For 23-year-old New Orleans native Kelvin Harrison Jr., the rhythm and blues of his home city couldn’t lure him away from acting. Roles in The Birth Of A Nation and Mudbound — both of which tackle historical racism and slavery in the South — displayed his dramatic capabilities. With three new films succeeding at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, we caught up with Kelvin to talk growing up, the cultural power of film and style tips from A$AP Rocky…
STYLE AND CULTURE
KELVIN HARRISON JR.'S STYLE FILE
By Sam Higgins, May 25, 2018
What attracts you to a script?
I gravitate towards things that make sense to me. I like to educate myself and I want to grow as a human being. If the story needs to be told and I would love to be part of that experience, those are the ones I respond to. If I’m going to meet people I admire, that’s a big factor too.
How does film play an important role inciting cultural change?
It’s a powerful tool to start conversations. It’s [about] coming to more of an understanding of where we are and how we move forward. That’s what film does in the most elegant way. It’s people that draw us to films; that’s why everyone responds to Call Me By Your Name. It’s a kid growing up and figuring it all out — that’s more fascinating and relatable and honestly, I think we grow more from that.
You star alongside A$AP Rocky in Monster. What’s that film about?
Monster is about finding power as a young man in America and in life. It’s a coming-of-age story in a lot of ways and peels back a lot of layers of exactly who people are and the stereotypes that we place on them. And it introduces these ideas for a young black kid too — it’s a precautionary tale to be more careful [in life].
Did you grab any fashion tips from him?
Seeing Rocky on set in purple velvet pants, I was like, "This dude is next level, I wanna get there." I didn’t realize fashion can be so much fun, I thought it was stuff that I wouldn’t look cool in. It’s about confidence I guess, so now I’ve been more interested in personal style, mixing and matching, shapes and lines. I’ve been shopping for cool pants. It’s another way to express yourself and feel good.
Starting out as an actor is tough. How do you deal with rejection?
In New Orleans, you don’t expect to get an opportunity like this. I expected it to be a fun hobby and maybe I’d get the chance to be on a movie set one day, so I’m already shocked and fulfilled in a lot of ways. Hearing "no" makes me go, "I never expected you to say yes, to be honest." I’m just grateful to be here.
How has growing up in New Orleans shaped you as a person?
It’s a small city so it’s a lot about community, family and culture. My parents are musicians and I play jazz piano and trumpet. It’s helped me appreciate passion and love art, and that helped me get into acting.
What made you decide to pursue acting over music?
I had to practice a lot with [my dad] and that turned me off [music]. Acting became a better medium for me to express myself. I was an extra in a movie, got upgraded and one thing led to the next. It was art for art. We’re all telling stories.
What do you want your legacy to be?
[To help] young black actors or young black men not necessarily be the big idea of masculinity, and to blur that line between what it means to be black versus what it means to be a kid. It’d be cool to be a part of that wave. If I can help to push open that door further, that’d be dope.