Hollywood: Interview with the protagonist Laura Harrier
An actress to watch. This is how Laura Harrier, from her first roles, those who marked the turning points of her career – in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and in BlacKkKlansman (2018) – but the best showcase to show his talent is certainly the new TV series broadcast on Netflix, Hollywood, directed by Ryan Murphy.
In this seven-part mini-fiction, which follows the story of aspiring directors and actors in post-war Hollywood, Harrier plays Camille, an actress who dreams of a starring role in major film production. What she gets, however, are small roles of appearance, and always as a maid, all punctually accompanied by the ‘explanation’ that the presence of a black woman in the role of the main protagonist would always constitute a “message film only for black people, therefore with a limited distribution “. But when the boyfriend Raymond (Darren Criss) starts auditioning for a new project, the right opportunity finally presents itself.
Hollywood denounces the structures of power that have been at the basis of the film industry since its origins but at the same time seeks to rewrite its history. What would have happened if a woman had been in charge of a powerful production studio? What if a black homosexual screenwriter made the decisions? And how would things have changed if the black actresses had been given the opportunities they deserved?
These are just some of the themes that emerge from Murphy’s eclectic cast, which includes both emerging talents (such as David Corenswet of The Politician) and well-known names, including Broadway star Patti LuPone, and Hollywood veteran Holland Taylor. The result is a touching tale who looks to the past with a realistic and punctual look but who is also firmly optimistic about the future.
On the occasion of the release of the series on May 1, Laura Harrier had a chat with Fashion, from his home in Los Angeles, to reflect on the history of Hollywood, on the tendency to engage the actors always in the same roles and to tell us what he does to remain mentally healthy during the lockdown.
Laura Harrier is Camille in Hollywood
© Courtesy of Netflix
Hollywood had a rather long gestation. When did you first hear about this TV project?
“About a year ago I auditioned for a project that was called Untitled Old Hollywood Project. I didn’t know much then, or that it was something that had to do with Ryan Murphy but I introduced myself for a part. Then I knew nothing more, to which I thought that probably I had not been chosen. But about four months later, almost out of nowhere, I received a call telling me that Ryan Murphy wanted to meet me for a “chemistry read “ (Darts Criss. An audition to establish the harmony between two actors). So apparently that first audition had been for Ryan Murphy. The next day I went to the casting, where I met Darren with whom we rehearsed some scenes while Ryan stood in a corner in silence. I think Darren was more nervous than I am. It lifted me up but I said ‘Darren, but you’ve already got the part! ‘ [ride]. The next day I received a phone call and news that I had been cast. “
Camille’s experience reminds us of other black actresses who were hindered in those years, I think of Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. Did the preparation for the role lead you to do historical research?
“Dorothy Dandridge was one of my main sources of inspiration. She and Camille are not the same person but their lives are reflected in each other. I have watched more Dorothy movies and interviews than I have been able to and researched her life. He was highly talented and incredibly charismatic. She deserved to be the biggest movie diva in the world. Her story saddened me a lot, because, as I later learned, her life died out tragically (due to a sudden death, at the age of 42, due to an embolism).
“After that, in 1955, Dorothy was nominated for an Oscar for Carmen Jones (award that went to Grace Kelly), the roles began to decline. It is regrettable to think that, even when they managed to break the barriers and avoid the role of maid, for the black actresses at the time the crystal ceiling remained to hinder her career. I wanted to pay her homage through the role of Camille and I wondered if my character could have a happier ending. If Dorothy had won the Oscar, if she had more opportunities, if there had been a greater representation in cinema, how would the world have been different? “
Laura Harrier and Samantha Weaving (right) in a scene from Hollywood
© Courtesy of Netflix
Camille is always hired for the role of a servant and, when she asks to audition for another part, she is told that “it is a role for a white woman”. Do you think that cinema has changed a lot in this sense?
“Our series highlights the changes that have occurred since that time. Or rather, the things that have changed a lot and those that have remained almost unchanged. The stereotype of roles is still a widespread practice. Maybe now it is no longer said so openly but there are interpretations that continue to be considered “for whites”. Obviously there are conversations that take place behind closed doors. But, I hope things are changing, especially thanks to people like Ryan Murphy. “
The series also shows the culture of the ‘casting couch’ which also applies to male actors. Do you find that the phenomenon has an additional echo in the wake of the #MeToo movement?
“The masculine aspect of the #MeToo movement has not been discussed as much as its counterpart, yet it has an important role in the whole history of Hollywood. Many people have been victims of it and have suffered. I wasn’t aware of the extent of the problem until I started researching this project. It shows that we are all vulnerable and that we must work together to change this type of culture. “
Hollywood offers a revisionist history of the period. What difference would it have made, in your opinion, if women, people of color and homosexuals had had the opportunities and spaces that they have had since then?
“Hollywood would have been different and people would have been able to relate more to the films they saw. She would have been able to identify herself in the stories and characters. Seeing people with a more varied background on the big screen – or better yet, seeing people who look like you – gives you the message that your story is important and has value “.
The series also suggests that promoting diversity in cinema has a positive financial impact.
“I remember thinking about it a couple of years ago with the release of Black Panther in 2018. People said ‘No, you can’t make a superhero movie with a cast entirely Black! ‘ And then, look, it became the most successful film ever. How do you know that something is not working if it has never been done before? That kind of mentality has dominated so long because something like this has never been tested before. “
Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss and Laura Harrier
© Courtesy of Netflix
The atmosphere and details of the time are equally extraordinary. How did your stage costume help you get into the part?
“We had real vintage 1940s garments, therefore absolutely faithful to the period and able to transform you. When you wear socks, suspenders, dresses and then add the most perfect curls and red lipstick, the character comes to life. The gestures and the way of walking totally changed me. “
What was it like being in a cast that included legendary Broadway stars and big screen veterans?
“It is really surreal to find oneself side by side with Patti LuPone or on a set in a bathrobe. I also had a lot of scenes with Holland Taylor and she is an incredible actress with over 50 years of experience. It is impeccable at all clapperboard. Working with people of this caliber makes you a better artist in turn. After the shooting was over, I was very sad to say goodbye to my family Hollywood“.
Laura Harrier and the rest of the cast of Hollywood
© Courtesy of Netflix
How does it feel to have a series that debuts in a climate of great uncertainty like what we are experiencing now?
“We all understand the drama and strangeness of the moment. I would hope that, even without the epidemic, people would have watched our series anyway and would have identified themselves. But in this particular moment, I hope it has brought some positivity and represented a form of escape by transporting the spectators to another era “.
What do you do to feel good in lockdown?
“I have a little dog! She is sitting on my lap even now, she bites the sofa and tries to distract me. I’ve had it for a little over a month. I’ve always wanted a dog but before I didn’t have time. Now, at least, the positive side of the situation is that I am at home and I can take care of her. “
Hollywood is available on Netflix from May 1st