Jeremy Pope On Bringing Basquiat Back to Life in London

Few artistic relationships have been dissected with quite the same fervor as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s in the mid-’80s, when the young protégé’s celebrity threatened to eclipse that of the godfather of pop art. In a major new production at the Young Vic, artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah directs Hollywood’s Jeremy Pope as Basquiat and WandaVision’s Paul Bettany as Warhol, pulling apart the creative, racial, and sexual tensions between the two. 

Ahead of The Collaboration’s opening night on February 16, Broadway darling Pope tells Vogue about the 18 months of prep that have gone into the production, workshopping Anthony McCarten’s exceptional script, and why he feels a lifelong duty to Basquiat.

Vogue: In a way, it feels strange that this is the first time you’ve worked with Kwame [Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic], given that you’re so creatively aligned. How did this project initially come about?

It had to be about a year and a half ago that I hopped on a Zoom with him. He and I have a lot of mutual friends in the theater world, and the two of us just vibrated on the same frequency right away. He gave me what our writer Anthony [McCarten] had written so far, and I read it that day while at home in Orlando, Florida. I jumped on board the project immediately. Actually, at one point during the pandemic, it felt like The Collaboration might just fall by the wayside, so I let it go in my mind, but it came back to us. All of us involved in the play from the beginning were like, “It it’s meant to be, it will happen, and all of the right people will be in the room,” and I really believe that’s how it’s turned out.

Warhol and Basquiat’s relationship has been portrayed in radically different ways over the years; some people claim that Warhol acted as Basquiat’s mentor, others that he might have been Basquiat’s lover, and still others that Warhol took advantage of him. Which angle are you looking at it from in The Collaboration?

So, 18 months before Warhol died, Basquiat worked with him on an exhibition, which the reviewers totally destroyed. Their preparation together for that show forms the backdrop of The Collaboration. Each audience member is like a fly on the wall while the two of them create art together. Without giving too much away, it’s like a boxing match between the two characters. Anthony has written the most brilliant script. You have Basquiat, this hot, young artist who’s just been on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, and you have Warhol, who’s still having his photograph taken with all of these celebrities, but whose “value” is depreciating. In a lot of ways, the two of them are polar opposites. Warhol is famous; he’s meticulously neat; and he’s known for slick pop art. Basquiat is more of an outsider, really, and he’s messy in every way, but he paints from his soul. Even while the two of them are in competition with each other, though, there’s a ridiculous amount of love there—whether platonic or romantic or whatever. Like, the two of them used to go and get pedicures together! So it’s about exploring all of those competing tensions.

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