Rogelio Douglas Jr of ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Straight Out of Compton’ tells 'The National' of his path from penniless actor to Hollywood hero and music supremo with a live show in Dubai
Rogelio Douglas Jr: chosen by Quincy Jones for a Dubai residency
The multitalented Rogelio Douglas Jr is a tap dancer, singer, musician and actor from New York and is the latest star to take up residence at Quincy Jones’s Q’s Bar and Lounge in Dubai. He may not be an immediate household name, but it’s fair to say that even if you don’t own any copies of his albums, you’ll have seen him on screen, either playing Public Enemy main man Chuck D in F Gary Gray’s critically acclaimed 2015 NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, as the main trumpeter in Damien Chazelle’s equally lauded 2014 drama Whiplash, or in myriad other film and TV roles including in Ray Donovan, Key and Peele, and Orange is the New Black.
He has certainly had a varied career – from his early days on Broadway, and appearing for a long stint as a tap dancer in the globally touring phenomenon that is Riverdance at the turn of the century, to playing one of the most explosively aggressive and politicised members of the rap community, ever, and now settling down in Dubai for a three-month residency in the jazz club. Douglas Jr admits that his rise to fame has been unusual from the outset, while chatting to us last Friday over an extensive spread of mezze in Palazzo Versace’s Enigma Persian restaurant, next door to Q’s, ahead his three sets.
“My parents were Panamanian immigrants to the US who met in New York,” he explains. “My mother ended up there because her mother had worked for a military family on the US base in Panama, and when they left, they loved [my grandmother] so much, they brought her to the States with her. She slowly brought her family over one-by-one, and my mother arrived when she was about 16.”
The younger Douglas knew from an early age that he wanted to perform, and started out manning the lights and working backstage on local productions in his native New York – an experience he says, that taught him “respect and gratitude” for every member of a production crew.
Coming from hard-working immigrant stock, with a strong background in the military, Douglas Jr’s choice of career wasn’t first on his parents’ suggested list: “They were like ‘you want to do what?’” he laughs. “I’ve been through the whole penniless, couch-surfing industry tales that so many people do. I couldn’t tell my family as they’d drag me straight back to New York. They already thought I was crazy. I lost a lot of friends and family in Hurricane Sandy, too, so I’d had a tough time. I just kept working and working because that’s what I believe in, keep working, show a lot of love and be humble, and there I was working with Quincy Jones, touring round the US, and now here I am in Dubai.”
Douglas Jr puts a lot of his success down to Jones himself, who he initially met through a mutual friend who was signed to Verve Records, a frequent collaborator of the legendary producer. Jones, he explains, invited him to his LA studio, initially to lay down some tap dancing tracks, then to sing, and “next thing, he was like, ‘what are you doing next week?’ And I’m playing this event with Barbara Streisand and Bo Derek in the audience, and touring all over the States”.
Jones, who personally selects all the acts who play at his Dubai venue, has clearly had a big influence on Douglas Jr’s career, however, the performer is perhaps doing himself something of a disservice by crediting the producer with too much of his success. The star says he only met Jones in “the past year or two”, and by then he had already played key supporting roles in two of the most successful musical films of recent years, particularly that of the legendary Chuck D in Straight Outta Compton back in 2015. “That was awesome, what an experience. I actually went in for three roles,” Douglas Jr reveals. “I initially wanted to play Ice Cube, but what can you say? His son [O’Shea Jackson Jr] was the perfect choice, and not only that, but he’s a really good actor. I can’t exactly complain, he was amazing, and I loved my role, too.”
As for his Q’s Bar residency, it’s safe to say audiences can expect something on a somewhat higher level to your usual Dubai house band, not only because Douglas Jr has a voice that is totally worth flying him several thousands of miles for Dubai audiences to hear, but also, thanks to an insanely talented backing band, put together by Jones for the show.
The group open the evening with, in Douglas Jr’s own words “smooth tunes”, passing through classics such as Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes of You, before moving onto more modern crooners such as John Legend’s All of You and, by the final set, rocking the place with the likes of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. The crowd were up on their feet loving it, and the band were clearly having a good time too.
With such a busy filming and music schedule in the States, however, it’s no surprise to hear that Douglas Jr almost didn’t make it to Dubai for such a long residency at all. “It was a big decision to come here for three months – my management said no initially,” he admits. “In the end, we were swayed, as I already had two independent films coming out this year so it wouldn’t hinder my career, I had kind of a free slot, so we figured if anything did come up it’s only three months I’m not available, and if they do ask why I’m not available, it’s a great story – ‘well, Quincy Jones has this club in Dubai, so he’s gone to play there and work on his music career.’ At least it’s not some lame excuse.”
Rogelio Douglas Jr plays at Q’s Bar and Lounge until December 11