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Cover story

Hollywood Dream

With

Laura Harrier

From Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman to Ryan Murphy’s star-studded new show Hollywood, actor LAURA HARRIER is carving out an impressive career working with – and learning from – the very best. She talks to ALICE CASELY-HAYFORD about swapping red carpets for Zoom calls, the strength in community and the importance of representation in front of and behind the camera

Photography Sonia SzóstakStyling Danielle Goldberg at The Wall Group
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Laura Harrier is hovering between her garden and living room, balancing her laptop in her palm, trying to find the best spot so we can speak uninterrupted about her starring role in Hollywood. Our Zoom call and an unreliable internet connection are a far cry from the glamour and Vaseline sheen of the Netflix series about a group of aspiring actors and film-makers in 1940s Tinseltown, trying to get their big break – and certainly from the press tour and red carpets that Harrier currently ought to be on. “It’s such a strange experience, thinking what this would normally be like,” she affirms as she nestles into a chair. “Instead, I’m promoting this whole project at home by myself, sitting on my couch. Obviously, it’s necessary and important, but I definitely miss the fun aspects of all this – the dressing up, getting to meet people and going to different cities to promote something you’ve worked really hard on.”

Eight weeks into the global lockdown and Harrier has had plenty of time to take stock, reflect on her previously manic schedule and the new normal we’re all acclimatizing to. “I’ve learnt that I’m really bad at being alone,” she says, half in jest. “I’m someone who’s always surrounded by people, so maybe it’s a good thing and I’ll take this time to learn to be a bit more introspective and to slow down. Usually my life is constantly moving, traveling, working, and it’s very rare that I’m at home. This is definitely the longest I’ve been in LA – ever.”

“There are goals and personal achievements that I would like to work towards, but it’s strange when everything feels on pause”

Dress, Simone Rocha; sandals, Co

Like many of us, Harrier has spent large chunks of her days on video calls, for both work and play, including her 30th birthday in late March, which she celebrated with a virtual party. “I actually got my dress [a scarlet and fuchsia Solace London one-shoulder mini] from NET-A-PORTER for my Zoom birthday party! It was black tie, and everybody dressed up. I’ve really enjoyed having specific days where it’s like, ‘No, we’re going to make an effort’, and change out of sweatpants and try to feel normal.”

What was it like entering a new decade in lockdown? “I thought I’d turn 30 and feel this whole shift, but I kind of feel the same,” Harrier muses. “There are goals and personal achievements that I would like to work towards, but it’s strange when everything feels on pause. I’m having a 30th birthday again next year. Thirty-one? I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

“I want to be a champion, I want to support us, and I want to be representational for us. There were so few women that I could look at growing up and connect with on screen. If I can do that for some girls, I’m more than happy to and feel like I’ve done my job”

Shirt and skirt, Simone Rocha

Released on May 1, Hollywood’s stellar cast combines stalwarts of the screen, such as Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor and Dylan McDermott, with the next gen of stars, including David Corenswet, Jeremy Pope and Samara Weaving. Harrier plays Camille Washington, a young black actor relegated to the lesser roles until the industry big-wigs decide to challenge the status quo and cast her as a leading lady.

Its creator, Ryan Murphy – the man behind Nip/Tuck, Glee, American Horror Story and The Politician – was signed by Netflix to the biggest deal in TV history, rumored to be worth $300 million. Given how he is one of the most in-demand and influential show-runners in the industry, it’s unsurprising Harrier was immediately interested in his latest project. “No matter what he was doing, I would have wanted to be part of it,” Harrier enthuses. “I’ve admired his work for a long time – I love Pose, the Versace show that Darren [Criss] was in, the O.J. [Simpson] show. [Ryan] is super-important in the world of TV and film, but also, he’s been at the forefront of representation for a long time. He’s always had diverse casts, he’s always championed marginalized people – people of color, women and people from the LGBTQ community. He gives them a lot of opportunities and uses his power to uplift others.”

During filming, Harrier forged a particular closeness with writer, director and executive producer Janet Mock. “She’s so smart and has such a clear vision of what she wants. It’s amazing that she’s only been directing for a few years, because she’s so on top of things and seems so comfortable in that role – she’s really an artist. All the directors in our series were amazing, but I was able to connect with Janet on a different level – being a black woman and being someone who knows what it’s like to go through so much adversity in life. She’s had every barrier put up against her and come out the other side with this incredible success, which is something Camille [Harrier’s character] has gone through as well. We were just able to talk about Camille’s struggles and her journey in a way that would have been more difficult with another director.”

