Jesse Pepe, the actor who played Romeo in Weber State University’s production of Romeo and Juliet, could have graduated last spring and moved to Los Angeles, but he chose to attend school an extra semester.
“Tracy (the director) told me she was doing the play Romeo and Juliet, and I knew I was sticking around,” Pepe said. “I wanted to get this role really bad, because I knew I would get pushed, and there would be no better way to prepare myself for Los Angeles than doing this role in this show.”
Pepe got his first taste of the theater in eighth grade. He was reading Much Ado About Nothing, and his teacher made each student act out a scene.
“I thought it was a blast and was really fun,” Pepe said. “I didn’t really think I would continue with it back then, though. I did a lot of math and science as a child, so I thought I’d grow up to be an engineer.”
In ninth grade, he took a theater class because he needed an extra art elective.
“That’s where I really caught the bug,” Pepe said. “I couldn’t stop after that.”
Since then, he’s participated in about 30 plays. He said one challenge he faced with some characters, including Romeo, was to stop thinking as much.
“It’s been hard to get out of my head and just act impulsively and spontaneously,” he said. “Acting wouldn’t really be as great without a challenge, though, so it’s definitely been fun.”
Pepe said he gets inspiration from actors he looks up to. He has a long list of favorites, but Robert Downey Jr. stands out, he said.
“I love him because of the natural charisma that he has,” he said. “He knows how to own the stage and is so charismatic. It’s one of those things that can’t be taught — you just have it — so I love watching him.”
Pepe’s favorite roles to play are ones that put the audience on edge or are highly emotional, he said.
“I like putting on a different skin and approaching situations in a way I wouldn’t as a person,” Pepe said. “Basically, I like playing anyone who’s not close to who I am.”
Although Pepe doesn’t like to admit it, he said he related to Romeo, because he is a closet romantic.
Kalyn West, the actress who played Juliet, said she couldn’t have picked a better Romeo.
“We have great chemistry together,” West said. “I trust him to support me and back me up when we’re on stage together. He makes it so I’m never worried or scared, because I know I can depend on him in every scene, every night, in every show.”
Austin Archer, the actor who played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, said Pepe is a brilliant actor and puts a lot of work into the characters he plays.
“Working with him is great,” Archer said. “He brings a lot of naturalism to his roles and a lot of believability.”
In the future, Pepe said he hopes to continue acting. He knows his acting career won’t take off overnight, but he’s willing to work hard and wait for when the opportunity is right, he said.
“I want to show people from Utah that this is possible,” he said. “You can go out there and attack your dreams and make things happen for yourself. You can live without fear and not be afraid to put yourself out there.”