Vixen recently chatted with young and vibrant Scandal actress, Yara Shahidi about her experience playing the teenage Olivia Pope this season. The 13 year old also shares the best advice she’s received from her famous rap uncle, Nas and her love for history. Read on to find out why Yara is our favorite starlet on the rise. — Terry Carter Jr.
Were you a Scandal fan before your appearance on the show?
Yes! I watched the first season, until it got a little racy and my mother was watching ahead of me to see what episodes were appropriate.
Yes. My manager knows what type of work I want to do and she saw how this role mirrored my own life. I went into the audition with the book I was actually reading at the time, 12 Years a Slave, and I auditioned with my glasses and my school uniform on.
Were you nervous?
No. I really enjoy auditioning. The whole process is enjoyable for me. There’s actually nothing nerve wracking about it.
What is it like being on the set of Scandal?
It’s been amazing. At the end of the work day Miss Kerry Washington came into my room even though she wasn’t even shooting that day and she came in and introduced herself and she was so nice! And Mr. Joe Morton and Miss Khandi Alexander (Kerry Washington’s on screen parents), they’re incredible and it’s crazy to be able to work with these incredible actors.
Did you and Kerry Washington have a chance to bond while on set?
Yes, she said I was special. And she said that she actually helped pick me for the role!
Scandal is a show for mature audiences. Did you get to follow the actual storyline of the show, or do you just film your scenes without actually watching the show in full detail?
Well, my mother reads the scripts! And she makes sure that there are no racy scenes, and I read the scenes that are appropriate for my age.
What’s the most challenging part about shooting?
It wasn’t really challenging because the character mirrored my life in so many ways. I have glasses similar to the one young Olivia wears on the TV show. She’s also a nerd and loves reading. I am the same way. I’m also a fan of the old school music that she loves, like “Ben” by Michael Jackson.
Through many great experiences that I had on TV shows and in films (Butter and Imagine That). Also I was two years old when I started doing commercials with my mommy and my brother, Sayeed. It’s something that I love to do and it’s something I want pursue along with other things; like studying history.
You’ve previously worked with Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry and Samuel L Jackson. Who was the most memorable to work with?
There’s not a most memorable because I feel like they’ve all given me new experiences. Imagine That was my first comedy. In Butter I got to work with great improve actors and I honed in on some of my improve skills. With Samuel L Jackson and Angelina Jolie I got to work on the more dramatic side as well.
Speaking of famous people, you’re actually related to rapper Nas. He recently shouted you out on his twitter page. We didn’t know you two were cousins!
Yup, we’re cousins from my mothers side. I actually just went to Harvard with him because he had a fellowship bestowed in his name. It was such a surreal experience. I got a private tour of the W. E. B. Du Bois section of Harvard.
What has been the best advice Nas has given you about the industry, or just in general?
I feel like the best advice that has been given to me by Nasir was just to be myself. He said that he could see in my work and just in life, that when I’m not trying to be somebody else or present a fake personality, people can see that, and they can connect.
You mentioned earlier that you love history. If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be?
Abraham Lincoln, partly because given the time period and what he was trying to do. He was trying to give people equal opportunities. No matter their ethnicity. Many people during his time were against this idea. This was not something that had a huge amount of supporters and he did not give up.
Great pick! Are there any female entertainers or actresses that you admire?
Multiple! Kerry Washington for one. And I actually just saw 12 Years a Slave with Alfre Woodard and she was incredible. Also, Queen Latifah. And Jackee Harry. She’s like a comedy genius. I learned so much from her just working with her on the set of First Family.
I’m also a huge fan of Beyoncé. I also thought it dropping an album with no real promotion before hand [was smart].
Do you have any hidden talents besides acting?
Yeah, I love to write. I write a lot of poetry and I’m also a blogger. I’m really interested in history. I’m actually going to Oxford Campus in England this summer so I can take some history courses. I think it’s very important to get these new experiences, not only in acting but in different subjects.
There’s also been reports that you’re not the only newest addition to the Scandal family. It has been reported that Kerry Washington is expecting a baby.
(Gasps) I actually haven’t heard that. That’s incredible. (Laughs) Congratulations to her!
One last thing before you go, everyone has been tweeting about your curly hair! What’s your hair regimen? Any products you use for your curls?
I have to thank my mommy for doing all of my hair stuff because sometimes I’m actually lost. But I love Miss Jessie’s and I’m always trying new regimes and new techniques. Simplicity Hair Oil is also great. I just like trying new things because my hair reacts differently to different products.