Netflix’s new holiday movie Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a showstopper and is on its way to becoming a Christmas classic.
Former Chicago theater actor Justin Cornwell joins Reset to discuss his role in the movie and to share his recommendations on what to read, watch and do.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us more about the film.
Justin Cornwell: The film is a magical film set in the fictional world of Cobbleton, and it’s about a toymaker, Jeronicus Jangle, who is the greatest inventor of all time. He makes this amazing toy that unfortunately double-crosses him and he slowly starts to lose his magic. But when his granddaughter shows up into his life, she shows him what that magic is all about again, the Christmas spirit and how to believe in yourself again. The movie is all about forgiveness. It’s all about redemption. And it has a heart as big as you can imagine.
In the film, you play the young Jeronicus Jangle. How did you connect to Jeronicus and what did the role mean to you?
When this role first came across my desk, reading it, I was like, “Wow, this script has a lot of heart.” The the main character here, Jeronicus, it almost felt like a nostalgic character on the page. I felt like I was seeing flashes of Willy Wonka in there, and then later on flashes of Scrooge. I just saw all these different facets of characters that I loved through all of these Victorian-type stories over the years. So when I decided to try out for the role, I made sure to bring all of that into the character.
What was it like to work on a film like this? And why do you think so many have embraced it?
The whole time I was there, I was beside myself the entire time — looking at the sets, looking at the clothing, looking at the people I was standing next to: Phylicia Rashad, Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key. I’ve been lifelong fans of these artists. And I think the same thing that we were connecting to in the moment is the same thing that audiences around the world have been connecting to. And it’s just that understanding that we haven’t seen this yet. We’ve seen it and we’ve seen it in other spaces, in other ways, but we haven’t seen it like this.
Sitting in the outfit, my big trench coat for Jeronicus, and looking at David [Talbert], I’m like, “This is the highlight of my career.” He was like, “Mine too, mine too.” I think that’s exactly what we realized, that we were getting to play in that sandbox that we always dreamt of when we thought about making a movie — like if you were a kid and your 12-year-old self could make the perfect movie that you would love. And I think that’s what adults are connecting to. They’re finding the child in themselves again and the children are connecting to something they haven’t seen yet.
You started out your professional acting career at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. What was your experience like and what are some of your best Chicago memories?
When I first landed in Chicago, I didn’t know what was waiting for me. I put everything in my car from Louisville, Ky., and I drove out here and I just wanted to be a part of some artistic scene. When I first came out here, it took me no time to find it. I think the artistic scene, especially when I was there, was just so, so beautiful. The artists want to create something that’s so deep.
When I got with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the first play I worked on over there was “Othello: The Remix” with the Q Brothers. I remember walking into the audition and I loved the material so much that I had memorized all the songs and most of all the dances. I ended up working with those guys for another three years. We just have a really great relationship still to this day.
What to read
2. Jingle Jangle: The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle by Lyn Sisson-Talbert and David E. Talbert - “I loved what they did with the novelization of this book. It just kind of brings that magic into book form.”
3. Mastery by Robert Greene - “Having an understanding of what people have done in the past and applying it to your own life is the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B as far as being becoming a master at anything.”
What to watch
4. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) - “It’s a thought-provoking self-examination, slow-burning drama where the stakes feel unbelievably high.”
5. Lovecraft Country (HBO) - “It’s a show that dives deep into a folklore that we don’t usually get to dive into.”
6. I May Destroy You (HBO) - “I was living in London shooting ‘Jingle Jangle’ and learned a lot about British culture, their British accent, African culture there. And it’s just an amazing examination of that,” Cornwell says. “But it’s also about identifying abuse and understanding how that is affecting you psychologically, whether you know it or not.”
What to do
7. Keep a journal - “During this time, I bet our minds are racing … instead of having these thoughts that just kind of come and go, we can kind of save them,” Cornwell suggests.
8. Cook - “As I look at what I’m putting in my body, it just gives me a whole better understanding of what I should be consuming and makes me feel a lot better.”
9. Exercise - “Getting up, stretching, getting some exercise,” Cornwell says. “Right now, I’m training for another role so I’m exercising like twice a day.”