Elle Lorraine is the star of the Hulu horror movie, "Bad Hair," out Friday.
It's the biggest role so far for the actress, who has been hustling in Hollywood for the past decade.
Lorraine spoke openly with Insider about being raised as a child by her aunt, who is only 13 years older than her.
And how a real-life bad experience of getting her hair done helped bring the emotion needed for a key scene in "Bad Hair" that's extremely hard to watch, she said.
The instructions were simple from writer-director Justin Simien: "Bring it."
Elle Lorraine appreciated the reinforcement Simien gave her as she prepared to audition for his new movie, "Bad Hair," premiering Friday on Hulu. But Lorraine has never had to worry about not giving it her all. As far back as she can remember, it's been her dogged determination and drive that has gotten her to where she is.
But for the last decade in L.A.l the grind to get to that next level has been a struggle. At this point in her life, it's less a question on if she can bring it and more getting someone to realize she can actually bring it.
Thankfully "Bad Hair" would not be like many other auditions.
Lorraine, 35, scored the lead role in Simien's 1980s-set horror that uses killer weaves as a way to delve deep into how Black culture is constantly repackaged to the benefit of white-owned conglomerates.
The actress plays Anna Bludso, a shy TV executive assistant, who gets her first weave to shine in the image-obsessed industry.
"I remember I had a wonderful theater teacher back in the day who always said, 'Use what you're going through,'" Lorraine recalled to Insider over the phone from her apartment in Los Angeles. "So I just funneled those nerves into the character and it worked."
After getting small parts here ("Dear White People") and there ("Boomerang"), along with a recurring role as the memorable Trina, Issa Dee's vivacious neighbor, on "Insecure," playing Anna in "Bad Hair" is her real introduction to audiences. It's a full-bodied role in which we see her dramatic and comedic chops, as well as a star quality that doesn't make her look out of place alongside the likes of Lena Waithe, Vanessa Williams, Kelly Rowland, Laverne Cox, Usher, Blair Underwood, Jay Pharoah, and James Van Der Beek, who she shares the screen with throughout the movie.
All of this is a far cry from when Lorraine packed her bags and moved to Hollywood via Houston. As her old roommate, Emmy-nominated writer-director Dime Davis ("A Black Lady Sketch Show"), recalled of those early days in their careers, sometimes just surviving was more important than the dream of fame.
"We came from a place where our parents weren't able to set us up," Davis told Insider.
In fact, for most of Lorraine's life, she's been figuring things out on her own.
Lorraine was raised by her aunt, who is only 13 years older than her
Lorraine was born and raised in Houston, Texas and quickly became the responsibility of her grandmother.
"My mom was young when she had me. I was her second child and that was a bit much," she recalled. "The family structure that many African-Americans have is a village raises you, so my grandmother took over."
But when Lorraine was 6, her grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away, moving the responsibility to care for Lorraine over to her aunt — who is only 13 years older than her.
"So I was 6 and my aunt was 19 and we already had a bond. So we said, 'Let's do it,' and we started our journey just the two of us."
Lorraine was already showing an interest in performing as she would constantly act in plays at her Baptist church. She was also inspired by her aunt, who was a prima ballerina, performing at Houston's esteemed High School for the Performing Arts where alumni include pianist Robert Glasper and Beyoncé. Lorraine would later attend the same school as a teen (and though she never got to work with him, Simien was an upperclassman at the school when she was there.)
At school, she honed her acting skills and built up a strong work ethic through almost constant auditioning.
"We built sets, did the costuming, everybody had to audition to get into shows, you even had to audition every year to get back in the school," Lorraine recalled.
The actress confessed that she was a dreamer, a quality about her passed down from her aunt, who always wanted her to pursue her dreams and try new things.
"My auntie just wanted me to know that anything I do. If I worked hard enough, I could do it," Lorraine said. "She just wanted me to soar."
'A lot of times I felt like I was not the type of Black person they were looking for in this industry'
After graduating from Chapman University in Orange, California, Lorraine packed her bags and moved about 40 minutes to Los Angeles. Like most aspiring actors it was tough to get noticed. She would get parts in small theater performances around Los Angeles, and then there was the grind of the audition process.
Lorraine said at times it mirrored the opening scene of "Bad Hair," in which Anna goes in for an audition as a veejay and is told that her "look" isn't right, which is code for she's too Black.
"There were times when I would walk in and immediately feel insecure because I didn't look as glammed up as a lot of the women — I still don't really know how to do my makeup," the actress admitted.
