A version of this story about Laura Harrier first appeared in TheWrap’s magazine’s Cannes issue.
Laura Harrier was on vacation on a beach in Greece when she got a call from an unfamiliar number. “I answered the phone and heard, ‘Laura, this is Spike Lee,’” she said with a laugh. “Whaaat??? I didn’t know Spike Lee, but he wanted me to come back to New York and audition for “BlacKkKlansman.” I had to figure out how to get off that island and fly home the next day, and I was thinking, ‘I’d better get this part.’”
She got the part after a marathon audition that found her doing improv with Lee himself. “I did not walk into it expecting to be reading with him — that was another level of intimidation,” she said. “It was my longest audition ever, and I walked out hoping that that was a good sign.”
It was, and Harrier now returns to the Mediterranean as one of the most buzzed-about actresses at the Cannes Film Festival. For a 28-year-old from Chicago whose splashiest role to date has been as Peter Parker’s homecoming date (and bad guy Adrian Toomes’ daughter) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” this is brand new territory.
“I think I passed through Cannes on a school trip when I was maybe 14,” she said with a laugh. “But I’ve definitely never been to the film festival.”
In “BlacKkKlansman,” Harrier plays a black-power activist in the early 1970s, an era that predates her birth by about 20 years. Obviously, she had some studying to do: “I only listened to music from that era,” she said, “which is stuff I love anyway. And I watched a lot of ‘Soul Train’ — I went down a ‘Soul Train’ YouTube hole.”
She modeled the character after activists of the era like Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver, the latter of whom she met and talked to in preparation for the role. The resulting film, she said, is “grounded in a very serious, real topic. But Spike is so good at taking these serious subjects and finding humorous moments. It’s a thriller, it’s a drama, it has lighter moments — it’s a lot of things rolled into one.”
Harrier was almost in a second movie at Cannes this year, but her role as Michael B. Jordan’s wife in Ramin Bahrani’s “Fahrenheit 451” wound up on the cutting room floor.
“The character definitely has a big part in the book,” she said, “but because of the length of the film, Ramin decided they needed to change the storyline and the structure of the film. And unfortunately my character didn’t fit with the storyline. It’s something you always hope doesn’t happen, but I’m not the first it’s happened to, and I definitely won’t be the last.”
As for where she wants to go from here, the goal is simple: “When I read scripts I look for strong, interesting, fully rounded women, who are unfortunately difficult to find. I just want to keep telling meaningful stories about people who look like me.”