Aja Naomi King on the myth of catty women
"Even in audition rooms, where you would think there would be this heightened sense of competition—not true!"
I’m taking a post-interview selfie with How To Get Away With Murder actress Aja Naomi King, when a notification from one of my friends pops up on the top of my screen. “Women forever,” reads the message, which was sent to our all-girl group chat. “That’s perfect,” says King. “Call the article that.”
It’s International Women’s Day, and King, a L’Oréal Paris ambassador, is in Toronto to host the third annual L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Gala. “It’s such an amazing program,” says King of the initiative, which honours ten Canadian women for their humanitarian efforts. “We have women in our communities who are constantly putting their energy and time—and sometimes even their lives—on the line for someone else, and for them to be noticed for that effort is just so important.”
Here, we discuss the myth of catty women, walking the runway at Paris Fashion Week and what it’s like to have Viola Davis in your corner.
We’re celebrating women today, but how can we be more supportive of women year-round?
“By empowering and acknowledging them. It’s funny, growing up, I always heard about women being catty and tearing each other down. I’ve never had that experience in my life. Even in audition rooms, where you would think there would be this heightened sense of competition, [that’s not the case]. We all desperately want what we believe is going to be some life-changing part, but the second someone is like, ‘Oh hey, where’s the bathroom?’ or ‘How do you pronounce this word?’ or ‘Does anyone have a brush?’ we immediately stand up for each other and help each other out.”
What is it like working with Viola Davis and everyone else at Shondaland?
“Being treated like a peer by them, it’s made me feel so valuable as an artist. [Viola] sees my progress and uplifts me and inspires me. Especially at Hollywood parties, where everyone is so famous and la dee dah, to be able to go up to the person that everyone in the room respects and have her treat me like I’m special—I can’t even begin to tell you how good that makes me feel. Especially in those spaces, which can be so uncomfortable and overwhelming. She instantly puts me at ease.”
In a 2017 speech, you said that you felt like the root of your talent was a tree growing in someone else’s yard and that the fruit it bore did not belong to you. Does that feeling still resonate two years later?
“I have my ups and my downs. It is a constant struggle, but I have gotten better at quieting the voice in my head that says I’m not enough. I try to believe more in the other voice, the one that says it’s ok to be nervous and it’s ok to be scared and still go do [what you want to do]. It’s not the kind of thing that I think is ever just going to go away. As long as I can acknowledge the fear and move forward, that’s all that matters.”
What helps you believe in that positive voice?
“Meditation, being still with myself and thinking about how much I’ve already experienced. The reality for me is, if everything was to stop now—I’ve experienced so much, it would be ok. I’m happy!”
That L’Oréal Paris floating runway at Paris Fashion Week seemed like a cool experience…
“It on the Seine! It was crazy. That was my first time being in a fashion show. It’s something I never would have even thought to have wanted. It was one of the best moments of my life—and terrifying. The week earlier I had hurt my foot. But I knew the adrenaline would kick in, so I put on these crazy high-heeled boots and did it.”
Did the models and other L’Oréal ambassadors give you any tips backstage?
“Yeah—don’t fall!” [Laughs]