For International Women’s Day 2021, SBJCT JOURNAL has partnered with FARFETCH to feature actor and activist Laura Harrier. Farfetch will be contributing to one of Laura’s favorite organizations, The Loveland Foundation, to mark the occasion. Laura spoke with EW about what inspires her, the evolving and necessarily more inclusive nature of movements and womanhood, and why self-care is so integral to our mental health. Head to Farfetch for Laura’s edit from our feature-5% of proceeds will go to Loveland. We are so proud to feature Laura and spotlight what she stands for. Read on below…
BY ERIN WALSH
PHOTO CHRISTIAN HOGSTEDT
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Erin Walsh Laura, thank you so much for joining us to celebrate International Women’s Day, and enlightening us on what makes you tick and why. It is such an extraordinary time, challenging in so many ways, and I keep finding that we are being asked to step up into ourselves and who we are capable of being, as the moment demands it. I would love to get into the ways that you find to both take care of yourself and pay it forward. We will get into all that and more. Let’s start at the beginning though, to what brings you into the position of having a platform in the first place. How did you get started as an actor? Tell us about the beginning of your journey.
Laura Harrier First of all: thank you so much for thinking of me for this opportunity! I’m so excited to be a part of SBJCT. I moved to New York when I was 17 and did a little modeling which taught me a lot about the ups-and-downs in that industry and perseverance, which I’m so grateful for. I had always aspired to be an actor, so I attended drama school, fell in love with the craft and ended up landing a role on a Steve McQueen pilot for HBO, “Codes of Conduct.” Something ignited in me, I can’t really explain it. It just felt right.
EW You mentioned to me your beginnings and the impact Steve Mcqueen had on you in particular- can you tell us a bit about his influence on you, how it impacted how you approach your work, and if it possibly informs your life choices as well? I am asking because I often find that for artists, the intersection of art and life can become blurred at time…
LH I was fortunate to work with Steve while I was still in school in New York. It was an incredible learning experience and I think I learned as much in those few months on set with him as I did in two years of school. He was the first person to take a chance on me and for that I am forever grateful to him. He also gave me an amazing piece of advice that continues to inform my work as well as my whole life: “You can be anything you want, just don’t be boring!”
EW Why act? What do you love about it?
LH I love the act of storytelling. I’m a big reader. I love getting lost in a story. I love that acting gives me the physical opportunity to create a narrative. I loved playing Patrice Dumas in “BlackkKlansman” and Camille Washington in “Hollywood.” It was beyond just putting on wigs and costume— obviously, that helped, and I loved every minute of it — but I got to become those women and tell their stories. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to bring characters to life. It’s really a trip. I feel so honored to be a vessel that helps to tell a story.
EW What do you consider your responsibility to be as someone in the public eye, someone many, many people look up to?
LH I honestly feel that responsibility two-fold— as a black person and a woman. Too often black people neglect their mental health, mainly because we don’t have the resources. BEAM and the Loveland Foundation both do excellent work in this space. As a woman, like many, I feel deep societal pressure to look a certain way. And I do think that we often get hung up on focusing more on the outside than the inside. I’m very big on taking the time to respect my skin and my body, as well as my aura and spirit. I think it’s my responsibility to advocate for women giving themselves a break! Feeling beautiful because of who we are, instead of chasing who we are not. It’s so important to empower ourselves for our own mental health. This is something I’m very passionate about.
EW I was reading in an interview that you hate being asked what it’s like to be a Black woman in Hollywood. I love that. Because in your body of work, you totally examine the experience of Black women, particularly in BlacKkKansman and Hollywood in ways of profound historical context, but it’s the story that is doing the talking. In the telling of a character’s story, where do you start? Particularly with the Spike Lee story, there is so much historical context of real Black women’s stories which I would imagine inform your character and your choices. What does your journey to a character typically look like? And how do find the personal and specific in sometimes universal archetypes?
LH Exactly. I loved played both Camille and Patrice. I do extensive research for all roles, but particularly for those two. To prepare for Camille in “Hollywood” I focused on actresses like Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and Hattie McDaniel. Camille’s red lip and nail combination really helped me get into character-they were so old Hollywood glam. Her clothes were to die for, and she looked like such a lady ALWAYS but was a spit fire and didn’t take any shit. I have a lot of respect for Camille. For Patrice in “BlacKkKlansman” I had a lot of freedom from Spike in terms of her character construction. I listened to Angela Davis speeches and read her autobiography. I read black panther books, “Living for the City” by Donna Murch, listened to a lot of funk and protest music that was created during that time and watched documentaries that detailed lives of Black Panthers. I really had to get to know Patrice. Spike had me write a biography on her and delve into who she was. There are pieces of her that I think are also within me. She was courageous, uplifting and was setting an example for the younger generation. I hope to do the same. I learned to find personal aspects in both characters. Camille’s fight for desegregation in the 1950s and Camille’s for justice in the 1970s were both incredibly personal to me. Not only is that my history but also unfortunately my present. I attended Black Lives Matter rallies surrounding the taping of both these films. It’s definitely personal.
black women and girls deserve access to healing – to be heard far and wide
EW The character Patrice was based on some real revolutionary women, including famous and non-famous women in the Black Panther movement. What did you take from embodying the experience of women who really lived their lives in service of change, in the service of a movement they found to be so vital and necessary? How do you find ways to make real change with your own example in your own life?
LH Playing that role was such an honor. The women in the Black Panther movement were remarkable. Of course, we all know women like Angela Davis and Assata Sakur and Kathleen Cleaver but there are so many more who didn’t receive recognition. I feel a responsibility to use my platform to speak about the horrors of racial disparity that continue for black people today.
EW Let’s talk paying it forward- you had asked that we highlight the work of the Loveland Foundation as part of Farfetch’s initiative for International Women’s Day. What is it that draws you to their work? What do you hope people take from their mission?
