Angus Turner Jones, the "half" of CBS's Two and a Half Men, sent shockwaves through the entertainment world this week by denouncing his own show, the third highest-ranked TV comedy, as "filth" and urging viewers to stop watching.
Since age 10, Jones has played the character Jake Harper for nine seasons—eight of those as Hollywood's highest-paid child actor, making roughly $8 million annually. His declaration was spurred in part by his newfound faith in God, a faith he says is at odds with the themes of the show. Jones graduated from high school in June and plans to attend college in Colorado next fall. I sat down with him in October to discuss his conversion to Seventh-day Adventism and what it means for his acting career and his future.
Tell me about your conversion experience.
About nine months ago, there were a series of events in my life where God was talking through other people to me. What God was giving me was, "The way your life is set up now and the way you are living and planning on continuing to live [smoking weed, doing acid] is not going to get you what you want." I just had this big wakeup call. It was in conjunction with one of my older cousins, who—four months prior—God had woke him up in a similar way. This was over a couple of days before New Year's and then two other specific nights, Jan. 22 and 30, I felt God was speaking to me. There were so many other things I could have steered off into that could have made me just another statistic.
How is that impacting your work now?
It's a really interesting experience. I know I am there for a reason, but at the same time I have this strange twist of being a hypocrite: a paid hypocrite. That's the way I have been looking at it lately.... Even though it's my job to be an actor, I have given my life to God. I am very comfortable and firm in that, but I still have to be on this show. It's the number one comedy, but it's very inappropriate and the themes are very inappropriate. I have to be this person I am not.
What does that mean for your future with the show?
I don't know what it means for the show, but I only have a contract for this year.
What do you say to Christians who want to be in entertainment without compromising?
What I would say to a person who is firm in their faith and wants to go into an acting career: It is such a difficult thing to do without compromising your beliefs. Even though you are just pretending, if you sign the contract and agree to do what they are doing, even if your character is not evil or doesn't compromise your belief, you are in a world similar to that of Alexander the Great. Everything the Greeks did was to promote their own worldview, their schools, their theater, their religion, and their sports. You are either in the world or with God. Committing yourself to some kind of job that isn't committed to God is going to bring so much trouble into your life. It's not good and not something I would suggest that someone seek.
You graduated in June. Other than work, what are you doing these days?
Right now I am doing a lot of work for my church, taking an evangelism class, doing a lot of reading—mostly the Bible and things that coordinate with the Bible and go with the evangelism class.
Why are you taking an evangelism class?
I feel it is extremely important for me, given the position that God has given me, to get out there and do his work. The Bible says, "To whom much has been given, much will be required."
What has been given to you?
In my position, a lot of things. I have a very excellent family and a home. I have financial means and influence. People will listen to me because I was that kid on that show. Which doesn't make any sense in my mind; but to them, it changes how they think. God has placed me in [that show] knowing that one day I would come to him and come to know him truly. Now I am working from the inside out, more or less.
Tell me about your involvement in the Pacoima Valley Crossroads Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Right now I am taking an evangelism class, learning how to give Bible studies, how to teach and do small groups, how to witness door-to-door. Once that work is finished, I am going to be an intern there.
How did you end up attending an African American church?
I was going to three of four churches on the weekends looking for a congregation to join. A friend of a friend had gone to the church a few times and told me about it. The first time I went there, the message was tailor-made for me.
What resonated with you there?
The spirit of the people: they are so loving, so accepting. It's powerful.
How did they react to you as a celebrity?
It's still a slow change. The pastor says he remembers seeing me there the first time and thinking, What's this white boy doing here? It's as much a learning experience for them as it is for me. I am completely comfortable in my own skin. I don't care what anyone thinks about me. I am there for the Word. I am not there to impress anyone.
What do you see yourself doing in five years?
I want to do something with proper health and diet and learn how to grow fruits, plants, and vegetables naturally, completely organically—how to prepare the soil right, how to do basic agriculture. I have farmland out in Texas so if I figure it out, there is a possibility of creating a farm that can supply homeless people with healthy food. They are getting the slob of the slob: high-fructose corn syrup, white bleached flour, everything that is processed. I would love to get healthy food to them.
As the highest-paid child actor, how did you maintain a normal life?
Of course when you are a kid it goes into a Coogan account, which is protected. So it was never a thing where I could go and do this or that with money. If I wanted video games, my parents would buy them. I was a kid going to school, going home playing Legos, playing video games and my guitar. I wasn't trying to be a big shot, because that's just not my personality. If you are really looking for the celebrity paparazzi thing, you are going to get it because all you have to do is be a little bit out of line. It's not hard; it's very easy to do that. But I wasn't out in public. I wasn't in the scene, and I wasn't hanging out with the people who were in the scene. I was only friends with kids at school. I felt totally protected and insulated by my parents and God. They kept me from all that.
How did you fit in with the cast and crew? How did that change as you grew up in front of the camera?
Excellent, I loved it. It was my work family. I was always just the kid on stage. I loved Charlie [Sheen] and Jon [Cryer]. People always ask what it was like growing up on TV, but I was just growing up. I have just been documented more thoroughly than most people, and the documentation of my life was televised to the world. It's definitely an interesting way to grow up, but I can't get upset with that. When people recognize me, I use it as an opportunity to witness.
How did you feel when Charlie Sheen left the show? Do you stay in contact with him?
It was kind of a bummer, but I didn't really worry about it back then. I wasn't following the news or listening to what people were telling me. I love both Chuck and Charlie. I can understand where both were coming from. Charlie's situation: he lived in a bubble, a total glass jar, and everyone knew everything about him. It's such a strange life, and not human for a person to be able to live like that. Basically, the way I see it, he gave society what they wanted to see in a celebrity: that's what society, in the end, wants a celebrity to be. They want this spectacle, they want this huge train wreck of a life so they can say, "I am not so bad." It makes them feel better. I have tons of respect for Charlie. I love him to death. We talk on the phone every now and then.
What is the biggest challenge facing your generation?
It's the challenge every generation has: the desire to serve yourself and put yourself in front of everyone else. The desire to do what you think is best.
What else would you want CT readers to know about you?
I have gone to Christian school all my life and I learned all the stories. I don't know if it was me or the fact that my home life wasn't Christian. Maybe God wanted me to go through those things to have a more powerful testimony. I don't know. I feel though that I am now on a crash course. I have been missing out and don't want to waste any more time. I feel so driven. All the other stuff is going to fade away. What is going to last for eternity is where we stand with him. It really is the only work in life.
Maria Cowell is a former reporter and editor for newspapers in Los Angeles and Glendale, California. She is currently a marketing professional who blogs at hipmamamedia.com.