If you’d like to get to know the 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 kin, he’s introducing the people who raised and shaped him to the world. Pope, who has appeared in Pose, Hollywood, and the plays Ain’t Too Proud and Choir Boy, released the first iteration of this series last summer, when he styled, shot, and art directed something of a family photo album with his grandfather and dad for Father’s Day. The next installment, shown here, features a family member Pope is incredibly close to: his grandmother, Ann Hardison.
Seeing the intimate portraits of Hardison and Pope in her Melbourne, Florida home already feels like a window into their relationship. But in conversation with the two over a video call—Pope, in London where he is playing Jean Michel Basquiat in the play The Collaboration; and Hardison, sitting at her kitchen table in southeast Florida—it becomes clear just how intertwined their personalities are, how deeply they are kindred spirits.
Growing up, Pope spent summers an hour away from his hometown in Orlando doing all the fun things a child wouldn’t be able to do at home with their parents: going out for milkshakes, watching R-rated movies, and staying up way past bedtime. Most importantly, Pope says, his grandmother treated him with respect, and allowed him to be himself. “She didn’t baby us,” he tells me from his flat in Great Britain. “She just allowed us to be who we were at the time, and listened to us, and talked to us. She treated us like mini-adults.”
A large part of that meant allowing Pope’s creative side to flourish. As Hardison remembers it, her grandson was always a confident showman; as a toddler, he’d beat on a Quaker Oatmeal box with two pencils and perform in his room while standing on his bed. “I’m sure for them, it sounded like banging, but in my head, it was a full symphony,” Pope says. “Those were my first Broadway shows.” People who grew up with Pope are frequently quick to point out that he was never shy to step up and perform, or sing a song in front of a crowd. He attributes this confidence to his grandmother, who encouraged him to embrace his passions—which, in turn, made him feel empowered to pursue a career in acting as an adult. “I never felt judged or like I was in the way of things,” he says, while his grandma nods in agreement. “That’s what gave me access to try it within our community, or at school: because I felt safe in doing that at my house.”
That love and mutual respect emanates from the photographs that Pope shot, which depict grandma and grandson at home in Florida, sitting at her bathroom mirror in a red boa, trying on earrings, or in front of her beloved garden in her front yard. (Hardison has a serious green thumb. “I planted all around the whole entire house; I can open any curtain, any blind, and see beautiful flowers out of my window,” she says. “I just planted some flowers yesterday. I’m always in the dirt.”) She's also been a fashionista since Day One—a trait she passed onto her grandson, with whom she used to shop at Sears, and who loved getting dressed up with her to go to church. “I always wanted him real sharp,” she says. “And he loved to be real sharp.” On the day we meet via Zoom, she’s wearing a string of pearls and a lacy top, her hair styled in a Farrah Fawcett-esque blowout.
“It was about feeling and looking your best,” Pope says of the sense of style Hardison instilled in him. “There's something about when you show up for yourself in that way, you lead a little bit different. So I have to give all the credit to my grandma for making me aware of that power—when you show up in a room a certain way, people will receive you a certain way. She does the things that she needs to do—like getting her nails done weekly—so that she can feel the confidence and feel great in her skin and I take that all the way.”
A keen fashion sense can be seen throughout the photo story, in which Pope and Hardison wear head-to-toe Gucci (note the floral print that adorns grandma’s dress, a nod to her favorite pastime). Pope’s aim 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 each one to feel different, because I’m catering to 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 grandma, 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, whether she's meeting new friends, old friends, people cling to her energy and her spirit. And I just go, wow, I want to be the Ann in a room where it is an open space to come and talk to laugh. She's such a light.”
Throughout our conversation, Pope and Hardison have a tendency to echo each other when discussing the personality traits they admire in one another. Hardison says she wishes she was as confident and self-assured as Pope is when she was his age; Pope says that his grandmother is always authentically herself. All of the things Pope notes that he loves about his grandma are things that grandma identifies as characteristics which existed in Pope when he was a child, all those years ago, banging on a Quaker Oatmeal box. “It’s a testament to why we’re so close, because we see each other in that way,” he says. “We just saw something in each other that aligned and was kinetic. I hope everyone has a person in their life like that. I’m just so grateful that it was my grandma.”