Die-hard fans of Aaron D. Spears know him best as “Justin Barber”, the character he plays on the Emmy award winning daytime soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful; but it is his groundbreaking role as Mark Bradley on the controversial BET drama Being Mary Jane that is quickly making him a household name.
Being Mary Jane has captured the attention of millions of viewers, becoming one of the highest rated cable television series. The unpredictable drama tackles taboo subjects that are rarely discussed in the black community. Spears plays an uncompromising journalist who is secretly gay and married to a man of a different race, but in real life, he lives a very different role. He is a husband of nearly 14 years, a father of five, a son, and a brother.
Spears grew up in Washington DC. He was aware that he was fortunate to have both parents in the home because that was not the reality for many of his friends. From the beginning, his parents instilled a sense of pride in him. “My childhood was geared very much towards me succeeding. Getting a C was like getting an F. Nobody wanted to get a C because a C was like you’re just average. Nobody wants to be average,” says Spears. “When I played football, my parents were like, ‘I’m going to make sure you get everything you need to excel at football. We are going to make sure that you have all the fundamentals.’”
Spears attended Delaware State University. He was a double major in computer science and mathematics, and was a standout collegiate football player. In fact, he was so good that he was offered an opportunity to play in the NFL; but after missing an assignment in a speech class, and being forced to make it up by participating in one of the university’s theater productions, Spears discovered his passion for acting. “I loved it so much,” says Spears. “I felt like I had found something that I could immerse myself into. So at that point the light bulb switched and I was like, ‘Man I’m about to stop playing football. Acting is something that I can make as much money doing and I’m not destroying my body.’”
Spears made the decision to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career as a full-time actor. In the beginning of his career, there were three incidents that convinced him that he made the right decision. The first was remembering that he has always been an overcomer. He arrived in California with no necessities and only $77 to his name. “I thought to myself, ‘Man, everything you’ve tried to accomplish as a kid, you’ve accomplished. You were the underdog. You were always the kid that no one was paying attention to, but this drive that you had in you would allow you to excel.’ My mentality was, ‘I don’t know what you are going to do, but I’m going to make it. I don’t know how. I just know I’m going to make it.’”
The second was the decision to ignore his own apprehensions and the naysayers that criticized him for turning down NFL contracts. Playing professional football had always been a life-long dream of his, but all of the appreciations or second guessing were quickly put to bed after booking the first four roles that he auditioned for, including a major motion picture role.
The third and final incident occurred while working as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Initially, he did not take the job seriously. After overhearing how Spears regarded the children, his wife strongly urged him to reevaluate his approach to teaching. After doing so, he recognized that a significant change was needed and he began to engross himself into all things education. He later would be laid off, but he recalls the relief he felt on that day. “I remember calling home and being like, ’Yo! Crack open a bottle of wine. I just graduated.’ I did what the higher power wanted me to do. I put my heart and soul into these kids and now I’m getting laid off and I will never have to go back into the classroom again.’ I didn’t move to California to be a substitute teacher. I moved to L.A. to become an actor. Two weeks later I got The Bold and the Beautiful and I have never had to step back into the classroom again.”
After a record-breaking season finale, it was announced that BET ordered a second season of Being Mary Jane. Spears understands the significance of the role he plays in making the show so successful, but he refuses to buy into the hype. Spears explains how he stays grounded, “Whoever is touched and or inspired by this particular character, much love to you, but that’s not why I’m doing this character. I’m doing it because he’s a human being. I cannot play this guy if I’m not cool with it. I cannot play someone I’m judging. He has feelings and emotions. He just so happens to be gay.”
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
When asked what he is most proud of, Spears replies, “I’m proud that I’ve evolved to the point of being able to look at myself objectively. If I can look at myself objectively, then I can apply that to every area of my life. Whether it be the acting, the father-hat or the financier; or whether it is helping the dude that’s broken down on the side of the road, just think if we all did that, it would be a better world."
Spears understands that he has not accomplished anything alone. He says, “Every person that came before me, whether it’s in my profession, or in the lineage of blood that makes up me, is with me. If they had not come along, I wouldn’t be able to be who I am. So there is definitely an understanding of paying homage to my ancestors, as well as a higher power. A lot of times we forget that in order for us to exist, we had to come through all of those people. The least I can do is honor them by trying to live my life the best that I can.”