We had a Zoom hangout with ‘Pose’ star Ryan Jamaal Swain

Resting in front of an exposed brick wall, Ryan Jamaal Swain exposes his vulnerability and lavishes in it.

The 26-year old Alabama native and HBCU-(historically Black college/university) alumni from Howard University smiles into our Zoom call with joy. Sporting a striped shirt and infectious smile you can’t help but return a gleaming, cheesing grin back.

On FX’s Pose, Ryan plays Damon, a young dancer who’s taken under the house of Mother Blanca Rodriguez after being kicked out for his sexuality by his own biological family. The poignant portrayal had many in the industry paying attention to the actor. Almost instantly, he made the Forbes ’30 under 30′ list and soon, the show was nominated for over 50 awards including multiple Golden Globes and Emmy’sPose, which has just been renewed for a third season, has also made history by having the most Trans actors in television history. Its second season is now on Netflix. 

He takes Damon’s role in stride. Being a Black and queer man, Ryan has experienced pain in ways that the majority of America is just now waking up to. While many celebrities are only recently speaking out about the abuse that Black people deal with on a day-to-day basis, activism runs in Ryan’s blood. “My grandparents have been freedom writers, part of the Southern Christian leadership conference, Black Panthers, and all that stuff,” he tells Very Good Light. “They didn’t want my life to be hard.” 

Before he played Damon in “Pose,” Ryan spent his career in theater. “I just had my off-broadway debut in National Black Theater with the world premiere of Kill Move Paradise.” This was around the time when Hamilton was the hottest ticket in town. “I thought that was going to be my way into this industry altogether. I’m a theater baby. TV and film are things that I’m now learning how to master, and I’m so grateful for ‘Pose’ for allowing me the space to do that.”

SEE ALSO: ‘The High Notes’s’ Kelvin Harrison Jr. on sex, Tracee Ellis Ross, and wearing Joel Edgerton’s sweaty socks

Ryan expresses his gratefulness for his character, Damon. “It’s such a spiritual thing to me, so just knowing that I was going to be endowing a queer narrative or queer person of color, I said I have to do this justice because this is a part of my community. This is a part of my tapestry and this is a part of my history.”

In fact, Ryan’s senior thesis at Howard was about Stonewall.  “I was this fictional drag queen that lived there and that is when I found Paris Is Burning,” he tells Very Good Light. “Never seen it before, at the time I didn’t know that Pose was going to be on the docket, my senior thesis was preparing me.”

We caught up with Ryan over Zoom to talk about Pride, how attending an HBCU helped him nail the role of Damon, and how he deals with newfound fame.

When did you come out? How did your friends and family react?

The first person I came out to was my best friend during my freshman year in college. I had this moment, where I was like, ‘Yo I’m tired of not telling my friend all of the story, all of the tea.’ I sat my friend down in the cafeteria and I told her that I was attracted to men. I’m queer. She responded, “Finally thank you for letting me know.” The one that was a bit tricky was with my family. I was working on a one-man show and my boyfriend was the production director and my mother found out through his mother.

Tell me about your experience growing up in the South. Did you have support growing up? 

I think what was so powerful about what’s happening right now in my life in connection with me coming out is that my grandfather, who is my father figure, was just giving me tenants of manhood. He was the first man in my life that I felt that I was given permission to say that another man was handsome or attractive. That was never present with my immediate family. Growing up I was emotionally and physically abused by my stepfather. My grandfather gave me the courage to step into what it meant for Ryan Jamaal Swain to be a man, on top of the fact that I went to Howard, and that just kind of blew my mind of, like, the possibilities.

Speaking of Howard, which is an HBCU how did that shape your perspective as a Black person?

When you go to an HBCU, or specifically Howard, it’s just us. It let me deepen my nuance and what makes me, me. I can just be me and use everything that is me, in addition to what I’m learning, to create what’s going to make me powerful beyond measure. That’s what Howard gave to me. It was this space where I could cultivate my excellence without my race being attached to it. It’s the reason why I got “Pose,” because of the way that I spoke about it in my audition. Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals said, “That’s when we found Damon.”

Ryan Jamaal Swain interview photoYou credit Howard during your audition, how was that process of auditioning and nailing Damon?

