Photograph by Angelo Pennetta; Styled by Katie Grand.
There was a moment, not long after Laura Harrier and I set out on a hike in Los Angeles, when things between us became strained and awkward. Walking at a brisk pace along a dusty trail in Griffith Park, we’d been discussing the auspicious turns her life has taken over the past few years, from playing the love interest in a global blockbuster (Spider-Man: Homecoming) to wowing critics with her performance as a civil rights activist in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. She’d recently wrapped Bios, a sci-fi epic in which she costars with Tom Hanks, and along the way she’d become a fashion world darling, appearing in Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall campaign, starring in a short film for Kenzo, and serving as a brand ambassador for Bulgari. Just a year earlier she’d been living in Red Hook, Brooklyn; she was now waiting for the bathroom tiles to dry in her newly purchased home in Silver Lake, so she could move on to another stage of her life.
“Super weird all around,” Harrier said.
But she didn’t say much more after that. This isn’t because Harrier, who is 29 and grew up outside of Chicago, is cagey or opaque; in person she is as affable as she is striking, projecting an earnest, almost goofy Midwestern confidence that is harder to spot in photographs and on red carpets, where her drowsy cool and willowy frame dominate. The trouble is that we had been walking very fast up a very steep hill under a very hot sun. We were both panting. Harrier had chosen this specific hike because she enjoys a challenge—and because she’d spent the week prior indulging in wine and cheese on a European vacation—but it seemed that neither of us had considered how a rigorous cardiovascular workout might not be conducive to an interview.
“It’s kind of hard…to talk…like this…isn’t it?” she said, coming to a stop and catching her breath at a bluff. “This was actually my whole plan,” Harrier then joked. “You can just silently judge me and write whatever you want.”
At a time when many nascent stars will err on the side of caution or curation, Harrier’s shoulder-shrugging sarcasm was refreshing. Perhaps that’s because her sensibility about life, and fame in particular, was forged in New York. She moved to the city a decade ago to attend NYU, deferring when she found steady, if stultifying, work as a model. Her first experiments with acting came in helping with friends’ student films, which led her to study drama at the William Esper Studio. “Let’s sit in Washington Square Park and smoke cigarettes and talk about French New Wave—that was the high point of making it,” she told me. “That’s kind of where my head has always been, just wanting to make cool stuff. When I went to drama school, I thought I’d be doing Off Broadway.” She then rolled her eyes, aware that it was absurd to be saying this after wrapping a big-budget movie with Tom Hanks that takes place in a dystopian future. “And look at us now,” she said with a flippant sigh, gesturing out at the glossy moonscape of Los Angeles.
We continued to ascend, traversing a craggy ridgeline, though at a less lung-singeing pace. Harrier moved to L.A. to be closer to the industry, though she hardly appeared pressured to stay in the limelight. She’s not particularly active on social media, nor does she have a dozen movies coming out in the next year. She is attached to a few projects she couldn’t discuss—“If you talk about them too soon, they fall apart,” she noted—but when I asked what her professional life looks like these days, she replied matter-of-factly, “Saying no to most things.”
As a biracial actress, Harrier is excited to be coming up in an industry that has recently become more proactive in fostering diversity, and to be the kind of person who is eager to push for an overhaul. “There’re different stories being told today, while in the past it was a pretty specific view: straight white men,” she said as we reached the summit of the trail. “But I think there’s a ways to go in terms of who’s writing and directing and creating what we’re seeing. Often I’ll read scripts and it’s a cool concept and story, but it’s supposed to be from my point of view, except a 60-year-old white guy wrote it. I think better content will be made when the people in front of and behind the camera look like the world, you know?” While she was drawn to the way a film like BlacKkKlansman—and her character in particular—took on race directly, Harrier is equally compelled by the prospect of movies that address diversity simply by acknowledging it through casting. “I also just want to make a great romantic comedy where race isn’t the focus—where it’s just people being people,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a story about blackness to have black people onscreen.”
If her turn as Spider-Man’s crush did this in the superhero genre, her role in Bios does so in a postapocalyptic drama. Plenty of secrecy still surrounds the project, but for Harrier the experience of working with a legend like Hanks was indelible. “I mean, I got to act with Tom Hanks,” she said, her brown eyes widening. “It was one of those moments when you’re on set and you’re just like, What the fuck?” She was eager for audiences to see her in the film, where she is hardly recognizable: “I look totally different—creepy, not cute.” But it won’t be out for another year, and the lag between working on a film and promoting it was a part of the job she was still adjusting to. “You’re totally involved in something, it’s your whole world, then it disappears,” she told me. “You start thinking, I’ll never work again, my career is over, it’s been good while it’s lasted. You feel like you’re a fake, because you didn’t work hard enough.” She paused for a moment. “I’ve asked people who have these amazing careers, and they all say it doesn’t go away, that you just keep feeling like this,” she continued. “Something to look forward to!”
Soon enough we were back at the base of the hill, sweaty and exhausted. Harrier was looking forward to nesting in her new home after a busy, peripatetic year in order to figure out her next step. “There’s no point in being part of a project I don’t believe in just so people can see my face more often,” she said. “That’s garbage. It’s a balancing act: How do I keep my integrity but stay here?”