Do not let the word “no” stop you and do not be intimidated by the majority … If you do not see anyone that looks like you, sounds like you, or thinks like you in the industry that doesn’t mean you don’t belong. It means there’s a spot open for someone just like you because everyone is special in their own way, and the world can hear your story just like everyone else. And who knows, maybe you are paving the way for someone else just like you. Just don’t be afraid to try.
By Tina Liu and Andréa Butler
You know her as Amira on the TBS show The Last O.G., and here, the 16-year-old rising star chops it up with us about that very show, her new movie Breakthrough, and the importance of paving the way for more Black girls in the industry.
Sesi: You’ve been acting and singing since you were a kid. Who or what inspired you to get into acting? How do you balance it all?
Taylor: I’ve been inspired by many actors and actresses in my life, but the one person that made me realize I might have a chance in Hollywood was China Anne McClain because she was the first little girl with her own show I had seen on TV who looked like me. Balancing acting, music, and school isn’t easy. It takes a lot of responsibility, integrity, and focus. Sometimes you have to skip out on fun to get work done, but it definitely pays off in the end.
Sesi: So, we loved the first season of The Last O.G.! What can we expect from your character Amira in season 2?
Taylor: Amira learns a lot about herself this season, and she tries to find a balance with everything changing around her. She also learns a lot about her mother [played by Tiffany Haddish] … in fact they have quite a few experiences together — good, bad, and awkward ones — but you’re going to have to watch to find out what those are!
Sesi: What’s it like working with Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish?
Taylor: I was so excited to play [their] daughter, and I knew I was going to love my character because she was a perfect mix of the two comedians. They keep me laughing in between takes and we have lots of funny moments. I’m so honored that I get to work among such talented people, and I love learning from them. Whether we’re on or off set, we always have a good time together.
Sesi: If you could collab with anyone else, who would it be?
Taylor: Keke Palmer, Marsai Martin, or China Anne McClain. I feel like we think alike and we would work well together. And one of my dream actresses to work with is Viola Davis. I. Love. Her. Ms. Viola, if you’re reading this, can we please work together??
Sesi: Tell us about the movie Breakthrough. What made you want to be a part of this project?
Taylor: When I found out they were bringing the story of John Smith [the 14-year-old boy who fell through a frozen lake in 2015, was pronounced dead after 45 minutes of no pulse, and then came back to life] to the big screen, I knew I wanted to be a part of [it]. I knew this was going to be a beautiful and powerful movie. The amazing story of John and Joyce Smith shows how faith, community, family, and love can come together no matter the situation or circumstances. I was so honored to be chosen to play Chayla in this movie, and it was a very different experience for me than any other role I’ve played because I was playing a real person, and I was acting out their real experiences.
Sesi: You got to work with Kirk Franklin on a song for the movie. What was that like?
Taylor: [It] was a surreal experience. I still can’t believe that happened. When I auditioned for Chayla, they asked me to sing the song “Oceans”, but I was never aware that I would be in the movie or on the soundtrack. The first concert I ever went to was a Kirk Franklin concert when I was about 9 or 10. When I think about my experience working with him on “Oceans”, I just think about how the universe can come full circle sometimes. I haven’t listened to the song one time yet without getting a little emotional.
Sesi: You’re also on the web series A Girl Named Jo. Tell us more about that.
Taylor: A Girl Named Jo is a web series on the Brat channel that takes place in the 1960s. Playing Abby on the show has been really eye-opening because it takes place during the time of the first school integrations. I’ve learned a lot about life for Black people in the 1960s, and I feel like this role has taught me a lot of lessons. I also made a lot of new friends filming this show and I had a lot of fun!
Sesi: Besides acting, you’ve also gotten into some activism, attending the second Women’s March L.A. Why do you feel it’s important to stand up for women’s rights/civil rights/human rights?
Taylor: I pay attention to the media quite often, and there are too many circumstances where women and minorities have been treated differently and unfairly. I am a strong believer in equality; I always have been. I am lucky to have such influential women in my life, like my mother, who taught me to stand up for what I believe in. In fact, one of my goals as an actress in this industry is to use my platform to make sure girls and women from all over the world have a voice, as well as an equal opportunity for success, no matter what career they choose. It’s 2019, for crying out loud!
Sesi: What would you say your #BlackGirlMagic is?
Taylor: My ability to be myself no matter what. That skill took me a while to learn, but I’m glad I did. I am not easily shaken, and I love going for the impossible … So, for every little Black girl out there, know your power and know your magic! From every curl in your hair down to your toes, you are a strong and beautiful young woman, and you better love and embrace it!
Catch Taylor every Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS (and catch up on past episodes here).