Where Are They? Jeremiah Caleb
By Angela Wampler | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2011If you look closely at some television commercials, you might see Jeremiah Caleb — often in a non-speaking, but visually expressive, often humorous role. For example, happily and noisily munching cereal in an office while his boss is trying to talk to him.
Describing himself as "the average working actor," Jeremiah constantly auditions, works on his craft, and travels between both the East and West Coasts to ply his trade. He also considers himself an artist, author, photographer, and social activist.
"I am blessed to have had the opportunities of the last few months," he says. Last fall, he played a guest star role in the NBC-TV comedy Outsourced and is currently appearing in TV commercials for Subway, Burger King, and Walmart.
Jeremiah, age 29, was born in Singapore, the only son of missionaries. He spent his teenage years in South Wales and finished his high school education in our region. He explains, "My parents were missionaries who had close friends in East Tennessee. We moved to Gray, near Johnson City, in the fall of 1994 so that I could have some stability in education while my father continued to travel around southeast Asia for extended periods of time. I finished high school in Kingsport and was accepted into King College in the spring of 1999."
Jeremiah says, "I originally went off to college to become a writer. I had always had a secret passion for performing; but as I was the only son of older missionaries, they had other dreams for me. So I kept that secret for a while. I became a double major in English and Fine Arts at King College. I was given an ensemble role in the college musical, and that was all it took to get me hooked. I performed in every college play during my time there and also in the local community — Theatre Bristol, Kingsport Theatre Guild and East Tennessee State University."
He continues, "As a young student, I dealt with a lot of heartbreak and processed all that energy through my craft. By my senior year, the Fine Arts Theatre at King College became my second home. I wrote, directed and choreographed my own play, Anybody Out There, as an honors project. By the end of it, I knew that there was nothing I would rather do with my life."
Jeremiah notes, "My years at King College were perhaps some of the most meaningful. I squeezed every experience that I could out of it, and I have maintained connections with many of my professors and fellow students. A couple of my professors remain as active mentors in my life professionally and also on a personal level."
Jeremiah went on to train at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City. He recalls, "I moved there in the summer with only my guitar, one suitcase, and a pocket full of dreams. I spent 16 months training intensively in musical theater and fell madly in love with Broadway and the city itself. It was a very rough and sometimes discouraging journey after that. But my passion for performing was too strong to turn away. I lived the life of a struggling artist in Manhattan and struggled through auditions and cattle calls.
In 2005, he auditioned for AMTC (Actors, Models & Talent for Christ) in Florida and received several callbacks from New York agents. Within a month, one agent booked him on the national commercial campaign for Kellogg's. When that hit the airwaves, he began getting more work from other agents in New York. Since then he has been under contract with Cobalt Sky Entertainment, whose motto is "When you reach for the moon, you get the stars."
Of Indian descent, Jeremiah traveled to India in 2006 to trace the life and ministry of his father. He says, "The legacy he left behind was profound and I have always wanted to write about his story. My father was a Hindu. At the age of 15, he became a Christian and his family disowned him for it. He began his life in the slums, became a storyteller for children via the Indian radio, and eventually became a pastor and missionary. Until this point I had never been to India in my life. I was 'Indian' by appearance but basically a Southern boy at heart. I felt compelled to get in my father's skin in order to truthfully write his story."
Jeremiah recalls, "I traveled to India with my guitar, wearing clothing like my father wore back in the '60s. A couple of friends accompanied me and documented my journey on camera. My main intention at that point was to produce a novel that documented the life of my father. So I was unprepared for 'the call' that would change the entire course of my life."
He explains, "Every morning at 4:30 a.m., trucks in India dump tons of garbage at landfills. Within minutes, 'rag pickers' emerge from the darkness, crawling through piles of junk. These women and children frantically fill sacks with 'treasures' which they sell to feed themselves. As an actor I felt as if I were on a movie set, only what I was standing amongst was all too real. I was in complete disbelief at the sights around me, and yet so profoundly touched by the laughter of the children." Afterwards, Jeremiah says, "I could not get away from the poverty or the fact that these innocents who thrived in filthy slums were of my own race. I could not get away from the nagging 'call' to do something about it."
Upon returning to America, Jeremiah vowed to make a difference in the world and began working on behalf of a slum mission that his great-uncle started more than 30 years ago. He encouraged actor friends in New York City to put on cabarets and fundraisers to sponsor the children in India. He says, "As the needs grew, and as I grew attached to the children and their stories, it became necessary to create a non-profit organization. So, in the winter of 2009, I started the Caleb Hope Foundation in honor of my father's memory."
Jeremiah's trip to India also netted him the love of his life. The journey led him on a four-year courtship via letters with a young woman from his father's hometown. As this issue of A! Magazine went to press, Jeremiah was scheduled to marry Angel James in New York City on April 30.
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