August 15, 2020

Emmys: Jeremy Pope Is Glad He Took a Chance on ‘Hollywood’


Jeremy Pope’s first foray into television — in “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy’s revisionist Tinseltown melodrama on Netflix — has been the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. On Tuesday, Pope received his first Emmy nomination for his role as Archie, a gay Black screenwriter who sells a script about Peggy Entwistle, an obscure aspiring actress who gained notoriety in 1932 when she jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign (which then read “Hollywoodland”) at age 24. Pope was listed alongside veterans like Jeremy Irons, Hugh Jackman and Mark Ruffalo in the stacked category of best actor in a limited series or movie.

But while Pope is new to the screen, he has been hustling onstage in New York, most recently starring in two Broadway shows: “Choir Boy” and “Ain’t Too Proud.” He earned a Tony nomination for each performance last year, and was up for a Grammy this year for the “Ain’t Too Proud” cast album.

On Tuesday, Pope discussed “Hollywood,” Janet Mock (“my backbone”), James Baldwin (“ahead of his time”), representation on TV (“seeing is believing”) and the show’s luscious costumes (“my favorite part”). These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How does it feel to be nominated in a new medium?

That’s the big thing: This was my television debut. While I have ambitious dreams and goals, this one felt kind of far. I’m just very grateful to be nominated alongside such incredible actors and artists. I cried this morning. It’s like feeling seen from a new group of people. I have my tribe of friends and family, but to receive that love from the Television Academy, for everyone that voted, it’s really special.

In the time since “Hollywood” debuted in May, we’ve seen more calls for narratives centered around Black characters onscreen as part of a broader reckoning with racism and representation. What have those conversations been like for you?

I think it’s just keeping the work forward and active. I told myself — regardless of a nomination or the awards of any sort — to continue that fight forward and to know that this is bigger and this is the time for change. So I’m excited that the story resonated with people, specifically Archie’s narrative from “Hollywood,” of just breaking these ceilings and these walls down. For all of us to be in the room to have a seat at the table.

It’s so important, because there’s a young Jeremy out there who needs to see that this goal is tangible, to know that we want to hear their story, that we embrace their story, that their stories are necessary. So for me, my mind is blown. But I also know for someone out there, hopefully this gives them the extra oomph that they need to keep fighting and keep forward.

What else drew you to this story?

It was about rewriting the wrongs. Had we been given equal opportunities in the ’40s, how different could it be? I just believe that representation is so important. Seeing is believing. When people see it, they believe it — they know that it’s possible.

I knew that by us taking a show and going back to the Golden Age, giving people their respect and their due, and reminding them that they’re loved — even in a fictional world — is so important because we are still fighting for the same change and having those same conversations now today. So that was what drew me to that. I was so grateful to Ryan for stealing me from New York and Broadway and bringing me to L.A.

I’m truly just on this journey with my hands up. But also, to use this time to stay educated and stay informed, and know that this nomination is bigger than Jeremy Pope.

Did you ever worry that “Hollywood” was not just revising, but also sanitizing history?

Honestly, a bit. It was less about what was being said and what people were going to think — but it was my first, so you’re worried about everything, or at least I was.

But the crew, everyone that works on or around Murphy productions, it’s just all family and so much love and so much respect. So those fears go away, because I knew what the heart was and what this thing was that we were making and what we were saying. I think each of us could identify with: Had we seen something like this, it would have changed us in a positive way.

So the fact that we were able to become vessels to be used for the greater cause, we leaned into that energy versus the other energy.

Did you take any inspiration from any Golden Age Hollywood types or other historical figures?

For Archie, it was James Baldwin. He was ahead of his time. He was so forward-thinking and well-versed. I wanted to build someone based off that — that was the bones of it.

But really, when I was in the process, it was Janet Mock because she was in the writers’ room writing for that Black narrative. I could have the conversations onset and offset, and really dig deeper and make sure that we were having a well-rounded, rich conversation about a Black man trying to get his dream, trying to go after this thing, trying to attain space in a business that isn’t built for us. And how that is impossible, but also very possible.

She had worked with Ryan. She knew how the machine works so she was just my backbone — whenever I felt like I was falling, she was she was eager to lift me up and allow me to fly. So I’m very grateful for her.

What did you learn about Hollywood history from being on this show?

What was really dope was we got to film at a lot of these older locations; it was history lesson on set. And I loved the period clothing. I was felt super swag. The outfits — that was my favorite part.

It’s so interesting: My grandparents, when I told them, “Oh, I’m moving to L.A. to be in a show called ‘Hollywood,’” they didn’t quite understand. They were like, “So you’re going to L.A. to take a chance on Hollywood.” I was like, “No, the show is called ‘Hollywood.’” But honestly, I’ll take that. I took a chance on Hollywood.



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