LH I love that it’s an organization that supports women. It was founded only a few years ago but already has such a strong methodology. Their Therapy Fund is fantastic because it provides black women with the financial support and access to therapy that otherwise wouldn’t be afforded to them. I want the message of the Loveland Foundation – that black women and girls deserve access to healing – to be heard far and wide.
EW We spoke about as women, the need these days to redefine what it means to be a woman and involving inclusivity as we seek to be a part of the change and equality mission. What does inclusivity for women mean to you?
LH I think that as we evolve as a society, our movements evolve as well. For example, “Black Trans Lives Matter” is being proclaimed with “Black Lives Matter.” The “Women’s Movement” isn’t just about white cisgender women as it was overwhelming in the past. Black women, brown women, Latina, Asian, lesbian, non-binary and trans women must also always be included. To me, inclusion means using the correct pronouns, ensuring that a variety of women are represented on panels, in beauty campaigns, runways, movies, music, billboards, book covers, children’s books—everywhere. We have to showcase how woman are NOW. Anything less is a huge disservice and misrepresentation.
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EW How would you describe your many-faceted self? And what do you think is your superpower?
LH I’m very intuitive and I try to be as nurturing, loving, and open as possible. I try not to judge. I give myself credit for showing up fully as myself and I think it gives people permission to do the same. Come as you are.
EW Favorite female mentors of yours?
LH Halle Berry has always been such an inspiration to me. Also, last year I attended an event for black women hosted by Ms. Alfre Woodard. Cicely Tyson, Tracee Ellis Ross and so many other amazing women showered me with love and recognition. I regard all those women as mentors. I’m so honored to even be at the table with them.
EW You have said that “you can be feminine and be a revolutionary too.” I think this really embodies the idea that instead of fitting in some kind of box or archetype, we women are so many things and all of those things should be celebrated. Who are some of your own female heroes who you feel embody this as well?
LH A female hero for me is definitely my mother! The strongest and kindest woman I’ve ever known. My family and I lovingly nicknamed her “The Nicest Woman in America” but she also didn’t play! She is my heart. Other women to name are Diana Ross, Halle Berry, Angela Basset and Dorothy Danridge, Lena Horne, and Loretta Scott King. Jane Fonda is another badass.
EW How do you take care of yourself these days? To take care of others, you have to start with taking care of yourself. What nurtures you?
LH I am a big crusader for self-care. Huge. I can’t even tell you how many candles I have in my house. Too many to count! I love taking long baths and exfoliating (candles lit). I’m a big face mask girl. I love making my own and slathering it all over. Manuka honey is my favorite DIY ingredient. I have a ton of plants and flowers around my house as well. I hang eucalyptus in the shower and make a point to have fresh flowers everywhere. I also love connecting to my spiritual self— I have crystals, sage, and Palo Santo on deck. I make sure to stay hydrated and take my vitamins. I take good care of my skin and have disciplined myself to always wash my face at night— no matter how many martinis I’ve had! I make a point to go to the gym regularly and check in with my therapist weekly. I really do respect my body and make sure she’s always feeling good. I also always surround myself with my girlfriends which makes me feel really powerful and loved. My family is far away is Chicago so I’m super grateful and intentional about the family that I’ve found here in LA.
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EW Any place that you wish to visit once times are more normal?
LH This time has inspired me to focus more on the importance of my mental health. This has been a major adjustment because everything has obviously slowed down. I’m used to going a mile a minute and traveling nonstop. Now I’m missing more of the little things like dancing in a bar with my girls!
EW Anything you are reading that you find to be particularly inspiring or helpful right now?
LH I’ve been reading books by black authors. I just finished “Passing” by Nella Larsen for the second time and so enjoyed “The Vanishing Half” by Britt Bennett. It’s very intriguing that the cultural phenomenon of passing has resurfaced. I’ve also been re-reading James Baldwin, who is one of my favorites.
EW Do you think in the way of Legacy? What do you hope your legacy to be?
LH As of right now I would say the roles that shine a light in racial injustice. Women like Patrice and Camille. In terms of legacy as an actress I think about Chadwick Boseman and how part of his wonderful legacy, in addition to the grace and power he put into his work, is the beautiful portrayal of such giants. I’d be lucky to have something that even half resembled that.
EW Anything in the way of a 5 or 10 year plan?
LH Honestly, this time has shown me how little is in our control and it has taught me to start living for the now. A year and a half ago I didn’t think that “Sex and the City” reruns and making pasta with my friend would be my idea of a wild night, but here we are. I’m really excited to get back to work and inhabit more characters like the ones I’ve been so fortunate to play. I’d love to play a Bond girl. I’d also like to continue making connections within my industry and continue building relationships with the brands that I believe in.
We have to showcase how woman are NOW
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EW I read somewhere that every day we should ask ourselves how we have grown since yesterday. I like this practice because it is a friendly reminder to keep growing and keep trying to harness positive change for ourselves, and to push for positive change in the world. How have you changed since say, last year? And anything you hope to change for tomorrow? Or everyday even?
LH That’s a good one! I think of Laura 2.0 quite often. I’ve definitely started listening to myself more. I stopped ignoring my intuition and started to hear myself, you know? My instincts are usually right, listening to them is where I could be better. I’m getting there. I’d like to be better at practicing gratitude and making sure that the people in my orbit know that I do not take them for granted. I started to make lists to remind myself of that.
EW What really moves and inspires you Laura? What’s Your SBJCT?
LH I am moved and inspired by art and incredibly creative people. I have such a network of remarkably talented friends who support and drive me to create.
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I stopped ignoring my intuition and started to hear myself
To visit Farfetch and shop Laura’s edit please visit www.farfetch.com