Updated Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.
“Moonlight” won Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.
On the morning of his birthday last October, Jharrel Jerome ’19, an acting major at Ithaca College, labored over his lines in a residence hall lounge before filming his audition. He was hoping to land his first role in a major motion picture.
A year later, the film, “Moonlight,” is opening in theaters, and it is already receiving Oscar buzz. “The New York Times” asked whether it might be “The Year’s Best Movie?” and called Jerome’s performance excellent.
But last fall, Jerome was anxiously awaiting a phone call. A week after submitting his audition tape, Jerome received the call from his managers informing him that he made the cut — that is, he landed his first movie role.
“Moonlight” is a coming of age film about a young man named Chiron who is struggling with his sexual identity while growing up in Miami. Jerome’s role is that of Chiron’s friend, Kevin, who also struggles with his identity. The film, based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is broken into three parts, and Jerome plays Kevin in his teen years.
“When it came to that specific role, I knew it was going to be hard because I had read what the character came with, and he came with a lot of baggage,” said Jerome. “He came with a lot of identity crises and all that.”
To prepare for the role, Jerome spent most of his time trying to get a deeper understanding of the script and connect with the words. He said the script is written in a way that is both poetic and beautiful.
“A lot of my audition process was just getting comfortable with the words and being able to make the words fit with what I have gone through currently,” Jerome said.
Shortly after learning that he had gotten the part, Jerome flew to Miami for 12 days of filming.
“When I got there, I went straight to costuming and fitting and all that and right off the bat, it was home; it was family,” said Jerome. “The costume designers were sweet, the director was amazing and they were all welcoming me to the cast and the set, so the atmosphere was friendly, chill and relaxed.”
For Jerome, the hardest part of filming was actually learning a new skill: driving. Growing up in New York City, Jerome did not have a driver’s license. However, one of his scenes required his character to drive Chiron around.
“I crammed it in the two weeks before I started filming,” Jerome said. “So I had to learn a whole new skill for the film, and I ended up doing it — that was cool.”
Jerome began acting during his first year at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York, where he enrolled in improvisation and theatre classes. He said LaGuardia gave him the basic acting techniques and fundamentals he needed to work hard at this profession.
Jerome continued to pursue acting through Ithaca College’s theatre arts program because he wanted to study his passion away from the distractions that come with living in the city. He said he liked that the theatre program and campus are secluded, creating a very family-oriented atmosphere.
“It was a lot about just finding a place where I can be comfortable,” Jerome said. “I also think nature and the open space gives me a lot of time to get in tune with myself and connect with myself.”
The college’s theatre program has also produced a number of notable alumni, including Jeremy Jordan ’07, star of Broadway’s “Newsies,” the film “The Last Five Years” and the television show “Supergirl”; Aaron Tveit ’05, star of Broadway’s “Catch Me if You Can,” the television program “Graceland” and films “Better off Single” and “Les Miserables”; and C.C.H. Pounder ’75, star of “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Sons of Anarchy” and the film “Avatar.”
Jerome hopes to continue growing as a person and as an actor through his experiences at Ithaca College. While theatre is definitely his passion, he said he needs more time to grow as an individual and as an actor.