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Jovan Adepo’s Extraordinary Everymen

At the cross-section of ‘Fences,’ ‘Overlord,’ and ‘Watchmen’ lies this actor’s remarkable, intuitive commitment to realistic soul-searching.
Jovan Adepo Watchmen Hbo
By  · Published on May 29th, 2021

Jack Ryan (2019)

Jovan Adepo’s appearance in the second season of Amazon’s Jack Ryan has some “big damn hero” potential, but I can’t help but feel like it is sorely wasted in such an overcrowded series. At its core, the John Krasinski starrer is your run-of-the-mill nationalistic political thriller with plenty of “us versus them” rhetoric wedged between shots of things that go boom.

Season 2 finds its eponymous hero traversing Venezuelan streets and jungle landscapes amid social unrest borne from a politically corrupt government. Adepo joins the cast as Marcus Bishop, an ex-Navy special crewman who is drafted for a black ops mission by Ryan and the CIA.

When we catch up with Marcus at the start of the season, he spends most of his days repairing leisure yachts, attempting to move past his dashed dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL. His latest enlistment thus understandably brings a renewed sense of purpose for him, and Adepo plays Marcus with a discernible longing to prove himself capable and reliable. He willingly — and foolishly — steps into the line of fire due to that powerful sense of virtuousness.

Regrettably, there isn’t much room for Marcus to become anything other than a placeholder for integrity in the show. Jack Ryan’s second season barely has time to get into the nitty-gritty of its leads’ moral quandaries, let alone introduce a new, fully fleshed-out character. There may be hope for more character development since Jack Ryan was renewed for a third season, although — as of now — there is no word on whether Adepo will return. So as it stands, Jack Ryan isn’t as fun a watch as some of Adepo’s other similarly straightforward work, nor does it pose the ethical dilemmas necessary to make a series like this impactful.

When They See Us (2019)

Jovan Adepo doesn’t appear very frequently in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix crime drama When They See Us, either. That said, he definitely turns in an indelible, fulfilling performance in this four-part miniseries chronicling the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger case.

The series brings attention to the incarceration of five Black boys illegitimately charged with rape and assault, taking us through a searing chronology of these fateful events. It highlights a severe miscarriage of justice on multiple levels — firstly via its depiction of the quintet’s loss of innocence as children and subsequently through the portrayal of the fallout of such aggressive accusations and prosecution procedures.

By the time Adepo appears as the adult version of Antron McCray (taking over from a deeply wounding Caleel Harris), these boys have become adults carrying indescribable amounts of trauma. In a dedicated episode of the series, an adult Antron — together with most of his friends — must contend with life on the outside after years of false imprisonment. Adepo faces off with Michael K. Williams who plays Antron’s father, a parent who should have been more supportive, and wrestles with the notion of seemingly unfathomable forgiveness.

All of the exonerated men collectively struggle with similar aspects of reintegrating into the world, such as cultivating romantic relationships and finding employment. Earnest Adepo surfaces in this department, his expressions inflected with some semblance of promise that he is able — and allowed — to move on. Yet, the actor so expertly toggles this hopefulness with bone-chilling, overwhelming restraint, hammering home the crushing, punishing isolation that Antron experiences.

Watchmen (2019)

Jovan Adepo re-teams with The Leftovers creator Lindelof to further exhibit dramatic dexterity in the game-changing miniseries Watchmen. Expanding on the seminal source material crafted by Alan Moore in graphic novel form, the HBO program recontextualizes a sinister, eerily-relevant narrative for present-day America.

The original Watchmen story — written and set in the 1980s — introduces us to an alternate reality that assumes the normalization of costumed crimefighters in everyday American society. Lindelof’s take is then set more than 30 years later, decidedly pondering the ramifications that have arisen due to the events of the comics. These days, more legislative and societal changes dictate the lives of masked heroes, but the United States has a racist past to contend with, as well.

Adepo appears in flashbacks as a younger version of Louis Gossett Jr.’s Will Reeves. His travails as a Black cop in the 1930s act as the perfect — albeit brutal — centerpiece, given how the series challenges the white supremacy that insidiously dominates virtually all aspects of American life. Serving as a woeful critique of how often history repeats itself, Will continually fights injustice on a street and institutional level while his labor goes unnoticed.