The audition process was kind of normal. I just had my off-broadway debut in National Black Theater with the world premiere of ‘Kill Move Paradise.’ I was sitting on my break reading the script thinking, ‘Yo this is crazy I’ve never in my life seen a script like this.’ Leslie Odom Jr. described in an NPR interview about how he tanked all of his auditions, until one day leading up to all the stuff that he’s doing he just risked it, going in there as a character. So I said, you know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to go in there dressed, looking like Damon doing everything that I need to do. Six hours later Ryan Murphy wanted to meet me, and we did a character interview. Then, four days later I got a call that they gave me the role and it’s just been a whirlwind since.

How do you get through the heavy scenes on set?

I’m a very spiritual individual, so I had to really meditate and take the time to go in and endow like a psychophysical gesture—something that I don’t have to go home and have on me. It’s very hard because my body has that sense of memory, even though it’s part of the acting craft, but my body doesn’t know that it’s not real. I had to do something immediately after we wrapped to just throw myself out of it, so I tell myself, ‘Okay Ryan, you took off the clothes, you took off Damon’s underwear, you took off all the things. You go home you make yourself some tea you listen to some music and just try and do it again.’ I allow myself grace and take myself out of the world because I knew that I would have to go in again tomorrow and share and bare. 

Who has given you a piece of advice that’s really stuck with you during your time on set? And what’s that piece of advice?

I would have to go to my papa bear Steven Canals. Being a queer artist, there were a bunch of avenues and channels that I had to exit out of to find some type of liberating spirit around myself. In the beginning, the episodes were weighing heavy on me. Canals sat me down and he told me, “You got it. You have everything that you need. What I need you to do is actually believe in you, like truly believe in you.” That shook me. He also told me to get a therapist, which I did. I learned to truly understand what it means to believe in yourself is life work. That’s self-awareness. That’s self mindfulness. That’s self-mastering.

On top of being an actor, you also are an activist and very vocal on social media. How do you take mental breaks for your own self-care? 

My mentor, Jonathan McCrory of National Black Theater, gave me this jewel of wisdom: You have to wake up every morning and do something for yourself because throughout the day you’re going to be giving so much to everybody else. I have to separate Ryan Jamaal Swain and Ryan. Like Ryan, that’s from Birmingham Alabama, eldest of four, lover of music, likes to spend time with friends, loves french fries. Ryan loves to be in the cinema by himself, loves crystals, enjoys meditating to the moon, and all the sage in the world. Those are the type of things that reintroduce me to myself and connect me back to self.

If you could give one piece of advice to a younger you, just another Black, queer child living in a rural town in the south, what would it be?

I see you, I love you, there’s no one like you. The world needs you. Don’t lose sight of that because to choose your truth over your safety is in itself a superpower that nobody has. Whatever your truth is it does not warrant your safety at all. You have tapped into what makes you ALL of you, you’re incredible, you’re unique beyond measure, you are powerful beyond comparison, and I can’t wait to see what you’re about to do. If you can’t find the voice, if you can’t hear it, continue to just live your truth. Because you doing that is raising your vibration for your dreams, your goals, and for that voice to meet you.

It is, of course, Pride Month. How are you celebrating Pride this year, and what does it mean to you?

Pride right now is looking like a cute virtual happy hour. The cast of “Pose” is doing a pose-a-thon, which is pretty dope. Overall, pride for me this year is all about education. It’s reading as much as possible and creating work that puts what is my legacy into the pot of what is Pride. Pride is sitting in your truth, sitting in your power, and I’ve also always recognized it as a form of rebellion.

What are your favorite skincare products?

If I had to pack up a bag it would definitely have Scotch Porter’s face scrub, Dr. Barbara Sturm, because Angela Bassett is the face of their Darker Skin Tones line, Beauty Counter’s radiant essence, Elemis’ veggie masks, Glow Recipe’s overnight mask, and face oil from Skin Glass.

‘Insecure’s’ Alexander Hodge is grateful to be your Asian bae

Alexander Hodge Insecure Asian bae

(Photo by Ava McCoy/ Very Good Light)

Weaning off caffeine and dairy, Alexander Hodge is on his way to order a decaf oat milk latte – iced.

Of course, this isn’t just any coffee run and Alexander isn’t just any Australian-Angeleno: it’s a mid-pandemic respite for the Hollywood heartthrob of the moment. 

Despite his partially-obscured face, Alexander’s quest for a midday pick-me-up is noticed by a nearby pick-up truck.

“Hey man,” shouts a masked construction worker. “You’re the guy from that show, the one who gets with the girl?” He waits for confirmation. “My man.”

