baby," he tells one person with a laugh, before inviting her to his birthday party he's hosting Oxygen Ultra Lounge on Sunday.
"I haven't had a party as an adult. This is my first one and I thought it was the perfect time with the success of my TV show," he said.
Brooks relocated to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue his acting dreams, but it wasn't without hesitation. He had always wanted to be an actor — especially while watching his "kid shows" — but he didn't feel courageous enough until he was an adult, he said.
"I was shy and I was afraid because I didn't understand the business. I didn't understand how all the children memorized the lines. That held me back for awhile," he said.
Brooks opted for an entrepreneurial route, opening up a record shop called Rome Records in Baltimore in 1993 and another called Sounds N' Da Hood about three years later. But the desire to act never left.
"I had to do research. I had to find out what steps you have to take," he said. "And once I found it out, I went full steam ahead."
After moving to LA, he took a month-long acting class, following it up with his own version of homework — sitting on movie sets, observing.
"I became a sponge and just soaked up a lot of the info. I learned a lot by being around legendary actors," he said, also learning from top-tier filmmakers and directors including Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino. "Whomever I've ever been around — I've worked around so many people — I've learned from just about everyone I work with."
He even compiled his experience in book form, publishing "How to Go From Extra to Actor" in 2014.
So this week is about celebrating. The actor, who loves to unwind by visiting family and going to his favorite restaurants in the city, will commemorate his 46th birthday with a party downtown at Oxygen Ultra Lounge, inviting guests to a red-carpeted, celebrity-strewn event with two DJs.
"Expect to have the best time of your life," he said, before breaking out in song: "It's my birthday, it's my birthday."