The Girl is Dope
Actress Kiersey Clemons is Hollywood’s next big thing, and she’s got something to say about it
If you think Kiersey Clemons couldn’t possibly be as adorable as she comes across on screen—most recently as Diggy, the lesbian punk drummer in the high school dramedy Dope—you’re wrong. The L.A. actress and musician doesn’t strain to appeal to your sense of intrigue; in fact, she doesn’t strain at all. For being Hollywood’s current indie sweetheart, her authenticity is as surprising as it is endearing. “Girl, I’m so sorry, but I’m not even gonna lie: I forgot we were doing this,” she says, when she’s a little late for our interview. She goes on to explain that she got distracted by shoes. “There were these red boots I’ve been eyeing…you know how it is. I promise I’ll never forget about you again.” But the 21-year-old Pensacola, Florida, native isn’t just cute; she’s a powerhouse who makes her views known, not only through the implicit political agendas of her roles (if you haven’t seen her in the groundbreaking Amazon series Transparent or opposite Halle Barry in Extant, cancel your plans tonight) but also explicitly—the girl doesn’t mince words. She sat down with Tidal to talk about the trouble with astrology, why fame is strange, and how she’s doing her part to change the world.
Tell us about growing up in Florida.
Well, I used to have a Southern accent, and I spent most of my days with no shoes on, running around, climbing trees and shit. It was pretty rural. It was basically just a bunch of rednecks and weird drunk relatives. When you’re from that part of Florida, 50 percent of your family is alcoholic [laughs]. We ate a lot of frozen dinners—that was, like, my favorite thing. Most people would go out for dinner, and that’s what we ate. That was like my Sizzler.
You’re a Sagittarius. Are you into astrology?
Yeah, I am. I’m real down with astrology. But I have a friend who’s so into it she won’t date someone she’s not compatible with, which I think is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t like to read too much into it because then it might talk me out of certain things, or I might be like, “Oh, man, I shouldn’t date that dude because he’s a Capricorn.” I don’t want anything fucking with my future!
You’re an actor but also a singer. Who has influenced your musical style?
When I was growing up, everyone was listening to different types of music. Like, some people were really into show tunes; my uncle was really into rock ’n’ roll and heavy metal; my dad would pick me up from school playing Outkast; my mom likes country and classical music—I used to do my homework listening to classical music because it’s pretty relaxing. I was influenced by different genres. I’m telling the truth when I say I like all types of music. I know everyone says that, and then they’re like, “Except for…” and then they name a million things. But I do, I like everything.
A lot of the roles you’ve had deal with this issue of being “other.” In Dope you play a lesbian punk; in Transparent you’re the biracial stepdaughter of the gay white girlfriend of the Jewish protagonist; and then in Extant you’re basically a robot. Are you drawn to that type of character?
I am. More specifically, I wanted to do those parts more than I wanted to do others, and I got lucky—I don’t know, maybe I manifested it. I have a new role coming up in a movie, too, that’s super exciting. I can’t say yet what it is, which sucks. But it’s very feminist, which is pretty tight. After I did Dope, I kept getting a lot of scripts that were either racist or sexist but unintentionally. It was like, “You’re the black best friend” or “You’re her roommate” or “You’re the guy’s sidekick—but you’re the female lead,” and I was like, “Yeah, I’m the female lead because there are no other fucking women in the movie. That’s not cool.” So I really had to make sure the next thing I did made a point and was cool, and this is that, so I’m very excited.
Dope takes the classic high-school-misfit story and looks at it through an updated lens that includes race, homosexuality, gang violence, drugs, and yet still manages to be funny and sweet. Was it a challenge for you to walk that line in the film?
You know what? No. Because, being a Sagittarius, I’m very outspoken, and I’ve always known that everything connects in life. I know that what gifts I was born with, and the fact that they correlate with what I like to do—that’s not just luck or chance, that not only do I enjoy acting but I’m not too bad at it. But acting also comes along with a platform. I can sit around all day and post pictures on Instagram and make people jealous of my lifestyle, but what is that going to do for me and the world? Absolutely fucking nothing.
With social media, I can be an advocate for anything and change so many perspectives and open so many people’s minds. Being able to do work like Dope and Transparent where I don’t have to verbally say much because you can tell what I support—that’s a blessing! Every issue that comes up in Dope is something I have an opinion about; it’s something I stand for. Same with Transparent. I don’t have to say, “I’m proud to be Black.” It’s fucking obvious. I don’t have to say, “I support the LGBTQ community.” Obviously, I do!
How’s fame going for you? Is it freaking you out, or is it fun?
Well, there’s some weird stuff. Like, people tried to hack my Apple account, my Gmail, my Instagram—I’ll get notifications that I’m trying to change my password when I’m not. Once someone sent a pizza to my house, which was fucking weird. And I was pissed because it was a Meat Lover’s pizza, and I don’t eat meat. But other times, it’s really cool. I was in New York last week, and these two kids from Brooklyn stopped me and told me how much they loved Dope. They were so cool—they made videos and music—so we all went back to my apartment to listen to music and sing and hang out.
Who would you love to work with next?
I would really love to be in a [Quentin] Tarantino movie. But I also want to work with—shit, that’s a hard question.… Meryl Streep. She could be, like, my white grandma. My grandma in real life is white, so why not?