NEED A LITTLE BIT OF LIGHT THIS WEEK? Meet Lexi Underwood, the luminous young star of Hulu’s LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, who, in the example of others in her progressive generation, schools us in her takes on love, leading, and listening. Read on for more of her journey below…
BY ERIN WALSH
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ERIN WALSH Hello, dearest Lexi- I am so excited for what this next year is bringing for you! As one of our very youngest features, please enlighten us on how you got here. Where are you from and how did you get involved in acting in the first place?
LEXI UNDERWOOD I’m originally from Washington DC. Growing up, my parents let me explore everything from soccer and swimming to playing musical instruments. I found that I was always drawn to the arts. Every chance I could get, I was in school productions or forcing my friends to perform for our parents in productions that I wrote and choreographed (i had the most patient friends).
When I was 10, I performed in my first professional production; the musical “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre. After, I went on to be in the national tour of Lion King and covered Broadway. When Lion King was done, we took a leap of faith to move to LA!
EW How did this part in Little Fires Everywhere come about?
LU Someone actually told me about Little Fires Everywhere a year before I auditioned. When I received the audition for LFE, I was excited because I had a certain love and admiration for the story and for the character Pearl. Of course knowing that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington were attached to the project made the prospect of even auditioning more exciting.
The day before my audition for LFE, I found out I wasn’t going further with another pilot I was really excited about. My emotions took over and I asked my mom to call my agents and cancel the audition. My mom gave me a moment and then we talked about the “no’s” being a necessary part of the journey. She encouraged me to keep the appointment and to have fun with this character (Pearl) that I had fallen in love with. My audition started with the casting assistant and then he stopped me and asked if he could bring in David Rueben. I said of course! Mr. Rueben and I read together and it was magical. I left feeling great about the experience and regaining my confidence in knowing that I’m exactly where I was supposed to be in my career; regardless of the outcome of that audition. Everything from that point seemed to move quickly. Within a little over a week, I was given the amazing news that I would play Pearl Warren. I was absolutely ecstatic and eager to get started.
EW Tell me about how it works on set for you now given your age, and with the schooling- both in terms of logistics what you need to do and how you do it.
LU School and maintaining good grades are non-negotiable in my household (lol). Also, legally, all minors must be schooled on set and have a passing GPA to have a work permit. When we started filming, I was finishing my sophomore year in high school. So that meant final exams, term papers, and class projects. I’m a junior in high school! I’m homeschooled and have been since 7th grade. I find it’s easier to be homeschooled because I’m able to focus and not get behind in school when my schedule gets busy. On set, they have a teacher/wrangler that serves as a real teacher. The set teacher helps with our lessons. Lethally, we’re required to spend a minimum of 3 hours a day focused on school. When time permits, we’ll try to get in 5 hours of schooling in addition to working.
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EW Can you tell us about your role in LFE and the experience of filming it? Any stories you would like to share with us from it?
LU I play Pearl Warren. Pearl is a 15 year old girl who is constantly moving around with her artist mother Mia (Kerry Washington). Pearl is intelligent, creative, caring, resilient, focused & resolute in knowing what she wants and going after it. In a way, she’s had to grow up a bit faster than other kids. From a young age, Pearl had to learn how to take care of herself. Pearl is the lynchpin connecting the worlds of Warrens and the Richardson family.
Working with Ms. Kerry, Ms. Reese & the rest of the cast and crew was an absolute dream come true. For the first time, I experienced working with a diverse, predominantly female video village. The energy on set was always supportive, professional and reflective of people who showed up everyday giving 100% of themselves. The writers’ room was deliberately representative of the characters portrayed; so we were able to collectively tell our own story. The showrunner, Liz Tigalarr, would tell us that we are our character’s keeper. She empowered me as a young actor to show-up and fully engage as a partner; so i never felt like a kid who wasn’t taken seriously as an actor.
There were so many magical moments on set. From the first time I was in a scene with Ms. Kerry and Ms. Reese to when Ms. Lena Waithe came to visit during one of our night shoots or even when Celeste Ng came to set. I must say, one fun and unforgettable experience was when I taught Ms. Reese how to do the “Whoa” and how to make a Tik Tok.
EW Any mentors in the process that you care to tell us about? I know we have a shared love for one special Ms Washington- tell me about working with her and any other people who have been lights along the way.
LU Ms. Kerry was one of the women that inspired me to become an actor. Growing up, I would see her on my tv and think that if someone who looks like me is playing a strong female lead on a major network show, maybe I can too. Playing Pearl alongside Ms. Kerry was a full circle moment. She is such a kind and giving person. In the beginning stages of filming, she took me out to lunch. She always made herself available to give advice and she shared so many gems that I will carry with me for the rest of my life/career. Something that I admire about both Ms. Kerry and Ms. Reese is they are giving actors. They want to see everyone in a scene win and reach their full potential when it comes to a performance. That’s rare to come across. I’ve been blessed to work with other magical women that have been lights along the way such as Meagan Good, Regina King, and Tamara Bass. I’m so grateful to be given the opportunities to work with such kind souls and work alongside veterans who have been killing it in the industry for so long.
