We continue to celebrate W Magazine’s 2021 Best Performances Portfolio, honoring the stars at the forefront of cinema. Curated by W’s editor-at-large, Lynn Hirschberg, the Best Performances Portfolio features profiles with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, James Corden, Dominique Fishback, Talia Ryder, Otmara Marrero, Sophia Lillis, Rachel Brosnahan, Tom Holland, Taylour Paige, Nicole Beharie and Alan Kim photographed by Juergen Teller and styled by W Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Sara Moonves. The portfolio also includes Jared Leto, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jonathan Majors, Jacob Elordi, Leslie Odom Jr., Maria Bakalova & Steven Yeun.
Discussing his first auditions: “When I was 8 or 9, I auditioned for every role in Romeo and Juliet, including Juliet, and I didn’t get a single part. When I was 11, I booked Billy Elliot; that was the first job I ever booked. I couldn’t dance, but trainers would come to my school and teach me to dance at lunch. I was at a rugby school, so doing ballet in tights in the school gym wasn’t the coolest of things to do, but it paid off.”
Getting into character for in I’m Your Woman & being blonde in the film: “The movie takes place in the ’70s, and we wanted to make sure I could disappear into the character of Jean. Also, blonde is my natural hair color, and I’d never been blonde onscreen. It seemed like a fun way to transform”
Working at a strip club to prepare for Zola: “I worked at Crazy Girls on Sunset for a month. Honestly, it was harder to get a job than you’d think. Through a friend, I met the owner, and he was like, “Stand up, turn around. All right, come in on Monday, and we’ll see how you do.” At first, when I tried the pole, I was terrible—like Bambi on ice. But I got better. I learned to be smart and strategic. The girls teach you—look at his watch, look at his shoes. He’s not spending any money. He’s been standing there all night. It’s a business. And I really did need the money; I was in the lowest low, sleeping on friends’ couches. My car blew up, and I could barely afford my stripper’s outfit.”
On the age she started acting: “I’ve been acting my whole life— for attention! My first job was in a sports film. I’ve done three sports movies, and I must confess, I’m just not into sports. I swim and dance, but I have no interest in sports.”
On his favorite actor: “I like Sonic the Hedgehog.”
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
On advice from Jordan Peele: “When I was doing Us, Jordan Peele told me, “Don’t do it if you don’t love it.” And that was important advice, especially if you are lucky enough to have choices and opportunities. When you have momentum and talent, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s even more crucial to do only what you love.”
On his love for Boy Bands: Boy bands, for me, are a sort of unfulfilled dream. I even formed two boy bands at school: Full Frontal, which wasn’t really a proper band, and then there was Insatiable, because you could never get enough of that band. Anything I’ve done in my career, I would happily swap to have been in a successful ’90s boy band. Or even a mediocre ’90s boy band. I would trade my success for two Top 3 singles.
On being a theatrical kid: “Yes. When I was 6, I used to act like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. I’d say, “I’m melting,” and sink to the floor in excruciating pain. My mom said, “You should try acting.” In college, I wrote a one-woman show called Subverted, in which I played 20 different characters. It’s about the destruction of Black identity in America.”
On the age she started performing: “I was 3 years old when I started dancing. When I saw Matilda the Musical on Broadway with my sister, we asked our mom if she would let us audition for the show. We both ended up getting parts!”
Being Bilingual: “I am. In life, it’s good to know as many languages as you can. But as an actor, being bilingual is tricky, because I just don’t want to get put in a box.”
Her favorite Halloween costume: “I was a pencil. My dad made the costume. I was wearing pink shoes for the eraser. I had a cone hat that looked like a point, and I had cardboard all around me. I couldn’t really move or ring a doorbell. I fell down lots and couldn’t get back up. My twin brother was a piece of paper—a math test, or something like that. He had problems written all over him.”
[Photo Credit: Juergen Teller for W Magazine]