RJ Brown Jr. On His Closet Kondo
RJ Brown Jr., 29, is most recognizable as the ripped boxing instructor on Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why — he finished shooting season three in December— but he’s also a stage actor and a producer, and he’s set his sights on directing. An actor-producer-director requires clothes that are both comfortable and professional — goodbye burgundy chinos, hello black commuter pants. We caught up with Brown to discuss his updated wardrobe and, with some jealousy, his child acting gig.
Bonobos: Your first job was on Kids Science News Network, NASA’s web show. How do you carry on once you’ve had every kid’s dream job: talking about space on TV?
RJ Brown Jr.: Which kid did you talk to that wanted to be on a science show? I didn’t. I did love being able to meet all of those scientists. I met a lot of cool people — I met Leland Melvin, who was a football player and a black astronaut — and I traveled the country. But I was doing middle school and high school: “Ahhh, I have to go back and memorize all this work. I missed class!” Looking back, I wish I had been more present.
I’m sorry, I’m still hung up on this — my child self is hung up on this. How did you get that job?
My gateway drug was theater. I was part of a community theater. I did Willy Wonka. I did Harriet the Spy. I did a bunch of plays and shows, and on the bulletin board there was a posting for a science-related show. The director of the program goes, “You should audition for this.” I said, “Whatever.” I was 13.
And then you were a full-on child actor.
I was. But the demographic the show was for was in school when it was on. My classmates would say, “I was home sick and I think I saw you on TV.”
I would have considered that my peak. Later you were in Carrie Diaries, and then in 13 Reasons Why. Who in your life was most excited when you said you’d gotten the role in 13 Reasons Why?
My roommate at the time. She had been bingeing the first season while I was auditioning, so I got home and she was the first person I told. My mom, my dad, and my sister didn’t watch the show yet, they were just excited for me to have a job.
Your character is a boxer—where were you on your boxing journey when you got the role?
I’d had to be in great shape for the last play I’d done — there were a couple shirtless scenes — and I’d taken a lot of boxing classes before that. I don’t have boxing background at all, actually. My most concentrated experience with boxing was those three months that I took the training. It was like a yoga and boxing training program. Just a “lose weight fast, feel good doing it”-type training.
It was very Hollywood. It was not nitty-gritty until after I got the job.
Before 13 Reasons Why I’m sure you went on a lot of auditions: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever been asked to wear to an audition?
I auditioned for one movie and I dressed up pretty gothic. The way I dress is very muted, minimal, and realistic, but then I’ll go in for someone who’s the high school dropout guy, and I’m wearing, like, JNCO jeans—
Where does one even find JNCO jeans now?
Thrift stores. You have to look for them.
With 13 Reasons Why you played your age, but for Carrie Diaries you played a teenager — is it weird dressing up as a teen?
I just wore a letterman jacket, a shirt, and some jeans.
Not your usual JNCOs.
You said your default style is pretty minimalist. What’s your uniform?
I just changed up my uniform. I got rid of all my jeans except for blue and black. I’d had some dark green, and some burgundy, and I’d bought a bunch of chinos at one point. I was like, this isn’t me. I’m almost 30. I’ve figured it out.
And you Kondo’d the rest?
Exactly. I also bought a bunch of breathable, plain t-shirts that move well. I gotta be moving—show up to where ever I wanna be and be able to jump.
I like the idea of an “I’m 30” uniform. Start all over without the stuff you bought when you were 22.
No more “figuring it out.” At least not this year, anyway.
From Instagram it seems that you have a beautiful girlfriend. How do you know when she doesn’t like something you’re wearing?
How do I know when Renee doesn’t like something I’m wearing? She isn’t enthusiastic about it. She doesn’t have a poker face. So I’ll say, “How about this?” She’ll go, “Ummm. Yes. Uh.”
So the burgundy pants were an “Ummm”?
She didn’t see the burgundy pants. I’d stopped wearing them.
Maybe those two things are related.
Get rid of your burgundy pants if you want a beautiful girlfriend. That’s the formula.
So you’ve nailed down your look at 30. What will your look be at 40?
I’ll probably wear more button-downs, I assume. Everything will be a little more expensive — I hope, at least. I’ll probably have kids by 40, so I’ll have at-home wear and then get-out-of-the-house wear. My at-home wear will just be probably sweats. Which will just meld into real life. I’ll just walk outside in sweats one day, you know what I’m saying. I don’t really wear sweats now, but I think by then I’ll be working it.
Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.
Photos by Meredith Jenks.