Teyana Taylor Is Mother
It’s Oscar weekend and Teyana Taylor is busy, busy, busy. A pop star by trade, the Harlem-born performer is storming Hollywood with her fearless lead performance in A.V. Rockwell’s drama A Thousand and One. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, in part thanks to jury member Jeremy O. Harris, who, like Taylor, was in between fittings when he got her on the line to talk about everything it took to arrive at this moment.
SATURDAY 12 PM MARCH 11, 2023 LA
TEYANA TAYLOR: Hello?
JEREMY O. HARRIS: Hi!
TAYLOR: Hi! Sorry, my fitting is going over. I’m getting ready for the Vanity Fair party tomorrow.
HARRIS: Oh, where are you getting your fitting done? I’m heading to one right now.
TAYLOR: I’m at my house ’cause you know, I style myself. I pull all my own stuff.
HARRIS: I love it.
TAYLOR: Where’s everybody at?
HARRIS: I’ll put my video on.
TAYLOR: Excuse my durag. [Laughs]
HARRIS: The durag is the look. I love it.
TAYLOR: I got all my clothes lined up. I’m about to put them on the racks. Sweetie, I’ve done lost track of time a little bit. What’s up, boo? I haven’t seen you since fashion week.
HARRIS: I know. But we’re going to see each other tomorrow. You’re going to be stepping out doing the thing that every starlet should do, which is taking people’s breath away. Every time you step out, I’m like, “Ah, my god.”
TAYLOR: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.
HARRIS: I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey that you’ve taken to get to this moment, and you in that TikTok clip from MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.
HARRIS: Is it fathomable to you, looking at that little Harlem girl, to imagine she would be in a Grand Jury Prize–winning film at Sundance, with multiple hit songs on her roster, married with a beautiful child? Did you see this for yourself when you were 16?
TAYLOR: Oh my god. At 16 I was still thinking about skateboards. [Laughs] I would’ve never imagined in a million years—but the crazy part about it is, it was something that I was always around. I was always around my aunts. I’ve watched them take care of their men. My hardworking mom. I’ve always been ready. I was always dancing. I was 12, choreographing for all the little hood dance groups. So the dream was always there, but I would’ve never thought I would see this day, even up until recently. At one point, the question was always, “What does she do?” I’d be like, “I do everything.” I remember working on [Taylor’s 2018 single] “Rose in Harlem” and being very passionate and very hurt expressing what it is that I do, and now it’s just no question.
HARRIS: “Rose in Harlem” is one great clap-back to that, but I do think that your early “Google Me” moment was even more tacit and clear. I feel like you put that idea into a certain swath of the generation’s mind, like, “Google me, bitch.”
HARRIS: So dope. [Laughs]
TAYLOR: I remember when I first recorded that song and I was telling my mom, “No, this song is too cocky. Nobody even knows what I do.” [Laughs] And now looking back at it, our generation is like, “Oh my god, ‘Google Me’ used to have me in the chokehold, dah, dah, dah.” Good times.
HARRIS: Part of the reason I was wondering about how you felt at 16 is that the movie you’re in, A Thousand and One, is this beautiful encapsulation of how when a young person puts a lot of hope into, not only their life but the life of another, it’s boundless what can be accomplished.
HARRIS: There are a lot of complicated factors around the dreams that they’re holding and planting. If you water the seeds of those dreams really well, they can blossom beautifully. What was it like tackling Inez and her journey trying to make her son’s dreams come true, since her dreams come true through her son?
TAYLOR: Wow, that’s a great question. It’s that part when she says, “I thought you needed me but in fact I’m the one that needed you.” Inez just wanted to give the love that she never received. Some people say, “Well, why is the ending the way it is?” There’s so many underlying messages within Inez. That’s what makes it beautiful. And even though, logistically or legally, it wasn’t right, her heart is so pure. To be loved by a kid just hits different, and I think that in her giving little Terry that love, she was receiving it because she was getting it back in the purest form.
HARRIS: And you have two little babies at home, right?
TAYLOR: Yes, I do.
HARRIS: My Super Sweet 16 showed us that you have such a loving mother. You were taken care of so well as a kid. What things did you learn from your mom that you’re trying to pass on to your children and what things do you learn from them every day?
TAYLOR: One thing is my mom always kept my head on my shoulders. And one thing I want to be clear about, because I saw a comment a few days ago, and you’re the first person I’m telling this to: Apparently it’s this new thing called “nee-poh baby” or something like that.
HARRIS: Nepo baby. Yes.
