Jharrel Jerome’s name is still on everyone’s lips after his history-making win at the 2019 Emmy’s but it was his meeting with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the red carpet that revealed he’d played Usnavi from In the Heights in high school.
Miranda tweeted about the encounter and now the video of Jerome rapping as Usnavi has surfaced and it’s clear that even then he was a star in the making.
I meet the brilliant @JharrelJerome, who looked SO familiar in @ava’s heartbreaking work of art, @WhenTheySeeUs.
He tells me, “I don’t know if you remember me, but you came to my high school performance of In The Heights, I played Usnavi.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 23, 2019
Jerome attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and played the lead role of the musical that takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. In the video that surfaced of Jerome’s acting, you can see Miranda enjoying the performance at 2:10 and 4:18 markers but don’t expect to see Jerome take on the iconic role in the film.
“When I got to high school, it was a big reality check where I was like, should I act? Because I’m not really talented. These kids are beyond talented. They sing, they dance, they know what a monologue is and I didn’t. So, yeah, it was definitely a challenge my freshman year,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
The 21-year-old actor is the first Afro-Latino to win an acting Emmy when he took the award for lead actor in a limited series for his portrayal of Korey Wise in the Netflix series When They See Us directed by Ava DuVernay.
“I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos,” Jerome told reporters backstage. “It’s about time we’re here.”
The four-part series tells the true story about five Black and Latino teens who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in 1989. They are collectively known as the Central Park Five or the Exonerated Five. Wise, the man Jerome portrays, was the oldest of the five boys and the only one to serve his entire 14-year sentence in the adult prison system.
“He’s my brother now,” Jerome said of Wise to the Los Angeles Times. “I look up to him. I look up to his courage. He’s taught me so much on how to be strong.”
Not only was the Bronx native the first Afro-Latino to win, but he was also the youngest ever to win in his acting category.
Before his award-winning role, he was best known for playing a teenage Kevin in 2016’s Moonlight which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Now that his role as Usnavi is making the rounds, he’ll likely be remembered for this role as well, even if it was just a high school production.
Miranda just got through working on the film adaptation of the play he originally released on Broadway in 2008 and set for a theatrical release in the summer of 2020. Anthony Ramos will portray Usnavi and Miranda even has a small role as the Piragua Guy.
Though an In the Heights collaboration is likely not possible, Jerome’s star is only rising so maybe their third encounter will be on the set of another movie. We can only hope!