It’s hard to believe that anyone whose had as good of a year as Jeremy Pope could ever question their validity in the industry. The Broadway star became the sixth person in Tony Award history to receive two separate nominations in the same season last year. After being recognised for his work in Aint Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations and Choir Boy, Pope even kicked off 2020 with a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album. Yet, as we get on the phone to reminisce on what has been the beginning of a seemingly long and fulfilling career, 27-year-old Pope confides his past doubts of whether there was room for him in this space, career-defining determination and the importance of building a tribe. It’s a sunny morning in LA when Pope hops on our call, but across the country in New York was the place everything took off for the actor over a decade ago. Fresh out of high school, Pope moved out of his home state of Florida to the city of Broadway at the caution of his parents, whom he understandingly recalls “didn’t want me to have to struggle.”
After two years of studying art at a conservatory college and a slew of rejections that at once started to feel “like a no to you, like you’re not good enough,” Pope is now in awe at the zeal of his younger self. “Now I know too much,” he jokes, “but at the time I was riding the wave. I was ready to do what I needed to do, what felt right, and lead with that fire in my belly.” Despite this passionate drive, like most of us, there were still those moments of doubt. “I think a lot of the time, well at least for myself, I’ve wondered if there was space for me, room to use that gift God gave me,” he ponders.
In these confessions, I’m reminded of a history of theatre riddled with a lack of representation. Now something of a seasoned veteran at this point, I ask him what he thinks about inclusivity in the industry, and how representation may have became more of a widely accepted norm. Whilst adamant the shift has been a long time coming, Pope believes there is no time like the present, and that people are interested and eager to hear about the experiences of marginalised groups. Two playwrights Pope does believe are telling these stories right now are Dominique Morisseau and Tarell Alvin McCraney, citing the pair as pioneers in their field. “They’re so strict in exactly how they use their trauma and their experience to create art that changes, well, changed my life, changed my world”, he shares, educating me on the importance of telling a story on a stage as big as Broadway. “It is important, there’s someone out there who needs to see themselves and needs to feel that they’re not alone.”
(LEFT) Shirt and suit by ALEXANDER MCQUEEN (RIGHT) Suit by GUCCI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
Shirt and suit by ALEXANDER MCQUEEN Suit by GUCCI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
Now speaking from what we all imagine is the greener side of the grass, Pope’s here to let people know, from his own experience, that true success lies beyond the dream. With some distance between his last performance as well as the night of the Tony’s, the actor has had time to truly stew on how his career thus far has surpassed his younger self’s wildest dreams. No longer a child alternating between his divorced parent’s homes every other day, finding reprieve alone in his room producing music, Pope quantifies “being a star” as a sensibility beyond the accolades and fame he once desired.
“The win for me wasn’t even the nomination, but that I was seen, and I was heard. And it wasn’t just me, but that we were seen,we were heard.” Throughout the interview, he makes sure I know how grateful he is to have been a part of it all, which warms my heart. It is no mean feat to simultaneously perform one show and rehearse for another in quick succession – Pope counts three days between the finale of Choir Boy and the beginning of his journey in Ain’t Too Proud. Not having to separate himself from either production was undoubtedly an important opportunity – Pope shares that he and his team fought tooth and nail to make it work, regarding this manic period as the best ride of his life. “I just knew again that it was bigger than just me. That I was being used,” he tells me, “I was the vessel.” Acting as the key unlocking the proverbial door to this history-making moment, Pope maintains a continued appreciation for how his experience can offer visions of a goal being tangible for someone.
(LEFT) Vest and trousers by GIORGIO ARMANI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN (RIGHT) Top and trousers by MARCO DE VINCENZO and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
Vest and trousers by GIORGIO ARMANI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN Top and trousers by MARCO DE VINCENZO and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
Be that a young black man with dreams of being on stage, or just someone that relates to him, “You don’t have to look like me to feel me,” he says. “You only need to see it once, you only need to hear it once to know.” I soon learn that Pope’s most endearing trait is his predilection for speaking with notions of inclusion. It’s always: “We had the Tony’s!”, “What is it we want to do next?”, ‘We made time.”
He entirely immerses himself in whatever community he fashions around him, be it the theatre family he started off with on the off-Broadway stage of Choir Boy – referring to playwright Tarell Alvin Mc- Craney (Moonlight) as an older brother and ally, or the cast and crew of Ain’t Too Proud that he regards as family, shouting out fellow cast member Taylor who read with him on the audition tape of his new Netflix show. Pope recognises his successes as a testament to the supportive tribe he has fortunately been able to build. “I think you need to have people that you admire in your circle and admire you just the same, that pour in to you greatness and encouragement and love while you can do the same for them,” he says, adding with an air of omniscience, “it’s powerful to acknowledge that, and to lean into it.”
(LEFT) This page: Top and trousers by MARCO DE VINCENZO and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN. (RIGHT) Vest and trousers by GIORGIO ARMANI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
This page: Top and trousers by MARCO DE VINCENZO and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN. Vest and trousers by GIORGIO ARMANI and shoes by CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN
In the present day, Pope’s role on Ryan Murphy’s upcoming Netflix series, Hollywood, came out of a whirlwind week in the final days of his Ain’t Too Proud run and a day before the Tony Awards. The show follows a set of actors, writers and directors from different walks of life navigating Hollywood in its Golden Age. Pope plays Archie, a gay black writer with fearless determination and a ‘take me as I am’ spirit alongside Ryan Murphy favourites, Darren Criss and David Corenswet. Pope and his character are similar in many ways, a fortunate coincidence for his on-screen debut; “It kind of circles back,” he muses simply. The question Murphy poses of what Hollywood, and the western world it influences, would look like if the marginalised were given equal opportunity is already answered by Pope’s historical accomplishments. The “beautiful fantasy world” of Hollywood, as he calls it, is made real every day by Pope and many like him.