Kelvin Harrison Jr. knows how to make an entrance. The day we meet on a video call to discuss his whirlwind year, he’s already had several interviews about his portrayal of legendary blues guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King in the highly anticipated Elvis biopic, based on the life of famed musician Elvis Presley. As I prepare to connect for our conversation, I anticipate the usual quick hello and exchange of pleasantries before diving in. Instead, when Harrison Jr emerges on my laptop screen he’s fully dancing it out to Cassie’s 2006 bop, “Me & U.”
“We’re here to talk about self-care, right? It starts with Cassie, bay-beeee!” he says. “It’s just me and you, we gon’ talk about this self-care.”
For the New Orleans-raised actor, whose connection to music runs deep as the son of a classically trained jazz saxophonist and a vocalist, stretching his creative muscles in Baz Luhrmann’s imagining of Elvis’s life was an intriguing prospect. He was tasked with bringing the spirit of B.B. King, an icon responsible for classics like “Rock Me Baby,” to life onscreen while also exploring the nuance of King’s relationship to Elvis during the Jim Crow era of legalized segregation.
Harrison Jr.’s introduction ties perfectly to a recurring theme while chatting with the actor: It’s satisfying to keep people on their toes. “When you start overthinking things, that’s when it gets weird,” he says, meditating on the fun of embracing his inner chameleon and remaining present in the moment. “When it’s natural, that’s when your most authentic self shines through and people get a better sense of who you are—or maybe they don’t,” he laughs. “Because I feel like people don’t have any clue who I am, but that’s fantastic to me.”
Something that has remained delightfully static for the actor, though, is his way of adopting self-care practices that keep him grounded and rejuvenate the mind and body. Throughout the ongoing pandemic—whether filming in Australia with his Elvis cast, making fringe quarantine art, or prepping for exciting upcoming projects like voicing Scar in the Barry Jenkins-led Lion King prequel or playing Jean-Michel Basquiat in an anticipated biopic called Samo Lives, being able to easily access cozy and joyful ways to decompress has been a must for the actor.
Ahead, Harrison Jr. talks about unwinding while filming Elvis, how the pandemic shook up his usual hair care routine, and the Southern dessert that made him drop down on one knee.
The last time I interviewed you, it was the beginning of the pandemic and you were just about to turn 26. A lot has happened since then. What would you name this chapter of your life right now?
Whew! This chapter…this chapter is called coverage.
Can you elaborate?
We’re covering all the bases at this moment in my life. We don’t really know what’s going on all the time. It’s the sampler. It’s tapas. We’re sharing with the table, we’re ordering everything, it’s family style. I don’t know what I’m saying, but you’re following though.
You know what—let’s go with it! These last few years, it seems like you’ve been exploring and having more fun with your hair—donning afros, a variety of braids and protective styles. Was there something in particular that sparked this?
When I was gonna do Euphoria, Sam [Levinson] asked me to grow out my hair. Then the pandemic happened and I couldn’t get a barber once I realized I was no longer going to do the show. I was like, you know what Kel? It’s kinda giving sex appeal. So I leaned into it and said, since I’m giving sex appeal, why not just allow it to keep growing and see how sexy this can get.
And then there was the awesome Met Gala cornrows that incorporated crystals. How did that come together?
I was thinking I could do the straight backs, but that would be boring. I saw these photos of finger waves and I was like, how can I do the finger wave with braids? But it didn’t really work so we changed it—it was a whole thing that morning. We ended up finding an interesting balance with the jewels. It was like, Alright this looks cool, we’ll see.
It can be a big undertaking to step into a character who is both a real person and widely beloved figure. Do you have any go-to self-care practices to unwind and shake off work?
Sometimes I watch TV. I’m kinda crazy about it—I really should remove myself more. On the weekends I do go, OK, nothing’s happening, I’ll go out to restaurants. These days I’m usually overseas when I’m working, so I’ll try new places. Recently, I was in Prague and I was like, what are the best Mexican spots around? Are there vegan spots around I can try? Or, I hear there’s a great meat shop or the veal is really great here, let’s go figure that out. Or let’s go visit the cathedral. That’s my way of kind of shutting it off and going back to my life. Just being like, I wanna travel and take some pictures and hang out with my friends and stuff like that.
When I go to bed I should probably turn my phone off and leave it alone, but I’m still watching movies that are in reference to what I’m doing or thinking about my lines for the next day and stuff like that. It’s the weekends where I get my moments of peace. And I love a bath!
How do you like to spruce up your baths?
Sometimes I’ll put candles out for myself. I found these glow-in-the-dark bath balls. I turn off all the lights and drop it in there and the water will be green and it looks cool. I love a facial. I love to get massages every couple of weeks, I think that’s great. I get foot rubs—I’ll go and get a foot massage at those little shops that maybe look a little sketchy but you kinda go, Alright, let’s see. All that stuff is really nice. Food is another part of my self-care. I love food, I love to eat.
Yes to food being a part of self-care! Since you’re from New Orleans, I have a food question for you. I always hear people from the South singing the praises of Blue Bell ice cream. Does it really live up to the hype?
The joy I get when I hear those two words next to each other. I love that ice cream. Let me tell you something, I recently went on a date and heard the words “Blue Bell.” I got on one knee and said, Will you marry me? That’s how serious I am about Blue Bell. It’s serious in my home.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re into skincare. What’s your routine like these days?
One rule: just wash your face. I use a tea tree 3-in-1 scrub two times a week, cleanser from Apoteka—a Czech brand, herbal refreshing hydration water from Apoteka, the argan + vitamin E nourishing facial oil blend from Pearlessence—during night time only, and oil-free moisturizer for combo skin with spf from Neutrogena. Also, right after a shower while my skin is still wet, I apply Dr. Barbara Sturm’s anti-aging body cream then wipe off any excess. It’s a game changer.
Shop Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Skincare Routine
What about hair care?
When it comes to my hair, I mostly use the Pattern shampoo, conditioner, and argan oil. I used the curl gel and leave-in conditioner when I had my hair in a fro.
Is there a skincare trick you picked up on set?
Hydration spray before night oil, so my skin absorbs all the good moisture and has a glow for work the next day.
Let’s wrap with a random question. You had an amazing day off from work. How did you spend the day?
Coffee, movie at the Angelika on Houston, workout, steam, shower, fire dinner plans.