Wonderland.

KELVIN HARRISON JR.

After listening to his “spirit” to turn to the stage after a prodigal childhood as a musician, the actor’s every move is magic.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland cow print

All clothing SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland cow print
All clothing SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO

Taken from the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

The 25-year-old New Orlean grew up in a musical family, originally studying jazz instrumental and shying away from acting. “My mum would do this off-Broadway show called Where the Girls Were, where she’d play some of the biggest divas,” he explains. “She played Tina Turner, and she played Diana Ross, and she was so good at it. To be able to see that, and see my dad perform – they were these larger than life personalities on stage. It was weird because I felt like I could never match that.”

Imagining Harrison Jr. “too shy to even speak in front of people” draws a blank. His voice rings with self awareness and he speaks with an authenticity that invites you to take a perch on the periphery of his thoughts. “I’d just grown insecure — growing up in New Orleans, the school system isn’t the best — about my education and how well I spoke and if I knew what I was talking about… I played music because I did understand feeling,” he reasons. “I did understand improvisation. I did understand trying to tell a story.” His “transition into this other world” came when he took a part in a musical and eventually he dropped out of his marketing major at college, despite cautionary tales from his parents of the plights of life as a starving artist. “But that little spirit inside me was like, ‘Be quiet! You’re acting!’” He cackles – always sparing enough seconds between anecdotes for deep-bellied guffaws.

The “spirit” was right, as they usually are. Now, after parts in 2017’s Academy Award-nominated Mudbound and 2018’s Sundance hit Monsters and Men — both wrenching stories charged with racist brutality set almost a century apart — Harrison Jr.’s taking a starring role in the forthcoming Luce, set for UK release 8th November. “I’m like Anne Hathaway getting ready to go to work to see Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada,” he reminisces the day he read the script in 2017, when he’d first moved to LA, “and I’m putting on my clothes and putting on my shoes, preparing for my next audition while reading the script and brushing my teeth at the same time, and literally gasping, like, ‘No! What?!’ Calling my friend like: ‘Girl, you need to read this script!’”

Understandably so, Luce being an exercise in mind games, manipulation and the lingering, painful strength of expectation and assumption. Adopted into an American family (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) from Eritrea’s war zone where he was trained to be a child soldier, Luce is an example student and high school basketball captain. When he turns in a questionable paper about the necessity of violence to his teacher Mrs Wilson, played by the inimitable Octavia Spencer, she searches his locker and finds illegal fireworks – but there’s a catch, the basketball team often share lockers. After her home is broken into, accusations are fired and a whirlwind of blame begins while the audience is left to question which Luce is real – the potential threat, or the straight A student.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland suit
Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland red coat

(LEFT) Jacket and trousers both COMME DES GARÇONS HOMME PLUS and top STYLIST’S OWN
(RIGHT) Shirt ANN DEMEULEMEESTER and jacket COURRÈGES

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland suit
Jacket and trousers both COMME DES GARÇONS HOMME PLUS and top STYLIST’S OWN
Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland red coat
Shirt ANN DEMEULEMEESTER and jacket COURRÈGES

“The role was so complex and so contradictory,” Harrison Jr. says. “It’s so exciting to see a young black kid that has agency and has a voice, and that isn’t scared to knock anyone that comes in his way over to get what he wants.” He compares some of his favourite films in one swooping breath: Girl, Interrupted, Black Swan, A Clockwork Orange and Rosamund Pike’s incendiary turn in Gone Girl. “Having the duality of a character and playing two people almost code-switching and really transforming made it interesting.”

Next, he’s reuniting with Trey Edward Shults, director of 2017’s It Comes at Night for another A24 production, Waves. “Yeah, it’s so good,” he whispers. “Trey is brilliant, he’s so young… What I love about the movie, he adds so much heart. He’s so pure, and in every role, every actor that was cast, you can just feel an overflowing of love.” He tells me the film swirls with conflict, crossing romance and teenage love, into parental guidance and forgiveness. Lucas Hedges and Sterling K. Brown take roles, exploring “this outpouring of understanding what masculinity is, and toxic masculinity”, as well as Euphoria’s Alexa Demie and Taylor Russell. “I can’t wait for people to see [Russell], she’s so good it’s not even funny,” he promises.

“I can’t really speak about the story details,” he apologises in one last lightning speed sentence. “I would if I could, ‘cause it’s so good! But just know I play a wrestler. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.” And as fast as he arrived, he’s gone. Momentary magic, the same off-screen, as on.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland chaps

Jacket and tie both GMBH, trousers TELFAR and shoes HAIDER ACKERMANN

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland chaps
Jacket and tie both GMBH, trousers TELFAR and shoes HAIDER ACKERMANN
Photography
Keith Oshiro
Fashion
Jordan Boothe
Words
Lily Walker
Grooming
Andrea Pezzillo at Exclusive Artists using Phyto Paris
Production
Federica Barletta
Photography assistant
Andre Mampourian
Fashion assistant
Jessica Harris
KELVIN HARRISON JR.

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