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Christopher Jackson honored by North Fork TV Festival

Christopher Jackson seen at the Backstage Creations

 Christopher Jackson seen at the Backstage Creations Giving Suite benefitting the Television Academy Foundation Educational Programs at the 69th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre L.A. Live on , Sept. 16, 2016, in Los Angeles.  Credit: Arnold Turner/Invision/AP/Arnold Turner

"Hamilton" fans know him as George Washington, "The Lion King" fans as Simba, and "Bull" fans as jury consultant Chunk Palmer.

But this Thursday, and for one night only, Christopher Jackson fans get to call him "ambassador."

That's when the North Fork TV Festival — which launches its sixth annual festival in Greenport Wednesday — will honor the veteran Broadway star as its "Ambassador of the Arts Awards Recipient." (American Beech, 300 Main Street, 7:30; check out North Fork's website for costs and additional events.)

This is an unusual honor for Jackson, 45, because over a 25-year career, he's never actually appeared in an "independent TV" series — the sort championed by this festival each August and which is a low-cost entry point for new and emerging talent.

Nevertheless, Jackson knows TV. We spoke recently about North Fork, that "ambassadorship" and much else.

This festival is all about "indie TV," but it seems like you've been in everything but an independent TV series.

I haven't been [even though] I've been exclusively working in New York since 1995 and the first set I was on was 'New York Undercover' as an extra. But [independent TV] has become the newest bench mark for actors who are trying to do serious work.

Why is independent TV important when there is so much TV everywhere already — and pretty much everywhere you turn?

Any medium that allows as many artists to speak their truths is important. We don't rate painters by the type of canvas they use [and] there are only so many outlets for young artists to tell their story. Now that people have access to such storytelling just by holding their phones and pointing, anyone who wants to create can. When I talk to young people, I tell them there is no reason for them to be out of work any more.

Diversity and inclusion are vitally important in TV and while they've made headway, there's a lot of work to do. How can independent TV help?

It can lead the way. And the concerns and roadblocks that have traditionally been held up as excuses to not open the world to more diverse talent and stories? This takes those out of the picture. Let's not wait for permission or wait for those roadblocks to go away. Let's charge ahead and tell our story however we want to and figure out how we want to tell it.

On Thursday, the mayor of Greenport, George Hubbard Jr., will cite your support of the nonprofit KultureCity. What is KultureCity exactly?

It's a wonderful organization. My wife, Veronica, and I have a 16-year-old son, CJ, with autism, so it's awakened our own consciousness about people with sensory issues and special needs. For many, it's difficult to navigate ballgames, concerts, museums [so KultureCity] provides things like 'sensory bags' with headphones, or you can go to your local zoo where we've created 'sensory rooms' for people [who need to] decompress. More important, we also train personnel to help in those moments when someone could be in distress.

"Hamilton" fans think of you as a theater star, "Bull" ones as a TV star — and fans of your music, as a composer. How do you see yourself?

A husband and father first, an artist second. [But] I have been blessed to be in the company of some great creative talent and collaborators. We've been able to do a lot over the years and it's come from a lot of hard work.

Many actors — TV and otherwise — struggled over the last two years, but "Bull" was one of the rare shows that shot early and even used pandemic storylines. How did that happen?
We were fortunate enough that our show [shot in Ridgewood, Queens] was at the forefront of production safety protocols. That allowed us to get back early and we shot 16 episodes last year.
And I have to ask about the stage. Are you Broadway-bound again?
Yes, 'Freestyle Love Supreme,' for a limited performance in the fall. [Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv hip-hop comedy troupe, was cocreated by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale nearly a decade ago, but had a brief run at the Booth Theatre before the pandemic hit.
By the way, I'm assuming this Thursday won't be your first trip to the Island, right?
Right. My son was in school in Glen Cove and with travel being what it is, I was able recently to get out and play on some world-class golf courses. I love Long Island. It can be like a different country. Those high sand dunes on the North [Fork]? Fantastic! I'm excited to return.

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