Journalist Jezy Gray ('10, '14 M.A.) grew up in Madill, Oklahoma, with aspirations larger than the rural town that raised him. Now he's interviewing rock stars for Boulder Weekly in Colorado and appears in Martin Scorsese's western-crime film Killers of the Flower Moon.
The film, based on David Grann's bestselling book, is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the murders of the Osage Nation. Gray's one-line scene with Robert De Niro comes at a pivotal part of the movie.
They filmed the 12-second scene for hours, he recalls.
"We're suspended in this sort of liminal space where time doesn't exist, and I'm sitting here with the greatest screen actor and director of all time," Gray says.
He describes the process of landing the role as "the ultimate party story." An online advertisement calling for a journalist in their 30s for a major motion picture captured Gray's attention. The next day, he was making plans to go to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for costuming.
"I threw caution to the wind and shot an email to them," he says. "They didn't say the name of the production, but in Oklahoma at the time, we all knew what was going on. Martin Scorsese filming in northeastern Oklahoma was a huge deal."
He got the role of secretary to the main character, William Hale, a cattle baron and crime boss in Osage County.
Gray thinks back on the moment Scorsese made an appearance as he sat in a waiting room on set.
"Next door, I can hear the unmistakable New York accent of Martin Scorsese pattering with someone, and then I hear him practicing how to say my name. He's like, 'Oh, who's this? Jazz ... Jazzy?'" Gray says.
Next thing he knew he was in front of the cameras, sitting in a jail cell across from De Niro.
As he watches the film, Gray says, "Every time our scene comes on, I get this surge of adrenaline, but then I come away just feeling like it was a dream."
Gray came to UNT to study English thanks to teachers he had along the way who inspired him to pursue writing. He always had a feeling Denton was where he would end up.
"I remember driving past Fouts Field and seeing the big Mean Green eagle as a little kid," Gray says. He remembers thinking, "I want to go to the place with the big eagle."
While attending UNT, he was inspired by English teachers Jacqueline Foertsch and Walton Muyumba. He often spent time at local concerts, specifically at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios.
He played guitar on the song, "Fallout," on Neon Indian's sophomore album Era Extraña. A Denton-born, electro-pop band created by his friend and classmate Alan Palomo, Gray's guitar skills can be heard amongst the synth arrangements and swirling melodies.
His passion for music is apparent when he tells the story of how his high school emo-punk band, Burning January, played unannounced between classes at school.
"We set up in between the bells and did a minute of a song," Gray says. "People were watching and crowd surfing. This is all in a little town of 2,000 people."
He made his own fun, but at the same time was eager to experience life outside of the little slice of southern Oklahoma. Prior to living in Madill, Gray lived on a cattle farm in Love County, Oklahoma, so he's no stranger to the Oklahoma countryside. It's almost as if the movie role was destined for him.
"While I did have frustrations in the fact that I didn't have the same resources as people in bigger cities, I do think it gave me a bit more of a spark and drive," Gray says.
After Gray received a master of arts degree in English, he went on to have his work published in the Dallas Observer, Oklahoma Gazette, PopMatters, D Magazine and other publications. His essays were featured in anthologies published by the now-defunct publication This Land, which explored life in Oklahoma.
He's currently the arts and culture editor for Boulder Weekly, covering the arts and culture beat. He also writes for Paste magazine and ArtDesk. His creative past allows him to connect with the musicians he interviews on another level.
Gray comes from a long line of Oklahomans and he says his history with the state shaped his perspective on the film.
He has a deep love and appreciation for the Oklahoma Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the scenic land where Killers of the Flower Moon takes place.
"It's meaningful beyond words," Gray says. "It feels like being a part of history and not just the history of American cinema, but also the history of the place that I'm from."