Exclusive: Kat Graham Talks ‘All Eyez On Me,’ Becoming Jada Pinkett & Doing Music Her Way
EXCLUSIVE: Kat Graham is on a mission.
After recently wrapping up eight seasons on The CW’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, Kat Graham is ready to step into the shoes of one of the most sensational actresses of the ’90s, and into the life of the late legend Tupac Shakur. In the forthcoming Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me, Graham will become Jada Pinket, Pac’s classmate, and dear friend.
Still, All Eyez On Me isn’t the only thing the 27-year old talent has on her plate. Her forthcoming album Love Music Funk Magic which was co-produced and written with Babyface, is set to debut on June 2nd. The disco album will boast a classic ’70s sound and even has a song written by the late great Prince.
Recently I chatted with Kat Graham about her forthcoming role as one of the leading ladies in Tupac Shakur’s life, Love Music Funk Magic, her activism in Africa and her summer must-haves.
JET: Hi, Kat, how are you?
Kat Graham: I’m good, thanks!
JET: The first thing I wanted to chat with you about is All Eyez On Me. It’s such a big story about such a prolific legend in our history. What inspired you to want to become a part of this film?
KG: I mean, any normal person would want to be a part of this film. I also didn’t even really wrap my head around the idea of it actually happening, I was in the middle of a show I was filming. With clearances and schedules, shooting a movie in the middle of filming a TV show is not really possible. But, they winded up working it out, and everything kinda fell into place immediately. It was just incredible. When I found out I was doing it, I got to work immediately, and I just emerged myself in Pac and Jada and everything like that. It was really just a great experience.
JET: Wonderful. What type of research did you do because you’re playing Jada Pinkett Smith? Were you able to reach out to her and speak to her about growing up with Pac and their friendship?
KG: Well, when you think of biopics and when actors do biopics, they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to reach out to those people because if you’re doing a biopic on someone, it’s because of something prolific or some big moment in history where that person might not be alive anymore. So, of course, the second that I found out, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was playing somebody that wasn’t only just alive, but still very much active.
— MTV (@MTV) May 7, 2017
KG: Jada Pinkett Smith is very much a force in the industry. I originally reached out to her before we started filming, but I wasn’t able to connect with her, until about a week or two weeks after we wrapped the film. But, I just remember, she was incredibly supportive of me and the project and of the work that I was doing to try and channel this time, this very specific time of her and her friend’s life.
JET: That’s incredible. It’s always great to have that blessing from the person you’re actually becoming in a film. Did you chat with Benny Boom about his direction for All Eyez On Me? He really showcases the women in Tupac’s life, as well, not just his career, and his activism, but his mother, and Jada as well.
KG: I’ve known Benny for years. Benny had been my music video director while I was on A&M Interscope, so I had worked with him on a few things. Benny is such a visual person. I just remember him walking me down the hallway of the production office showing me all these incredible visuals of what he wanted the film to look like and feel like, and he was really open with me about his dream for this film and all of that. He is very open with actors, and I think that’s what makes him such a great director. He didn’t over direct, which was something really special because sometimes especially when you’re in season 7 or season 8 of a TV show, you have a lot of new directors coming on that don’t have the skill set that somebody like Benny Boom has. I was just not used to having a director that was giving me all of this trust and all of this support. He would just be so subtle with how he worked with me that it was super empowering and it made you want to work harder, and the trust that he gave us as actors made us even more focused.
JET: Fantastic. So what was the hardest part about working on this film?
KG: Actually, I can’t think of what the hardest part was. I mean we went through a different era; a few different eras. Sometimes the schedule would change so we’d be in the eighties, or we’d be in the nineties. You know what I’m saying?
KG: The hair would be changing. I would say the hair might have been the most difficult part of the film.
JET: Jada Pinkett had so many different hairstyles.
KG: I became obsessed over the hair. As a Black woman, that’s just kind of by default, but even more so when you’re playing another Black woman.
JET: Especially someone as visible as Jada is.
KG: Yeah, so people would be able to research and be like that wasn’t right.
JET: Exactly. You can just look at A Different World or Jason’s Lyric for reference. You worked on The Vampire Diaries which just recently wrapped after eight years. Would you ever return to TV or are you looking towards doing more film and working on your music at this point?
KG: I mean, my thing is, especially after playing somebody like Jada Pinkett, I want to be a part of stories that are really empowering for African American women. I want to tell stories. I don’t care whether it’s in a commercial or whether it’s in a TV show or a film or even through my music. I want to be able to move that agenda forward on any platform I can get my hands on. That’s kind of where I’m at with it all. Am I going to jump on a TV show this second? No, I’ve got an album to promote. (Laughing) But I am looking at projects right now and weighing my options as to what’s the next thing I want to do. After the Tupac film, I did a comedy called Where’s the Money?
KG: It’s with Mike Epps and Terry Crews. It’s a drama. (Laughing) No, I’m kidding. It’s a comedy, and it’s super funny. I had a really great time with it. Yeah, I still want to act, It’ll always be a part of me, but I definitely feel now that I’m not on the show, I actually can promote my record and focus on that.
JET: Well speaking about this new album, Love Music Funk Magic which congratulations is just around the corner. What was it like working with Babyface? I also know that Prince wrote one of the songs that’s on your album, which is just sensational.
