Actor Jay Hunter ¾ best known for his roles in “And Just Like That,” “The Rookie,” “Tyler Perry’s If Loving You is Wrong,” and “Tyler Perry’s Acrimony” ¾ is comfortable revealing his highs and lows in Hollywood. In fact, he says he is more than willing to talk about it with anyone who might find inspiration in it.
Hunter was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, where life wasn’t always easy, but he had the love of a strong, hardworking blue-collar family to help him appreciate his blessings, big and small.
One of those “smaller things” was football. Jay started out as kid playing street ball, using parked cars on the side of the road as field markers. He grew to become a successful professional player for the Arena Football League. The lessons he learned from sports would be priceless later in his career as an actor.
“Sports kept me on the straight and narrow and helped me keep focus. I might have gotten in a lot of trouble like a lot of the kids around me. But then again, my parents didn’t play, so I might have gone into the military like my father,” said Hunter.
He remembers his parents teaching him from an early age to gather all the tools he needed to be successful. Football gave Hunter an opportunity to attend Westminster College in Pennsylvania, but Hunter attributes hard work and dedication to earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
Hunter’s very first acting job was on the ESPN original series “Playmakers.” A friend told him about the audition.
When “Playmakers” ended filming in Canada, Jay decided to take his career in acting to the next level by moving to Los Angeles.
Now, here’s the part where Jay should be celebrating his landing supporting roles in the films, “Max Payne,” and “Animal II,” as well as television series like “Nikita” and “The Bridge.” All true, but he was also living in his car and working part-time jobs in security ¾ sacrificing normal human comforts to live in the very expensive state of California.
Hunter says he was unhoused for three years, but he held on to the belief that he was meant to be a successful actor, and one day he would get an opportunity.
“I kept telling myself that big break was two weeks away, and even when those two weeks turned into two years and eight months, I kept working hard and holding on to that dream,” recalled Hunter.
He says his rules for survival were assessing what he absolutely needed to stay on path to his goals, keeping his belongings as light as possible, and prayer.
Hunter notes that he was finally able to subsidize his income as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles County High School District, and that he learned a new lesson every day working with kids.
He would eventually leave substitute teaching in 2017, when he teamed with entertainment mogul Tyler Perry on two projects, OWN TV’s “If Loving You Is Wrong,” and the motion picture “Acrimony,” playing opposite Taraji P. Henson.
“I finally exhaled. I had been working so hard for so long. It was like I was in the wilderness, but then I found the promised land,” said Hunter.
In 2018, Hunter also appeared on the ABC superhero series “Marvel’s Agents of Shield.”
Due to his own experience of being unhoused, Hunter empathizes with the thousands of unsheltered people still in Los Angeles, and assists them with food, encouragement, his time at food drives, and in a few special cases ¾ he has even opened his home.
“Some people might say that’s unsafe, but I remember people thinking the same thing about me. My heart pours out to each one of them,” said Hunter.
Hunter says his past experiences growing up on the east side of Buffalo, New York, and his experience being homeless now add a level of humility to his work.
Due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA, Hunter, like most of his colleagues, is experiencing a work stoppage. However, he says it was even a struggle before the strike because most actors today are not making a living wage in Los Angeles, and they are living paycheck to paycheck.
“Just for us to qualify for our healthcare benefits, it’s not even minimum wage for the country,” said Hunter. “That’s why most actors are hustling, trying to find another job where you have benefits, and that’s going to be part-time because trying to juggle is not easy.
“When you see us striking, it’s because people just want to survive. We just want a decent wage to be able to survive in society,” continued Hunter.
Once the strike is over, Hunter says he wants to continue expanding his career by producing films and television shows focusing on historical figures in African American culture.
“I want to continue to educate people and bring awareness through my work by one day telling stories through film and television about historic Black people,” said Hunter.
“These are lessons we can learn from people who went through struggles to make something of their lives, and their stories are valuable lessons we can all learn from.”