There's no shortage of beautiful women in Hollywood, but 27-year-old actress Laura Harrier is something special. The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based star started out her professional career as a model, before deciding acting was her calling around three years ago. This summer marks her first major role in a Hollywood blockbuster; she's starring in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest adaption of Marvel's cult 1962 comic book series. This week on Semaine, you'll find her in a short film, playing the role of a young actress auditioning to play the poet Oscar Wilde. Directed by Zoë Le Ber, the short was filmed at L'Hotel in Paris, which is the very same place Wilde drew his last breaths in 1900.
Tackling the role of a man in Semaine's short is the latest in a series of impressive feats by Harrier, who can already boast that she's the first woman of colour to play Peter Parker's love interest in a Spider-Man film (approximately seven have been released over the years to date). It's a Hollywood milestone that's not lost on the actress, who says she turned up to the first audition with director Jon Watts, just for the experience.
"I never thought I'd be considered seriously for the role," she recalls over the phone from her home in Red Hook, one of Brooklyn's more secluded neighbourhoods. "There were about 50 other girls in the waiting room and I just looked at the casting as good practice for me." Needless to say, she was surprised when her phone rang with a call back to screen test with the film's superhero, Tom Holland a few weeks later. "It was surreal then and it still feels surreal now," she admits.
But Harrier's stardom, for everyone except her, feels predetermined. To state the obvious, there are her looks (naturally lithe, tall, and flawless as a previous career in modelling would suggest), but more than that, it's her down-to-earth attitude and clear love of the craft that's most outstanding when you speak to her. It's likely part of the reason why directors like Watts and Steve McQueen—who handpicked Harrier to star in his 2015 HBO series, Codes of Conduct, while she was still honing her talent at New York's William Esper Studio drama school—have already been drawn to her. "My upbringing was very idyllic, typical Midwestern American. I don't have famous parents and I didn't have any industry contacts to help me get here," she reflects when probed about her success thus far. "I didn't grow up thinking being a famous actress was an option. It's still hard to wrap my head around how I've got here."
Harrier's tight-lipped when it comes to sharing her career goals because she's "superstitious like that and doesn't want to jinx anything," but she's happy to talk for hours about the "magic" of filmmaking. When asked what draws her to a script, she pauses, before simply saying "anything that I think will resonate with people." She's slated to complete a heavy schedule of promotion over the next few months for Spider-Man, and says she still hasn't quite decided on what her next role will be. ("There are a few things on the table, but I'm still feeling it out.")
One thing that is guaranteed to happen this year, is the solidification of Laura's profile, which is already increasing tenfold by the day. After attending a series of big-name shows at New York Fashion Week in September 2016, her name became synonymous with Who's That Girl-style headlines in publications like Vogue, and last month she had her first brush with the paparazzi. ("A bizarre and disturbing experience in Los Angeles, following a 12-hour flight from Paris with greasy hair.”) As fame increases, the fashion stakes inevitably get higher too—which is why Harrier's already tapped a stylist to help her navigate the red-carpet circuit. "I like clothes and I love dressing up, so I have a lot of opinions about what I do and don't want to wear," she explains.
As for the pressures of Hollywood to look a certain way, Laura's yet to experience any, but she's not immune to the self-imposed stress too many women put on themselves to conform to an unrealistic notion of beauty. "There's this standard of perfection that all women are held to, not just in Hollywood," she says to wrap up the call with Semaine. "I think the conversation has begun, but I hope that in my time as an actress I'll be able to help broaden the bar, not just for black women, but for all women. Maybe one day, people in magazines and on movie screens will actually look like they do in real life."
Up until that moment you'll find Harrier out of the spotlight, blowing off steam in one of her more unusual pastimes: ceramics. "I went through my party girl phase and now I just get down and dirty with clay," she laughs as she’s puts down the phone. "Call me crazy, but I find it relaxing."
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.