Jeremy Pope doesn’t think so much about his experience making The inspection as preaching about it. The movie, which comes out Friday, is the first starring role for the actor, whose recent Broadway hot streak (in the play chorus boy and the musical Don’t be too proud) and on Netflix (Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood) earned him two Tony nominations and an Emmy nomination in the span of two years.
He’s the kind of person who believes in moments, and this one – with this movie and this role – feels just right. “For this to be my debut is a confirmation for me to keep in step, because these things can and will happen,” Pope tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “I’m talking about having to have incredible faith in yourself as an artist, and believing in things you can’t see. But it is more believing in things that the world is not yet ready to see for you.
We’re talking in Georgia at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, for which Pope won the Distinguished Performance Award The inspection.
The film is written and directed by Elegance Bratton. It is based on his experience as a young man who became homeless 20 years ago when his mother kicked him out for being gay. He enlisted in the Marines to find structure and meaning in his life, despite it being the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. Pope plays Ellis French, an avatar for Bratton, who finds himself through the ruthless, Full metal jacket intensity of boot camp, as he tried to reconcile his sexuality and desperately want to bond with his mother, played by an almost unrecognizable Gabrielle Union.
Pope came out as gay in 2013 when he played the lead role chorus boythe play of Moonlight Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McRaney about a member of a gospel choir at a prep school for black students who struggles with his sexuality. While calling his family, friends and associates, Pope referred to the process as inviting others to “come in” to his identity and experience, rather than get out.
There were people throughout his career who warned him not to go public about his strangeness.
“Graduating from college years ago, it was like, ‘Don’t leave,'” he says. . I didn’t grow up with black queer movie stars. It’s not a thing.”
When pope works The inspection suggests something, it is that it is now.
There’s an incredible scene in it The inspection in which French and closest to a confidante at boot camp, Raúl Castillo’s drill instructor Rosales, are in a van. French just had an explosive breakdown. Rosales asks him why, given the rough time he’s had, he wants to become a Marine.
French’s eyes immediately fill with tears. His mother doesn’t want to talk to him, he says. His friends are dead or in prison. He is out of options in his life. “But if I die in this uniform, I’ll be a hero to someone.” His life would have meant something after all.
“Elegance was homeless for years and had reached such a desperate place that he believed the world had shown him that ‘because I’m black and queer, I’m dying,'” says Pope. “But with that uniform he could say, ‘If I die, at least I’ll be important to someone.’ That’s very hard to know, that’s where his brain went [this option] felt more promising than the street where he had lived for so many years.”
The scene is an emotional highlight of the film. And while the circumstances may be specific to Bratton’s life, which inspired the storyline, the feeling is powerful to understand: as Pope says, “To want to matter.” Being able to channel that desire and articulate those words was one of the most cathartic moments of his career to date.
“I’ve been an artist for so many years trying to navigate the business of Hollywood while denying my blackness and my weirdness because it didn’t feel like there was room for me,” he says. “And if there’s room, it’s just a little bit. You can’t take in too much. So you adapt.”
“I’ve been an artist for so many years trying to navigate the business of Hollywood while denying my blackness and my strangeness because it didn’t feel like there was room for me.”
But hand in that monologue The inspection connected him to something personal. “It’s about loving myself and respecting myself enough to realize that there are certain relationships I have that don’t serve that [love]. And that is why I must be willing to let them go. Because I have to keep walking my goal. When I walk on my goal, good things happen.”
That particular scene is a turning point for Frans, one that Pope recognizes in a sense from his own life and experience. “That’s him stepping into his goal,” he says. “Once I stepped into ownership of my blackness and was no longer ashamed of owning my queerness, things started to happen that were very unique and tailored to me in my experience on my journey as an artist.”
Roles like the one he played in chorus boyfor example, or the one he starred in Hollywood— a gay, black aspiring screenwriter in a fictionalized version of Hollywood’s Golden Age — didn’t exist before. A show like Attitude, which he joined for the final season, did not exist before. The industry is changing and the opportunities are increasing, but it also requires artists to be brave enough to be “firsts” at the forefront of that change. They face the unknown of what could happen, but also the exciting possibility.
“I’m very grateful because I couldn’t see this when I had my head down,” he says. “I think about it, if only I had seen something like this chorus boy or The inspection, how I could have just opened my eyes a little sooner. And maybe I wouldn’t hide and shapeshift for so many years to be a version of who I am not to another person who ends up not serving me, not going to protect me, and ultimately not love me.”
And what those people had warned him about all those years ago—that if he publicly prided himself on all aspects of his identity, he would limit his career—has been demonstrably proven wrong. For example, in 2019, Pope didn’t just star chorus boy. He played a member of The Temptations Don’t be too proud, and was Tony nominated for both. He co-starred as Jackie Wilson in 2020 One night in Miami. He is about to play the role of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in a stage and upcoming film production, The collaboration.
“It shows me that both can exist, that I can do both,” he says. “That your strangeness isn’t your only identity. There were people who said, ‘Don’t let them know [part of yourself]. Because then you just are.’ I’m not alone. That’s just a layer on my experience.”