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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense for how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
Jerry Harris, the breakout star of the Netflix cheerleading docuseries Cheer, was in the final days of training with the Navarro College cheer squad ahead of the NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship when news came that the pandemic had shut down the April competition — and a possible second season. After moving out of his dorm and saying goodbye to his team, Harris went home to Chicago to shelter in place with his family, where he’s been doing daily inspirational Instagram Lives and has teamed with Netflix for its social media series Wanna Talk About It?, centering on mental health during the crisis. The cheerleading star opened up to THR about his new normal, trading his hours of Navarro practice for at-home classes, daily FaceTimes with teammates and plenty of mat talk.
Let’s start easy — how are you doing?
I’m doing okay — as good as could be. It’s a little bit stressful because it’s so uncertain, but everybody feels that way. I do get the chance to rest for the first time in a while because I’ve been just so go-go-go the past couple months, and I get to spend time with family and focus on those really important relationships to me.
What does your day look like now?
I get a little bit more sleep now, which I like. I started doing a gratitude journal every morning and I try to list a few things that I’m grateful for. I love starting my day that way because I hit the ground with a positive mindset and an attitude of gratitude. I spend a lot of time with my family, I FaceTime my Navarro friends pretty much every day. I usually don’t eat breakfast because I don’t love it, but I try to have a healthy lunch of whole grain pasta, some fruit, some soup and some salads. I do schoolwork because school is still in session for me — algebra is one of my struggle points, so I have to do a little bit of that each day. I try to exercise every day and I try to make it fun; right now I’m doing TikTok dances a lot because I’m trying to keep myself occupied. And I do a daily Instagram Live because I wanted to put something positive out in the world during this pandemic, something that people can just look at and smile at for 15, 20 minutes a day. I’m just trying to help people as much as they’ve been supporting me.
You were supposed to have competed at the Daytona championship this month. What was it like hearing that was canceled?
It was devastating because our whole year, what we worked for, got canceled. We really didn’t get to finish out the year how we were supposed to and we really only had a couple more weeks left. So, we were really devastated when it happened — it happened on, like, a Sunday and everyone was pretty much in town getting ready to practice on that Monday. We had just finished our spring break practices on that Wednesday, so after that everyone either went home if they wanted to or they stuck around Corsicana [Texas, home of Navarro College] and just hung out with each other. When we got back that Sunday, we found out we had to turn in our uniforms the next day and start to move out of our dorms, so we were all very devastated and we allowed ourselves to be upset and sad and we just spent the last couple of days with each other before we had to depart.
This was supposed to be your last season. Will you go back?
It’s up in the air because if I were to compete this year, I wouldn’t be able to go back. Since I wasn’t, everyone gets an extra year of eligibility. I don’t know 100 percent yet if I’m going back, but if it happens it happens — I’ll be so happy because I love that place, but if it doesn’t I’m excited to move on to my career and see where life takes me from there.
How is the team feeling about when you’ll be able to come together and start practicing again?
We know that school is pretty much over, so we won’t be together for that. Next year’s team starts in July, so I think everyone’s staying hopeful that people who are on the team are able to get together and attend that camp that’s supposed to be in July. That’s really it; we’re hopeful that we are able to get back, but if not, we’ll go from there.
What’s been the easiest adjustment during this time? And the hardest?
The easiest adjustment would have to be catching up on some sleep. The hardest thing is not being around my friends and not being able to cheer.
What have you learned about yourself during this period?
I’ve learned that family is really important to me. I love being part of a family and I love being a brother and a son, and I love my cheer family, too. I also learned that I can be still — for so long, I was so busy with having two teams and schoolwork that I hardly had a minute alone, but I learned that I’m okay alone and actually appreciate the time to be alone in my own thoughts. And I learned that it wasn’t the lack of time keeping me from cleaning my room. (Laughs.)
What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?
I’ve been reading cookbooks and looking at new recipes because I’m trying to learn how to cook — that’s something I’m really interested in. I’ve been looking through one of my mom’s grandmother’s cookbooks and it’s really cool to see how some of the recipes from back then [the 1960s] work. I’ve also been playing games with my family like The Great Dalmuti, Uno and Monopoly. We also have family movie nights here and there — last night I watched Speed with my mom. It was from the ’90s, so it was pretty dated. And I’ve been watching a lot of Disney+.
Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding any new ones?
I’m mainly learning new ones like the TikTok dances. I wasn’t really into TikTok before, but now I have the time. And cooking!
How would you describe your corona-era wardrobe?
It consists of hoodies and jogging pants and some shorts — basically comfy clothes. That’s really it, because where am I going?
What causes are most important to you right now?
The food pantry, trying to give people food who need it, and mental health is very important to me. I try to use my social media to remind everyone that we are all okay. For the food pantry, my mom and I pick up extra cans and donate them to our church food pantry because they are really low on everything right now.
What is your “mat talk” advice for people?
To let everyone know that we’re not alone, we’re all in this together. Keep pushing and just know that this is only temporary — it’s not going to last forever — and you always have to rely on family to get you through.
What’s atop your to-do list when this is all over?
I’m excited to get to work on some exciting projects that I have coming up. I’m excited to have a big birthday party because my birthday is coming up in July — I’m excited about that one. I’m excited to get a haircut, and I’m excited to see people.
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