“All of my credits meant something different to me at different stages of my life, but one project that stands out in my memory is the film Chi-raq.” Teyonah Parris is reminiscing on the time she carried the character arc of the leading lady under the direction of Spike Lee, which led her to win the African-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress in 2015. But also she reminds me of the old saying that there are no small parts. Her journey began at the prestigious Juilliard School in NYC (which boasts the likes of Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Robin Williamsas alumnae), to which she attributes her appreciation for performance as a community art form. “When you go to a conservatory like Juilliard, what you take away is the discipline — what it takes to show up and do the work every day, how the art doesn’t fall together overnight, how every detail counts.”
Parris brings unmissable intellectual depth to her work, but applies her physical self to the same extent. She has a distinctive way of describing her time in theatre — in A Free Man of Colour and Slave Play — with terms of sport: “In A Free Man of Colour, I was straight out of school and that part of my instrument was way more worked out. It was a three-hour show performed eight times a week. In Slave Play, seven or eight years later, stamina was a challenge for me.” Perhaps it is the traumatic subject matter of race in both productions which makes the experience so somatic for Parris. As a Black actor, it allows little room for escapism. But she explains her affinity for these heavy themes in a positive light. “There is a consistency with my choices to look at stories that ask how Black people fit in a world that doesn’t aim to accommodate them — like Dear White People, Chi-raq, and If Beale Street Could Talk. These exist to make people question their bias- es and intentions. So when I, as the artist, choose this work, I set my expectations accordingly and I know it won’t all be peachy.”
(LEFT)Dress by SCHIAPARELLI and bracelet by JACOB & CO.(RIGHT) Top by BEBET, earrings by JENNIFER FISHER, necklace (worn on shoulder) by CARTIER, bracelet by JACOB & CO, stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS, gloves by GLAMORSTAR and skirt by BRITTON LITOW ARCHIVE.
Dress by SCHIAPARELLI and bracelet by JACOB & CO. Top by BEBET, earrings by JENNIFER FISHER, necklace (worn on shoulder) by CARTIER, bracelet by JACOB & CO, stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS, gloves by GLAMORSTAR and skirt by BRITTON LITOW ARCHIVE.
Recently, Parris has set her sights on horror and sci-fi. Next year she stars in the contemporary remake of the cult classic horror film Candyman, written by Jordan Peele, the force of brilliance behind Get Out. It goes without saying that remakes of such a star-studded calibre are big shoes to fill, particularly in the horror genre where fans expect both the familiarity of the original and the shock factor of the horror. In preparation for Candyman, she navigated the latter through the innocuous backdrop of normalcy which is Peele’s signature take on horror. “I play a young gallerist in Chicago, so my first point of research was to look at real women of the art world — what backgrounds they had, what their education was like, their style and decorum. Nothing overtly related to horror.”
Also in 2021, Parris will star in the Netflix sci-fi film They Cloned Tyrone alongside John Boyega and Jamie Foxx. And as kismet has it, she is set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as superhero Monica Rambeau, a character for which she had been fancast on twitter years before landing the actual role in WandaVision, due for release on January 15th. “It was always my plan to explore all of these mediums and genres, to reinvent myself every time,” she says, explaining that being cast as a superhero is one of many bucket list items which have been successfully crossed off. “To do the work that I have been able to do, though it is emotionally taxing, is something I am incredibly grateful for. I feel joy to be able to live out my childhood dreams.”
How does one find their own definition of success through all the noise of external acclaim? By choice, she explains. Choosing roles wisely ahead of pouring her body and mind into their stories is an important aspect of self-care, which gives her the ultimate satisfaction: peace of mind.
(LEFT) Coat by PRADA and stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS. (RIGHT) Jacket by LAQUAN SMITH, stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS, shoes (throughout) by LE SILLA, gloves by DOOWAY and earrings (throughout) by JENNIFER FISHER.
Coat by PRADA and stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS. Jacket by LAQUAN SMITH, stockings by SWEDISH STOCKINGS, shoes (throughout) by LE SILLA, gloves by DOOWAY and earrings (throughout) by JENNIFER FISHER.