Havana Rose Liu Goes With the Flow

The star of No Exit and The Sky is Everywhere opens up about her multidisciplinary career, her style icons, and the best fashion advice she’s ever received.

havana rose liu wearing white shirt and holding her hands above her head
Havana Rose Liu. Photograph by Chad Meyer; Hair by David Von Cannon; Make-up by Min Min Ma. Havana wears her father's shirt and her own jewelry.

Model and actress Havana Rose Liu is letting her life lead in whatever direction it wants to take her—whether that means working on visual, multidisciplinary art projects; experimental performance; starring in not just one, but three films (Mayday, The Sky is Everywhere, and No Exit), or appearing on the cover of a major fashion magazine. All of those opportunities, she says, have “tapped her on the shoulder” and she is more than willing to go with the flow on whatever pops up next.

The 25-year-old Brooklyn native called W from Los Angeles, where she just finished walking the red carpet for the premiere of No Exit, the Damien Power thriller that just hit Hulu in which she stars, to talk about her multidisciplinary career, her style icons, and the best fashion advice she’s ever received.

Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

I never wanted to be an actor; I never even considered it as an option for myself. I grew up around a lot of actors. My parents had gone to film school, but I ended up going on a very different path. It felt like [acting] was near, yet quite out of reach, in part because there were not many people who looked like me in the craft. The past two years have reminded me, your arms are long, maybe you can reach it! That has been an interesting adjustment.

What did you do before you started acting?

I started in visual arts, multimedia arts, and performance art—more experimental performance art. Then I was street cast for modeling and acting stuff, and it snowballed from there. In many ways, it’s been a very natural progression into the craft. Everything I’ve studied has forayed right into it very simply. I’ve really had my whole career [blossom] during the pandemic.

The Sky is Everywhere is a very visually striking, magical realism film. When you’re looking at a project, what do you seek when it comes down to the film’s aesthetics and the development of the character you might want to play?

I’m still figuring it out for myself, to be honest. In essence, I’m just looking for resonance. Especially with Josephine’s film, there was so much that resonated in that collage, sort of wild format she took on. I make these sketchbooks with collages and I make a dance for the character. I have about 17 ways in, because I have no real training. Seeing the way that Josephine worked felt kindred to that. We would think in the same ways around the character.

Darby in No Exit is an entirely different story. And Damien [Power] hasn’t been doing experimental performance art on the streets of Newark. So I think it’s just about what I need in a specific moment. I find that filmmaking has been one of the most magical things I’ve ever been a part of—it just sweeps up and the script informs life and life informs the script. It feels like the films find me more than I find the films, and that sounds so cliché, but that is what it feels like.

What are you most looking forward to next in your career as a multihyphenate?

I don’t necessarily like to put flags in the sand of where I want to move, because I feel like the more I’m in flow, the more the right things find me. I’m looking forward to seeing what else this beautiful, weird experience of this multidisciplinary artistic lifestyle brings. I seem to be building what it’s going to offer—and whether that means building a 10-foot, large-scale immersive art piece or doing a hardcore TV show, I’m open to both. I’m hoping they find me when I need them the most.

Let’s get into some of these Style Notes questions. You were recently on the cover of Vogue Italia and have some fun fashion moments coming up. How would you describe your personal style?

I think my style has been ever-evolving. When I am feeling brave, it comes out. Clothes are a huge extension of my feeling of my artistry and my personal expression, and also my mood. Like, what do I wanna swathe myself in to make myself feel better? I had a babysitter growing up who told me that whenever I was feeling down, I needed to put on a really good outfit. That’s really stuck with me; now, whenever I’m sad, I’m covered in jewelry. If I had to describe my style more succinctly, I’d say that it is odd-chic, artful, hopefully I can dance in it, and functional—that’s really important.

What was your style like as a teenager?

It was definitely more DIY and accessible. I went to a New York City private school where people were dressed to kill. I would show up in a lot of cut-up t-shirts, but I feel like I looked great, too.

What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?

My mom has given me a lot of amazing advice over the years. It’s a way we have bonded. I used to dress her for events when she was doing cool things in the city—I was very young and had no life. She always would give me advice by way of telling me how she liked to dress. A huge part of it was “zhuzhing simplicity.” That phrase has stuck with me; the idea that you don’t have to do much to find that moment of intrigue.

Do you have a prized possession in your closet?

I have one of my grandma’s old jade earrings that broke, and I turned it into a necklace that I wear around a red string on my neck almost every day. That is attached to me, almost like a limb.

Who is your style icon?

My little brother, Amelia Earhart, and my grandparents.

Where are your favorite places to shop?

I really love vintage and secondhand, thrift is the major percentage of my wardrobe. I love L Train Vintage in New York City, I love a good Beacon’s Closet run. There are so many amazing secondhand stores throughout the city that I’ve happened upon across the years and then hoped to revisit, and it’s never the same. That’s my favorite thing about thrifting—you’re not necessarily living within a single brand identity, which means you’re allowed to change, too. It will grow to meet your needs.