MAKING HISTORY: When Laura Harrier received a call from legendary film director Spike Lee to talk about her joining his cast for “BlacKKKlansman,” she thought someone was trying to play a joke on her.
“I was on the beach in Greece drinking a glass of rosé and I got a phone call from Spike. I didn’t know him, I had never spoken to him before, so I almost hung up because I thought it was someone messing with me,” said Harrier.
Lee wasn’t joking, however. He requested a meeting with the young actress and model, who made arrangements to get herself off the Greek islands seconds after she hung up the phone: “He just went ‘I’ll see you Thursday. Vacation’s over. Bye,’” she added.
Fast-forward a year later and after what Harrier describes as “the longest and craziest audition” she’s ever had, she finds herself standing on the red carpet of the Grand Théâtre Lumière in Cannes alongside Lee and costars Adam Driver and John David Washington, and receiving a 10-minute standing ovation following the screening of “BlacKKKlansman.”
“The whole experience, standing on those steps with Spike and the whole cast, was surreal and a bit overwhelming and emotional,” said Harrier. “You could really feel the energy in the screening room and you could see that people were really connected and moved by the movie. I’ve never done this before, it’s my first time [at the Cannes Film Festival] so when we got that standing ovation I was just wondering, ‘Is it like this all the time?'”
Harrier’s first and foremost motivation for participating in the project was the opportunity to work with Lee: “In the beginning it was just Spike. I hadn’t read the script before we auditioned because it was all secret, so I didn’t really know what the film was about. But I would be an extra in anything he’s doing, I just wanted to work with him.”
Discovering the script was an additional gift for Harrier who’s always looking to play characters that are “real and multidimensional” and whom she can connect with.
“BlacKKKlansman” sets out to tell the story of the undercover black detective Ron Stallworth who infiltrates the local chapter of the white supremacist organization Ku Klux Klan in the Seventies. In the movie, Harrier plays the character of Patrice, the leader of the Colorado State Black Student Union.
Of the process of shaping the character, Harrier says that she was given space to experiment.
”Spike told me what he envisioned and helped me to meet Kathleen Cleaver, who was one of the heads of the Black Panther Party, but he also allowed me to figure out who she was. He was never telling me how I had to play her,” she said, adding that collaboration was a very important element on-set from the get-go.
“It was very familial and everyone is treated equally and with respect. It’s very much like a team and Spike always emphasized that we’re all in this together. Obviously, he’s in charge and he’s the boss, but you could bring your ideas to the table and they were heard and respected,” she said.
When it came to getting into the mood of her character, Harrier said that her look of leather jackets, aviator frames and big afro hair played a big role. “Having that hair and the black leather really helped me to feel like a different person of that time. It was something I hadn’t done before and I was pretty scared, but once I had the fro and the whole look, Patrice was just there,” she recalled.
Off-set, Harrier works very closely with Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton for her red carpet looks. After attending the Met Gala in a black and white minidress and with Ghesquière as her date, she chose a pale orange minimalist gown by Vuitton for her big moment in Cannes. “Nicolas literally made me my dream dress for the premiere. We’ve been working together for a while now, and he just makes you feel cool, strong, powerful and intelligent,” the actress said, adding the she’s staying put in the South of France post-festival to attend the brand’s cruise show, taking place at the Fondation Maeght in the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence on May 28.
One of the top contenders for the Palme d’Or, “BlacKKKlansman” stood out for the powerful conversation it ignites around the subject of race, its subtle incorporation of humor and its relevance to today’s global political state. For Harrier, the most important outcome is to offer a film that will raise questions and allow viewers to draw their own conclusions.
“It’s up for everyone’s interpretation. I think Spike is such a brilliant director because he holds up a mirror to society and reflects these issues, yet he doesn’t shove it down your throat, he doesn’t tell you what to think. I think everyone will have their own experience from it, and hopefully, that’s what makes it a good movie,” she concluded.