“I’ve tried not to put too much out publicly of my life. There are things that have to be sacred and important just to you”

Bikini top and skirt, Matteau

I ask Harrier if, as a biracial woman with a large platform, she ever feels frustrated being categorized as a spokesperson or activist, simply for speaking out on subjects she’s passionate about. “Being a black woman is something beautiful and it ties us together in a really special way, but I’ve never wanted to say that my life is the same as anyone else’s,” she says. “I always find it a bit strange when I’m asked what it means to be a black woman in Hollywood. I don’t know what it’s like to be anything other than a black woman in Hollywood! I can tell you what it’s like for me, Laura… I want to be a champion, I want to support us, and I want to be representational for us. There were so few women that I could look at growing up and connect with on screen. If I can do that for some girls, I’m more than happy to and feel like I’ve done my job.”

Harrier is also keen to preserve aspects of her private life and retain an element of mystery. “I’m wary of social media and putting too much of myself on it. This experience has been funny because, all of a sudden, I have people in my house all the time [via video calls] and I’m doing shoots on my couch. I never thought I’d be letting the world into my home. It’s kind of terrifying when I stop and think about it, but we don’t have any other option right now and I want to be promoting my show.”

“I’ve tried not to put too much out publicly of my life. There are things that have to be sacred and important just to you,” Harrier adds, alluding to her relationship with basketball player Klay Thompson.

After a stint modeling and a part in the soap opera One Life to Live, a significant role in the 2017 reboot Spider-Man: Homecoming, swiftly followed by Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, cemented Harrier as one to watch. “After I did my screen test for Spiderman, before I had heard anything, it came out a few weeks later that Zendaya was going to be cast in it, so I just figured I hadn’t got the job. She must have,” Harrier explains, recalling the audition process for the part of Liz, Peter Parker’s love interest. “I called my agent and they reassured me I was still in the running. I thought it was incredible and ground-breaking of Marvel to put us both in those roles and not to make it about our blackness. We were just girls who went to a school in New York and that’s what New York City looks like; films should reflect that. We had the best time making that movie. Zendaya and I are friends now and I’m really grateful for her. Swinging around on those wires was fun!”

Dress, Ninety Percent; headband, Sophie Buhai

“Friends I met through work, like Zendaya, Yara [Shahidi] – this would be a lot scarier and more difficult without the good friends I’ve made”

Dress, Molly Goddard; headband, Sophie Buhai

The friends Harrier has made along the way, such as Zendaya, have been crucial in helping to make sense of a new life in the limelight. “It’s really important to have that community in an industry that can feel isolating at the best of times. [Rapper and singer-songwriter Kilo] Kish and I have been friends for over 10 years. We met when we were babies, after we’d both moved to New York. She worked the front desk where I was getting my hair cut. We were both little party girls, would always run into each other and became super-close,” Harrier fondly reminisces. “If you’d told baby us sitting on the subway what our lives would be now, that we’d have all these incredible opportunities and still have each other through it… It makes me really grateful for friends like that, who have been there through the whole thing and can relate to this sometimes-strange experience that the job is. Friends I met through work, like Zendaya, Yara [Shahidi], Alycia Debnam-Carey – this would be a lot scarier and more difficult without the good friends I’ve made.”

A friend and muse of numerous maisons, Harrier’s innate sense of style and affinity with high fashion also put her in good stead for the glittering career and countless red-carpet events ahead of her, but how did she first discover fashion as a teenager, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago? “I would pore over magazines and see this other world that I thought was so beautiful and glamorous and so far from my reality, but weirdly it was something I felt connected to. I would go on Style.com and look at the fashion, and I remember seeing Balenciaga and the stuff Nicolas [Ghesquière] was doing, and I don’t even think I knew his name; I was pretty young, but I remember being like, ‘Woah, this is the coolest stuff ever.’ Now, it’s so strange that I know him and wear clothes that he makes just for me.”

The film sets, red carpets and campaigns may be on hold for the time being, but that hasn’t halted Harrier’s hopes for the next step in her career. “I don’t want to say anything too definitive, because who knows what’s going to happen, but developing is something I’m interested in. I want to do a romantic comedy; I want to do an action movie. I’d love to do a thriller,” she says. “I’ve been so fortunate to be in a big action movie and a blockbuster movie, then to do something like BlacKkKlansman and then do TV. I’ve never wanted to just stay in one lane. That’s something I’m always thinking about when choosing projects – trying to vary and challenge myself.”

Hollywood is available to stream on Netflix now

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