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Tiffany Boone on breakthroughs, family and finding her voice

There aren’t many people who can claim that 2020 was their year, but for actor TIFFANY BOONE, it has been monumental. Here, she tells MARTHA HAYES about her hat-trick of major roles, feeling fully challenged at work, and starting to speak her truth

Lifestyle

The year that most people would rather forget is one that rising star Tiffany Boone will want to remember. As Hollywood breakthroughs go, hers has been more of an explosion onto our screens. She was flawless as a younger version of Kerry Washington’s character in the star-studded TV adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere. She was fierce in Jordan Peele-produced Amazon drama Hunters. And, before 2020 is out, she has a scene-stealing role in Netflix sci-fi film The Midnight Sky, directed by (and co-starring) George Clooney.

“Some of these things I find myself in, I’m like, ‘How did I get here? What is happening? What’s going on?!’” laughs Boone when we meet over Zoom. She’s in Byron Bay, Australia, where she’s filming her next big project – the TV adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers (based on the book by Liane Moriarty, who also wrote Big Little Lies).

Boone’s success on the small screen isn’t the only reason that 2020 will be so memorable for her. “This year, I found my voice in a very clear way,” reflects the 33-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dear White People star Marque Richardson. “I’ve never been a wallflower or a quiet little mouse who doesn’t know how to say anything, but, for a few years now, I’ve not felt like I could truly use my voice.”

Before her hat-trick of major roles, Boone was best known for starring in drama series The Chi. She left her role at the end of 2018, after making harassment allegations against her co-star Jason Mitchell, and took to Instagram in February this year to publicly address the matter. “Not everyone was interested in creating a work environment that was conducive to each person feeling safe, seen and heard,” she wrote in a powerful, lengthy statement. “I felt that if I didn’t speak up, other voices that were trying to be heard would be silenced.”

I have the right to speak my mind and advocate for myself. I can do that in a way that is respectful of others

Reflecting on that experience today, she says, “That was a real turning point for me, to speak my truth in a way that I wanted to. I learned to not care about being perceived as a bitch, which I think is what most of us are afraid of. The second a woman speaks up, it’s like, ‘She’s such a diva, she’s such a bitch.’ I have the right to speak my mind and advocate for myself. I can do that in a way that is respectful of others, but I don’t have to say everything with a smile to take the edge off; I can be direct and tell people how I feel.”

The social uprising from the Black Lives Matter movement this summer reinforced Boone’s advocacy and determination to be part of positive change in the industry. “It’s made me be more vocal and, looking forward, very clear about how I present myself as a Black woman and challenge people to make sets safe places for people of color,” she explains. “It’s always been important to me, but I have now been pushed to use my voice – even when it feels uncomfortable and scary – not just for myself, but so that there can be a real shift in the industry.”

From Hunters (for which she will reprise her role as Nazi hunter Roxy Jones for a second season next year) to Little Fires Everywhere, produced by Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, Boone is proud to work with people making concrete steps to change the nature of the business. And now she can add George Clooney to that list.

I’m very committed to realizing that [we’re all] just people… Beyoncé is the only person you’re going to get me star-struck about!

“I mean, literally, [it was] the least drama on a set I’ve ever seen,” she says of being directed in The Midnight Sky by Clooney – who also plays the lead in the post-apocalyptic film, which co-stars Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo as Boone’s fellow astronauts. “Everyone is happy. Everyone is excited to be there. He knows exactly what he wants. It’s just a positive place where everyone feels like they can do their best work.”

Having worked with a roster of high-profile co-stars by this point, there was no danger of Boone getting starstruck. “I’m very committed to realizing that [we’re all] just people and not playing into the hype of it,” she says, before adding, “Beyoncé is the only person you’re going to get me star-struck about!”

Her younger sister – who visited Boone on the set of The Midnight Sky – wasn’t quite as laid-back. “I was like, ‘George, this is my sister’, and she started to cry! But if there’s anyone you could cry or pass out in front of, it’s him,” she smiles. “He’s been so famous for so long, he’s seen it all. He literally let her cry for a little while and then he started asking her about her life. It was beautiful the way she reacted, but it was more beautiful the way he reacted to her.”

This might have been the year that Boone’s career reached new heights, but she’s no newcomer to the industry. After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 2009, she started out with minor roles in a handful of TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy and Suburgatory) and movies (Beautiful Creatures) before her first time as a series regular in US crime thriller The Following in 2014. Still, it wasn’t until she played the young Mia Warren in Little Fires Everywhere – impressively embodying every aspect of Kerry Washington’s older version of the same character – that she felt fully challenged for the first time.

Boone and Demián Bichir in The Midnight Sky
My mom would say, ‘I’m your best friend’… And she was right! She’s the one I call when things get out of control

“It was very important to the producers that I captured the essence of what Kerry had created – and I just didn't know if I could do it,” she recalls. “I can be quite hard on myself and have a bit of imposter syndrome, so it was an affirming experience to realize, ‘You can do it, you are worthy of being here and you will continue to get opportunities where you can stretch yourself.’ I’m happy people got to see something different from me, and I got to see what I was capable of.”

Born and raised in Baltimore by a single mother, following the tragic death of her father when she was just three years old, Boone describes herself as “a complete ham”, who always knew she wasn’t going to stay in Baltimore for the rest of her life. Not that leaving her mom and younger sister for LA was easy; they are a very close unit. “When I’d come home from school and say, ‘My best friend was mean to me today’, my mom would say, ‘I’m your best friend.’ And she was right! She’s the one I call when things get out of control.”

Without her mom, who was 19 when she gave birth and worked multiple jobs during her childhood, Boone says she wouldn’t be the hard-working, independent and strong-willed person she is today. “I have a need to experience the things she didn’t; to take chances and push myself. She gets so much joy out of seeing me experience the world, and I’m able to give back to her by showing her parts of it.”

Family life became even richer two years ago, when Boone met her half-sister (they share a father) for the first time. “I had no idea how we were going to get along, and we were raised completely differently, but now she’s one of my best friends,” she smiles. “It’s sad we lost a lot of years, but it’s also great we met in our thirties – we are fully realized versions of ourselves.”

As we say our goodbyes – Boone has a “weekly virtual date” with her husband back in LA – I notice the same could be said for her burgeoning fame. There aren’t many people who can claim that 2020 was their year, but Tiffany Boone definitely can. And we can’t wait to see what this “fully realized” rising star does next.