JT Neal chats about Jacob in “Bless This Mess”

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JT Neal
(Credit: F. Scott Schafer)

Born and raised outside of Dallas, Texas, JT Neal grew up with parents who embraced both film and music, so it was no surprise when at 12 years old he booked a role in a one act play at school. JT quickly fell in love with acting and his mom began to research acting schools and training programs so he could have the best training possible to pursue his dreams. He was accepted at Dallas’ prestigious Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts; he drove over 100 miles each day to attend. JT booked his first job in Disney XD’s “Lab Rats” where he loved being on set so much that he didn’t want to use his dressing room. JT currently stars as Jacob in “Bless This Mess” on ABC.
JT moved to Los Angeles in 2014 where he booked roles in several TV series. JT has gone on to book a supporting role in the Netflix film “Sierra Burgess Is A Loser” which was released in 2018, and a starring role in the Sony romantic drama “Life In A Year”, opposite Cara Delevingne and Jaden Smith. In 2019, JT can be seen starring as the handsome, farm boy Jacob in the upcoming ABC comedy series “Bless This Mess.” The show, from New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether and Lake Bell, will premiere April 16 and will follow New Yorkers, played by Dax Shepard and Lake Bell, as they navigate leaving the big city and to move to a farm house they inherit in Nebraska. The project has been JT’s dream as it combines one of his favorite television writers and comedy with veteran actors he’s always looked up to. The series also stars Pam Grier and Ed Begley, Jr.

When not filming, JT loves to volunteer with Share A Meal, a charity that makes and delivers food to the hungry via food trucks in the Los Angeles area. He has volunteered every week for 2 years with the charity and is passionate about donating his time to help those in need. He plays the guitar, enjoys collecting antiques and vintage clothing, and has an impressive collection of vintage band / concert tees. He credits his parents for helping him succeed and telling him anything was possible, which has instilled belief in himself and the idea that with hard work he can make anything happen.

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JT Neal
(Credit: F. Scott Schafer)

Welcome to TV Series Hub, I have to ask, what does JT stand for?

JT actually doesn’t stand for anything! The story I’ve always heard is that way back, my great-great grandparents had a family friend whose name was John Thomas. When my great-great grandparents had their son, they named him JT, but it didn’t stand for John Thomas. JT Neal Sr, named my grandfather JT Neal Jr, who had my father JT Neal III, and now there’s me! JT Neal IV.

It is quite impressive how you have branded yourself as JT Neal, was this planned or did it just happen and you went with it?

I don’t really think about it as a brand, it’s just my name you know? I’ve never had a stage name or anything, I’ve always just been me!

You come from a family that embraced entertainment, how did your passion for acting develop?

Both my parents worked in investment banking and my grandparents were ranchers or cowboys. When I decided to be an actor, there was definitely a bit of a learning curve because no one in my family knew anything about it!

You used to drive 100 miles every day to attend school, how did you keep up? If I had to do that I would probably throw a fuss every day. What made this school so special to you?

Well, I was extremely motivated to make a career out of my passion for acting. The town I grew up in was wonderful, but it didn’t have much of a theatre scene at the time. I wanted to study theatre so badly that I would’ve done anything. When I found Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, it just made sense to me – that was the school I needed to be at. It’s an incredible arts magnet school, and I was so fortunate to have parents who were willing to sacrifice hours a day driving me to school!

You landed your first role on Disney’s “Lab Rats” and apparently liked the set so much that you didn’t want to use your dressing room. How have the years changed you now?

In many ways, I still feel the exact same way when I’m on a set. I love meeting new crews and working on different shows, so I’m still rarely in my trailer when I’m working! I think the only thing that has changed is my confidence. I feel more comfortable on set now. When I first started I was so nervous I would mess something up or let someone down. I’m much more confident in my abilities now, which I think just comes with age and experience.

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JT Neal
(Credit: F. Scott Schafer)

What kind of roles do you like to play?

I love anything comedic. I used to watch Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis a lot when I was first starting out and that definitely led to my love of comedy. I wanted to be like Jerry Lewis. I wanted to make people laugh, and now I get to!

You currently star in “Bless this Mess,” a comedy show that some say requires you to have a feel for it. How would you describe the show?

It’s such a sweet show with so much heart. It really showcases the kind of town that I grew up in, which is really special to me. I haven’t seen a show about small-town America in a really long time, and I’m so honored to be showing it now through such a wonderful series.

It is interesting how popular a comedy based on farm life can get. Did you picture it getting big this way?

I knew from the very beginning that it was going to be special. I don’t know that I necessarily had specific expectations, but I knew it was a show that I connected to and I hoped others would too. I’ve always believed that if I would want to watch it, then someone else probably would as well. I’m just really blown away at how much people have fallen in love with it.

How do you relate to your character – Jacob?

Like Jacob, I consider myself to be pretty optimistic about life. I try to find the silver lining in every situation, which I think is something that Jacob is really good at doing. He’s just trying to figure things out as he goes which everyone can relate to. I’m not sure I would have been as calm as him about losing a thumb though.

I am assuming, when you are in a comedy, the bloopers are funnier than usual. What have been the funniest moments behind the scenes for you?

Some of my favorite bits from filming will never see the light of day and that breaks my heart. We have so many incredible improvisers on this show, so you can only imagine what happens when you really let them play. The cast is just so incredible. And you’re right, because it’s a comedy we have the liberty of being able to joke around between takes which you can’t always do on a drama. As a lover of all things comedy, I’m in heaven.

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JT Neal plays Jacob on “Bless This Mess”
(Credit: F. Scott Schafer)

What else is in store for Jacob this season?

We only have a couple of episodes left, but Jacob definitely goes on quite an emotional roller-coaster. I don’t want to spoil anything but it’s definitely not something you want to miss!

What other projects are you working on?

I have a few irons in the fire, as well as some of my own scripts that I’m currently working on. The virus has definitely slowed momentum on a lot of things, but I’m confident that the entertainment industry will bounce back after the dust settles and hopefully we’ll get to come back for another season of Bless This Mess!

How has COVID-19 affected you? How are you coping?

I realized just how much I took for granted before this. When it’s safe to do so, I’ll definitely visit my family much more frequently. In the meantime, I’m just trying to stay active with exercise and other activities. I’ve also been watching a lot of movies, which I always love!

Where do you see yourself in the coming few years?

Hopefully, I’m still doing what I love! I’m fairly confident that I will be because I’m not really qualified to do much else!

What hobbies do you have?

I’m a big vintage and antique collector, which is difficult right now, but I’m managing. I’ve also been playing guitar for years, so it’s nice to have the time to do more of that!

Thank you for joining us, is there any advice that you have from all the experience you have gathered?

I’ll just leave you with something my mother always said, which is “find what you love and make a living doing it.” That has been the best advice I’ve ever received. It motivates me to find creative ways to continue moving forward in this career even when I’m not working on something specific. It’s made me a happier person, and I truly love going to work every day, which I think is really special.

You can connect with JT Neal on:

Instagram: @JT_Neal

Twitter: @JT_Neal_IV