KG: Babyface has been my idol since I was a little girl in the beauty shop reading Jet Magazine. He’s just an icon. The thing about working with him is he doesn’t behave anywhere near that way. He’s just completely humble, completely grounded; absolutely just a great human being. Working with him has been such a learning experience for me because he’s so subtle and he really empowers artists, and I think that’s one of the things that makes him so amazing. Not just because he’s such an incredible singer, songwriter, producer, extraordinaire, legend, but because he also is so empowering with artists. There are a few producers that are known for producing a lot of other artists. He’s somebody who’s just really great at it and he supports what kind of music I wanted to make. I was like, “Hey, we’re doing a disco album.” Having him by my side through this process has been great. I could sell one copy, and I’ll be perfectly happy because I worked on this with him, and my dreams have been met.
JET: Fantastic. So why were you inspired to a disco album? What do you want this album to say to your fans?
KG: Well, I did this album called Roxbury Drive and that was the first record that I released last year. Roxbury Drive was totally nineties, and it was a record that focused on encapsulating this era in music sonically, melodically, energetically, fashionably, the era of the nineties, which is when I fell in love with music. I fell in love with Babyface and, Brandy, TLC and Janet Jackson. You’re gonna hear a lot of those influences, a lot of what tapped into my psyche and got me inspired to do music from that album. Kenny [Babyface Edmonds] talked to me about maybe doing some records that felt more pop, more accessible because Roxbury Drive was a very selfish record for me. I came from this super corny, pop record. I mean not necessarily everything that was released, but the stuff that the label that I was signed to at that time had me do, so Roxbury Drive was kind of my rebellion. Now I’m finding out a way to be somewhere in the middle where I can still have the classic sound of an era like the seventies, but still keep it pop and still keep it accessible and fresh for the fans.
JET: Wonderful. That’s incredible. I know that you also work with Empower 54, which is about empowering women in Africa, speaking with women and children in Africa about being self-sufficient. Can you tell me a little bit more about that journey and what that organization does?
KG: Sure. I think even as Black people when we think of Africa; it can be such a daunting subject. The continent is so vast and there are so many different issues from the famine crisis to corruption and I think people don’t necessarily focus on Africa as much as they should. I think the reason why I wanted to work with Empower 54 is because they have boots on the ground. I was working with another organization before and they didn’t want to send me to Africa and I’m half-Liberian, so I’m thinking half of me, is not being taken care of. My family’s literally from Africa, so for me it’s a bit deeper than just my roots. It’s literally my father. I wanted to do work in Africa. I’d already done years and years of refugee work, but I needed to do more than just be the face of some organization.
JET: I understand.
KG: I got involved with Empower 54. Princess Modupe out of Nigeria took me under her wing and has put me to work. We’ve been doing fundraising together. We have a trip coming up to the Congo. I just got back from Somalia a few weeks ago. And it’s just been so incredibly helpful. It’s not just empowering women and children, but men. We are there helping with food drops and medicine, medical supplies, books, clothing. We’re doing everything in our power. We started off in Nigeria and now we are expanding to different places like Ethiopia, obviously Somalia, Congo and we’re just gonna keep building in each place and setting up. That’s what I love about Princess Modupe. She’s literally saving babies and trying to get them the right nutrition, so they don’t die in her arms. I mean she’s such a profound woman. I don’t do half as much as what she does, but she’s really incredible. And she doesn’t just wait for the IDPs or refugees to get to the camp. She literally goes out there and says, “If you cannot get to us, we will come to you. We will help you.” These are really dangerous places, but the people need you.
JET: Wonderful. That’s incredible.
KG: Yeah. It’s really incredible.
JET: Well, on a bit of lighter note, since there’s so much wonderful television out right now, are you binging anything and if so, what are you watching?
KG: There’s such great television. I’ve been watching this HULU show called Soundbreaking which is really amazing. It’s really good. I’m watching anything I can when I can. I’ve met actors and they’re just like, “I don’t have time to watch television.” I literally watch TV as much as I can. First of all, I just love watching different talent on television. I watch a lot of How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, all that. Those are the shows you really binge on and you look up and it’s four in the morning and it’s like what are you doing with your life? I watch a lot of Showtime, AMC and all that stuff.
JET: Good stuff, so I know you also partner with Wet n Wild and with Caress, so are there certain go-to products that you always have with you whether it’s a film set or music video set that you just have to have in your arsenal?
KG: You know what? I love a good travel set of those Caress bottles that you can just get at Target. In terms of makeup, I’ve been trying a bunch of different things. I love a good glow like NARS Illuminator, and Orgasm is my jam. I love Anastasia Beverly Hills palettes for the face. I’m biracial, so I change skin tones by the week, so I have to have my palettes I have a lot of the Naked Palette, I have the Max Studio Fixes. I have Makeup Forever. Black Opal is really good for darker skin tones. I’m always trying to make myself a little bit tanner because living in Georgia; we don’t get as much sun as in LA. I’ve been using these Aveeno makeup removing wipes that have been incredible. I just started using a serum by a company called Skin, Inc. where you can customize your own serum based on what your skin type is and what you want your skin to do or any issues that you struggle with. I play around a bit. There’s always so many products out there. I just try to keep it simple. And I drink a lot of water.
JET: Thank you so much, Kat. Congratulations on All Eyez on Me and on your album.
KG: Thank you so much.
Love Music Funk Magic will be released on June 2nd and All Eyez On Me will debut on June 16th.