“That show” is HBO’s runaway hit, Insecure, and “the girl” the stranger speaks of is its perpetually unlucky-in-love lead, Molly (Yvonne Orji). Although he’s only a recent Insecure regular, Alexander’s character, Andrew, has all but won Molly’s heart already – earning Andrew and Alexander, alike, the title of “Asian Bae.” As the series has progressed, Twitter has become increasingly dehydrated – every quick quip or thrust of his naked buttocks prompting another wave of parched posts to flood the platform. 

SEE ALSO: Marcus Scribner is the future of Hollywood we need now

Speaking of his newfound “bae” status via a socially distant phone call, Alexander Hodge can acknowledge the oddity of his situation. It’s one thing for a young Australian to bat big enough to land a recurring spot on a major network series, he says, and a whole other for an Asian man – rarely positioned as sex symbols – to become the subject of an overnight obsession. An academically-challenged Irish-Singaporean from Sydney, the 28-year old never envisioned himself a future as the leading man. In fact, when asked by an acting coach to identify the kind of roles he could repeatedly take on throughout his career, he couldn’t. In truth, there was no one on screen who looked like him. 

Between his relationships with the industry’s brightest and a fanbase determined to propel him to stardom, he’s now poised to become the hottest ticket in town, leapfrogging typecasting in the process. Very Good Light caught up with the up-and-comer to learn how. 

How is navigating life in LA? Has your Australian upbringing given you an edge?

There’s a level of bias toward any kind of exoticism. Accents that are attractive and carry cultural capital, British, Australian, New Zealand. And then there are those deemed threatening. We won the lottery of dialect bias. 

It comes back to colonialism doesn’t it.

That’s true, I never really thought of it like that. 

Then there’s the “what are you working on?” questions, that feel very specific to LA.

Yeah, I just don’t give a fuck about it. I’m very intentional about who I surround myself with. I try to live by one mantra: run towards what brings you joy. I run towards people that bring me joy. The people who ask those vapid, or baseless questions aren’t the people I’m running towards — so I don’t see that side of things as much. 

But you do have to work hard to not be influenced by what is “cool.” If you chase the “cool,” you’re going to be surrounded by the people who are chasing status and ask you those questions. I’m not surrounded by the social hierarchy. 

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Welcome back. #insecurehbo

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So what happens when you are cast in the kind of television show that instantly elevates your ‘status’? 

You just enjoy the meaningless of it. I’m very lucky and grateful to have had the experience I’ve had and be in the situation I’m in, but on the other hand I remember when I was a broke delivery boy living on dollar slices. And I can appreciate the fact this doesn’t change anything about me. It makes me realize that chasing the status is bullshit because, because now it’s been handed to me I don’t feel any different. I’m no more important than I was before. 

And probably no more secure in your abilities. 

No not at all! I watch myself and go, Damn, you suck. Nothing about me has really changed, it’s just more public scrutiny. The bad things people say about me I’ve probably thought about myself before. But sometimes people get creative and then I think, Oh, alright, and move on. I just don’t put any value on it.

How creative?

[Laughs]. Someone tweeted that they would find me attractive if it wasn’t for my forehead. Because if I went down that rabbit-hole, putting value on things strangers say on me I would get messed up. I would be giving a lot of people I don’t know a lot of power. 

alexander hodge very good light cover insecure hbo asian baeBut on the one side it’s a whole lot of “Asian Bae.”

Right but then there are the people saying, “I don’t get it he looks so boring.” It’s a plethora of varying opinions. If I get too caught up in that stuff, then by proxy I would have to get caught up in those saying how butt ugly I am. It’s nice to hear people’s thoughts, I just don’t have to take anything away from it. 

So you’re comfortable just plowing through the comments?

Sometimes! Sometimes I can, other times I feel more self-conscious or — buzzword — insecure. But during those times I get off my phone. I can’t look to Twitter for a pick-me-up, even though I love the fans. 

I’m curious as to the response of your support network to you skyrocketing this way, and also the reaction of the cast. Jay Ellis definitely went through this. 

Oh definitely, Jay is the vet. He directed an episode this season, and it was amazing to be directed by someone who has been through it. To have that kind of trenches-camaraderie. It is such a specific experience and not many people can share that with you or understand it. 

