I am supposed to be interviewing Laura Harrier. Instead, between bites of a rice and soy sauce concoction she’s thrown together, she’s grilling me. I’m ready to ask about the many projects she’s promoting at the moment (Hulu’s Mike Tyson biopic series Mike, Netflix’s animated Kid Cudi project Entergalactic, a highly anticipated reboot of White Men Can’t Jump), not to mention the sun-drenched European vacation she’s kindly interrupted to take this very Zoom.
But nope. Laura has taken over, and before I know it, we’re chatting about my husband, my new home, and my overzealous Nigerian uncles. She’s even busy taking in my surroundings: “Is that a Kehinde Wiley?” she asks, pointing at the baroque painting of my then-toddler son on the wall behind me. Yes, it is. “Before I became an actress,” Laura says, “I thought I’d be a curator.” Okay, fine, so she is kind and inquisitive and has an eye for art—is there literally anything this woman can’t do?
Her body of work would indicate that no, there is not. Following a stint as a teenage catalog model (which she categorizes as “not glamorous; I was not like the Bellas and Kendalls of the world”) and a pivot to soap operas, she’s spent the past near-decade crafting a TV and film career that spans award winners and action flicks alike alongside the biggest names in the industry. She’s also, because of course, what one might unironically refer to as a “fashion darling,” with a David Yurman ambassadorship and campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Kenzo, and Boss under her belt. And with every move, she’s out to prove that she’s more than a genetically blessed ingenue: “I have always been ambitious and driven,” she says. “I didn’t enter this business with any connections or related to anybody.”
She’s equally driven to be honest about the issues she and all of us face, especially in light of her platform and the responsibilities that attend it. But before we dive into all that, let’s talk about her own killer new crib. Because—finally!—I have an opening to ask.
You sold your home earlier this year.…You once said that you wanted your previous pad to “look like it was owned by a rich lady in the ’70s who just got divorced and is maybe gonna throw an orgy.”
[Laughs.] I was too honest with that answer.
I want the same level of honesty. Describe the current aesthetic of your new home.
The current aesthetic is the same vibe, except it’s the ’20s in Paris. That’s where my head is at now. I’m really looking toward more classic European pieces. Interior design and architecture are a passion and a creative outlet that I really love.
Any orgies involved?
I want to clarify that orgies are not a real thing in my life. No shade to people who are into that, but that is not what’s actually happening in my house.
Judging from your Instagram, the past few months of your life have still been pretty amazing though. You’ve taken the phrase “We back outside” to a whole new level.
I’ve been outside. I’m not going to lie. I’m very grateful I’ve been able to travel this summer. I’ve been in Europe, bopping around mainly in France and Italy. I was in Marrakech for the Saint Laurent show.
Exactly. You get invited, you must show up, right? Now I’m on a little island called Pantelleria, which is off Sicily.
Are you hanging out solo? Are you there with someone?
I’m here with my significant other.
And how significant is that other? Because I’ve heard through the grapevine that that other is very, very significant now.
Yeah. We did get engaged recently, which I’m very excited about.1
- Laura’s fiancé, Sam Jarou, a dashing Parisian who splits his time between France and Los Angeles, is a freelance creative consultant who’s worked with the likes of Supreme and Stussy. The two met at a dinner in L.A. in 2019 and keep their relationship notoriously private, so yeah, this is kind of a big deal (!).
Congratulations! Walk me through when, where, and how it happened?
It was really simple and sweet in Paris. I never wanted one of those big showy public engagements. That’s just not my personality.
How did you know you were ready for something as life-changing as marriage?
The cliché of when you know, you know. I never really believed it until that happened to me. It’s a funny feeling when you just find peace and calm.
I also really do believe that you need to be ready within yourself before you can find somebody else to be with, which I also always thought was a cliché until I felt secure within myself and the person I am and where I’m at in life.
I know you don’t want to talk much about your fiancé, but last question: He’s in fashion and you’re an actor. That’s a lot of creative energy in one house. Do you collaborate on projects, or could you, potentially?
Mm. He’s the first man I’ve dated where I’ll actually listen when he gives me outfit advice. So is that a collab?
Yes. That’s a start.
On that note.
On that note, I won’t ask about children.
No. No. You’re not getting me, girl. [Laughs.]
That is a collab, right?
That’s a different sort of collab than what we’re talking about. The biggest collab.
Speaking of collabs, you and Zendaya became friends after meeting on the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming. What would people be surprised to learn about her?
Just how she is a fun, down-to-earth person, despite being stunningly gorgeous and good at everything and stupidly talented and one of those people that you almost want to hate but you can’t because they’re just cool and nice.2 She’s a special person for sure.
2. This is also, it must be said, how some people—including me—would describe Laura.
Folks on Twitter were recently discussing Zendaya and Keke Palmer and the role that colorism has played in their respective careers. Some argued that Zendaya has enjoyed more mainstream success than Keke because she’s closer to a Eurocentric ideal of beauty. Do you think colorism is still an issue in Hollywood? Do you think that lighter-skinned actresses have an advantage?
