Jharrel Jerome is receiving critical acclaim for his stunning portrayal of Korey Wise— one of the Exonerated Central Park Five — in Ava DuVernay‘s limited Netflix series When They See Us. But while the young actor is humbled by the praise, Jerome admits becoming Wise wasn’t easy.
“[Being stuck in that mind state off-set] was definitely the biggest challenge,” Jerome tells Complex. “I was getting better at it over time, and then I started shooting all the solitary scenes. That kind of put me back to square one. But yeah, you take that work home. It’s impossible not to. It’s impossible to just get off-set and smile. I try my best for sure.”
Thankfully, Jerome says, he had family to rally around him.
“Luckily, I was shooting in New York, and I’m from there so I got to see family, I got to see friends, and I definitely tried to invite people over to the prison as much as I could just to keep me company,” he says. “Just to keep me with a bright mindset.”
However, Jerome reveals that playing the Wise, who maintained his innocence throughout his wrongful incarceration, eventually affected his mental health.
“There were days I couldn’t sleep,” he says. “There were days I couldn’t eat, just thinking about the fact that Korey must’ve not been able to eat. There were days I was still talking like him, man.”
As previously noted, When They See Us is based on the true story of five teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a woman while she was jogging in New York’s Central Park. The series documents each teen beginning in spring 1989, when they were first questioned, to 2014, when they were exonerated.
When They See Us is now available on Netflix.
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