TAYLOR: I’ve seen all these tweets like, “That’s crazy. I never knew Teyana was a nepo baby,” and I’m like, “Tell me who my celebrity parents are?” Let’s be clear. My mom was literally a workaholic, she worked her ass off to make sure I had everything that I needed. So by the time we got to my sweet 16, I had just signed my first contract with Star Trak, Pharrell Williams’s label, and me, my mom and Pharrell, and the label, we came together. That was from her hard-earned money and my hard-earned money from getting my record deal. I was just this little Harlem girl and we sat down and watched Sweet 16 and I knew I wanted to set the tone. I’m from New York. I don’t want no car. I want a bike. You feel me?
HARRIS: Yes. I love that.
TAYLOR: So I want to commend my mom, she works very hard and she made a lot of things happen for me, and that’s why this role means so much. Even when I first got pregnant with Junie, I remember texting her, like, “Yo, I just appreciate you so much.” I used to laugh when she was like, “Oh girl. I was in 72 hours labor,” all those little things that they say. Then becoming a mom is like, “Wow.” And then becoming Inez is triple wow. So I commend her from the bottom of my heart. And I just wanted to get that off my chest.
HARRIS: Part of the reason I was crying the way I did at the premiere is because you can’t fake that funk. I had a single mother who worked three jobs to make sure I went to private school and she did that so that I could have the ability to talk my way out of the abject poverty we grew up in.
HARRIS: To read my way out of that, to write my way out of that. And the fight, the fervor—because my mom is also like Inez, she’s a rough-and-tumble–type lady—seeing you perform that role, I was like, “This woman has touched this in her life in some real way.”
TAYLOR: Oh absolutely. Inez is my mom. Inez is my aunt. Inez is my grandma. Inez is so many people in my life. My mom worked in corporate America. Those hours are really crazy. So I had everything that I needed, but at certain times, I would feel like, “I want you. I’d rather have nothing and you than to have it all and have you overworking yourself.” That’s at a young age, not understanding the importance of her building this life for me. My mom is one of the most intelligent people I know. She’s taught me so much and she went to measures above and beyond to make sure I got where I was today. The moment I got signed—I’ll never forget the day—my mom was working a temp job, and I remember when I first told her about my meeting with Pharrell, she quit right away.
TAYLOR: She instantly became my manager. From that day on, that was my roll dog. For real, for real, for real. We both had to learn the business together. And onto this very current day, she’s still my manager.
HARRIS: Damn. I love that.
TAYLOR: So we just been playing the game together, you know?
HARRIS: Yes. I think my mom wished that we had done that part of the journey together, but I was like, “You worked way too hard all my life to get me where I am. I want you to quit your job. You didn’t get to finish school. You had me when you were 19. So I’m buying you a house and I’m paying for college.” So now my mom’s taking art classes and shit.
TAYLOR: I love that.
HARRIS: Have you felt like, since you’ve become a mother and she’s stepped into the grandmother’s space, that your mom has been able to live the youth that she was denied in a way?
TAYLOR: Absolutely. I feel like my mom carries a lot of guilt that she doesn’t have to. I’m a mom now so I get every single risk she took, every single struggle. I will forever kiss her feet. Because it’s just like, “Yo, you have no reason to be guilty. You did what you had to do to get me where I am.” So I feel like with her granddaughters, she’s extra, she spoils them down. I’ve told my mom on numerous occasions, “At any point you can settle down. You’re good regardless.” But she loves to work. She’s just like me. And so it’s like a trickle down, because I get to be with her, and my kids get to be with me, and her grandkids get to be with her. And we’re just basking in it all and we’re loving it.
HARRIS: Being a young woman inside of this industry must be so wild. And to have another woman that can be there to read the contracts, to make sure you’re being taken care of, to make sure no one’s taking advantage of you, is such a gift. I feel like that’s one of the other things that makes you so excited that A.V. Rockwell’s first film was with you, right? Because she also is taking care of your performance in the way only another woman might.
TAYLOR: No, real shit. And that’s what I used to tell A.V., too. My biggest thing was feeling protected on set, and we all did a great job at keeping everybody extremely safe, mentally, emotionally. I was six months postpartum doing Inez—
HARRIS: Hold on. Wait, I’m so sorry. You were six months postpartum and your abs looked like that?
TAYLOR: Yes. I was six months postpartum filming that movie, and just juggling life. My husband was still playing ball at the time, and between juggling his basketball career, his rap career, his acting career, both of us being multifaceted—it was a lot.
