Laura Harrier has her hands full. Sure, she, like most of us, has been living in self-isolation for weeks, but her buzzy new show, Hollywood, is about to come out and, more importantly, she has a puppy to take care of. “Her name is Etta. She’s insane but so cute,” the 30-year-old tells us over the phone, her dog barking in the background as if in agreement. “I fostered her from this rescue foundation, but of course, I fell in love and couldn’t give her back.”
Hollywood, the latest binge-able Netflix series from Ryan Murphy (the brains behind The Politician, Glee and American Horror Story, to name a few) and frequent collaborator Ian Brennan, follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Harrier – who you’ll also recognize from roles in Spider-Man: Homecoming and BlacKkKlansman – stars as Camille Washington, a Black actress vying for a breakout role that doesn’t relegate her to playing a slave or racist caricature.
Enter the fantastical twist. Although the series, which debuts on May 1, features historical figures, it imagines an alternate reality, one that asks: What if the people who have been erased from historical narratives were able to tell their own stories?
How did you get involved with Hollywood?
First of all, anything that Ryan Murphy is doing, I would’ve wanted to sign up for, no matter what it was. He’s someone whose work I admire and I think he’s been at the forefront of television for a really long time. I got an audition for this “Untitled Hollywood Project,” so I went in and read the sides and didn’t hear anything. I just thought I didn’t get it. About four months later, I got a call saying that Ryan Murphy wanted to meet with me and I was going to do a chemistry read with Darren Criss [who plays Harrier’s love interest, Raymond]. I was very confused because I didn’t know I had auditioned for a Ryan Murphy project in the first place. [Laughs] But I went in, met Darren and Ryan was sitting silently in the corner. I was very nervous. The next morning I got offered the role, so I guess it went well.
Did you relate to your character, Camille?
I did. We’re very similar. Had I been born 80 years earlier, my life could have been parallel to hers. She’s someone who feels like an outsider and has felt marginalized in Hollywood. I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood when I got into this [industry], so we both entered very different worlds. And I really admire her bravery. It’s because of people like Camille – like Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne – who paved the way for Black women in Hollywood. I think about their bravery, the racism they experienced and all of the adversity that was in their way. But they persevered, and because of them, I can be here now. I wanted to pay homage to those women.
If marginalized people had been able to tell their own stories during the Golden Age, as Hollywood imagines, what do you think the industry would look like today?
It would be very different; the world would be a very different place. It’s hard to break outside of the box that society puts you into if you’ve never seen [what] that [looks like]. But I would like to think that had little Black girls been able to see themselves on screen as intelligent and glamourous that would have inspired them. A lot of movies would look very different. We’re seeing a lot of changes now and, hopefully, our show inspires those changes to happen further.
Do you have a memory of the first time you felt represented on-screen?
I never felt incredibly represented. But I am lucky enough to have grown up seeing people like Halle Berry and Angela Bassett or shows like Fresh Prince that I could somewhat connect to. My parents didn’t have that at all. I’m grateful to have had some sort of representation. Also, I didn’t really realize the lack of representation as a kid. You just become normalized to what you’re seeing and that’s the danger. That’s why it took so long for [any] change to happen.
Obviously, the show was filmed before we were living through a pandemic. Has our current moment in history made you view it from a different perspective?
In a way. I was doing interviews with Darren [Criss] and he made a really good comparison: The films of the ’40s were all made during or after wartime and were really reflective of that era. The Second World War really influenced the film industry. Now, our show is coming out during this big crisis, so that shines a different light on it. Movies and TV have always been a really important part of escapism. It’s important to have something to take people’s minds off of how heavy the world is. Our show does a good job of that. It really transports you to another time and place, it’s beautiful, fun and sexy. But at the same time, it’s really grounded in the realities of all the people who were marginalized and struggled throughout the history of Hollywood.
The show has an amazing ensemble cast, which includes legends like Holland Taylor and Patti LuPone. What did you learn from working with them?
I can genuinely say that I really, really liked everybody I was working with. We had such a good time. And getting to be on screen with women like Holland and Patti was such a gift. I really just tried to watch them and see how they carry themselves on set. They’re so professional and so on it. Every take was the same, they put so much into it and that makes you better as an actor. It just really elevates your performance.
You mentioned being a fan of Ryan Murphy’s work, and he’s known for frequently working with a lot of the same actors. If you could be in one of his other projects, which one would you choose?
I would love to do a little cameo in Pose. [That cast] is just so talented and fun. Janet [Mock, a writer, director and producer who has worked on both Pose and Hollywood] is a real-life hero of mine, so I’d love to work with her on that show.
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