'They loved her': Meet Oklahoma's Jeanise Jones, the 'moral compass' and breakout star of 'Borat 2'
A metro area woman was shocked to learn that she's one of the breakout stars of a new satirical comedy.
Jeanise Jones of Oklahoma City didn't even realize that she played a role in "Borat 2" until a week ago when a cousin pointed her out in the trailer posted online for actor Sacha Baron Cohen's new film.
Jones had no idea who Cohen was or the notoriety of Cohen's "Borat" character and first movie.
She thought she'd been in a documentary instead of a feature-length film starring a well-known actor. She had no idea the people she interacted with were playing characters because she was being herself.
"I thought it was serious," Jones said.
Then her pastor, the Rev. Derrick Scobey, called her with the news that a reporter from the United Kingdom wanted to interview her for a story.
"I was just blown away," she said.
Jones, 62, now is hailed as the "hero" and "moral compass" of "Borat 2," which premiered on Friday on the streaming platform Amazon Prime.
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The movie chronicles the adventures of Borat Sagdiyev, portrayed by Cohen, as he returns to America from Kazakhstan on a mission to offer a "bribe" to American leaders. He brings with him his stowaway teenage daughter Tutar, portrayed by Maria Bakalova. The film, which includes crude scenes, follows them on their trip through America. Most of Jones' scenes are with Bakalova, but she has one memorable scene with Cohen near the end of the movie.
Currently, the former counseling service receptionist is getting social media messages from people around the world who praised her candor and warmth as Tutar's "babysitter" in the movie. Twitter, in particular, was abuzz with accolades for Jones.
"Protect and honor Jeanise Jones. The true star of #Borat," said one tweet.
"THE ONLY PERSON WITH SENSE IN THE WHOLE D*** MOVIE," said another tweet, which featured images of the film's scene that included Jones.
Another tweet featuring a picture of Jones offered more praise: "This lady right here has a heart of gold! Another: "We all need to start showing a lot of love and compassion like Jeanise did in #Borat." And someone also tweeted this: "I wasn't expecting Borat 2 to have a moral compass, but Jeanise Jones is the first hero to ever emerge from a Sacha Baron Cohen setup."
Scobey, who has seen the movie, said he wasn't surprised that people were responding favorably to Jones.
"There was some darkness but I called Jeanise last night and said our motto is to reflect Jesus in all we do and Jeanise, she was light shining in a dark movie."
So how did this church lady end up in an R-rated movie?
'They loved her'
It turns out movie producers plucked Jones from her northeast Oklahoma City church, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist, 3600 N Kelley.
Scobey and Benita Gillispie, the church's finance secretary and adult women's Sunday school leader, said two producers showed up at the church one day in search of a "Black grandmother" to mentor a young woman being featured in a documentary. Gillispie said the producers said they were from California and had driven up and down Kelley Avenue trying to decide on which church to visit. The producers even sat in on one of her Sunday school classes but didn't find the person they wanted, she said.
Gillispie said she thought of Jones, the lead usher at Ebenezer, phoned her friend and asked her to come and talk with the producers.
Jones, a divorced mother of three and grandmother of six, was known throughout the church as a person who combined a penchant for being candid with a nurturing and loving spirit.
"I had to convince her to come. They loved her. She was who they were looking for. They were looking for a grandmother-nanny type person who was going to help look out for this 14-year-old girl," Gillispie said.
Now that she's seen her friend in the film, Gillispie joined the chorus of people who said Jones was simply being herself and came away as a 'light' in the film.
"When I saw the parts with her, it was amazing. She was herself. She was composed. She was the moral compass of this movie," Gillispie said.
Scobey said he had no idea why the producers chose his church but he, Gillispie and other church members were told that the California group had considered other nearby houses of worship.
Jones said she was paid roughly $3,600 for participating in what she thought was a documentary. She said she answered a few of the producers' questions and then eventually was taken to Guthrie where she met Borat/Cohen as the father of the young girl she was to mentor. Jones said he introduced her to Bakalova who portrayed "Tutar" as a 14-year-old Borat had bogged down with a ball and chain.
When she asked him to remove the ball and chain from the girl, Borat/Cohen said no.
As soon as he left the residence, Jones took off the apparatus.
"I thought we were mentoring this young lady to show her how to act. As soon as he left, I took that ball and chain off of her," Jones said.
Meanwhile, she said footage for the film was shot in Guthrie and in Bricktown. She became fond of her charge, not realizing that the "teenager" Tutar was actually an actress playing a role.
"His (Borat/Cohen) deal was for her to marry a rich man so she had to do all these things to get and keep an older man with money. She told me he wanted her to have a boob job and I said she didn't need all of that. I thought I was really talking to a 14-year-old."
Jones said at one point she felt concerned enough to seek out Scobey and ask him to pray with her for the girl who was living under the thumb of what Jones described as an imposing father. They prayed together at the church for the girl and her family. Jones said she thought the family's strange actions were because they came from a Third World country and Borat/Cohen's attempts to keep his daughter down angered her to a degree.
She said the producers called her a few weeks ago and wanted to fly her to Washington, D.C., to shoot the ending of the film. Jones said she agreed and she arrived in Washington to film her last scene, which was with Borat/Cohen.
"He was putting ideas in her (Tutar's) head that he said were going to help her but really it was going to help him," Jones said, recalling that last scene.
Scobey said he set up a GoFundMe account for Jones. Jones said she was initially paid $600 and then $3,000 for participating in the final filming in Washington. He pointed out that Jones worked in the insurance industry for more than 30 years. She said she had been working as a receptionist at a metro counseling center until she was laid off due to COVID-19. On the GoFundMe page, Scobey pointed out that Jones, a faithful member of his church, has been out of work during the pandemic.
"The joke is on us/Jeanise and that’s no problem. Many of you have reached from around the world to say thank you, so I thought it would be great to give people a vehicle to say thank you in a tangible way. She wasn’t paid much money at all for her role in this movie," Scobey wrote on the GoFundMe page.
"This was not scripted for Jeanise. It all came from the heart."
Scobey said Jones and his church worried about Tutar for months.
Another unsuspecting women — a Holocaust survivor — also was lauded for her warmth in the film.
Scobey said the family of the Jewish woman named Judith Dim Evans is upset with Cohen. Evans' daughter has accused Cohen of interviewing her mother under false pretenses. She had been suing to get the scenes featuring Evans taken out of the movie but the lawsuit was dismissed. Evans died after filming.
For her part, Jones is still reeling from the sudden turn of events and she's shocked that her role has gained so much attention.
Monday, she said she hasn't seen the movie because she doesn't have Amazon Prime. She's not angry that she wasn't told that it was a satirical movie that would be seen by people all around the globe. The movie has been making waves because it includes a controversial scene featuring Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and personal attorney for President Donald Trump.
When a news reporter from the UK told her that the hashtag "JeaniseForPresident" was trending on Twitter, Jones was shocked.
"I cracked up," she said, laughing. "I told him that I would not make a very good president."