TAYLOR: No matter how many people you have in your life, it’s very, very easy to still feel like a single mom. Because you are the one that has to carry these babies. And it’s just like that moment when he’s away working and I’m away working, it’s just really me and that baby. It’s nothing that my mom can do, it’s nothing that my husband can do. And I had difficult pregnancies. I suffered from cholestasis, which you’ve seen on my TV show [We Got Love Teyana & Iman].
TAYLOR: I wound up going to the doctor for it. But you severely itch internally—
TAYLOR: That shit is damn near suicidal. It’s not a joke, and it’s not really anything you can do to cure it. It’s like a, “This too shall pass,” thing. Which is the reason why both my babies came early. If they would’ve stayed, I would’ve had a stillborn. So it’s not even really possible that I can have a third child if I wanted to. It’s a rare condition, but it’s emotional, and you feel alone. So that postpartum is no joke. Because now you’re thinking about everything, like, “She came at eight months. What if she would’ve went full term?” And your mind is just tripping. My mommy mode was on.
TAYLOR: That’s why even the chemistry between me and the actors who play all three of my sons [in the film], younger Terry, middle Terry, my oldest Terry, those are all my babies to this day. Because I’m always in survival mode. So that’s the struggles that I didn’t understand that my mom had to deal with. When you get to experience it yourself, it’s a whole different level of appreciation. I commend her. I commend all moms. I commend myself.
HARRIS: You should. And I commend you for giving as much as you do, because you gave in this role. Not to mention you are a live wire. Not only was A.V. radically transparent in her directing, you were radically transparent in your performance. Your castmates were radically transparent in their performances. It was so undeniable.
TAYLOR: I appreciate that so much. It’s crazy because on top of dealing with the postpartum—we filmed in Harlem, my hometown, and I attended at least three different funerals and wakes during the course of filming the movie. It was always something, and I think I put it all into Inez. She whooped my ass in the best way. And I also knew I had to prove a point. I knew what this was going to mean for me. I knew that I needed to prove myself, and the fact that this moment, that reminds me of my life and my family so much, is the moment that has taken me to heights I’ve always dreamed of and appreciation that I’ve yearned for, is amazing. And the fact that this is the first job that I took as a retired artist, when everybody told me that singing was my end-all, be-all. This was a faith walk for me, you know what I’m saying?
TAYLOR: When I follow my heart, it takes me in the right direction every single time.
HARRIS: If K.T.S.E. was your swan song of an album and A Thousand and One is your debut as the actress Teyana Taylor, you are going to have one of the most historic careers. I say that with all honesty.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
HARRIS: I’m so excited to see what else you perform in, what else you direct. Who are your dream directors to work with? What’s the dream role after this?
TAYLOR: Well, I must say I am truly blessed. I have three movies coming out this year, the first one being A Thousand and One, the second one being White Men Can’t Jump— that’s coming in May. And then The Book of Clarence, which is a biblical film that’s coming out September 22. It is a deep movie, and I play Mary Magdalene. Just to be able to embody three completely different characters in one year, that’s the dream. From there, I want to keep working and keep selecting the roles that I feel like are going to keep allowing me to grow. As far as directors, you know me, you could be the biggest or the smallest. I just want to work. And I want to work with people that are passionate. Of course, everybody knows I love Spike Lee. But I’m in a space in my life where, like, A.V. inspires me.
TAYLOR: I don’t care where you are in life. People that share my story, people that are passionate—I want to work with every single Black female director there is. There’s no set thing for me.
HARRIS: I love that. Listen, I’m going to let you finish your fitting. I’m going to step into mine. I just want to tell you, my fiancé’s inside, he’s seeing me talking to you right now. He’s like, “Oh my god. I saw her last night at the WME party. She looked so jaw-droppingly beautiful. I didn’t want to disturb her by gushing, but damn.”
HARRIS: You have the gay men’s heads turning.
TAYLOR: Thank you for your sweet words and for making me feel so comfortable. I’m really, really shy with interviews but you made me feel safe. I really appreciate you.
HARRIS: Thank you. This was so much fun. Love you, babe. See you tomorrow.
TAYLOR: I love you, too. Bye-bye.
Hair: Coree Moreno at A-Frame Agency
Makeup: Kenya Alexis using Pat McGrath Labs at Opus Beauty
Nails: Brooklynn Rhayne
Photography Assistants: Melissa Robinson and Robert Kozek
Fashion Assistant: Hayley Francise
Production Coordinator: Gabriel Bruce
Digital Technician: David Angel Rodriguez
Retouching: Hempstead May