The best actor contender hopes his work in the Elegance Bratton-directed A24 film will tell viewers, “You’re more than enough.”
For Jeremy Pope, The Inspection, writer/director Elegance Bratton’s autofictional drama about a black gay man who infiltrates a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-era Marine Corps to escape homelessness and find himself to earn the respect of his homophobic mother. was itself “a ministry”.
That’s because Bratton, who based the narration on his own experiences, made an ambitious leap from documentary work with delicate material that required diligence at every stage of production. “It felt like everyone was working to make sure their first black feature film was successful so that they could feel successful,” Pope said.
So far, the effort has been worth it: “The Inspection” was celebrated after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; In its first week of limited release this month, the A24 film has done solid business in a challenging theatrical market (it grossed $65.5k on just five screens before expanding over Thanksgiving).
But in the process of bolstering Bratton’s career, Pope has given his own quite a boost as well, and one that could help him sneak into the best actor race.
In a series of interviews with IndieWire, the 30-year-old Emmy, Grammy and Tony nominee said “The Inspection” answered a core question for him that applies to all of his work. “In the end, I work with the playwrights and the producers and again with the directors and I ask them, ‘Why? Why this story?’” he said. “And if you don’t have a strong ‘why’, how am I supposed to find and navigate my ‘why’ if I don’t already know it?”
That might seem like a bold request for a young actor making his starring debut, but it’s a continuation of Pope’s ongoing efforts to get this far. The actor has faced similar adversities as his character Ellis French in the film.
His version of going to boot camp was to move to New York City when he was 17, much to the disappointment of his mother, who wanted him to attend a four-year university. “I knew I wasn’t going to come home unless I had something to prove,” he said. Instead, he attended a two-year acting conservatory and received unnerving advice from many gay black peers, he said. “Hide that part of yourself,” Pope recalled being told. “Never let the world know it will limit opportunities because it will limit jobs. Once you’re loudly gay, people can’t see you for other things.”
Pope had no plans to come out publicly until he worked with future Oscar-winning Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney in 2013 on Choir Boy, a gay coming-of-age story. “I knew the only way I could say it was by being honest and honest, and that people would smell the bullshit if I didn’t,” Pope said. “Focusing on people who challenge me to do it but ultimately accept me for who I am and where I am on this journey of humanity has given me so much courage and strength to stand up for my truth.”
Pope came to NYC to prove himself an important point. “I’m worthy, and I’m a creative, and God gave me this talent to use,” he said. But the move helped teach him another lesson: “I can stand in my black and my gay [self], and I don’t have to hide the piece. That can be part of my journey.”
Whenever filming felt exhausting — from the physical demands of military drills filmed in the muggy Deep South to the emotional roller-coaster rides of his scenes with his mother (Gabrielle Union) — Pope kept his underlying goals in mind. “I had to think about the representation of what this movie could mean and be for someone and will be for someone,” Pope said. “Me and Elegance would be like, ‘Well, God, we wish we had ‘The Inspection’ or some version of it when we grow up.”
Looking back, Pope said he appreciates the way his character’s choice to live out loud becomes contagious. “We see with French that because he’s his true, authentic self, he’s been able to heal his squad, which is also going through their own things,” he said. “I think this is a very specific and beautiful journey to witness.”
The film delivers a queer cinematic character without precedent in cinematic history – a gay, black protagonist in the military – and allowed Bratton to process the trauma with his mother, who tragically died just before production began. Pope sees The Inspection’s broader impact as “healing someone on the other side, people coming into this theater and saying, ‘Wow, I see myself, I feel myself,’ and know that everything is in will be fine.” he said. “That you don’t have to keep watering [into] Relationships that don’t serve you. And that you are more than enough. You were always more than enough.”
“The Inspection” is now showing in selected A24 cinemas.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/jeremy-pope-the-inspection-interview-1234784648/ Jeremy Pope saw ‘The Inspection’ as a ‘Job of Service’