With a starring role in one of Marvel’s most popular movie reboots, Laura Harrier took Hollywood by surprise. Now the actress is making #MeToo moves and telling stories that matter
Laura Harrier may have grown up in the Midwest, but she’s always been an L.A. girl at heart. “I met this girl recently and she was like, ‘You’re my style hero! Who are your style heroes?’ And I was like, ‘Hillary Banks,’” the 27-year-old actress says with a laugh. “She didn’t know who it was! I was like, ‘From Fresh Prince?’”
I meet Harrier a few miles east of Bel Air, in her newly adopted neighborhood of Silver Lake. She’s been in town only a few weeks, but the Spider-Man: Homecoming star seems to have her bearings. She shows up looking equal parts laid-back and chic in jeans, a tank top, and an off-white kimono jacket. She tells me she’s been hiking a lot and is thinking about getting a dog. She steers us to a hip, window-filled restaurant overlooking Sunset Boulevard. And after our meal she plans to hit a Korean spa for a little pre-audition scrub down. “They do this crazy thing where they, like, scrape your skin off,” she says. “It makes you feel as smooth as a dolphin!”
Long before acting and movies and aggressive exfoliating routines, though, Harrier was just a girl living in suburban Chicago. She was in high school when someone suggested she try modeling. “My mom’s friend was a location scout, so I came home from school one day and there was this photo shoot happening in our house,” she says, as we snack on French fries and Cobb salad in the late-afternoon sun. “The photographer saw me and called his friend at this agency.” While posing for the camera was never Harrier’s end goal, the job did get her to New York—a city she had dreamed of living in since she was a kid. Modeling also paved the way for a burgeoning acting career, which in the past four years has seen Harrier go from daytime soap operas (One Life to Live) to blockbusters (Spider-Man: Homecoming) to a big-deal movie role: Later this year she’ll star opposite Adam Driver in Spike Lee’s Black Klansman, based on the true story of an African American detective who posed as a white man to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the late ’70s.
It’s a path she never imagined. Growing up, her career goals were all over the map. First she wanted to be an archeologist, then a doctor, a fashion designer, and an Egyptologist. “It was all pretty far removed from what I do now,” she admits. “I never knew anyone who was an actor.” Harrier’s balletic poise and flawless skin made her an obvious candidate for a modeling career, though looking back, she says the job wasn’t the best fit. “I appreciated modeling for the opportunities it gave me, but I was never very good at it,” she says, laughing. “I used to get in trouble for talking too much. After shoots, photographers would call my agent to tell on me for being too loud or talking back.”
Still, Harrier got plenty of work, appearing in campaigns for American Eagle and L’Oréal, and she deferred her acceptance to NYU for a year to keep working. It didn’t take long for Harrier’s bubbly personality to ingratiate her to a new crew of artistic friends. She started acting in their student films for fun, and quickly fell in love with the process. “Then one day I went to this random audition for models for a TV show, and the casting director was like, ‘Hey, you should really take this seriously.’”
Harrier eventually enrolled in drama classes at New York’s prestigious William Esper Studio instead of attending NYU. After graduation, she auditioned for a part in a new Spider-Man film, at her agent’s behest. “I just never thought it would happen. It was so outside the realm of possibility,” she says. But she landed a second audition, then a third. “When they called me to tell me I had it, I just remember sitting on the floor of this random building and crying,” she says. “I called my boyfriend and my mom and my dad, and no one picked up. I had this amazing news and I literally didn’t know what to do with it.” She knew it was huge opportunity. “No one knew how big that movie was going to be or how well it was going to do,” she says, “but I knew it was going to change my life.”
In the film, Harrier plays Liz Allen, Peter Parker’s brainy high school love interest, and she is a joy to watch onscreen. Harrier breathes an effortless mix of charisma and brassy intelligence into Liz. She stars opposite Tom Holland’s Parker, as well as Zendaya and Jacob Batalon, who round out their high school clique. But the film also features some more-seasoned stars, including Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, and Marisa Tomei. “Going into to press events, it was literally the kids’ table and the adults’ table,” Harrier says, laughing. “It was crazy. These are people I’ve looked up to my whole life. Just watching someone like Michael work, it felt like I was taking a master class in acting. Both Tom and I just tried to take in as much as we could.”
The film premiered in the summer of 2017 and quickly propelled Harrier from up-and-coming actress to bona fide movie star. Among her new fans: Get Out director Jordan Peele and Spike Lee, who handpicked her to audition for their latest project, Black Klansman. “I was literally sitting on the beach in Greece, and I get this call,” Harrier remembers, shaking her head in disbelief. “The person on the phone is like, ‘Laura, this is Spike Lee.’” The director had been shown Harrier’s audition tape for another project and immediately took notice. “He was like, ‘When are you back?’ I told him I’d be home in two weeks. He was like, ‘Nah, that’s not gonna work. I’ll see you Thursday,’” she says. And so Harrier changed her travel plans.
The actress also was tapped as a fashion ambassador for Bulgari, and recently she starred in Louis Vuitton’s spring campaign alongside Jaden Smith. Even as she talks about the glamorous side of her life (like going to Paris Fashion Week, where she’ll “just hang out with some friends and go to some shows”), Harrier repeatedly acknowledges just how lucky she is—to be acting, to have a voice in her professional community, and to be surrounded by so many folks that inspire her daily.
A lot of that inspiration, she says, comes from being in the Time’s Up campaign, which launched late last year in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and harassment scandal and the #MeToo movement it spurred. Harrier and other actors are working to raise money for the Legal Defense Fund and increase awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and discrimination in and beyond Hollywood. Being involved in the movement, Harrier says, is important to her both as a young black woman and as a storyteller. “I think that we have a responsibility as artists to be a lens to the world and talk about these things,” she explains. “I look at actors and directors like Spike [Lee] and Jordan [Peele], like Viola Davis—they make these movies that people want to go see because they’re great, but they also hold this lens up to society. That’s what I aspire to do—I want to make people think about something differently, or start a conversation, or ask more questions.”
So it’s not surprising to hear that the newly minted Los Angeleno is already rolling deep with some of Hollywood’s smartest, strongest, and most outspoken young women, like musician Kilo Kish and actresses Rowan Blanchard, Yara Shahidi, and her Spider-Man co-star Zendaya, who she affectionately calls “Z.” “So many of my peers are these young people who recognize that we’re so lucky to be in this space and have a place to talk about things,” she says. “It’s daunting, but at the same time it’s amazing to be a part of. I didn’t have these conversations growing up at all, so it makes me very proud to see so many young people—especially young women—speaking up and showing people that it’s cool to care about what’s happening around them.”
No doubt Harrier will be speaking up more in the coming months, too. Black Klansman is an inherently political film, unlike anything she’s done before. She says it’s the perfect example of the kinds of projects she wants to do right now. “I never just want to work to work,” she says. “I want to tell stories that speak to me and to other people, and play characters that are well-rounded, actualized human beings. It’s really challenging as a woman—especially a woman of color—to find these fully formed characters, so when I do read a script, it’s the director, the producer, it’s everything around it, but I’m also just looking for those strong people that I want to bring to life.”