ST. PETERSBURG –From acting like a class clown to starring in the lead role on a primetime television show, St. Petersburg’s own Justin Hires has taken the road to stardom while leaving plenty of smiles along the way.
Born in 1984, Hires was raised in south St. Petersburg. “Fortunately, I was raised in a two-parent household,” said Hires. His father, James Hires, owns Hires’ Hairstyling and his mother, Dr. Barbara Hires, was a principal in a local elementary school.
“Having both of them at the house was a blessing; they provided me with a lot of encouragement and wisdom,” he said. “I used to see people selling or using drugs. My mother always told me ‘look at these people, never be that person.’”
Hires attended Lealman Elementary School at an interesting time. While he was there, the principal was his mother.
“When I was a little unruly in class, my mom would correct that immediately,” he said.
Thanks to his mother’s supervision, he was always on the right path academically, which surprised many people because of his reputation as a class clown.
“I was a class clown more as a defense mechanism,” said Hires. “I was little. People picked on me about my height.”
Only 4’11 by the time he reached sixth grade, Hires recalled his first day at Bay Point Middle. “A teacher came up to me and asked if I was lost. She thought I belonged on the elementary side.”
Hires’ likeability and humor led him to be popular among his peers, which made the transition to acting easier.
His introduction to acting was at age 14. He auditioned for a “Shakespeare in the Park” play called “The Winter’s Tale” playing the role of Prince Mamillius. Hires would go on to graduate from Gibbs High School and be accepted into Clark Atlanta University, where he would continue to act.
During his time at Clark, he booked his first two film roles. The first was “The Gospel” in 2005 followed by a small role in “Stomp the Yard.”
“If you watch closely, I’m standing behind Ne-Yo the entire movie. I only had two lines,” Hires said.
Working as an on-air personality at his campus radio station, MTV discovered him while filming for an award show on campus.
“I told myself if I could be as funny as I could be today, maybe MTV will hire me…that’s essentially what happened,” he said.
He made the other on-air personalities and the camera operator cry from laughing. MTV hired him as a video jockey while in college. His job required him to travel to New York, Cancun and Los Angeles to interview musicians, actors and other celebrities.
Hires graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass media and communication. He turned down a full-time job with MTV in New York to pursue his dreams in Los Angeles.
His first TV shows in Los Angeles were “Disaster Date” and “Jerks with Cameras,” which ironically were MTV shows. He began to build his reputation as a comedic actor with these shows and stand-up routines throughout Los Angeles, which led to his booking with the hit film “21 Jump Street.”
“Jonah Hill personally hired me because when he saw my audition tape, he thought I could be the next Chris Tucker,” he said. This was a great prediction on Hill’s account. Hires played the role of a gay, high school teen named “Juario,” who had more than two lines in the film.
He would go on to get an undisclosed role for the pilot episode for a television show. His contract with the show would not allow him to audition for anything else, but due to the show being in limbo, he was allowed to audition again, which led to him booking the biggest role of his career, Detective James Carter in “Rush Hour.”
“I screamed like a little school girl…this is something that I’ve always dreamed about. I had to pinch myself to see if this was real and get to work,” said Hires.
He landed the role that was once played by Chris Tucker on the big screen. Being one of the main characters in a show was a new experience. “I was in almost every scene, so much money was put into the show and the time was so much more than I was aware of,” said Hires. “It was an amazing experience. It’s incredible.”
Still feeling those proverbial butterflies flying around in his stomach, he continues to get a little nervous to this day. “It’s good to be nervous, that’s how you know you still care.”
He takes great pride in his family, especially his daughter, Jai. “My daughter being proud and excited to see me on television is one of the greatest things ever. Despite anything I’ve accomplished, my daughter is my greatest accomplishment.”
Hires said he wants people to take notice of the doors he’s trying to open for diversity in Hollywood. He aims to be a voice of inspiration to any young person trying to achieve their dreams, especially if it’s an African American wanting to be the lead in a network television show.
He hasn’t gone completely Hollywood just yet; you can still see his south St. Pete roots. “I’ll always be a St. Pete, Fla., boy.”