“It was such a gift,” declares Laura Harrier about her role as Camille Washington in the Netflix period drama “Hollywood.” In the series, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, Camille is a young black actress in the film industry of the 1940s looking for success beyond the stereotypical roles given to actresses of color at that time. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Harrier discusses her first experience working on a Murphy production as well as the challenges of confronting the racism of the period.
Many of Harrier’s early scenes in the series show Camille playing the stereotypical maid roles in which she must conform to a certain stereotype while being berated by racially insensitive directors. Those scenes were among the most difficult for Harrier. “It was definitely uncomfortable. It really showed me– and I felt it — what black actresses had to go through at that time,” she recalls. “I really had so much more understanding and compassion for people like Hattie McDaniel, who was relegated to the maid role for her entire career.” At the same time, Harrier believes those scenes were necessary for both the series and her character. “I feel like it was really important to show that,” she says. “It was important to show not only what black women went through at that time, but to show Camille’s journey and her evolution.”
Harrier’s performance was inspired by Dorothy Dandridge, whom Harrier calls “an incredible actress and didn’t get her fair shot.” “We don’t talk about her in the same way that we do a Marilyn Monroe or an Ava Gardner and all of these iconic screen actresses,” she says. “And she was just as talented and beautiful and charismatic on screen, but given the time her roles were so few and far between of what she was able to do.”
One of the most important moments in the series for Harrier is when Camille becomes the first black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar, a shocking feat not achieved in real life until Halle Berry‘s 2001 victory for “Monster’s Ball.” Harrier recalls watching Berry’s acceptance speech, and saw the importance of portraying a woman breaking that glass ceiling in the 1940s. “It was really about the weight history and weight of black women’s experience in America that was fully resting on Camille in that moment,” Harrier explains. “And that was what really struck me and grounded it for me.”
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