The actor and burgeoning rapper fuels two new streaming series, Full Circle and I’m a Virgo
How did Jharrel Jerome get his start?
As a 13-year-old in the Bronx, Jharrel Jerome applied to performing arts high schools across New York City. While he did have an interest in acting, his priority was to get a change of scenery. “I simply didn’t wanna stay in my area for high school, so my mom and aunt came up with this idea as a way to get out and see something new,” explains Jerome, now 25. He was accepted everywhere he auditioned and ended up attending the renowned Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan. There, his passion took hold: “As I studied more and more, it just became implanted in my head that this was all I wanted to do.”
Which projects has he worked on?
Only five months after graduating from LaGuardia, Jerome landed the role of Kevin, the high school love interest of Chiron in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning film Moonlight. “The audition was on my 18th birthday, and I got the part a week later,” Jerome remembers. “It was all lightning speed.” Soon after, he played Korey Wise in When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s limited series about the Central Park Five, earning a Primetime Emmy Award for his performance. Among the actors he beat out for the award was his Moonlight costar Mahershala Ali. “It was a very full circle moment for me,” Jerome says. “He came up after I won and shook my hand and gave me a look I’ll never forget.”
Which shows is he on right now?
Full Circle, coincidentally, is the title of one of Jerome’s latest projects. The Max miniseries, which depicts a botched kidnapping, was directed by Steven Soderbergh. “He’s a legend,” Jerome says. “Just saying his name makes you go, Oh, whoa.” Jerome also got to show off his versatility this summer with some lighter fare: the Prime Video comedy series I’m a Virgo, in which he plays a 13-foot-tall Black man in Oakland, California. How did Jerome and director Boots Riley bring the massive character to the small screen? “We shot all forced-perspective,” the actor says, “so it came with a lot of mental gymnastics, because I had to look at a green X-mark for all my takes.”
In addition to acting, Jerome is exploring his other passion: music. He has released a handful of singles as a rapper, with more in the works. “For me, they go hand in hand,” he says of his creative pursuits. “I think improv on stage is very similar to freestyling in front of a crowd, and figuring out dialects is the same as trying to figure out what cadence you want to use for a song.” Jerome draws inspiration, he says, from Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), who’s “able to transition between both fields pretty much seamlessly. He’s not an actor, he’s not a rapper, he’s not a writer, he’s not a comedian—he’s an artist. I want to follow in those footsteps.”