Just a month shy of his high-school graduation, Jeremy Pope ditched the traditional route of college, and pitched to his parents the idea of leaving Orlando for New York to pursue acting. Perhaps it wasn’t a pitch, but rather a statement of fact, as he’d realised his calling and he was going to break new ground, even if he was going to fail. “As a parent, you don’t want it to be hard for your kids, I can understand that. But at the time, I don’t think they knew how strong I was,” he says, explaining how the vision was lost on his parents, who had saved up for him to attend college.
Jeremy wasn’t deterred by the threat of failure: as any creative practitioner can testify, you have to be strong enough to endure the game by surviving the knock-backs and dwelling in the unknown. Auditioning for Choir Boy in 2013, the role of Pharus became his first job and, unbeknown to him, it was going to be his big break. “We did sell out, it was a show in a small room and at the time there were no talks of it coming to Broadway,” he says, in awe of how fast it all happened. Now starring in Ain’t Too Proud, a Broadway musical chronicling the life and music of The Temptations, and with an eight-day schedule, he says: “I am still processing it, I haven’t had the time to take it in.”
Just as each generation can vouch that they have lived in the best times in terms of art, but also the worst in politics, in this generation’s dire times the need for art to do what it does best: to reflect its time and create a space for escapism. Jeremy’s portfolio meets these standards. His humility and zest for life are contagious and the kind that you attribute to a game changer who is not aware of the future ahead of him. His wisdom and charm are that of a person who is content and satiated, the kind that makes you want to be your best self. It came as no surprise that his ethos is to live in the moment, love and be loved.
Stealing time off his eight-day week, Jeremy talks to PETRIe about the art of timing, being present and standing in your truth.
Jane Chanakira: Who inspires you?
Jeremy Pope: I didn’t come from a town with a musical background, so I would say that coming to New York and seeing artists grind and doing things that make them happy has really inspired me. My dad is also someone who really inspires me, he has this way of speaking to me and reminding me how beautiful life is and also how short it is. Both of my parents are my inspiration, that’s why I am able to pour love into people, it’s because I am also very loved. When I was starting out it took a lot of convincing but now, they see me and they are so excited and I’m happy because they get to live this experience with me.
JC: How do you choose your roles?
JP: I always want to be a part of something where others can pour something into me, and I pour something into them. The cool thing about acting is that you are being inserted into different scenarios, and I hope my art can affect people; that’s why I make sure I read the script and like the role, and that it has truth to it – and hope it’s something that opens and expands our minds.
JC: Do you ever feel the pressure to act as an ambassador of the marginal groups you represent?
JP: I think the main responsibility is understanding yourself and what you stand for and that’s the best thing you can do – always speak for yourself and not for others. It can fail, because we often take on other people’s fears and that’s a lot of pressure. But I do understand why there will be people counting on you to be the voice, because at times you are going to be the only one in the room; you are going to meet people that the majority don’t get to meet, and you are going to places they might not get to go.
JC: How can you be the voice without upsetting people on the other side?
JP: We live in crazy times and people are a lot more candid, especially on social media; I think that’s why artists and stories like this [Choir Boy] are needed to remind people that they are not alone. We don’t have to agree on everything because life is about living, loving, and learning, but I think it’s good to be kind and understand that people are also yearning to be heard. No one wants to be a bad person and if you start understanding the person and getting to the root of their behaviour, you can see their perspective. I think it’s important to always stand in your truth and that comes with understanding why you are the way you are.
JC: What are some lessons that you have learnt as a creative?
JP: Being an artist or creative, I think a lot of it is about timing. I feel that, if I got some of the things I wanted before the right time, I wouldn’t have been ready and I wouldn’t have known my purpose, because it’s easy to lose yourself.
JC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JP: Right now, I am in the right place; awards or no awards, I am happy and I feel full. It’s okay to not know where you want to be in five years. Living in the moment is okay too, and I am also okay and comfortable with the unknown.
Jeremy Pope is Eddie Kendricks in Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations, currently on Broadway.