The future of the film industry lies in the hands of adolescent women like Shahadi Wright Joseph: The 13-year-old plays your average teenage-girl-turned-dystopian-survivalist in Jordan Peele’s Us, as well as the young and courageous Nala in the upcoming remake of The Lion King. With major star power and a collected yet genuine attitude, Joseph has the grace and talent to truly make it in Hollywood.
Still, the Gen-Z actress keeps it real: She runs around New York City with her friends, she loves clothing, from Forever 21 to Balenciaga, and she stans her co-star Lupita Nyong’o (which who doesn’t?!). Below, we talk to the rising star about the future of the entertainment industry, her upcoming role in The Lion King, and more.
You did a lot of work on Broadway before getting into film. How did the transition from stage to film challenge you?
“Musical theater and film are so vastly different. With film, you can experiment a little more with the way you act. It was definitely a little bit challenging when I first started, but I think it all came together really well. I will always and forever love musical theater, though, it’s just a big part of my life.”
You’ve worked alongside modern industry legends like Jordan Peele, Winston Duke, and Lupita Nyong’o. What have you learned from them?
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from meeting Lupita and Winston because they’re such amazing actors, and Jordan is such an inventive director. The way that they get into their characters was really unique and interesting to see, and I’m definitely going to use what they all taught me in the future. It’s been working for them for a while, so it’ll probably help me too, right?”
It’s really cool that your major film debut was in a horror film. Do you think that gave you some more creative freedom?
“It’s one thing going from musical theater to film; it’s another going from musical theater to horror film.”
What was the scariest part about filming Us?
“Probably the times that we had to shoot at night. I always felt like something was going to just pop out of the bushes; maybe it’s just my fear of the dark or being alone, but I think a lot of people felt it as well.”
How do you see your generation changing the film and entertainment industries?
“I’m so proud of the amazing actresses and actors today, like Yara Shahidi. I definitely think that, as actors, we eventually have to talk about the real problems going on in the world and become young activists for what we believe in. We have a duty to spark change in the world through entertainment.”
You’re also starring in the remake of The Lion King. How does it feel to be a part of such a pivotal film, especially since different generations have such strong ties to it?
“I love The Lion King; when I first watched it I fell in love with it just like everyone else. With my role of Nala in her younger years, I set out to create a character that will inspire little girls the same way that character inspired me when I was younger. She’s adventurous, and she’s so empowering even in her youngest form, so it’s an honor to be able to play her.”
How do you want to leave your mark on film in the coming years?
“I definitely want to include more real-world problems into my work. If I were to ever write or create something of my own, I would want to make something that would resonate with people [and make them want] to change for the better. I want to open people’s views of the world, especially since there are people who have more of a sheltered perspective. When you work in this industry, you have so much power. The problem is that a lot of people don’t want to do that.”
You mentioned the possibility of doing creative work in the industry. Would you ever want to dabble in directing or writing outside of your acting career?
“Of course. I feel like my writing has definitely improved, and if I were ever to diverge from acting I would probably be a writer.”
You’re from Brooklyn. How do you think New York has influenced you?
“I started dancing at a really young age in Brooklyn, and I tended to end up in projects produced by people who either lived or were from Brooklyn. I think a lot of that support helped me emerge within the scene of the city, and it led me to bigger roles. All of this support from my community helped me get where I am today, and I’m so grateful to be able to grow up in such a cultured environment. You can’t find another place like New York If you want to jumpstart your career and become an actor, dancer, or anything in the entertainment industry, you have to get to New York at some point.”
What are some of your hangout spots in New York City?
“My friends and I hang out after school at the park, Starbucks, and a few small spots around the city that my other classmates go to.”
Who are some of your biggest role models at the moment?
“Janelle Monae, definitely Jordan Peele, Lena Waithe, and Kerry Washington.”
How about your favorite style and beauty icons?
“I love Lizzo: Her fashion sense is so on-point, her style and energy is so amazing, and she’s all about body positivity. Regina King also has great style. I also have to say that Yara Shahidi influences my style a lot. I love all of her outfits, and she always looks amazing. I also love Leititia Wright, she has really cool style.
“When it comes to beauty, I really love Winnie Harlow, because she’s such an amazing model and she always has great makeup. Lupita Nyong’o also has amazing sense with beauty, I literally love every single look she created on the press tour for Us.”
What do your days off look like?
“Usually, I’m just relaxing at home. Sometimes I’ll go hang out with my friends or just try to chill and have a good time with my family.”
What are some of your favorite fashion and beauty brands at the moment?
“I love Fenty Beauty. It’s my favorite, they have great lip glosses. For skincare, my favorite is Dermalogica.
“For fashion, I honestly get a lot of my stuff from Target. But I also love Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. When it comes to designer fashion, I’m all about Balenciaga.”
Any upcoming projects you want to tell us about?
“I’m working on music right now!”