Jay Ellis Reveals the Book He's Gifting Everyone This Christmas

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Jay Ellis literally raced through the airport to get to Las Vegas's JBL Fest, but once he was settled down in the club for the festival's official launch night on Sept. 22, it was impossible to describe him as anything other than chill. Even though he's a star, he had the energy of an old friend — especially when he revealed he was particularly looking forward to seeing Bruno Mars perform later that evening.

Apparently, Ellis says, he lived close to Mars when he first moved to Los Angeles. "He was my neighbor, and he doesn't know this, but he used to have parties all the time. Everybody on our street was like, who is this dude having parties? And it was Bruno," Ellis laughs, noting that at the time, he never received an invite.

If he and Mars were still neighbors today, that would probably have changed by now. The actor has made his mark on Hollywood thanks to roles on "Insecure" and appearances in "Top Gun: Maverick," "Escape Room," and many more, and there's clearly a lot more where that came from. Lately, though, due to the ongoing actors' strike, he's been spending his time on other pursuits, developing his own rhythm outside of the rush of early call times and long days on set.

"I've done some reflection, and got to spend a lot of time with my family," Ellis tells POPSUGAR. "I got to travel a little bit, which was nice. Also I got to just do other things that I've wanted to do and that I haven't had the time for."

For example, he's had the opportunity to sift through childhood photos, something he'd recommend that everyone try. "Next time you're in a spot where you can go through your childhood photos — it is going to blow your mind, what you used to look like. And then there are the experiences you had in your life that you forget about," he adds. Looking through his own photos reminded him of an important part of his childhood that he hadn't thought about in a while — an imaginary friend named Mikey.

"I'm an only child, and he was like an older brother. We went on all these adventures together. It was dope," he says, adding that he can trace his love of art and music back to those days. "All of my time with Mikey, in a lot of ways, was framed by pop cultural references or music references."

"It's less about a trend, and more about, 'What do I like on me?'"

Reflecting on his childhood has given him newfound appreciation for his present occupation. "It's just been really cool to take a step back and think about growing up, and also what made me want to do the thing that I do — what made me fall in love with acting," he explains. "I was playing all these characters that I didn't know I was playing at the time. I moved around a bunch as a kid, so I could show up to a school and be a completely different character, because I was at a different school every year or two." Mikey was always with him during those years, joining him in his earliest forays into the art of making up stories and bringing them to life.

While he never discusses projects — Jay Ellis is no scab! — it's clear he's excited to return to set. But until then, he's also been spending his time listening to music, diving into old favorites. "Jay-Z's albums have always almost been the score to my life in a lot of ways," he says. "I remember the first time I heard Nelly . . . I was in high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so it wasn't that far from St. Louis. Hearing that sound — it sounded like all my boys and the kids that I grew up, and that was such a good moment. Lil Wayne is another one. I feel like Lil Wayne has always been like a soundtrack; he's put out albums consistently for so long."

But he's always exploring different artists, and recently saw The Lumineers at the Hollywood Bowl. "It was dope, actually," he says. "They're a great show."

He's also been spending his time reading — everything from hard-hitting history books to self-help. He just finished "When Crack was King: A People's History of Misunderstood Era" by Donovan X. Ramsey, which traces the crack epidemic through the '80s and '90s. He's also been reading and rereading the book "Limitless" by Jim Kwik, which he says he's gifting to everyone this Christmas. The book's full title is "Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life," and in it, Kwik, a neuroscientist, shares insights about increasing motivation, memory, and the importance of mindset in removing any limits that might be preventing you from becoming your full self.

Clearly, the downtime has been generative for Ellis, who seems reflective and grounded, whether discussing his early childhood memories or his latest fashion choices. And on that subject, he says, "My own journey with fashion has always just been about exploration — it's less about a trend, and more about, 'What do I like on me? What do I want to wear, what do I want to walk out of the house in? How does it make me feel?'"

It's advice that could be applied to a lot more than fashion, of course. "Exploration, to me, is just fun. I think it allows you to go places," he says. Without that sense of adventure — without that limitless mindset, perhaps — "you would never go and try things," he adds. "You would never try and be pushed."

Check out Ellis's book recommendations ahead.