Read the interview after the jump:
Hi, Kat! We’re delighted to have you at Design SCENE. Tell us more about yourself. Who is Kat Graham? – I’m especially excited to be a part of DESIGN SCENE because you’re a magazine that focuses on design. You bridge the two worlds of fashion and architecture in a really original way. I’d like to think I do the same thing. Bridging all of my worlds into one idea of what my version of an artist is.
Take us back to your beginnings in showbiz. You started out very young. Did acting come naturally to you? Was it something you always wanted to do? What was your journey like to
become an actress? – Nothing I do comes naturally to me. I really want to make sure that people know that because I actually have to work very hard to be decent, and have to overwork to be great. I am fortunate that I have great coaches and that I take my work very seriously. Acting was definitely something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve suffered as much if not more than I’ve celebrated, but it’s been worth it. I don’t think there’s a journey to becoming an actress, maybe a professional one. I’ve always been an actress, and at four years old that was the decision I had made right up until I booked my breakout role. I started off doing plays, then commercials, then Disney, then network shows, while simultaneously being a backup dancer, and also doing extra work, guest star roles, music videos, whatever I could get my hands on. In 2007 I was touring and making beats working with Will.I.Am, focusing on my music. When I got back from tour, I was totally broke quickly after, and went back into the auditioning scene and that’s when I booked Vampire Diaries.
Then while simultaneously filming Vampire Diaries, I was releasing music on Interscope Records, and touring as much as I could, while doing movies during hiatus like Honey. The show wrapped three years ago and I’ve done about 12 projects since.
Nothing I do comes naturally to me. I really want to make sure that people know that because I actually have to work very hard to be decent, and have to overwork to be great. I am fortunate that I have great coaches and that I take my work very seriously.
What was it like the first time you were in front of a camera? – I don’t remember really ever feeling a camera. In fact, it’s been my job to forget that it’s even there. I can’t tell you the feeling of nervousness, because that would mean that I’d have to acknowledge its presence. But I’ve definitely had plenty of nerves before filming and after.
What was your worst audition ever? – My worst audition ever would’ve had to have been when I was a kid, and I had my front baby teeth that fell out, and I was using a flipper (which is fake teeth to put in while you’re new teeth grow back). It was a candy bar audition and they asked me to take a bite of the candy bar, and when I took the candy bar out, my teeth went along with it. That was so humiliating for me, and I wound up not getting the part surprisingly.
And the best one? – My best audition would’ve had to have been for the Netflix movie How It Ends. John Papsidera, who is this amazing casting director auditioned me for the role, and he was so committed that he helped me get in the role so that much that I was shaking. It was truly one of my favorite auditions. I felt totally transported to the end of the world. I got that one. Thank you John.
Is life in showbiz what you expected it to be? – Definitely not. When I started, I had no idea how hard I would have to work. And even when I got to a mile stone, there were five other hurdles in front of me. I’ve had to do so much soul searching. The people that you start the journey with are not always the people that you end it with, and for me, that’s been particularly heartbreaking. The sacrifices I’ve had to make, not going to high school, not going to college, giving up time with my friends, relationships falling apart, just to do my art. It’s definitely not what I expected. As they say no one said it was going to be easy, they said it would be worth it.
How do you prepare for a role? What are the first things that you do when you get a script?
The first thing I do once I’ve read the script and made some notes is I call my coach and mentor Ivana Chubbuck and we get to work. We break down the entire script with the Chubbuck technique, and then I will go memorize it with that work in mind. There’s a lot of inner work, backstory, emotional dialogue etc. that goes into every role, whether it’s a drama or comedy. Whether it’s an audition, or a film I’m starting, we work the same. She is definitely my partner in this journey. I think I
would’ve fallen apart a long time ago without her.
The people that you start the journey with are not always the people that you end it with, and for me, that’s been particularly heartbreaking.
