To play Chunk Palmer, a stylist who advises clients on what to wear to court in the new CBS legal drama Bull, Christopher Jackson didn’t do any formal research.
All he had to do was be nominated for a Tony Award.
An original cast member of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton, Jackson played George Washington for almost two years, stepping down from the rap musical on November 13.
After his Tony nomination in May, “I was dealing with stylists. I found myself learning so much so quickly, looking at lookbooks, paying attention to how clothes made me feel,” says Jackson, whose Hamilton castmate Daveed Diggs took home the award. “I had the pleasure of a pre-Tony dinner at [Vogue editor] Anna Wintour’s house.”
Busy with the show and the Tonys, the actor had all but given up on pilot season, until he read the script for Bull, which is based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s pre-TV years as a trial consultant.
“I liked the character from the beginning, and related to his background,” he says. “He’s a former athlete” — an All-American lineman — “who’s able to pick up things the naked eye can’t. I grew up playing basketball and baseball, a huge sports fan.”
The Cairo, Illinois, native’s own artistic bent has kept him on Broadway (The Lion King, Memphis, In the Heights) and on television (The Good Wife, Oz, Nurse Jackie). He also performs with the hip-hop group Freestyle Love Supreme and has composed songs for several seasons of Sesame Street; he won a 2010 Daytime Emmy for a song he cowrote with Bill Sherman for Will.I.Am.
Off stage, he’s an advocate for Autism Speaks and other organizations; his son C.J. is on the autism spectrum.
Until recently Jackson had to juggle his Bull and Broadway schedules. “Hamilton continues to be something that defies description,” he reflects. “It’s the hardest, most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. Playing Washington is a trip — most people think they know him, but most of what they know is a myth. To try to strip that down and find the truth would wring me out every night.”
That double duty “is absolutely the greatest gift I’ve been given in this industry,” he adds.
“I’m very grateful.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2016