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Andrew Jenks: Welcome to his world

By Stephanie Goldberg, Special to CNN
Filmmaker Andrew Jenks, 24, stars in, directs and produces MTV's "World of Jenks."
Filmmaker Andrew Jenks, 24, stars in, directs and produces MTV's "World of Jenks."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Docu-series "World of Jenks" will premiere on Monday at 10 p.m., ET
  • Jenks starred in, directed and produced "Andrew Jenks, Room 355"
  • "I consider myself more of a director than anything," Jenks says
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(CNN) -- Walking a mile in someone else's shoes might be challenging, but it's probably not as emotionally taxing as spending every moment with that person for eight straight days.

Filmmaker Andrew Jenks, 24, discovered this when he set out to star in, direct and produce his latest project, MTV's "World of Jenks."

The docu-series follows Jenks as he jumps from various people's worlds: A rapper, a homeless girl, a cage fighter and others.

This isn't the first time Jenks has laced-up a pair of someone else's shoes. At 19, he spent the summer as a resident of an assisted living facility in Florida.

During his time at the facility, Jenks starred in, directed and produced "Andrew Jenks, Room 355," a feature film that HBO eventually bought the rights to and aired in 2008.

" 'Room 335' was pretty much just humanizing senior citizens," he told CNN. "It was nothing more, nothing less. They're just incredible character portraits of these people -- of these senior citizens that just had no voice, but had so many incredible things to say."

Each episode of "World of Jenks" could be compared to a shorter "Room 355," he said.

"I feel like this show is that, but for my generation," he said. "That's what kind of makes it special for me."

CNN spoke with Jenks about his show, which will premiere on Monday at 10 p.m., ET, on MTV.

How has this experience affected your personal life?

Well I don't have one. It's easy.

How do you have these experiences and then go back to being Andrew?

I don't really. No one's ever asked that before. I don't know.

It's weird because every time I leave one of these worlds, I'm back for like, a week, then we go and we shoot another one. And for that week that I'm back, it's kind of weird -- I almost feel like I am that person still.

Like, after we hung out with the poker player, I realized the week after I was kind of walking like he did. There was another cage fighter who just had a certain way of speaking and I kind of started to use a lot of the words he was using. ...

To be with someone for eight days, nonstop, and be trying to get who they are and what they stand for -- it's really, really intense. If anything, it kind of screws with your head a little bit in that you're speed living.

Do other people notice these changes?

No. It's not that crazy. It's not like I'm a schizo or something. It's just something I kind of notice myself. ... I think anyone would do this if they spent eight days with somebody -- just start picking up some of the funnier words they've been using, or if they walk a certain way or if they carry themselves a certain way.

After I was with the rapper, I remember, for the next week I was cursing so much. I was like, "What am I doing?" You get absorbed into that world.

Is one week enough time to spend in someone else's shoes?

Oh yeah. One week. It's interesting because it's kind of almost like a science: The first two or three days, the subject is a little bit skeptical, a little bit apprehensive about really opening up.

Once they really get to know me and what, I think, myself and our team is really about, they kind of buy into it a little more. Then, by day five or six, they're really opening up.

And then by seven or eight, you've really gotten to know this person and, if you're not friends with them for life, you definitely will have their number in your cell phone.

How did you find each subject?

It's really tough. That's the hardest part because there's so many unique young people out there that are doing incredible, incredible things. To narrow it down to 12 was really hard. We have a research team -- for instance, I'll say, "We're interested in doing a homeless kid, or we're interested in following someone with autism or we're interested in a cage fighter," and then our research team will investigate those worlds and see who are the different characters out there that are interesting. The one thing we're really, really, conscious of is trying to find people that don't necessarily want to be on reality TV, or be on a TV show, I should say.

What's one an example of a great subject?

We went to an exceptional children's school in Westchester [New York] and we just interviewed the 30 kids there. And there was this one kid who popped up from the interview that just had an incredible, incredible objective sense of what he had, which was autism. And he still had the ability to be really funny.

You didn't feel bad for him. He kind of shed a new light on autism.

You're the star of "World of Jenks" and you're behind the scenes as well?

Yeah. I consider myself more of a director than anything. I'm directing the episodes, I'm an EP [executive producer] on the show. I'm definitely involved in the editing process as much as I can be, when I'm not actually on the road shooting. ...

If anything, it's a bit odd to be in front of the camera. ... I'm almost in front of the camera by default, if anything.

How important was it for you to have creative control?

Any director would be crazy to say that's not something they seek. I've been in on all of the creative control and I really mean this ... [MTV] has really let me and my team execute our vision in terms of the show that we really want to put on screen. That's something I was extremely conscious of going into the process.

I want to be a filmmaker. I want to make movies down the road ... so, venturing into this sort of terrain, I was certainly apprehensive. I didn't want to be labeled as being in a reality show. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but I just didn't want to take that career route.

What's one thing you've taken away from this experience?

It's incredible what's at stake for each individual that we live with. The cage fighter that we followed, he was just this big bulky cage fighter and you thought he just beats people up for a living in a cage. But I think, really, we got to know him and he took us to his father's grave site.

His dad had been brutally murdered. He just started -- we had the cameras a little bit farther away so he was able to forget about them a little bit -- and he just started crying and talking to his dad. He just started to get really emotional and crying and opening up about what that was like.

He said he feels like he's fighting still for his dad and it reminds him of when he used to do karate with his father. It's those sort of moments, where you realize, "Geez, there's so much as stake for this person." I kind of find that in every experience.