The Dope-via-Disney Channel film prodigy speaks with Clare Considine about growing up, making a statement through her work and dream roles.
Taken from the 10th Birthday Issue of Wonderland
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When Kiersey Clemons was 15 years old, she landed her first main part – in the school production of Grease. “I played Sandy,” she explains. “But I actually wanted to be Rizzo.” Clemons is a cherubic beauty. She has the sort of face that’s made to play Sandy; or the good girl in a hip-hop video (check her out in the promo film for Trey Songz’ banger, “SmartPhones”, where she plays the prime steak while he laments going out for hamburgers). But in Dope, out in late September, she’s a lesbian punk who dresses like Tyler, the Creator and “likes white-boy shit”. This is her first major film role alongside the likes of A$AP Rocky and Zoe Kravitz, and it is decidedly “Rizzo”.
The 21-year-old was born in Florida – “not anywhere like Miami,” she explains. She’d always
been creative – writing poems and songs – and Clemons knew that she wanted to act. A couple of musicals in and she was ready to pursue a career on the silver screen: “When I was 16 I found an agency, and I made my mum take me to them so that I could finally act”.
She speaks with refreshing warmth about her time working on Disney Channel shows like Shake It Up and Austin & Ally. “I think that it was a cool transition to start out in that,” she observes. “I feel like my work has grown with me. I never feel like what I’m doing isn’t right or appropriate at the time that I’m doing it.” It perhaps helps that she felt no pressure to do a Terry Richardson shoot or a stint in rehab to show the world that she’s now a fully-fledged grown-up. Her coming-of-age came in the form of a small but impactful part in the game-changing Amazon Prime series, Transparent.
Directed by Six Feet Under’s Jill Soloway and starring Jeffrey Tambor as a retired college professor and father of three who’s decided in his twilight years to become a woman, it’s clear the show was a seminal moment for her. The show came out in a pre-Caitlyn Jenner USA and was a proud, strutting statement for the transgender community. In it Clemons plays Bianca, the stepdaughter of Tambor’s daughter’s lesbian lover.
Is it a coincidence, I ask, that Clemons (who is straight) keeps finding herself in roles that are on a gender-bending tip? “I assume that getting the roles happened to be part of my purpose,” she explains. “It’s kept following me, so I’m not gonna ignore it. I’ve just kind of snuck myself into that community.” This high-minded attitude towards the responsibility that comes with her art recurs frequently during our conversation. “It’s really cool when, through your work, you’re able to make a statement,” she enthuses. And Clemons has a lot of statements to make.
“I got offered a lot of stuff after Dope that was unintentionally sexist or racist,” she says. The cosy world of Disney gave her a sheltered view of Hollywood opportunities (“They need all the ethnicity they can get!”). Now, she’s sick of being offered the part of best friend, roomy or female lead in a film packed with males. She wants the studios to create more progressive roles and she’s not afraid to turn down opportunities to make that happen. “I’m never gonna bite the hand that feeds me,” she says. “But if you’re feeding me poison, that’s when I’m gonna be like ‘bitch, hold up.’”
So what sort of parts is she after? “I really love what Brittany Murphy did,” she remarks. “She was so good at playing those girls who are charming no matter how fucked up they are.” She sees a future full of nuanced characters: irrespective of gender, colour or sexuality, they are complex. “We need to love more fucked up people,” is her rallying cry. We need to love more Rizzos.
Shirt by PINK STITCH
Photography: Charlotte Hadden
Fashion: Sammy and Judy
Words: Clare Considine
Fashion assistant: Dominique Miller