Your breakout role was in The Vampire Diaries, playing Bonnie Bennett. What was it like for you embodying the role of Bonnie? In what way did playing Bonnie influence your further acting career and are there any parallels between the character and yourself? – Playing that role was one of the hardest and greatest roles of my life. Embodying her was the real challenge because I had to deal with things that I was experiencing that were parallels to her in a very honest way, sometimes being completely emotionally unprepared to but having to do it anyways. It was the longest role and will be the longest role I have ever played in my life. That was an eight season show. I was on it from the pilot to the series finale. We shot 22 episodes a year, which is 10 out of 12 months, for eight years. When you are in your 20s, that is really an age to get to know yourself, and I was able to truly get to know my power through this character. I am so supremely grateful of the incredible audience internationally that it has brought me. There were definitely parallels emotionally, but in regards to her choices, I don’t know that we would have made the same ones, but who’s to say. Who I am today is very different than who I was 11 years ago when I started.
Your latest movie Cut Throat City came out in theaters recently. Tell us more about the movie and your role. – Cut Throat City follows a group of young men from the ninth Ward who commit a heist post hurricane Katrina. The movie was directed by RZA, and I play Shameik Moore’s wife Demyra. I love this film. I got to work with actors that I’ve loved for so long, like Ethan Hawke, Eiza Gonzalez, Wesley Snipes, and Terrence Howard.
How do you relate to your character, Demyra? – Demyra will do anything for the ones she loves. She’s a protector, and I am too. I’m fiercely loyal to those that I love. Also my mom and I weren’t that much better off than Demyra when I was younger. I spent the majority of my life living in small apartments in rough neighborhoods. We definitely didn’t have much money, and there were moments where I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from. Playing her was also a nod to my mom and how strong she was. I didn’t realize we were poor until I got older.
Do your on-screen experiences ever get under your skin? – I would say my off screen experiences have definitely gotten under my skin. I get frustrated if I ever have to deal with actors who don’t want to do the work, or are always on their phone on set, not committed, rude to crew etc. Recently I haven’t really had to deal with any of those issues. On screen the only thing that gets under my skin is my character.
Speaking about characters, is there a role you have not played but would like to someday? Or perhaps a movie you would really like to be part of? – One of the films that I’ve been producing is the Tammy Terrell biopic. I’ve been working with one of my favorite people, producer Brad Krevoy, who I’ve now done a couple movies with. We have such an incredible script and such a great support around the film, I’m excited for that to be one of the next projects everyone sees from me.
Do you re-watch any of the shows or films you’re in? – Only if my family makes me. I’ve actually only ever seen the Vampire Diaries once. I’ll watch it once like I’m listening to a song mix, to hear what takes were used etc. I watch to study the performance, and then I move on. I have so many dreams and goals, I don’t like to self obsess. My job is self possessive enough.
What’s the last TV show you binge watched? And what is your favourite show currently on TV? – I love to binge watch TV. I’m a huge Ozark fan. I really loved Mark Romanek’s Tales From The Loop as well. I just started getting into The Third Day with Jude Law.
You’ve also had quite the career as a musician since releasing your first song in 2002. From R’n’B to pop with disco influences, I’ve read somewhere that your diverse ethnicity and early life in Europe really shaped your music interests. – Definitely. I was going back-and-forth to Europe as a little girl and I was born in Switzerland so there’s definitely a lot of that influence. I was listening to massive attack and jazz class, and then going across the pond and discovering the Spice Girls and UK garage. I’d come back and be dancing for Missy Elliott and then be discovering Sergio Mendes when I’d travel to Brazil.
We are all individuals, with a unique perspective, and a very specific outlook on our lives, and the lives of those around us. I think believing and knowing that you have the power to make a difference in any injustices that you witness, is a great place to start.
Can you name a few artists that have influenced your music the most? – The artists that have influenced my music the most I would say have been Babyface, Prince, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Stromae.
Is there any music genre or style that you would like to explore lyrically or sonically in future endeavors? – I’ve been exploring it on the new album. It’s very trip hop, Portishead. It’s sonically different than anything I’ve ever done, but closer to the original music that I was producing as a kid.
What’s on Kat Graham’s playlist? – I’m going through an intense 80s music phase, so anything that was in a comedy or drama in the 80s is on my playlist. Cindy Lauper, Lisa Lisa and the cult jam, Belinda Carlisle all of that.
