BY MARIO BOUCHER
A recent trip to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for the annual International Singer-Songwriters Association earned Holly Springs resident and Charlotte native Rollin Jewett a 2023 ISSA Award for his song “Meteor.”
When he’s not busy writing songs—or a novel based partly on his entertainment industry adventures—the multitalented artist manages Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria in Cary with his brother, Bob.
From writing a movie starring Carmen Electra and standing in for John Travolta, to writing songs and winning musical awards, Jewett has experienced a wide range of facets of the entertainment industry. In 2009 he moved to Cary with his wife, Debbie, to raise their young son, Ronan, back in his home state.
At age 2, Jewett moved with his mother and two older brothers to Miami. He later moved to Fort Lauderdale, where he discovered his passion for art while in high school. Rollin credits drama and creative writing classes with changing his life, and two teachers for serving as mentors and creating a welcoming and supportive environment where students were judged on their creative merit.
Rollin attended Florida State University as a theater major and acted in a few plays in college before moving back to South Florida, where he auditioned and worked in commercials, print, film and TV, including a role on an episode of the hit 1980s series “Miami Vice.” We talked with Jewett about these adventures, as well as why he enjoys raising a family in the Triangle.
What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?
In Miami, I worked as an actor and print model doing many commercial and print jobs—and popular TV shows such as “Miami Vice” and “Unsolved Mysteries”—some low-budget films and a minor role in “The Bodyguard.”
I felt like the proverbial “big fish in a little pond,” so I decided to move to LA. But things were vastly different out there—much more competitive and geared to a younger set. I did manage to land a few acting gigs here and there. Through a friend, I finally met a young producer and got him interested in a low-budget vampire comedy I had written called “American Vampire,” which starred Adam West and Carmen Electra.
How did you get involved in the entertainment industry?
It was something I just fell into. Being an actor appealed to me because it meant I could travel to exotic locations, work with creative people, constantly be challenged with new roles and characters I could bring to life and, through that, live many lives. My life has been one of many twists and phases, each gratifying in its own way.
What was the highlight of your experience in California?
I would say the fact that I was able to sell a few scripts in Hollywood and get them produced with name stars and released internationally would be a big one. When that happened, I felt a great sense of accomplishment because it proved to me that I was not only a professional actor, but a professional screenwriter as well. I also met my wife, Debbie, in California, which was another highlight!
What was it like to be a writer in Hollywood?
I loved it! It was an exciting time living in LA and being young in Hollywood in the 1990s and early 2000s. I was surrounded by creatives like me who were just as obsessed with making films as I was. But it was also a struggle because, when you’re not working, you’re constantly trying to get to work. I labored as a bartender between jobs, but even that was interesting because celebrities and artists would come to my bar all the time.
As a stand-in on film sets, who was your favorite: Travolta or DeNiro?
I would have to say Travolta! I was in awe of him, but he was just as nice as could be. I got the stand-in gig in Miami on his film “Chains of Gold” because we are the same height and coloring, and I had a little experience as a stand-in on a few other sets.
At the wrap party, which took place at a hip Miami nightclub, Travolta took lots of pictures with the cast and crew, and even got out on the dance floor with us and danced some of his famous moves from “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.” He was such a good sport.
Tell us about your experience as a singer.
I have been singing my entire life. I got my first guitar when I was 14 and made up my songs in my teens and in college. About 10 years ago, I went into the studio and recorded a few of my best songs. And now, I’m becoming a well-known, multi-award-winning singer-songwriter in multiple genres, ranging from rock to pop to alternative, blues, country and Americana.
I have won several awards, including the International Singer-Songwriter Association (ISSA) award, Rampage Music Awards and Indie Songwriting Awards, among others. I just recently completed an album with a great friend and vocalist named Bo Hoss entitled “Croonin’ and Swoonin’.” The CD was so well received that we are teaming up to do another one.
What is more fun to create: plays or novels?
They offer different challenges. I’m currently in the process of writing a novel, which will be semi-autobiographical—containing some unusual personal stories, mostly true, interwoven with some exaggerated sequences. I hope to have it finished by the end of 2024. I prefer writing plays.
What do you do now?
When I am not writing or creating music, my day job is managing Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria in Cary, owned by my brother Bob. I moved to Cary from Arizona with my wife Debbie, a professional dancer, in 2009 to raise our son Ronan, who is now 16 and an honors student at Apex Friendship High School. Several of my plays have been produced in local venues such as The Cary Theater and The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, as well as Mac’s Tavern and the Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh. At present, I’m looking into producing a few nights of my one-act comedy plays at the Holly Springs Cultural Center.