EW What do you consider to be most important to remember every day? There is a lot of information bombarded our way from so many directions, particularly to your generation. How do you stay centered?
LU There are two important things to remember everyday. First, my mom has always told me since I was little, before I start my day or get on social media, to look myself in the mirror and say I love you. By telling yourself those three words and meaning them, it sets the foundation for self-love. Not a conceded love but one that reminds you if you never hear those words from a single person, you have to be okay with the love you have for yourself & know it’s enough. Self-love teaches you how to treat yourself, how to treat others and how you allow others to treat you. Second, to have a heart of gratitude. Nothing is owed to us nor promised. We can easily get caught up in what’s going wrong or what we don’t have. When those moments come, I regain my focus and write down in my journal at least 3 to 5 things I am grateful for. Along with that, I meditate & pray every morning. That always sets the tone for my day.
Look myself in the mirror and say I love you.
EW Any performances you have seen lately that really move you and inspire you?
LU My favorite performance from 2019 that always resonates with me is the cast of When They See Us. I applaud Ava Duvernay and the cast for telling such a raw and real story & not shying away from the truth. Also Joey King’s performance in The Act was beyond phenomenal. Her commitment to transforming into Gyspy Rose and fully leaning into the process of storytelling is inspiring.
EW What do you like to do when you are NOT working?
LU When I’m not working, I’m usually focused on creating my own content or working on the set of some of my phenomenal Gen Z future filmmakers. I also enjoy reading/writing poetry, playing guitar and signing or working out. I’ve found myself becoming a bit of a gym rat lately. I absolutely love it!!
EW At the ripe age you are, do you think about things like 5 year plans, and 10 year plans, or are you not there yet? In any case, do you have any “career” goals that we should be aware of?
LU As far as 5 year and 10 plans go, I have goals set that I would love to accomplish. College is definitely part of that plan. I would also like to continue working and be cast in a few feature films and another series. I’m doing the work now to put me in a position to be ready when those opportunities come. I’m really focusing on my production company, “Ultimate Dreamer Productions”. My desire is to have blaze a path and create a presence within the next 5 years in creating content that continues to tell inclusive stories from the perspective of diverse, underrepresented voices. Honestly, I’m just trusting the process/journey. Whatever God’s plan for my life is, is where I’ll be in then next 5-10 years!
EW Favorite authors/ books that move you?
LU My all time favorite author is James Baldwin. Every piece by him never fails to move me and resonate with me in the best way possible. Of course Celeste Ng ranks high on my list along with Angie Thomas and Queen Afua. Another author that I love is Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her book “Women Who Run With the Wolves” is a must read.
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EW Favorite films or series you are into these days?
LU My all time favorite films are “Set It Off,” “Pretty Woman,” and “Love Jones.” I’m a huge 90s lover. I’m so infatuated with everything from that time period. “Waves” is film that has captured my heart. I’ve seen it like 6 times. Kalvin Harrison, Jr. and Taylor Russell are forces of nature.
Funny enough, my favorite series right now are actually Big Little Lies and You.
EW Anything you are very grateful to have been told as a young actor, or that you WISH you had been told?
LU I’m very grateful to have been told that every “no” leads to the right “yes”. When I was first starting off in the business, I used to take every no to heart. Then someone told me to remember that everytime you hear the word “no”, it just means a better and bigger door is opening somewhere near in your future.
I WISH someone told me early on about what happens in post-production. OH MY what a difference knowledge makes. Sitting in on post-production sessions for LFE has taught me how to be a more informed actor.
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EW Do you find that actors need to be socially conscious because you are in the public eye? And do you consider what you do to be an art? I guess I am asking, what kind of weight of responsibility do you feel (if any) given the platform you have and the one you are gaining.
LU I definitely think that actors, especially young ones, need to be socially conscious because we are in the public eye. There are people that look up to us and it is our duty to be a light and positive role models. You never know the impact you’ll have on someone watching; hence my full circle moment with Ms Kerry. I want a little girl or boy back in Washington, DC or some other part of the world to see me and know there is space for them to not only dream their ultimate dream but to live it as well.
I absolutely consider what I do to be an art and privilege. To be able to be a storyteller and give a voice and face to people characters like Pearl, Jillian, Emily, and Spirit is exhilarating and an honor.
EW Any causes or charities you feel very drawn to?
LU I’m a big believer that everyone is equal no matter race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, height, weight, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status. I’m also a strong supporter of having gun laws in America. I’m very drawn to charities and causes like Black Lives Matter, Women’s March and March For Our Lives that support my beliefs in equal rights.
EW Lexi Underwood, Whats Your SBJCT? That is, what makes YOU extraordinary and really moves and motivates you? This can be one word if you like…
LU My SBJCT is being an ULTIMATE DREAMER. An ultimate dreamer is an audacious visionary. I dare to dream the impossible can and will happen and I’m here to support those who dare to dream with me.
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