Actor Jeremy Pope is being called Broadway's MVP, having become the first black man in Tony Award history to earn two separate acting nominations in the same season. The nods are for his performances in the play "Choir Boy" (which closed earlier this year) and the musical "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations." He plays Eddie Kendricks, one of The Temptations' founding members.
Pope sat down with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King at the Copacabana in New York's Times Square, to talk about the emotional moment when the 26-year-old discovered he was up for not one but two Tony Awards.
"When both of them came, the tears, you know, began to swell. I feel like both productions got shown so much love," he said.
"Why did the tears come at that moment for you?" asked King.
"I think because of the sacrifice. I just felt a release of, like, 'You did good,' you know? And we'll continue to keep working towards bigger and better."
Growing up in Orlando, Florida, Pope said it was high school where he caught the theater bug. "I had to choose between running track or doing the school musical, and I thought I'd just audition for it, and I ended up getting a lead part in 'Cats,' he said.
He played Skimbleshanks. "And my dad made my costume!" he laughed. "It was an orange fluorescent leotard, and he spray-painted it and gave it, you know, some pizazz. Thank you, dad!"
He was 17 when he told his family that he wanted to go to New York; they were expecting him to go to college. "It was very quiet," he said of that discussion. "I was very nervous. I remember I was in my room, I'm like, 'Okay, what's the plan? They're gonna ask, How are you gonna pay for it? Where are you gonna live? But I was ready for all those questions, and I had some of the answers. Most of the answers were a question mark.
"But I just knew in my gut there was a fire, there was something that was telling me I needed to go out there and get what was mine."
"Clearly you were confident?" said King.
"I was confident in that I knew I would work my butt off to make something happen," Pope said. "At the time, there weren't a lot of Broadway shows that I saw myself represented in. I was like, I could be Simba in 'Lion King,' but I knew I'd get here and just work, work, work, work, and figure it out."
Pope was first cast as Pharus in "Choir Boys," a role that he calls deeply personal and life-changing.
But before his time as Pharus came to an end, Pope was already preparing to take on the role of the late Eddie Kendricks, co-founder of The Temptations.
King asked, "How were you able to pull that off?"
"It was a very difficult time," he replied, "because I was doing double duty, meaning I was in rehearsals from the morning, 10:00 to about 6:00 during the day for 'Temptations,' and then at night I'd run over to the theater to do 'Choir Boy.' I didn't want there ever to be the excuse of, 'Oh, Jeremy's doing two shows, so he's not able to fully commit.' I didn't want that. I wanted it to seem like I was present in both places."
It's a level of discipline Pope carries with him, even beyond the stage. During the interview he spoke very quietly, to preserve his voice. "Yeah, yeah, by the end of the day, we need to be up to Eddie Kendricks' falsetto," he said.
Play excerpt from Jeremy Pope performing "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
Pope said, "I feel like I look out to the house and, you know, on one end you see the older couple kinda singing along and reminiscing; and then to my right I see a young black boy who's looking up and finally seeing himself represented in a commercial, big, Broadway hit."
"And The Temptations still endure today," King said. "You can still go and see The Temptations."
"You can! It's funny, 'cause we get to – Uncle O we call him – Otis Williams, the founding member of The Temptations. After rehearsal, he invited us to his hotel room and we sat there for five hours and he told stories, and just told us about what it is and what it ain't. He's here to pass on the torch and to tell us how to be consistent and how to show up every night.
"I feel, like, a responsibility that I leave Jeremy behind and I show up for Eddie. To some people out there, they're getting to see Eddie one more time, and that's just such a beautiful thing."
Pope discussed the physicality of his performance, eight times a week. "We're dancing, we're moving, we're singing. But my boys, I have to give it up to my cast members in this show, because it's the hardest show for all of us. It feels like a relay race, you know? And we have to show up for each other, 'cause I can't do my show without them. So, we huddle up at the top of the show, and we're like, 'You good? You good?' Look at each other in the eyes, like, 'What you need?' Like, 'I'm feelin' it a little,' and I'm like, 'I got you, I got you,' just to know that."
"You do that every night, every show?" King asked.
"We hold each other and we just look each other in the eyes, because we know that we can't do it without each other," he said.
Watch a recording session for the show's cast album, as Ephraim Sykes, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Derrick Baskin and Jeremy Pope perform a smooth a capella version of "My Girl."
The 73rd Tony Awards will be presented live on Sunday, June 9, from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The ceremony, hosted by James Corden, will be broadcast at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and on CBS All Access.
- "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" (nominated for 12 Tony Awards) is currently playing at the Imperial Theatre, New York City | Ticket information
- Copacabana Times Square, New York City