Every time we started shooting Yvonne would say, “Are you ready? I hope you’re ready. Because when this drops it’s a wrap for you.” The producers would do the same, especially after shooting sex scenes, because they’ve just seen this happen so many times. Even now Yvonne just texted me, “How does it feel Mr. GQ? But when I’m out in public I’m in a mask anyway, so it feels like I’m borrowing time.

How does your girlfriend react to the thirst? 

She’s like, I’ve been on this. The level of self-worth and security she has, she’s not threatened by it. To her credit she’s never going through my DMs or looking over my shoulder. The only thing, she’s going to hate me for saying  this, wait–[to his girlfriend] I’m going to talk about that two second thing. What she hates is that when I’m on my phone in this Insecure world with the fans and reading and responding and she asks me a question, there’s a two-second delay before I can answer anything. I think if we didn’t have that we’d be good. 

It’s a side effect of increased screen time anyway. 

It is, yes, we’re in quarantine! It’s not my fault! We’re going to have to talk it out but we’ll be okay. But I don’t know how well we’d go with romance and sex scenes if she wasn’t an actor, and probably the same with her family — they don’t disown me if they’re watching and they see my cheeks. 

You speak so eloquently about how Asian men are so rarely the traditional heart-throb, and it’s interesting that when they are — it’s only those who are biracial, or Euroasian. The Henry Goldings. Have you felt that’s put you at an advantage? 

It’s interesting, when I read the character breakdown of Andrew I thought I wasn’t going to get it because I wasn’t Asian enough. I’ll think, Oh, I’m too ambiguous, they’re going to want a full Asian and not want to see me. But that’s when people are trying to make a statement out of the Asian casting — tech workers, or something. But with this, this guy just happened to be Asian, it didn’t matter how Asian. 

Alexander Hodge Asian Bae Insecure HBO

Stereotypes

Exactly. And for mixed-race people, they’re mixed-race or nothing at all. That’s your nationality and identity, your moniker becomes “mixed race.” My experience growing up in Australia was being a white person among Asian relatives, or Asian friend to white people. You’re not really Irish, or really Singaporean. I’ve lost a lot of bros because I wasn’t Asian enough. I had an Asian person who I like tell me that I wasn’t a “real Asian.” They said it so matter-of-fact. 

And then your moniker becomes “Asian Bae.”

I know and I think it makes a lot of Asian people uncomfortable. A lot of people are not really happy that it was me. Though the fact that it was me as a half-Asian, half-white guy is easily politicized. But I don’t think it needs to be. It can be what it is: creating room for mixed people to have an identity. To be considered Asian, even though I’m half. 

But I would go in for auditions and laugh because I thought there was no way I was ever going to get these jobs. I’m not the ‘cookie cutter’ Asian, and that’s okay. I’m grateful the room has been made in terms of representation, because I’m not the only one. 

Alexander Hodge HBO insecure

Could you have predicted this when you started? How did you envision your career?

No. I thought I’d study for a couple of years, go home to Australia and in the worst case scenario end up working in marketing or something. I never thought there’d be a chance for someone like me to break out because I’d never seen it before. I’ve been thinking lately about the way we don’t realize how much we’ve been missing something until we’ve got it — and that’s how I feel about representation. My acting teacher would ask “what’s your type, what’s your type?” And there’s no one I could look to, because there was no one on screen that looked like me. 

I don’t want to represent a whole people, I don’t think I can represent a whole people. But I can represent the Asians with long hair who failed a lot of their education, and took the long way around to do things. I can represent a very specific type of people who definitely exist. 

That ‘aha’ moment, realizing how much you missed something you never had, was that your reaction to Crazy Rich Asians?

I cried my whole way through that film. I cried not only because it was an all-Asian cast, but it was also Singapore — where I spent so much of time as a child and growing up. I had never even conceived of the idea that a part of my identity could be shown like that. It was a complete revelation. Like, Wait, we can see ourselves like that. 

To play devil’s advocate, is there ever a voice in the back of your head when you see those movies become so industry-supported or critically acclaimed do you think, that recognizes tokenism?

It’s funny because Tarell Alvin Mcraney who wrote Moonlight is a friend of mine and you wouldn’t believe how long it takes him or how hard it is for something to get made. And he’s an Academy Award-winning actor. It’s unbelievable, the budgets he has to work with when something does get greenlit. It’s sobering. Publicly, you see this great change and shift and then institutionally, we still have a long way to go. 

Alexander Hodge Asian Bae Insecure HBO

Is television the answer?

