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Actor Jon Michael Hill, a Waukegan native that Chicago gladly claims, is continuing his thespian walk 

CAPTION: CONRAD HENSLEY, right, played by Jon Michael Hill waits for his verdict in a scene from “A Man in Full,” on the left is Roger White, Hensley’s attorney, played by Aml Ameen.

He has advice for Type 1 Diabetics

I had the joy of reaching out to Waukegan native and University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign graduate Jon Michael Hill, recent star of Steppenwolf Theatre’s “Purpose” and currently a major star in Netflix’s “A Man in Full.” 

Hill has been an Ensemble member at Steppenwolf since 2007, and he has much live theatre and television work under his belt. In addition to “Purpose,” he has an upcoming role in “Leroy and Lucy,” and previous roles included “Pass Over,” “Constellations,” “Head of Pass,” “True West” and “Superior Donuts,” among others. 

I have reviewed a few of these in previous columns for the Chicago Crusader

Other roles include television’s Marcus Bell on “Elementary,” a role that Hill says is a pivotal one. He’s also starred in “Detroit 1-8-7” and film work alongside Viola Davis in “Widows.” 

Hill attended Waukegan’s Andrew Cooke Magnet School and tells the story about a school play that was based on a story about his younger brother getting lost at Lincoln Park Zoo. 

“The school turned that little story into a play, and I got to see it! I watched the actor playing my brother and he really convinced me he was lost, in that moment, on that stage. From second grade on, I was doing every school play that I could,” he said. 

In high school, Hill played football and the saxophone before focusing on pursuing an acting career, which was satisfied by attending the Cherubs program between his junior and senior years, held at Northwestern University. 

“I made lifelong friends and sparked interests that I pursue today. It was at this program that I decided to pursue acting as a profession,” said Hill.

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CONRAD HENSLEY, played by Jon Michael Hill, buys a few groceries anticipating a trouble-free trip back home in a scene from ‘A Man in Full,’ a novel by Tom Wolfe.

And he has successfully pursued and mastered his acting aspirations. Netflix’s “A Man in Full” is based on a Tom Wolfe novel and executive produced by Regina King.  

The main synopsis: When real estate mogul Charlie Croker faces bankruptcy, political and business interests collide, as he defends his empire from those attempting to capitalize on his fall from grace. 

A parallel storyline is of Hill’s character Conrad Hensley. His car is disabled on the road, as he tries to get home to his very pregnant wife, and what ensues is a case of police brutality with him being arrested, charged and jailed for assaulting a white police officer. 

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REGINA KING AND David E. Kelley, principals in the Netflix film “A Man in Full.”

In the end, due to business associations and favors, the businessman promises to pay Hensley’s bail—but things go awry through failed court appearances—until a twist of fate weeks later finds him exonerated. 

I asked Hill about this role, one that he is most proud of and one that hits on current events around police interactions with Black men. 

“I’d say my most recent role….was my best acting role. Grounded, true to life, young husband and soon-to-be father, desperately trying to get back to his family. It was a dream.” 

He expounded a bit more on the role and rapport with Regina King. 

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JON MICHAEL HILL as Conrad Hensley, and Chante Adams, as his wife Jill, leave the court building, after he is exonerated in “A Man in Full.” Waukegan native Jon Michael Hill, right, lands a blow to cop Scott Daniel Johnson, during a scene in the film. 

“Conrad, on the page, seemed like a simple, loving husband, excited about his life with his beautiful wife and the baby on the way. I think his story illustrates just how easy it is for Black men to be swept up into a dehumanizing system, over a simple misunderstanding that escalates. 

“I think Conrad is a principled man who admits his mistakes but also has a strong moral compass, and I think he does a brave thing when he decides to fight being labeled a convict for the rest of his life, despite the obvious cost if they were to lose the case. 

“Regina King is an extraordinary artist. She brings everything she is, all her experience, expertise and generous spirit into the collaboration. We would have conversations about a scene that truly allowed me to explore and have agency and feel challenged by her to deliver something I wasn’t even sure I was capable of. That’s the most you can hope for from any director.” 

Regarding the situation in which Hensley finds himself and the Netflix title, Hill said: “The dismissal of Conrad as a person began before the police were even called. Why is the tow truck company empowered to tow a car that is where it is due to an accident and the owner is right there? Why did the lady feel the need to ‘call for backup’ when they could have easily had a conversation and diffused the situation another way? And, of course, the instinct to defend yourself when being brutalized is natural and essential to survival. But we strip that away when the police, who have shown time and again that they cannot be trusted with the lives of Black people, are brutalizing. Is that right?” 

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CONRAD HENSLEY IS led into court.

He advised actors that choosing a role isn’t always the case, as he described his “A Man in Full” job. 

“I was fortunate enough to AUDITION for this huge project and get an opportunity to make an impression on King [and other principals]. The role was intriguing because it was holding the mirror up to society in a very relevant way. I did not choose this role, they chose me, and I’m eternally grateful.” 

He offered that he’s fulfilled as an actor, “the moment your acting captivates someone to the point where they suspend their disbelief, and end up having a real, visceral reaction to the story. Be that laughter, anxiety, shedding a tear—to step into the lives of other people to build a character!” 

Hill discussed his role as Nazareth in “Purpose,” a play that, in my opinion, is loosely based on the Jackson family. The family is forced into a reckoning with itself, its faith and the legacies of Black radicalism. 

STEPPENWOLF’S “PURPOSE” WITH Harry Lennix, from left, Alana Arenas, Glenn Davis, Tamara Tunie, Ayanna Bria Bakari, and Jon Michael Hill. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Hill narrates and acts in the play.  

“Branden’s [Jacobs-Jenkins] writing is brilliant, and the narration he gives Nazareth is very thorough and detailed….I really had to work to use that beautiful storytelling as if it were a conversation with every audience member in the room. 

“Focus was a very difficult challenge, because there is a lot going on! So, staying agile enough to respond to USEFUL stimuli while ignoring unhelpful things that are going on is important.” 

His 17 years with Steppenwolf are admirable, although at first Hill may not have realized the significance. “I didn’t know much of the lore of the Steppenwolf ensemble, but I soaked up everything I could watching all these professionals. After a while, my whole life changed, and my career began.” 

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The upcoming Steppenwolf production “Leroy and Lucy” is a play about two lost souls who meet at a crossroads, in the dead of night, deep in the Mississippi. With a yearning guitar between them, they tell secrets and conjure a sound once forgotten—a tune pitched with Leroy’s longing and the sweet purr of Lucy’s desires. 

“It’s a beautiful, complex, dance of a play. Sexy, spooky, argumentative and ultimately moving. Probably not too many of us have actually spent time imagining Robert Johnson (blues guitarist) at the crossroads, trading in his soul for other worldly talent, but I’m excited to delve deeper into [that role].” 

There is so much to share about Hill, last, but not least, he discussed living with Type 1 Diabetes. “My Type 1 strangely developed later in my life, so I’ve been dealing with it only about six years. I’m committed to keeping track of the type and amount of carbs I’m taking in and being sure to manage it with insulin.

“Exercise helps insulin do its thing, so it helps to stay active. And staying on top of insurance and timing prescriptions is extremely important. I think over the years, folks get tired of the restrictions and get complacent or downright defiant. I hope to lean on friends and family to keep me on track when I get worn down with all that’s required in the future.”

Click on “Pass Over” photo below for trailer.

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