Actor, writer and producer J. Alex Brinson brings his Philly flair to CBS’ show “All Rise” as Luke Watkins, a bailiff with dreams of eventually helping others with a bigger role in the criminal justice system. The West Philadelphia native took time to talk about “All Rise,” his mission as an artist and how Philadelphia helped shape him.
“‘All Rise’ is a dope show about an African-American judge and the (criminal justice) system in Los Angeles,” Brinson said. “L.A. is similar to Philly in that there are a lot of Black people. The show is relevant and important because growing up I didn’t know what being a lawyer was like. I think for a lot of young people from West (Philly), we need to help them understand what being a lawyer is. I feel like in Philly we all understand juvenile court and being locked up, but how does the law affect that? (All Rise) shows the literacy around the law and I’m excited for young people to learn about it and how.
Brinson plays a bailiff on All Rise with plans for a more significant career in law. “One of the things we know as cats from Philly is hustle and we understand hustlers,” Brinson said. “We have that energy. The young bailiff is a hustler. He just got out of college and said, “OK, ‘I want to use the judicial system to help my family. Because how I’m going to afford law school?’ The bailiff makes $30,000 a year, watches judges and lawyers work and it can give my character a leg up. During the day he is working in the court system observing and covering his tuition and at night he is getting his law degree.”
Brinson considers himself fortunate to have gotten his start in acting at the prestigious Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).
“I knew acting was cool and that I was good at it because I can emote and had to survive. I had a single mom that worked three jobs and my stepdad was in a halfway house my first couple of years of high school. I needed the art to feel good about myself as a young person and that got me going.”
It was a friend’s audition for New York’s The Juilliard School that introduced Brinson to an advanced level of acting.
“My friend said, ‘That’s where all the good actors go,’” Brinson said. “Juilliard was a hard school and I didn’t grow up doing Shakespeare or classical texts. Being angry was all I knew. When they introduced an elevated approach to storytelling, character, emotion and how your tongue and body worked and putting energy in and out of your body, that was very challenging to me. I felt they were taking my raw energy and doing something different, but they were saying they wanted me to have options.”
Brinson was elated when he found out “All Rise” was getting picked up for a second season.
“It’s about meaningful work,” Brinson said. “In Philly we understand powerful art. We get to grow up with that Philly sound. We get to come up with artists that care and talk about their experience. For me as an artist and being a part of All Rise, I truly wanted to contribute and do work that was meaningful. It’s cool to be received by fans but also executives that can see, ‘Wow people do care.’ It’s an incredible feeling to see that my work is benefiting Philly as a guy from Cobbs Creek Parkway. I was a boy that used to get off at 52nd Street.”
Brinson’s vivid memories of growing up as a Black kid in Philly push him to inspire the next generation. “With the internet, I didn’t have it so I had to find a teacher in a building, but young people now can be anywhere,” Brinson said. “Figure out a way to change your paradigm. If all you see if the block, it’ll be challenging because you can’t see anything else. Know that you can do it. There can be a lot of hopelessness in some of these communities and you have to know that you can do it.”
Brinson’s star has only started to rise.