Television is definitely having a renaissance moment right now, but it’s an industry just like everything else. I’m having a hard time separating this conversation from everything that’s happening right now. And when it comes to it and we face an economic pit, I’m not optimistic about the hue of which projects or shows are going to be canned first. If it’s already so hard for an Academy-Award winning writer has to fight so hard because he happens to be Black, and queer, who knows what’s going to happen after this pandemic, if people are going to become more conservative. 

I’m also interested to see how our relationship with content emerges after this. Because we’re consuming so much right now. It’s all we have. 

It’s very hard for us to conceive of what’s going to happen because it’s such an unprecedented time. It’s difficult to even ruminate on it. 

It’s big.

It’s huge! When we do go back into production what’s that going to look like? We’re supposed to be shooting another season later this year and we just haven’t received any word. I just don’t know the answer to these questions. 

But still, how amazing that you get to be a television actor right now in the new golden age. 

People followed the money. There’s a lot more money in television than in film these days, and television expanded brilliantly. The stories became amazing, and then the consumption of television changed with streaming and it proved that people wanted to watch on their own time. And then you look at the cast of Big Little Lies, it’s insane. At the end of the day it’s exciting. It’s an industry that is always going to exist because people need entertainment, which has been proved now more than ever. 

(Artwork and design by Alicia O’Brien)

Kidd Kenn is the queer rapper bringing beauty to hip hop

Hip hop: There’s an opportunity to expand masculine notions.

While most of the music industry has evolved to break gender norms, it seems like a few in the rap community is still behind and tends to fall back into hyper-masculinity. The good news is there are many new players in the game looking to turn hip-hop into a more inclusive community. Think: Young Thug with his genderless ensembles, Bad Bunny and his affinity for nails, and a name you might not be familiar with, but should be: Kidd Kenn.

At only 17-years old, Kenn has broken more boundaries than most rappers throughout their careers by being the first openly queer rapper to sign to Island Records, perform onstage with Kehlani, and headline Red Bull Music’s Renaissance One Pride event in 2019 — all with a face that’s freshly beat to the gods.

SEE ALSO: 3 dancers on their glow-inducing skincare regimens

With his mixtape, Child’s Play, dropping this Friday, we can’t help but wonder what else our favorite technicolor-haired rapper has in store for us. Very Good Light caught up with Kidd Kenn in NYC to chat all things beauty (of course), rap, and more!

What have you been up to?

“I’ve been working, working, working… making new music. I’m working on a lot of different stuff; a little bit of pop. I’m just stepping into different lanes, showing different sides of myself.”

Why rap?

“Because it makes me feel like a bad bitch.”

There’s a lot of machismo, toxic masculinity that’s still seeping into the hip hop community. How are you working to challenge that?

“I just do me, and I make sure everything I do is on point to stay valid. Nobody can’t really say nothing bad about it if my music’s good, regardless of how I look.”

You’re all about authenticity. How did you discover your confidence, especially when you’re so young?

“I’m not really sure. I just woke up one day and I just realized that this is life, and I get one turn with it. So, I just have to live for me and do what makes me happy. I can’t waste time thinking about how other people think of me or how everyone else lives, it’s just not going to benefit me in any way. I can’t really care about how everyone feels, because I’m going to live my life how I want to. I can’t let other people live my life, so I just started doing me and I ain’t turning back.”

You’re from Chicago. How was it coming up there and finding your rap career, as well as your overall identity?

“It was fun. I hung out with my friends all of the time, just kickin’ it around the hood. It was lit, though. Growing up in Chicago was great.”

What’s your connection to beauty?

“My barber does all of my colors for me, and I do different colors because I don’t like looking the same all of the time. I like to switch it up.”

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Ion even Fuck with dat….

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Who’s one style inspiration for you?

“Nicki Minaj. Her business and how she works is just so inspiring to me. If I could switch closets with anyone for a day, it would be Nicki — she’s got the whole Fendi collection, after all. Or maybe Kylie Jenner, I saw her closet and it’s insane. Her closet is like a house, she has a whole room just for bags. I love Lady Gaga’s style, too.”

What are your favorite beauty trends of the moment right now?

“I love my eyebrows, and I love highlight.”

What beauty brands are you into right now?

“I use MAC Cosmetics a lot — now that I think about it, all of the makeup I use is MAC. For my hair, I couldn’t even tell you. I use so many things for my hair, especially the colors. 

What’s your beauty routine?

