If you want to get to know actor and Broadway star Jeremy Pope – truly understand his ambition, his artistic spirit, his friendly and warm nature – you should meet his family. Through his latest passion project, a photographic series featuring his closest relatives, he introduces the world to the people who raised and shaped him. Pope, who appeared in Pose, Hollywoodand the games Ain’t too proud and choir boy, released the first iteration of this series last summer, when he styled, photographed, and made a kind of family photo album with his grandfather and father for Father’s Day. The next episode, shown here, introduces a family member that Pope is incredibly close to: his grandmother, Ann Hardison.
Seeing the intimate portraits of Hardison and Pope in his Melbourne, Florida home already feels like a window into their relationship. But in conversation with the two on a video call—Pope, in London where he plays Jean Michel Basquiat in the play The collaboration ; and Hardison, sitting at her kitchen table in Southeast Florida, it becomes clear how intertwined their personalities are, how kindred spirits they are.
Growing up, Pope spent summers an hour away from his hometown of Orlando doing all the fun things a kid couldn’t do at home with his parents: going out for milkshakes, watching R-rated movies and staying awake well past bedtime. More importantly, Pope says, his grandmother treated him with respect and allowed him to be himself. “She didn’t pamper us,” he tells me from his flat in Britain. “She just allowed us to be who we were then, and listened to us and talked to us. She treated us like mini-adults.
A big part of that meant allowing Pope’s creative side to flourish. As Hardison remembers, his grandson was always a confident showman; As a toddler, he beat on a box of Quaker Oatmeal with two crayons and performed in his bedroom standing on his bed. “I’m sure to them it sounded like a snap, but in my head it was a complete symphony,” Pope says. “Those were my first Broadway shows.” People who grew up with Pope are often quick to point out that he was never shy about stepping up and performing, or singing a song in front of a crowd. He credits this confidence to his grandmother, who encouraged him to embrace his passions, which, in turn, made him feel empowered to pursue an acting career as an adult. “I never felt judged or embarrassed,” he says, as his grandmother nods. “That’s what gave me access to try it in our community or at school: because I felt safe doing it at home.”
This love and mutual respect emanates from the photographs taken by Pope, which depict a grandmother and grandson at home in Florida, sitting in front of her bathroom mirror in a red boa, trying on earrings or in front of his beloved garden in his front yard. (Hardison has a serious green thumb. “I’ve planted all around the whole house; I can open any curtain, any shade, and see beautiful flowers out the window,” she says. ‘just planted flowers yesterday. I’m still in the dirt.’) She’s also been a fashionista since day one — a trait she passed on to her grandson, who she used to hang out with. shopping at Sears and who loved dressing up with her to go to church.”I always wanted him extra sharp,” she says. “And he liked to be really sharp.”The day we meet via Zoom , she wears a pearl necklace and a lace top, her hair styled in a Farrah Fawcett-style blowout.
“It was about feeling and looking your best,” Pope says of the sense of style Hardison instilled in him. “There’s something about you showing up this way, you lead a little bit differently. So I have to give credit to my grandmother for making me realize this power – when you show up in a room a certain way, people will receive you a certain way. She does the things she needs to do, like get her nails done every week, so she can feel the confidence and feel good about herself and I’m taking it all the way.
A keen sense of fashion shines through throughout the photo essay, in which Pope and Hardison wear head-to-toe Gucci (note the floral print that adorns grandma’s dress, a nod to her past -favorite time). Pope’s goal with this project was to portray his grandmother’s loving personality and romantic aesthetic, in order to telegraph the essence of her true self. “I want everyone to feel different, because I take care of the family member [I’m photographing]“, Pope says of his project, which he plans to turn into a coffee table book – a real live family album he can take with him while he travels the world for work.” With my grandmother, she’s so specific and there’s so much attention to detail with who she is as a person. When I watch her in the room, meeting new friends, old friends, people latch onto her energy and her spirit. And I’m just going, wow, I want to be the Ann in a room where it’s an open space to come and have a laugh. She is so light.
Throughout our conversation, Pope and Hardison tend to echo each other when discussing the personality traits they admire in each other. Hardison says she wishes she was as confident and sure of herself as Pope was when she was her age; Pope says her grandmother is still authentically herself. All the things Pope notes he likes about his grandmother are things the grandmother identifies as characteristics that existed in Pope when he was a child, all those years ago, knocking on a box of Quaker Oatmeal . “It’s a testament to why we’re so close, because we see each other that way,” he says. “We just saw something in each other that aligned and was kinetic. I hope everyone has someone like that in their life. I’m so thankful it’s my grandmother.