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Voice and Dialect Coach Thom Jones ’91 Visits Campus

Jones shared his expertise on working with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Hudson and on the power of acting training.

Update Feb ’24: Read about the pivotal role Thom Jones ’91 played in helping Da’Vine Joy Randolph perfect the Boston dialect used in her award-winning performance in The Holdovers.

Fall 2023

Sounding Authentic

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, all four companies in the Acting BFA program gathered to hear the insight and expertise of Thom Jones ’91.

The Artist Talk/Q+A was part of a two-day visit during which the highly accomplished dialect and vocal coach worked with students on their technique and provided unparalleled advice.

Jones sat alongside Maggie Surovell, lecturer and co-chair of the acting department, in a circle of more than 30 students enthralled by anecdotes of his work with A-list celebrities interspersed with sage advice for their acting practice and for life in general.

Coaching Career

Jones has helped dozens of actors appearing on stage and screen, many went on to deliver award-winning performances. Notably, he’s coached actors who portray highly recognizable figures, including Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos (2021), Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in Respect (2021), and Andra Day as Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021).

He also coached the cast of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, including newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria, a performance that earned a Golden Globe Best Actress award, and Ariana DeBose as Anita, who won the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

The list of performers goes on, including Ben Mendelsohn, Sissy Spacek, Lee Daniels, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Forest Whittaker, Rita Moreno, Mark Rylance, Mandy Patinkin, among many others.

Thom Jones '91 and Jennifer Hudson on the set of Respect.

Uniquely Purchase

Jones began the talk with a nod to his training at Purchase and the foundation it formed, remarking how its distinctive approach continues to produce unique performers.

“A Purchase actor is not recognizable as such in the field,” says Jones, “The technique taught is to reveal ourselves, to reveal yourself as an artist and individual.…It taught me presence.”

He credits former professors Chuck Jones and Joan Potter with pivotal instruction on his understanding of acting and Elizabeth Himelstein with helping start his career in coaching film and television.

The Service of Teaching

Jones has maintained a considerable teaching career that dates to his years at Purchase when his skill with voice and speech first became apparent. During his third year, he was asked to tutor younger acting students, encouraged by both Chuck Jones and speech professor Barbara Knowels.

Jones still recalls the valuable guidance the former shared on the verge of teaching his first voice class, “’Teach them what you think they need to know and call it voice.’”

After graduating, he spent seven years at Purchase as Head of Voice and Speech in the 90s, then nearly 20 years as the Head of Voice and Speech for the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company master’s program in Acting and Directing. He’s also taught at Yale School of Drama, NYU, and Case Western University, among many others.

Jones admits he suffered from horrible stage fright as a performer, but experiences none when he’s teaching.

“It’s because I’m being of service,” he says. “Your job is to make your partner amazing. Continue to lift other people up.”

Thom Jones '91 in a Q+A with acting students. Life Lessons

That’s one of the many nuggets of practical advice Jones shared—applicable well beyond an acting practice—that touched on authenticity, meditation, listening skills, and managing negative self-talk.

“You need to believe you can before you can, then you decide that you can,” he says. “Anything you put after ‘I am’ is powerful.”

And he spoke plainly about the harsh reality of an acting career. He suggests students investigate the source of the negative voices in their heads and use mindfulness techniques like meditation and prayer to stay grounded.

“This career will kick the shit out of you,” he says. “Get a hold of your self-esteem, find faith in something, and find self-love,” which will help “keep the drama in your work, not in your life.”

The entire Acting BFA program is grateful for Jones’ generosity of time and talent for the benefit of students.

In the Works

Jones is currently writing a book about voice work in relation to making art and living a creatively fulfilling life. 


Listen to a recent podcast to hear Jones provide a window into the process of working with clients and break down the eccentricities of a Rhode Island dialect. No stranger to the unique blend of Boston, New York, and Irish dialects, he worked with actor Miles Teller to develop one for his portrayal of boxer Vinny Pazienza in Bleed for This (2016) and with the leads of the Showtime series Brotherhood (2006–2008) set in Providence.