“I’m not gonna spill all of my secrets, but I dye my hair a lighter color and then just spread the color on so it comes out this bright. Then I just wrap it every night to make it look fresh.

“For skincare, I wash my face every day. I get a rag, warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds, make sure that it’s real hot. Then, lay it on your face, and let the steam do its thing. When it cools down, wipe your face. Then use lotion, and you’re set.”

Who are your favorite designers of the moment?

“I get all of my clothes from Boohoo, I love Boohoo. But, I don’t mind a pair of Balenciaga’s every now and then.”

What advice do you have for men in regard to beauty?

“I feel like makeup is supposed to enhance your beauty, not make you feel different. So, just ease into it and don’t overboard with it. I incorporate all of my natural flaws into my makeup, and it makes me feel good. But, at the end of the day, just do whatever you want to do — just do you.”

Secrets behind Jaden Smith’s colorful hair

What does Pharrell, Kanye West and Jaden Smith have in common?

They’ve all rocked enviable colorful hair, from blondes, to greens to pinks, it’s as if these celebs have done it all. Because they have, through the expertise of their stylist and colorist, Vernon Scott, a NYC-based hair guru who also counts Zayn Malik as one of his clients.

SEE ALSO: I got a dramatic perm and an even more dramatic outlook on life

While coloring might change your entire attitude and brighten you mood, it’s probably the worst thing you can do to your hair. “After all, coloring your hair is very abrasive and you’re stripping pigment from your hair follicles,” says Vernon, to Very Good Light. He tells us that when it comes to bleaching your natural hair, you have to get to a point where you’re ready to lead follicles go. “You need to come to a point where it’s about aesthetics more than it is the health of your hair,” he says.

For guys like Jaden, that means going through an hours-long process of bleaching and coming back to brighten it more if the hair doesn’t respond the first time. Below, is everything you need to know about bleaching your natural hair for the first time, and the one step most are doing wrong.

Cut and style first

Ready to take a plunge into the bleaching pool? Cool. But if you do, Vernon says to remember to get the shape and style you want at least a day before you color. “A major part of coloring a lot of guys don’t know is styling and cutting it first, which prevents your scalp from being too agitated,” he says. “Bleaching is strong and you should take precautions to make it as easy as possible. Messing with your scalp will make it sensitive to any kind of bleach.”

Go the extra (moisturizing) mile

Days ahead of your color, try to prepare as much as you can with deep-conditioning treatments. A popular choice is Daily Damage Defense from Philip Kingsley, $27, a product especially for coarse hair. Simply scrunch into dry hair or apply throughout with wet. Do this at least three days before to strengthen your hair.

When you bleach do it in sessions

Unless you have no pain receptors, you’re probably going to want to bleach your hair in a series of days. The first two hours are going to turn it into a light yellow, but if you want a platinum, Vernon says to think about coloring like the process of tattooing. “When you want to go lighter or even lighter, you’re going to have to do it in sessions,” he says. Don’t forget that it’s also extremely painful as the bleach will burn your scalp. BE WARNED.

Kinky hair = more maintenance

For those with textured hair, you’ll need be a little more attentive. That’s because, according to Vernon, your hair is prone to being a little more fragile and drier. The more tightly curled, the less the hair is able to absorb natural oil. “Your hair could change textures completely, some hair can even turn into what Brillo Pad feels like,” he says. “The chemicals really do alter your hair shape, so don’t be surprised. If your hair has changed shape or form, don’t fret. Using a leave-in conditioner days after will bring it back to life.

Find a product that works for your hair type

“Not everyone is Odell Beckham Jr.,” says Vernon. “His hair is very textured and isn’t coiled or kinky.” For the rest, it’s about finding a hair product that styles and moisturizes, what Vernon says is a two-in-one. He’s keen on three categories: water, cream and oil-based products. To find what works for you, you really have to try the products out. “The great misconception is that one type of product will work with a specific type of hair, that’s not always the case.” To see which product works for you, Vernon says to go with a “wait and see” approach. “If your hair isn’t absorbing the product but is shiny on the outside, it’s not doing you any good. You have to find a product that helps with maintenance and the health of your hair. If healthy isn’t working you go on to the next.”

If worse comes to worst – chop it off

The luxury of being a celebrity means you can buzz off your hair whenever it’s bleached and dead. “Most of my clients like Jaden will bleach their hair and start again with new hair,” he says. “Unfortunately there’s no way to get around it.” If your blonde hair is falling out, it’s probably a clear sign that it’s time to move on. “Bleach is super damaging so if you’re experience your hair cutting off by itself, buzz it off and start over again.”

