As a child growing up in Waldorf, Maryland, Jovan Adepo had no idea he would one day become a full-time working actor in Hollywood.
This month, Adepo will appear in the Netflix original series, “When They See Us,” based on the lives of the Central Park Five, the 1989 case of the five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.
Born in Oxfordshire, England, to a British mother and American father, Adepo came to the United States at the age of 2. As a teenager, he was interested in film, but primarily focused on football, hoping to one day play in the National Football League.
“The most experience I had [acting] as a child was doing plays,” said the 30 year-old. “I did a couple of plays for the church when I was younger, but passion [for acting] did not come until I was much older.”
After graduating from Thomas Stone High School in Charles County, Adepo attended Bowie State University in Prince George’s County, where he studied history and government.
Benjamin Arah, associate professor of history and government at Bowie who taught Adepo in six of his classes and served as his faculty advisor, described him as a quiet and well-behaved student.
“He speaks gently and his laughter is contagious,” said Arah. “He conducts himself in a gentle manner. I remember him as a gentleman.”
After graduating from Bowie in 2010, Adepo moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in screenwriting. He later developed an interest in acting and began auditioning for commercials and taking acting classes.
While in Maryland, Adepo came across a woman at his church who told him she had a younger sister in Los Angeles who was also an actor and might be able to help him.
Her sister, he later found out, was the Academy Award-winning actress, Viola Davis.
“My first actual connection to the industry I would say was the lady at the church in Maryland,” said Adepo in a 2017 interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
After landing the role of Michael Murphy in the HBO television series, “The Leftovers,” Adepo got the opportunity to audition for the role of Cory Maxson in the film adaptation of the 1985 August Wilson play, “Fences,” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
“[The audition] was not a special process,” he said. “I auditioned for Denzel and that was an hour long audition. It was the most [challenging] audition because of the level of material it was. A couple of days later, I [learned] I got the job.”
Washington, who played the role of Troy Maxson, also directed and produced the film.
“Imagine a young baseball player getting to watch professionals during spring training,” he said. “Going to work everyday and doing your best to keep up with the people at the top of their talent.”
In 2017, “Fences” was nominated for best picture and won Viola Davis the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Rose Maxson.
Since “Fences,” Adepo has had rolesin the film, “Mother,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, the film “Overlord,” produced by J.J. Abrams, in the web series, “Sorry for Your Loss,” starring Elizabeth Olsen and in the web series, “Jack Ryan,” based on the novels by Baltimore author, Tom Clancy. Most recently, he played the role of Lionel Jefferson in the live reenactment of the 1975 sitcom, “The Jeffersons” on ABC hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and series creator, Norman Lear.
”When They See Us” was created and directed by Oscar-nominee Ava DuVernay.
The story unfolds over a 25 year period, beginning in 1989 and ending in 2014, when the five, now men, settled a civil case for $41 million. In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, admitted that he was responsible for the crime, however the five still maintain that they are considered guilty of the crime by police and prosecutors involved in the case.
Adepo plays the role of Antron McCray, one of the five who served a six year-long sentence in a New York State prison.
He said he hopes the series will help educate audiences.
“[‘When They See Us’] is an honest retelling of a moment that is one of the most racially and politically charged moments in American history,” he said. “[Audiences] will see a lot of honest performances from actors and actresses. It is a story that needs to be told.”