Some of the most successful actresses of color tend to be on the lighter side and that’s definitely not okay. There are so many facets to the Black experience. There are so many ways that Black people look, and only having one narrow view is something that I think is ultimately putting everybody at a disadvantage—we’re only shortchanging ourselves when we don’t show a diverse range of stories and a diverse range of people onscreen. I do think it’s something that’s slowly starting to change, but even when we were doing Spider-Man, I would get called “Zendaya” all the time. People wouldn’t even take the time to differentiate us.
You don’t look anything alike.
No, not at all. It got to the point where we would joke about it a lot. What else are you going to do but laugh because it’s so completely ridiculous.
I know that we’re seeing more women of color in front of the camera. What are things like behind the scenes? Have you noticed a shift in how women, particularly women of color, are being treated?
Yeah. I’ve definitely seen it on both sides, which is really exciting and promising. Within the past few years, I’ve noticed a lot more female showrunners, female directors, female writers in ways that I was not seeing at the beginning of my career. It was so rare to walk on a set and see women, especially women of color, even people of color in general. The sets in Hollywood have been so white-male dominated for such a long time. I have seen that change recently, which is really cool and exciting.
I’m sure you’re inundated with scripts. How do you go about deciding if a project is right for you?
I look at the character first and foremost. Is this a person that I feel like I could portray in an interesting way? Is this something that I haven’t done before? Does this feel different and new? Right now, I’m really interested in showing different facets of myself.
In addition to Entergalactic,3 you’re also starring in the remake of White Men Can’t Jump. What can you tell me about it and about working with rapper Jack Harlow?
This was his first time acting. He’s very charismatic and I knew he’d be able to play the part, but he really impressed me. Our chemistry is great together. It felt natural and easy with him. And I think it’s going to be a cute movie.
3. The TV special is the brainchild of actor and rapper Kid Cudi, who executive produces and stars in it as well, so naturally, a slew of music’s and Hollywood’s coolest kids make up the cast, from Timothée Chalamet and Jaden Smith to Vanessa Hudgens, Teyana Taylor, and Ty Dolla Sign.
Cute movies are what we need right now, a place to mentally escape to during these angst-inducing times. How do you balance staying informed with knowing when to turn it all off?
It’s so important to know what’s happening in the world and to be active and to use your voice for the greater good and for causes that you believe in. But sometimes doing that can really take a toll. Sometimes I have to not read the news, not check my New York Times app, turn off Instagram because these are really tough times that we’re living in. And it’s easy to get so caught up in the collective anxiety of the world that you can forget that you also need to protect yourself and protect your own wellness. I don’t think that you can make a change and help other people if you’re not taking care of yourself.
What strategies do you turn to for taking care of yourself?
I’ve learned tools through therapy. I really am a big advocate for therapy and for mental health care, especially in the Black community. That’s something that’s really improved my life and really helped me in significant ways, especially with dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks.
There’s this notion historically that Black people don’t go to therapy. We go to church and we pray the pain away. Are you noticing a shift in the Black community when it comes to taking care of one’s mental health as you would your physical health?
I love that you said that. I definitely believe that mental health care should be prioritized just as much as physical health. There’s been such a long history of ignoring mental health problems, of saying, “Oh, just suck it up” or “I’m a strong Black woman. That doesn’t happen to me.” All of these tropes that we’ve been taught over generations, when actually, I think given generational trauma, of course there are a lot of mental health issues within the Black community. I’ve been working with a really amazing Los Angeles–based organization called BEAM, which stands for Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective. They help people find resources, therapists, and also natural care, like Reiki.
Do you work any of those remedies into your own mental health tool kit?
I try to meditate. I can’t say that I’m the best with my track record of doing it every day, but I try to at least do some deep breathing. I noticed I literally forget to breathe, which sounds wild, but sometimes I’m like, “Wait, I haven’t taken a real breath all day,” and just taking 30 seconds to sit and do deep belly breathing is a game changer. Also, I think it’s so common to talk only about self-care as meditation, yoga, and working out, which are all important, but sometimes self-care is having a glass of wine with your best friend and laughing and watching shitty reality TV. Watching The Bachelor and drinking wine with my girls is awesome. Sometimes that’s the self-care that you need.
What other reality shows are on your list of self-care watches?
Do we want to go down this rabbit hole? It’s so bad.
I do. Let’s go.
90 Day Fiancé is my addiction. The amount of hours I feel like I’ve spent in life watching this show is….And there are so many spin-offs: 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way, 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days.
I feel like I’ve learned more about the immigration system watching 90 Day Fiancé than I’ve learned reading august publications like the New York Times or The Atlantic.
Oh, I one hundred percent agree with you, and also, now being engaged to a non-American, I feel like all my facts are like, “Oh no, we can’t do that, babe. On 90 Day, their visa got rejected.” All my information is based on this show.
In addition to bad TV, I’m also a huge fan of a big, deep, ugly cry. It’s like an emotional enema.
