1 of 5 | Jharrell Jerome stars in "I'm a Virgo." Photo courtesy of Prime Video
LOS ANGELES, June 23 (UPI) -- Jharrell Jerome plays a 13-foot giant on I'm a Virgo, with all episodes premiering Friday on Prime Video, but he said in Hollywood he often feels overwhelmed by his surroundings. Jerome, 25, sees those feelings as an opportunity to grow, figuratively.
"I always feel small," Jerome told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "Sometimes feeling small isn't bad because you know you're learning and you know you're just experiencing something new."
Jerome, 25, said the trappings of Hollywood can still overshadow his work as an actor, like when he won an Emmy for 2019's When They See Us, playing Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five, now the Exonerated Five.
In I'm a Virgo, Jerome plays Cootie, a giant whose parents kept him isolated for his own safety. When he finally ventures out of the house, Cootie experiences modern society for the first time -- something to which Jerome said he could relate.
"Some of it was pulling from my own experiences where I felt sort of uncomfortable in a space," Jerome said. "Entering spaces that have always felt larger than me, I used those emotions and feelings that stir up in me."
Cootie meets regular-size people, both friends and romantic interests. Jerome said he approached Cootie like a child.
"I also just leaned on the childlike movement and the childlike expressions," Jerome said. "I think that just comes from that bright-eyed energy and that naivety that everything is new."
Jerome said I'm a Virgo co-creator Boots Riley wrote Cootie with the actor in mind and emailed him. Jerome said the subject line, "13 Foot Tall Black Man in Oakland," sold him.
Riley told Jerome he'd seen him in When They See Us, but Jerome suspects it was his Emmy acceptance speech that sealed the deal. After thanking his family, collaborators and the Exonerated Five, Jerome raised his trophy in triumph.
"I'm pretty sure it was when that gold trophy was in my hand on the Emmy stage and I put my hand up," Jerome said.
Jerome got to be an executive producer on Virgo, being involved in Riley and co-creator Tze Chun's pitches to streaming services and casting sessions for his co-stars. That includes Olivia Washington as Flora, Cootie's first girlfriend.
In addition to adapting to their fantastic circumstances, Cootie and Flora go through the same relationship issues regular-size couples do. They can become annoyed by each other's habits regardless of height issues.
"It just reminds you that no matter how different you are, how weird you might be, we are all the same," Jerome said. "We all want to be loved and we all want to try to love."
Cootie also experiences corporate interests attempting to capitalize on him to endorse their products. A superhero (Walton Goggins) also decides to make Cootie his nemesis.
Jerome said he sees I'm a Virgo as a statement against capitalism, but that message is subtle in the surreal entertainment.
"This is an educational piece mixed with a genre-bending joy ride where you will experience things you haven't seen before," Jerome said.
Still, to bring Cootie to life required some challenging special effects. Jerome filmed his portions of scenes in undersized sets on which he had to crouch to appear 13 feet tall.
"There was at least two points where a masseuse was called to dig into my back and help me out," Jerome said. "I had to stretch a ton."
Jerome's scenes were blended with co-stars who filmed in normal-size environments. Jerome rarely got to work directly with his fellow actors.
"Not at one point did I get to look any of my scene partners in the eyes," Jerome said. "It was either a green tape mark or an iPad with their face on it."
Jerome said he had to maintain his performance while simultaneously considering the special effects. He said he improved balancing the two over the course of seven episodes, but never got used to it.
"I can't lean too forward because then the perspective is messed up," Jerome said. "I can't stand up because then my head is going through the ceiling. Having to remember those things and work them all at the same time is definitely a challenge."