Authentic representation in the media for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community is becoming more and more common. The release of the second season of the diverse romantic comedy series With Love (2021-) is one of those shows that allows the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities to watch stories that reflect their lives and experiences.
Brent Pope, who plays Henry's (Vincent Rodriguez III) prankster father in the groundbreaking series, joined Wealth of Geeks to share his insight into the show's creation. We discuss everything from his first-ever acting experience in a church camp play to why he believes authentic representation in the media is so vital.
Who is Brent Pope?
Maya Capasso: If you could describe yourself in three words, what would you choose?
Brent Pope: Prankster, strategic, and fun.
MC: When did you first discover your passion for acting?
BP: I was at somebody's birthday party when I was nine, singing along to Kool & the Gang's “Celebration.” Somebody was like, “You're hilarious!” And I was like, “I am?!?” I liked that feeling. But it's weird because the first time I ever did a play was a church camp play, and I quit because I was scared. But I didn't tell my mom I quit the play, so she showed up to watch it, and I wasn't there. So I had a slow start, but I've recovered since then [Brent laughs].
MC: What are your greatest strengths as an actor?
BP: I do a good job of keeping things grounded and making them feel real. I have good comedic timing. That's why I end up doing a lot of shows on networks like FX. They have a lot of funny shows, but they're grounded at the same time. That's where I prefer to reside. I'll work on different types of shows, and I have, but I like something funny and grounded. So those are my strengths.
With Love: The Details
MC: How did you react when you learned you were cast as Ben in the series With Love?
BP: I don't know if I've ever been more excited. This character is a prankster. I've never gotten to audition for somebody like that before. I've also never played an actual character that was specifically named a Filipino character. Like, we know that my son is Filipino. I've played a lot of generic characters that you might call “ethnically ambiguous” or whatever, so this is a big deal for me. I was born in the Philippines. I only lived there for a few months but was born there. I'm very proud of that. For me to be at the age I am, never having played a Filipino character before, it was mind-blowing.
MC: Could you tell me a bit about the show? What is it about, and what was it like to work on the series production?
BP: First off, it's on Amazon Prime. It's a rom-com, which is different because we're typically used to seeing rom-coms that are movies, not necessarily TV shows. We might see sitcoms like Friends (1994-2004) with some romantic elements, but I wouldn't say they're rom-coms. That's a very specific thing. But With Love is definitely a rom-com.
What makes it completely unique is that it focuses on all the types of relationships you generally never see in romcoms. Look, I love rom-coms with hot young people. With Love is not that. There are some hot young people in it. Everybody on the show is incredibly handsome and beautiful. That was one thing when I booked it too. I said, “Wow, I'm gonna be the ugliest person on this show, but maybe I'm not that bad of an ugly guy because everyone is absolutely stunning,” [Brent laughs].
With Love focuses on these relationships, whether it's two senior citizens in love or a trans woman and a cis man together. That hasn't been explored in the romcoms that I know of. The LGBTQ community is very involved in this show. It's the most diverse romcom that you will see anywhere right now.
Representation in With Love
MC: With Love tackles important themes like inclusion, cultural differences, and acceptance. What is it like to be a part of a show that focuses on bringing light to the experiences of marginalized groups like the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities?
BP: I got to act in the same environment I live in. Sometimes, you're on a show and know it doesn't reflect real life. With Love feels like real life to me, which is what I like about it. It's funny, but it's also real. It was a privilege, and I don't know if I've ever had a better experience working on a show.
MC: In the show, you play Henry's father, Ben. What was it like to portray Ben? How similar/different are you and your character?
BP: I'm different from Ben because he's a big Texas football fan. I grew up in Nebraska, and Nebraska and Texas don't like each other in football. I don't know how my friends back in Nebraska will feel about some of the things I do in the show [Brent laughs]. The similar things are that we both like to have fun in life. We want to prank and play little jokes on people. My character's son is played by Vincent Rodriguez III, who played Josh Chan in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019). He is one of the main characters and the main love interest on that show. Working with someone you're already a big fan of is so rewarding. You pick up little tidbits from them.
MC: What do you hope viewers take away from watching Season 2 of With Love?
BP: Season 1 explored the life of the Diaz family. There's a son, a daughter, and parents, and we see all their relationships explored. In season two, we'll see where some of these relationships from season one have either progressed, regressed, or no longer exist. And season one ended with quite a big cliffhanger. So I'm sure people will be excited to see what happens regarding that cliffhanger. I think they will take away 20% more love than in the first season.
Brent's Achievements and Challenges
MC: What do you feel is your most significant achievement in your life so far?
BP: Oh, wow. There are so many ways I could go with this. While I've been acting for 20 years, I was a teacher simultaneously. I taught special education for 20 years. I deeply value the number of students and parents I worked with during that time and the differences that we all made in each other's lives. As far as access to education for students with special needs, I think that's probably the biggest thing I've done in my life.
I grew up in a town of less than 2,000 people in Nebraska, so for me to be where I am is incredible. I never thought I would be in Hollywood making TV shows all the time. And so some people might say that's my biggest achievement. I mean, there were 28 people in my graduating class.
MC: What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your acting career?
BP: The biggest challenge is, and this is for a lot of actors, is when you're starting up. If you didn't go to a prestigious school or have some great connections, which I didn't when I came to Hollywood, then how do you get that first big break? How do you land your first commercial, your first TV show, or even a print ad in a magazine? It can be challenging to keep yourself sane and in a well enough mental state to keep going through hundreds of auditions where you're being told no all the time.
Only one person gets the job. If 500 people are going out for it, one person's going to get it, and 499 are not going to get it. And often, they'll give those jobs to people who have already shown they can do the job. So the biggest challenge is just breaking through and getting that first one.
The other biggest challenge is finding a support system like your agent, manager, and family that truly understands you as a performer and believes in what you can do. Because if you're out there on your own, everything's more challenging. But you can pull a ship with like three people. You can't pull it with one person, maybe not with three people, either. Maybe 30 people, but it depends on the ship. I watch Below Deck, so I've been thinking a lot about ships lately [Brent laughs]. But finding that first breakthrough role and finding people that believe in you are the big things.
MC: Do you have any plans, dreams, or goals you'd like to share with our readers?
BP: I have something that I just did that was fun. My wife and I love escape rooms. We went to Montreal because it's a hotspot for escape rooms. Each one takes at least an hour, maybe two hours to do. We went to Montreal and did 18 escape rooms in four days, which takes a lot of brain power. It was part of a tour. So we were also working with people we did not know. We ate a lot of poutine and did a lot of escape rooms.
As far as what's coming up: I just got Invisalign. I thought during the writer's strike, maybe I can work on my teeth a little bit [Brent laughs.] It's not cosmetic. They're banging against each other a lot. What else? Gosh, I don't know. I'm an in-the-moment type of guy. I'd love it if With Love came back for another season, and I got to be a part of that again. But I'd also love to keep exploring different characters. I'd also love to go back to Spain. Spain is such a beautiful country. The food, the architecture, everything was great.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist from Worcester, MA with bylines in publications like Pulse Magazine, HorrorPress, CM Pride, Fangoria, and TransLash News & Narrative. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more in the entertainment and lifestyle space. She loves horror, LGBTQ+ representation, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically.