The Little Fires Everywhere actor on unapologetically taking up space in the industry and striving for better representation on screen.
All clothing talent’s own.
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They say youth is wasted on the young, but that’s hardly the case with Lexi Underwood. Having started out in theatre before picking up multiple film roles and even founding her own production company on her 15th birthday, she is quickly making a name for herself amongst Hollywood’s new wave of young talent. Still just 16, she’s recently taken on the role of Pearl Warren in Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, a show that pulls us into a small town in 90s America through richly drawn portraits of mothers and daughters — only to set the whole thing up in flames.
Underwood describes the “honour” of working alongside Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington on the show, and how it has built her confidence. Not one to miss any opportunity, she not only pulls off the complexities of her character with impressive ease, but has also spent time shadowing the creative team of women. “It was so empowering. The biggest thing that I took away was how to unapologetically take up space in the industry; to never be timid when I come on to set and to never be afraid of my ideas,” she tells me, highlighting that the experience has also reinforced her commitment to depicting diversity on screen. “Growing up, I saw a lack of representation for girls that look like me…” The philosophy behind her own company, Ultimate Dreamer Productions, is to make the “complete opposite” true. “I want to continue to tell stories like Little Fires Everywhere, where you see strong women who are struggling and human and flawed, but in the end know that they’re so much more than their circumstances,” Underwood says.
All clothing talent’s own.
The circumstances of her character Pearl include constantly moving homes with her loving but mysterious mother Mia (Washington), and the challenge of navigating microaggressions at her new, predominantly white school. Watching how Pearl deals with the tensions between innocence and experience at this age, with nuances around race, class, and gender sharply shaded in, becomes a true highlight of the show. Discussing its portrayal of teenagehood and all its complexities, Underwood praises the show’s creators’ rare decision to “cast teens to play teens,” which “brought a certain authenticity to the story, because we are all currently going through the same things that our characters are going through.”
Though Pearl’s journey is a slow process of cultivating self-assurance that Underwood herself seems leagues ahead in, she is not one to judge her character. There are times, she explains, when it is easier for Pearl to “sit back and bite [her] tongue” in ways it’s hard to imagine the strong-willed Underwood would in real life. But, she says, “the more that I got connected to [Pearl], the more I could understand where she was coming from, and her need for these friendships and infatuations that she has.” Mapping out their similarities, Underwood would write poetry in character and curated an extensive playlist of tracks Pearl would love, which she says all helped in preparing for the part.
Looking forward, it’s clear that Underwood feels at ease not only dreaming about, but unapologetically setting out what she wants from her career. When I ask what her dream role would be she doesn’t mince her words, telling me decisively: “I really would love to play Beyoncé in a biopic if they do one.” It’s refreshing to see the results of nurturing young talent in the industry, and though the world is turning upside down, it is still very much Lexi Underwood’s oyster.