This leaves the character angry and withdrawn despite his desire to be a hero, and Adepo is absolutely stirring when he personifies these convictions and contradictions. Now, the superhero genre as a whole has moved past blind idolatry and escapism, and the celebration of de-powered heroes has become a more regular occurrence. Nonetheless, Adepo distills every pertinent question about being a distinctly American one into an enraging yet galvanizing package.

He proves so intrinsically influential to the fabric of the show that he earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Tasked to bridge the gap between Watchmen‘s original characters as well as recognizable names from Moore’s comic, Adepo’s deftness at portraying a plethora of impassioned states lends weight to the historicism that ripples through the series.

The Violent Heart (2020)

At the time of this writing, feature films are few and far between in Jovan Adepo’s resumé. He dabbles very slightly in experimental movies such as The Planters, in which he takes a backseat to the quirky shenanigans of its writer-directors and stars, Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder.

Unfortunately, even a small appearance like that makes the Shawn Levy-produced drama The Violent Heart protrude from Adepo’s filmography in undesirable ways. Where The Planters is fun and assured, Kerem Sanga’s take on interracial romance and generational trauma is dull and tonally confused.

Adepo leads the film as Daniel, a troubled working-class mechanic whose life takes a turn for the worse after a traumatic childhood event. When he encounters a pretty, worldly eighteen-year-old named Cassie, who has hit a low point in her life, they begin to bond. Their blossoming relationship then opens up avenues for healing.

Daniel could have been a character to further hone Adepo’s appeal as a headliner, but the actor’s delicately moving performance suffers at the hands of many problematic themes present in The Violent Heart. Typically, wordlessness really suits him as a performer. Unfortunately, in a film that insists on bringing up alarmingly heavy issues without taking the time to unpack their true implications on its characters, that muteness instead becomes evasive.

It barely matters that Adepo fosters chemistry with Van Patten and other members of the cast. The movie opts for tepid responses and frustratingly convenient resolutions to virtually every conflict that arises, overriding any power that its performers could glean from the story.

The Stand (2020)

In spite of admirable source material and extravagant visual storytelling, The Stand winds up being a mixed bag of a TV show. Based on the beloved Stephen King novel of the same name, it takes plenty of liberties bringing to life this presciently timely story about a pandemic that ravages the world.

Such a cataclysmic disaster leaves only a handful of people left to pick up the pieces of humanity — characters who are left ruminating on the age-old dynamic of wickedness and righteousness across regions rife with lawlessness. Jovan Adepo finds himself on the side of good in the shoes of Larry Underwood, one of the few individuals handpicked by a mysterious elderly prophet named Mother Abagail to lead Earth’s survivors on a principled path.

Larry is one of the most sympathetic characters in The Stand. He isn’t perfect by any means, notably exuding a volatile and self-centered persona during pre-apocalypse times when he was a famous musician. However, Larry has always been at least somewhat cognizant of his faults, allowing pockets of valor to accrue in him over time. When the world finally ends, he chooses to become a caretaker, transforming the infectious charisma of his onstage persona into that of a leader.

Importantly, Adepo does not stay in our good graces by hamming up Larry’s personal guilt either. Rather, he lets the intensity of such feelings ebb and flow accordingly, maturing the character’s innate gumption into a believably sweet hero figure. Adepo cuts through the highly stylized nature of the rest of The Stand — including its large, diverse ensemble — with a trademark realism that is gladly welcomed.

The majority of Jovan Adepo’s performances are unabashed, raw, and startlingly humbling to watch. Where he continues broadening his auteur collaborations — readily adding Damien Chazelle’s Babylon and Damián Szifron’s Misanthrope to his prospective resumé — fans are seeing confident career choices that continually prioritize these humanizing skills and the narratives that most effectively showcase them.

Adepo tells deeply humane stories with such measured assurance, quietly stealing the show, time and time again, from seasoned performers. He has proven himself to be perfectly capable of eluding any expectations of actors who make it big super early, teasing a career primed towards steady longevity.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)