“Imagine getting kicked out of school for smoking some weed,” Corey Knight laughs over Zoom, shaking his head. “You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be an actor…’ I thought I had to go to college for this. You start getting in your feelings and looking down.” Turning to his mentor, fellow actor Jamie Hector, for guidance after the incident, the experience became a catalyst in his career. “You just gotta have that one person, whether it be a mentor or stranger or friend, or anybody,” he says. “Somebody to just say listen, it’s an obstacle — you jump over that bad boy and you keep it pushing.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Knight tells me that when he was a teenager, his uncompromising belief that he would become an actor helped speak it into existence. “And growing up, 16, in Brooklyn — East Flatbush at that — not a lot of people are going around saying they’re going to be actors. I wouldn’t say it’s frowned upon, but it’s just not the thing that a straight male from New York, East Flatbush is going to be saying, and doing, and taking so seriously,” he muses. “People don’t really believe they can manifest something so beautiful until you’re actually saying it every day, putting the work in — because when you remind yourself every day, you’re going to tell yourself ‘OK, I need to do something to make this happen.’”
Last year his hard work and manifestation paid off, when he was cast in Luca Guadagnino’s hypnotic series We Are Who We Are. Exploring themes of love, friendship, teenage anguish and generational divisions, it’s a coming-of-age story that sees Knight’s character Craig and his tight-knit friendship group navigate their teenage years living at a US military base in Italy.
Jacket by LOURDES LEATHER
Jacket by LOURDES LEATHER
For Knight, the audition process to get there was somewhat of an anomaly. “I sat in a room with everybody and everyone was talking to me truthfully, trying to get to know me,” he recalls. “They asked me about my family, they asked me about what I do — everything that had to do with my character traits… And I realised why that was — because everybody has a similarity to their character.” He’s quick to reply after I ask about these parallels. “I feel like my similarity to Craig would have to be his love, his need to be around his family, his need for his family to be OK,” he explains. “That’s something I feel like we definitely share. We don’t want to have any kind of negative energy or bad vibes in our inner circle.” Though his family were initially surprised by his career choice (“I’m sure almost everybody that got into [acting], their family’s like ‘What about a lawyer or a doctor? Or a job?!’”), he attributes his success to their encouragement, and later emphasises: “I only have this one goal in my life — I want to be an actor, take care of my family, and take care of my community.”
However, the similarities with his character do occasionally fall short. When asked about the biggest challenge surrounding the role, the New Yorker pauses. “The biggest challenge would have to be the nudity, that was like, [Craig’s] thing,” he chuckles. “I’m not the guy to whip off my draws and jump into a pool, it’s just not my kind of thing.” Yet these experiences are integral to the series. High in energy and surges of adrenaline, the show maps out an almost tangible depiction of the teenage experience, capturing the array of emotions intertwined with release. “Some people just need to let it all out — dance, scream, break something, you know? Go crazy just once so things could sizzle back down,” Knight muses. “I think when kids just like let go, they let go. So that was my biggest challenge, however it was also understandable and made a lot of sense to the story.”
With We Are Who We Are premiering on September 14th on HBO, Knight’s currently taking a break, readjusting to our new reality and staying healthy. A short film he acted in, Not Black Enough, is due to be released at a film festival in October too, but for now, Knight is enjoying simply spending time with his family. “I’m pretty sure some more news is going to pop up on me,” he adds knowingly, though is reluctant to divulge. “There’s always going to be that excitement of my show coming out, but I’m also always going to wonder what challenges come after.”