Fashion and beauty also seem to play an important role in your life. What is it that you enjoy most about fashion? – I enjoy self-expression. I’m not interested in what’s the latest trend, I’m interested in expressing my style through the newest fashion. It’s all about self-expression for me. If I don’t get to express myself, wearing anything other than a T-shirt and jeans seems pointless.
Who are your favorite designers? – Jean Paul Gaultier, Maria Lucia Grazia, Christopher John Rogers, Schiaparelli, and Rick Owens.
You have recently done a great deal of high profile jobs in fashion and beauty, with Dior and L’Oreal to name a few. What does it feel like to work with such giants, and is it something you enjoy doing? – Specifically L’Oreal and Dior were my dream goals. I’ve loved Christian Dior forever because that was always a fashion house that challenged the female aesthetic of how we as women wanted to feel. I love L’Oreal because they are a company that promotes self-worth at any age, in any shape, and any color. I love working with brands that are in alignment with my values. I actually don’t work with brands that aren’t. So I have to say that yes I really enjoy collaborating and helping elevate their messaging in any way that I can, to whoever I can.
What’s your morning beauty routine usually like? – I’ve broken it down online before a couple times so if anyone wants a full rundown, they can definitely find it online. But to be brief, I love a great cleanser and a great lotion. I don’t wear a heavy foundation and really focus on keeping my skin healthy.
You’re a strong advocate for human rights, and over the years you’ve been quite outspoken about several important causes. From working with UNHCR since 2013, being a council member for GLAAD, Governor for the Recording Academy’s Atlanta Chapter to name a few. As a celebrity, you certainly have a huge platform to shed light on some serious issues and bring them to a larger audience. What are the challenges you’re facing while working such important causes and is there a pressing issue that you feel like doesn’t get enough attention at the moment. – Right now in the U.S., I would encourage members of this community to pay attention to what is happening regarding social justice. I would encourage them to look at, and eventually support, concrete ways to address police brutality – and the subsequent lack of accountability – within certain police departments, as well as ways to bring equality within our judicial system and beyond. Several organizations are putting forward concrete plans of action, such as the Breathe Act, to address these issues. Hopefully, our country can move forward in a more unified, equitable way as a result.
On the global stage, I would encourage members of the Inside by Time community to look at some of the effects of the current health crisis on immigration policies. Many countries have closed their borders to prevent further spread of COVID-19. However, I believe that we need to remain vigilant to make sure these steps are not a way for governments to engage in xenophobic behaviors in the medium to long term. This would be particularly detrimental to vulnerable people in desperate need for resettlement opportunities.
Besides spreading awareness, what do you think are the best ways for everyday folk to help out? – Nobody is everyday folk. We are all individuals, with a unique perspective, and a very specific outlook on our lives, and the lives of those around us. I think believing and knowing that you having the power to make a difference in any injustices that you witness, is a great place to start. whether you are focused on sustainability, animal rights, human rights, climate change etc., find the thing that moves you and do what you can to make this world a more peaceful loving place.
And finally, what’s next for Kat Graham?
My latest film called Operation Christmas Drop is out now. It’s a Netflix film that I did with Alexander Ludwig, and directed by Martin Wood. I play a congresswoman‘s aid that travels down to Guam to shut down the Anderson Air Force base’s mission. It’s a really great romantic comedy and I’m excited for everyone to see it.
I’ve been producing and writing a lot. My partner and I just launched our production company, Frequency Films. I also have been focusing on Modern Nirvana which is a wellness group that I co-founded with Bryant wood and Frank Elaridi. The goal of Modern Nirvana is to be a catalyst for transformation in people’s lives, to inspire them to take control of their spiritual and physical wellbeing, by sharing our personal experiences as well as useful information on our YouTube channel and at our annual conference.
The goal of Modern Nirvana is to be a catalyst for transformation in people’s lives, to inspire them to take control of their spiritual and physical wellbeing, by sharing our personal experiences as well as useful information on our YouTube channel and at our annual conference.
Keep up with Kat on Instagram @katgraham