Last December, Terrence Jenkins — known to the world as Terrence J — made a momentous decision. He announced on live television that he would be leaving his duties as co-host of E! News to focus full time on acting and producing. The Rocky Mount, N.C., native knew it was a gamble but one he felt he had to take.
"When you do a job all year around like E!, it becomes a job," he said. "You've got to be somewhere Monday through Friday, 10-plus-hour days sometimes. Doing that, you don't really have the flexibility to do other projects. I'm excited to now be in a place where I can balance and do different things and wake up feeling challenged. I'm 33 now and I want to be my own boss, completely."
Jenkins' first major gig since leaving the entertainment news post is as the star of Lionsgate's "The Perfect Match," which opens Friday — his first in leading-man territory.
Jenkins plays Charlie, a Hollywood agent and casanova for whom a long-term relationship is a nonstarter. His sister (Paula Patton) and friends (Donald Faison, Lauren London, Dascha Polanco and Rob Riley), however, feel like it's time he grow up and settle down. Prompted by a bet between the guys, Charlie attempts to date only one woman for an extended , a way of proving that relationships and him don't gel.
But upon meeting Eva (Cassie Ventura), he may have just met the perfect not-so-perfect match. This is a romantic comedy, after all.
For those familiar with Jenkins' film credits, which include "Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming," "Burlesque" and the "Think Like a Man" franchise, Charlie is something completely different.
"I'm always the best friend or the momma's boy," he said. "But in this film, because I was the lead, it was such an emotional arc to have to play a player, then be vulnerable, to have to cry and curse people out, play drunk, to act."
Ventura, known by her first name as a singer and as the girlfriend of entertainment mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, faced challenges as well. During the early stages of filming, she said, Jenkins was a little hesitant to tackle the more physical aspects of the script in which the sex scenes needed to look real. But after a call with Combs himself, Jenkins committed fully.
"He told him to make it believable," she said.
And believable is what audiences will get, said "Perfect Match" director Bille Woodruff, known for the "Honey" franchise (the third of which is in post-production with Ventura as lead) and "Beauty Shop" starring Queen Latifah. He said Jenkins' acting chops will surprise moviegoers.
"I think people will be able to see him in a new way.... He's funny, he's likable, and his character has an arc," Woodruff noted. "He has a good chance of a nice career ahead of him as a leading man."
Acting has always been a career that Jenkins found appealing.
Long before hosting E! News, he took acting classes while a student at the historically black North Carolina A&T. He also worked nights at the local radio station, but after an unsuccessful run of auditions in Los Angeles he settled for a job in NASCAR's diversity development department.
It wasn't until he heard of BET's search for the next hosts of its now-defunct music video countdown show "106 & Park" that entertainment was once again the center of his life.
After a failed New York audition for the job, he drove to Atlanta the following day for another set of auditions for the same gig. He landed it and would host the show, with Rocsi Diaz, for seven years before joining the E! News team. During a total of 10 years on both shows, he picked up small acting roles along the way.
When he read the script for "The Perfect Match," along with having the opportunity to take on a role as a producer, he knew a decision had to be made.
"Getting the opportunity to be a producer, a part of the decision-making process and the experience of being No. 1 on the call sheet and having more responsibility — that's when I knew it was time to take my own destiny in my hand," he said.
In May, he'll return to television screens as the host of Fox's "Coupled." Produced by the Emmy-winning Mark Burnett, the reality dating show follows 12 women trying to find love in the Caribbean island of Anguilla.
Sitting at a table in his three-story Sherman Oaks home — complete with three bedrooms, a theater, mini barbershop, full-sized pool and half basketball court — Jenkins reflects on his humble beginnings. .
"You can't get more blue collar in this industry than me," he said. "I just got one job and worked really hard at it then another and worked really hard at that. I've crawled my way to be able to have everything I have.
"I used to look at the word 'success' as some esoteric moment in life when you're in a high office or on a beach looking out. But success for me is just being able to look in the mirror and being happy with what you see."