'Hollywood' Actor Jeremy Pope Talks Representation and Janet Mock: 'She Was My Ride or Die'
"Hollywood" actor Jeremy Pope infuses his star-making portrayal as Archie Coleman, a Black screenwriter and sex worker in the new Ryan Murphy drama "Hollywood," with the blood, sweat and tears of Black artists before him who were never able to see their dreams fully realized. Now, Pope is using his artistry and his voice to ensure that there is room for more than one African-American to succeed in Hollywood at a time, and is advocating for people of color onscreen and off, especially in the writer's room. Pope tells The Guardian that representation was a topic of conversation between him and Murphy before he agreed to take the role.
“When I met Ryan, we just had a great open dialogue about the show and it was a very collaborative process,” he says. “I soon became really excited about this story and representing a powerful black gay writer in the 1940s, but I needed to be reassured that there were directors and writers that represented me on the show, too.”
That representation came in the form of "Hollywood" co-writer/director Janet Mock. Mock is a nationally known trans activist and also collaborates with Murphy on the hit FX ballroom drama "POSE."
“Janet was my ride or die,” he says. “We got to really dig into these characters and talk about the racial acrobatics these people had to go through. We know how hard it must have been to just be a coloured man in the 40s but then to also be an out gay man? It’s like you already walk into a room with two strikes.”
Pope, who himself is an out gay man, was able to reflect on his own journey of sexual awareness while creating the character Archie. The two-time Tony nominee shared a bit of his experience dealing with the revelation of his sexual orientation with Oprah Magazine.
"Freshman or sophomore year of high school, I was dealing with my sexuality and what that looked like. I hadn't really explored with other guys, but I had been with girls and I remember that it was more like, I think I like both. What happens if you like both? What does that even mean?" Pope said.
"But I wasn't ready to identify with the label of gay or bisexual—I remember how they frame it as a choice in the church, and I remember thinking, why would I choose to make my life more difficult?"
Pope's scenes in Hollywood are emotionally demanding, with his character having to respond to both racism and homophobia often simultaneously. A challenge he says acting on Broadway prepared him for.
“Doing eight shows a week in theatre means I can deliver that intensity once, or eight times or even 12 – I can bring that discipline,” he says, “but even more than that, with these scenes I would just think about people like Hattie McDaniel, who was the first woman of colour to win an Academy award. But she wasn’t allowed in the ceremony and when she did win, the Academy had written a speech for her. So, I would feel the pain that she had to go through to be a beacon of light for people like me. It’s so heartbreaking and it made me ask just how high am I allowed to dream?”
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven't finished the series.
Representation matters. And this couldn't have been more clearly presented than in Episode 7: "A Hollywood Ending." As Archie Coleman (Pope) receives the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for "Meg," he thanks "the love of my life," his boyfriend Rock Hudson, played by Jake Picking. The ceremony is aired live on the radio, and a young African-American gay man is listening in tears. For the first time in his life, he felt less alone. It was at this moment that he knew for certain that he wasn't the only one. This is the power of owning your voice and living in your truth. And this was one of the most powerful television moments we at Living Out Loud 2.0 have experienced this year.
"Hollywood" is currently streaming on Netflix worldwide.