"But there were other times when I knew I would be great for the role and then that ethnically ambiguous thing would come up," she said, referring to a preference by casting directors to hire actors with lighter skin tones or with seemingly mixed ethnicity. "And I would be like, 'But I'm Black. I thought that's what this role was?' So a lot of times I felt like I was not the type of Black person they were looking for in this industry."
Davis, who was Lorraine's roommate at the time and going through her own struggles to get noticed on the directing side, recalled the hard times.
"I was working at this advertising agency that I hated so much, and she worked there with me for a little while," Davis said. "We just knew this was not the dream. This was not what we came so far to be doing."
So around 2010, the pair began using the money they had saved up to do work that they hoped would get them noticed. They wrote scripts and did a web series. (In a moment of entrepreneurial forward-thinking, when Instagram began to grow in popularity, Lorraine took the handle @ElleMagazine with the plan of either getting the iconic magazine to buy it from her or she would trade it for a cover shoot.)
The success of the web series gave the duo the confidence to make the 2016 short film, "Sugar." Written and directed by Davis with Lorraine producing and starring as the lead, it follows a daughter coping with her mother, who is living with Alzheimer's.
Both Davis and Lorraine said "Sugar" was the first major lift in their careers as the project took part in the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. But Davis said it also showed her the focus Lorraine has beyond just being an actress.
"It was day two of a five-day shoot on 'Sugar' and the first two days were rough. I didn't have the bull by the horns," Davis said. "We are in our cars leaving set and she called me and was like, 'Look, we can't continue like this. We got to get this together. We have got to figure it out.'"
"That was her stepping out of being an actress and being a producer. It was so sobering as a director, but also it made me feel I could fully trust her. That moment solidified us."
Lorraine gave a laugh when she's told Davis' story. "Oh, I remember," she said.
The actress agreed that moment didn't just strengthen her bond with Davis, but also served as an example where she looks beyond the lines on the page when she's working. Her "Bad Hair" director, Simien, also noticed.
"He said he really appreciated that I was also a producer because I was helping him as we moved through some of the scenes," Lorraine recalled. "I didn't even know I was wearing that hat, but he called it out and it made me feel even more capable."
The weave sewing scene in 'Bad Hair' brought back bad memories
Within the last few years, Lorraine has gradually found more and more work.
She auditioned for the Collandrea "Coco" Conners role in Simien's "Dear White People" film. Though it went to Teyonah Parris, she got on Simien's radar and was eventually cast in a small role in the Netflix series adaptation of the movie. Later, she'd nab the role of Naomi on BET's "Boomerang," where Davis has directed several episodes, and was the hugely entertaining as Trina on HBO's "Insecure."
But "Bad Hair" is truly her showcase. Entertainment Weekly raved about her performance when the movie had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year: "She's steadily remarkable: assured, intelligent, deadpan, heartbreaking, and finally, terrifying. Her face alone could carry this movie — it's that expressive, that connective."
This is summed up in one of the movie's most powerful scenes when Anna goes to get her first-ever weave in hopes that her new look will propel her career. Though a weave is used in the movie as a tool — as it takes over the souls of the women who wear them and makes them go on a blood-sucking killing spree — in this scene, it's a very real scenario of the pain Black women go through for beauty.
We watch as Anna cries throughout the experience. The close-up shots of the needle going through her scalp just elevate the horror. Looking back, Lorraine said it didn't take much to get emotional for the scene.
"That's the hardest scene for me to watch," she said. "I've gotten my hair done and sewn in so many times, and that process of braiding can be quite painful so I was surrendering to those memories."
But Lorraine said she also used the anxiety she's had on set when working with a hair team that doesn't know how to do Black hair.
"There was one experience where I did my hair and showed up to set and it was all twisted. I took it out, which was an ordeal, and literally, someone took a comb through my hair. Then they were like, 'Actually, let's go back to how it was,' and that's not possible, there is no going back. It was one of those experiences where I felt insecure and that's representative of the ideas Justin is trying to put out in the world with this film."
Lorraine is continuing to hustle: Even without the @ElleMagazine Instagram handle
Though her first major role is in the can, Lorraine is not easing up. She and Davis have been hard at work during quarantine coming up with projects they can pitch around town, including an animated series and a feature version of "Sugar," both of which would be under their production company.
And though she can't be with her family back home during this time, Lorraine said they are all doing a streaming viewing party of "Bad Hair" this week with her auntie front and center.
"She has been such a cheerleader," Lorraine said with pride.
And what about that @ElleMagazine Instagram handle? Was she ever able to trade that in for a photoshoot?
"I actually gave it up three weeks ago," Lorraine said. "My team had an intervention with me. It was hard to depart with that."
So know if you ever see Elle in "Elle," like her whole career, it was hard work that got her there.
Read the original article on Insider