Jharrel Jerome won a 2019 Emmy nomination — his first — Tuesday for his devastating portrayal of real-life Central Park Five defendant Korey Wise in the Netflix limited series “When They See Us.”
The remarkable Bronx-born actor is the only one of the five main actors to play his role as a teen and as an adult. He auditioned twice for “When They See Us” executive producer and director Ava DuVernay, once when the “Moonlight” star was clean-shaven — and the next time bearded, convincing her that he could play both Koreys.
“I play Korey from age 16 to 28,” says Jerome, 21, from Charleston, SC, where he films the series “Mr. Mercedes.”
The demands of the role did not put him off.
“The story was so painful and it was going to take a lot of focus and pushing past dark thoughts in my mind, but it did not intimidate me,” he says. “Being from The Bronx, a young man of color, when I look in the mirror, I see Korey sometimes. It’s given me a voice I never thought I’d get the chance to have.”
‘When They See Us’ does justice to Central Park Five’s brutal story
While many scenes are disturbing to watch, the one where prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga) grills Wise on the witness stand, asking him to read a confession he allegedly made to the police, will rip your heart out. “I don’t do so well in school,” Wise says.
“I remember shooting that scene like it was yesterday. That knowledge of Korey being on that stand started to twist my stomach,” he says. “That feeling kept me grounded in the scene.” DuVernay did take after take without pause, and the depth of Korey’s humiliation becomes unbearable. “Ava was there to push. Ava was there to drive. I went from yelling at the end to jumping back to the first question,” he says. “At the end, everyone stood and clapped for me. It blew me away.”
Farmiga also received a well-deserved nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series.
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