Niecy Nash and Jharrel Jerome pose for PEOPLE's Emmy portfolio and talk about their emotional bond while making Netflix's Central Park Five drama When They See Us


Playing a mother and her wrongfully imprisoned son in the acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us was an intensely emotional experience for Niecy Nash and Jharrel Jerome.

“I remember the first time meeting Niecy, it was like … I met my mom for the first time,” says Jerome, 21.

Nash, 49, adds, “I started to feel like he was my real baby. I would be like, ‘Did you eat today? Well, how are you feeling? You got a jacket? It’s cold outside.'”

Both actors earned Emmy nominations for the series, which tells the real-life story of the Central Park Five, New York City teens who were convicted in an infamous 1999 rape case but exonerated in 2012 when the real perpetrator confessed. Jerome plays Korey Wise, who spent 12 years in prison, and Nash plays his mother, Delores.

Niecy Nash and Jharrel Jerome, photographed for PEOPLE.
| Credit: Ruven Afanador

The pair talked about their connection after a photo shoot for PEOPLE’s 2019 Emmy portfolio, “The Greatest Stars on Earth.” (To see the entire portfolio, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE now.)


“I spent a lot of time doing a lot of solitary scenes where there was nobody else on the call sheet by my name,” says Jerome, who made his movie debut in 2016’s Oscar-winning Moonlight. “So any of those days where I saw Niecy’s name on the call sheet, it was the best day ever. It felt like I was actually going to feel loved today, feel supported today. So just to have that real life and then that script version of love, it was just so strong.”

The “Exonerated Five,” as Nash calls them, are heartened by the accolades for the series and the wave of attention it has brought to what really happened to them. “They are getting so much love from so many people,” says Nash. “I think that it’s a moment where they really do feel seen for the truth of who they are.

Says Jerome: ‘The Emmy nomination isn’t mine, it’s me and Korey’s. And that is such an incredible feeling.”