‘Harriet’ actor Mitchell Hoog is the opposite of what people think of Gen Z

Mitchell hong

(Photo by Brandon Jameson)

There’s Generation Z – then there’s Generation Zen.

Mitchell Hoog seems to be the latter. One of Hollywood’s newest “It Boys,” with a new movie out today called “Harriet,” alongside Janelle Monae and Cynthia Erivo, busy wrapping up three other films and a television show, the 20-year old is being mindful of how technology can disrupt life.

SEE ALSO: Kpop star Henry Lau on wants to represent Asian American men everywhere

While most others in his generation are obsessively posting on the ‘gram, producing TikTok videos, or thirsting for attention, Mitchell’s mostly off of his phone.

“I have a cap on Instagram – it’s 20-minutes a day,” he tells Very Good Light over the phone. “I’m human yes, and sometimes I’m on there more, but I’m very conscious not to go straight to social media.”

Which seems very abnormal for any person under 25. After all, there are countless studies on iPhone addictions, with an average American on their phone for over four hours a day. Though there aren’t any studies about the repercussions, there’s already an influx of anxiety and depression that is said to be stemmed from social media.

But Mitchell refuses to allow technology to dictate his life. Though he has an Instagram and is on social media, he’s mindful of how it shouldn’t play a majority of his daily life. And it’s this self-awareness that he says has allowed him to find success in Hollywood and navigate his career without compromising who he is – someone who’s sensitive and thoughtful.

A competitive snowboarder from Fort Collins, CO, he was thrust at the mercy of the mountains as a child, where he’d practice on an around-the-clock schedule. At 13-years old, Mitchell was already gaining sponsorships and contracts, something that he says made him “mature really fast.” Through the chaos of competitive sports was his ability to quiet his mind, something he’d practiced since he was a child. His dad was a motivational speaker and his mother was spiritual, which allowed him to take part in their lessons. “I read a lot about Buddhism, Taoism from my mom and business books from my dad,” he says. “I was never into video games.”

As the youngest child, he recalls being imaginative and creating his own worlds, expressing himself through acting. His old brother and sister were both in theatre, and when he decided to take a stab at acting, he realized he had an innate ability to emote. It led him to Los Angeles where he was signed and began his Hollywood career. His first big role was as JC Snyder in Netflix’s “Walk. Ride. Rodeo,” a story about a teen who’s determined to get back into competitive rodeo after a spinal cord injury. Next was a Lifetime movie called “The Wrong Stepmother,” where he played a character named Patrick.

Finally came his biggest role yet in Harriet, a biographical film about slave-turned-freedom fighter Harriet Tubman. In it, he plays Vince Brodess, the son of a plantation owner who decides to sell Araminta Ross (Harriet’s given name at birth). It’s this that becomes the catalyst of Harriet’s decision to flee and run for her life.

The movie, Mitchell says, was transformative. “Working with Cynthia (Harriet) was so inspiring,” he says. “Being around people who are consumed by art or an idea and talking to them made me work two times harder. Cynthia is so accomplished at such a young age and I was eager to learn about her work ethic.”

Funny coming from Mitchell, who himself, isn’t even 21. Though not even legal to drink, Mitchell seems wiser than his mere two decades of life. For one, he’s very aware of his own power and encourages others to also discover theirs. “I think we’ve forgotten how to be bored,” he says. “We need to give time to sit down and let your mind explore and go to different places. To question things. That’s how we find empowerment.”

Mitchell Hoog

(Photo by Brandon Jameson)

He also mediates – a lot. “Meditation is a constant, almost a job, and you have to work on it,” he says. “Sig down, have your legs crossed and close your eyes. It doesn’t have to be at home, either. You can practice active meditation through security in an airport to anywhere you’re at. Just concentrate.” Social media, he says, has “interrupted the thought process and focus.” He says he wants to simplify his life and his day. And so he’ll paint or read. He’ll text to friend to have face time – real face time, not on your iPhone – and invite them over. He’ll deconstruct the day and dissect how it went.

“Life for me is about being present, practicing vulnerability and empathy,” he goes on to say. “It’s very hard to be vulnerable and I’m trying my best myself, but I hope I can continue being present.”

Watch Harriet, which premieres today, in U.S. theaters.