Holding emotion in is not only not good mentally but not good physically. Physical manifestations of stress are very real. I’ve had weird little skin things or backaches and it’s like, Okay, what is the actual root cause of this? Maybe it’s because I’m super stressed or upset and I’m not dealing with it?
When is the last time you felt angry?
I feel very angry about our current political system, about these abortion bans, about this war on women’s bodies. That’s what’s making me really angry. I feel enraged and really scared about the future and other rights that can be rolled back.
Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, there’s a real risk that other rights, like gay marriage and interracial marriage, could be decimated as well. As the product of an interracial marriage, that must be particularly horrifying for you, that your parents’ union could be outlawed.
Just hearing those words…it’s such a clear breach of human rights and what people fought for and died for in our country. It’s really upsetting and very scary. We need to use our collective voices and do everything that we can to fight against these things, because clearly the justices on the Supreme Court don’t want to just stop at Roe v. Wade.
You mentioned the war on women’s bodies. What do you think is motivating this? Is it a fear of women’s power? Is it a fear that women are now more empowered than they’ve ever been?
That’s definitely a factor. We obviously know that these bans are going to disproportionately affect Black and brown women as well as women with lower socioeconomic status. I don’t think these people are concerned about protecting fetuses, but I think they really are interested in keeping people in a cycle of poverty so that they can remain in power and remain in control, because they’re scared, because minorities are moving up, because we are gaining more power, and they want to keep the status quo.
When speaking so candidly about such hot-button issues, have you ever worried about backlash, worried about people saying, “You’re an actor, act”?
Well, I would say that I’m not coming at these topics as an actress. I’m coming at these topics as Laura, as a woman of reproductive age who’s affected by Roe v. Wade. I’m affected by Black Lives Matter issues because I’m a Black person in America, because that’s my family, because that’s my little brother walking down the street that I worry about. It’s not because of my job that I care about these issues. It’s because of my humanity that I do. To people who would say that, I would encourage them to look at their own humanity and ask themselves, “Why do I not care more?” I don’t really worry about backlash because if I don’t get a job because I believe that women should have access to abortion, then that’s not a job that I want.
Speaking of jobs, I want to talk about your role in Mike as Robin Givens, who was famously married to Mike Tyson for one year in the ’80s. How did you prepare to play someone so iconic?
I wanted to tell this story as honestly and truthfully as I could. Both were so misrepresented in the media. It was really shocking looking back at these articles from the ’80s and seeing the way that people villainized her in legitimate publications. I wanted to come at it from a place of compassion but also a place of objectivity.
Do you think their marriage, and Robin Givens specifically, would be viewed differently today?
I’d hope it would all be viewed differently today. Given the events of the past few years, given the Me Too movement, I really hope that had this happened now, people would have a lot more compassion for her. I can’t say that people would automatically believe her even now, because as we’ve seen, it’s still very difficult for survivors to be believed.
Mike Tyson has been quite vocal about his unhappiness with Hulu’s decision to air this fictionalized account without his consent.4 Did the fact that he wasn’t involved in any way impact your decision to be a part of it?
I wanted to be part of this project because more than telling Mike Tyson’s life story specifically, this is a real commentary on so many American stories. We’re talking about racial inequality, socioeconomic inequality, rape culture, the Me Too movement. This story was looking at all those things through the lens of this incredibly famous man.
4. Tyson recently lashed out at the streaming network, saying, “I don’t support their story about my life. It’s not 1822. It’s 2022. They stole my life story and didn’t pay me.”
On a brighter note, the ’80s ensembles are fabulous.
We were giving.
You were Givens and you were definitely giving.
Thank you! I loved the wardrobe. The ’80s were such a time of excess and extravagance. I had major Chanel suits with the miniskirts and the little pumps. It was full glam, full-on, all the time, which is so different from my personal aesthetic. I like to find characters through wardrobe and through hair and makeup. When I put on that wig and the full beat and the nails, it just came out of me.
I hear the vintage shopping in L.A. is spectacular.
It is. I have one place in L.A. that I love that I’m not going to share because I don’t want people to steal all my stuff. It’s tough out here. I got into an argument with a girl at that store recently because she tried to steal my dress.
How did you resolve that argument? Is she alive?
It was very silly. She put the dress away, then I took the dress. Then she said she changed her mind and she still wanted it. I said, “You can’t do that. That’s not how this works. You put it away. It’s my dress now.” She got very upset. It’s a great 2000 Roberto Cavalli. I wore it to a wedding the other day. So sorry, girl.
Stylist: Cassie Anderson. Hair: Stefan Bertin at The Wall Group using Color Wow. Makeup: Valeria Ferreira at The Wall Group using Dior. Manicure: Lucy Tucker for One Represents. Set design: Ranya El-Refaey. Production: Yasser Abubeker. Executive producer: Abbey Adkison. Senior producer: Liesl Lar. Director of photography: Janet Upadhye. Editors: Heather Weyrick and Janet Upadhye.