The Talented Hannah Khalique-Brown
Written by: Vaughn Eric Stewart
Photographer: Marcelle Johnson
Stylist: Patricia M. Medici
Hair: Diego Miranda
Make-up: Andriani Vasiliou
Hannah Khalique-Brown’s talent as an actress shouldn’t be taken lightly. Watching any of her performances that she’s done thus far; you can see there is something very special about her. We sat down with Hannah to found out where her journey began, and how she got to where she is now, as an amazing actress.
Hi, Hannah, how did you get started in acting?
I think it kind of depends on what you mean by ‘the start’. In terms of the seed of acting, I think that planted itself in my heart when I was very young. I did lots of playful acting with my parents, lots of voices and characters – particularly in the car with my dad. We used to create characters, find their voice, affectations, life and embody them sometimes for hours. That was a big part of my daily life for as long as I can remember through my childhood. And all along I have been really encouraged with performing and acting, just for fun with my family or friends and in my career too. I didn’t really do anything in terms of extra-curricular activities, but performance was always a part of my daily life in some way. But practically speaking, I got started my acting career when I moved to London at 18 and I started doing student theatre whilst studying English Literature at university. I realised at that point that I could actually start my career now, rather than waiting for it to happen – so I did!
Was there a particular actor/actress, movie or TV show that inspired you to become an actress?
I was really lucky to be exposed to some great film and TV growing up; both my parents were big film and TV fans, my brother too. It was always around me, so there were lots of sources of inspiration. A standout would be Amélie with Audrey Tautou. It’s a beautiful French film that my dad showed me when I was young and we’ve watched it a thousand times. I think that was one of the earliest things that I watched and thought ‘I really want to do that’. I was also really inspired as a teenager by Natalie Portman. I don’t know why but I was really drawn to her work. I remember watching Black Swan and Leon: The Professional and being really drawn to her storytelling and the projects she chooses. She’s always been a favourite of mine and great source of inspiration. I also remember my parents showing me Remains of The Day with Anthony Hopkins and really getting something from this very British taste in acting throughout the whole film. It’s very understated and piled on with subtext. My mum and I used to watch To Kill A Mockingbird over and over again, the black and white film with Gregory Peck. I remember watching a DVD of it with my mum when I was around 14 with special features and seeing an interview with Peck where he talks about acting and it inspired me so much listening to him talking about the work, audition processes from his early career and the industry in general. But inspiration came from all over the place really. Sometimes a song or book will inspire me in acting, not just TV, film or theatre.
“Generally, I tend not to want to do roles that are easy and natural because that doesn’t fulfil me as much as an artist.”
Dress by Anciela, Bracelet by Mi Manera
What was your first role?
I think my first proper role was in a school play where I played Alice in a version of Alice in Wonderland that the boy’s school was putting on. I loved it so much. It was literally the most alive I had ever felt. The rehearsal process for that was the best time of my life up to that point, I was so happy. It was a really amazing script, actually, especially for a school play. The sixth form boys adapted the book for stage – it was really ambitious, but it turned out amazing. I loved it. I still remember some of the lines!
Any advice for any aspiring actors/actresses that you can share?
I always find this hard – I’m still quite early on in my journey and learning every single day. I kind of think that some of the best advice is already out there. My favourite piece of advice I is from Bryan Cranston, I saw it in a video on YouTube which you can find if you type in “Bryan Cranston advice for young actors” but he also writes about it in his autobiography called ‘A Life in Parts’, which I really recommend. He talks about the audition process and how it’s not your job to book the role. It’s your job to work really hard on the material, create a compelling character and offer what you can to the story, share it, and then walk away. I heard that quite early on in my career and I’ve tried to be strict with myself to adopt that mindset. It’s really paid off for me because I don’t get hurt by rejection in a way that I think it is easy to, if you’re not careful.
I would also say that whilst you’re of course allowed to have self-doubt and worry and I don’t think those things can really be avoided, underneath all of that, you have to have an unwavering belief in yourself. It’s not about whether you think you’re good or talented, it’s just knowing that you can and will do it. I have that sitting underneath everything else all the time, and it’s a great comfort to me, even when things don’t feel like they’re going the way they should. You believe you’ll get there, whichever way you’re supposed to. It also means you’re not desperate for work, you don’t need it because being on the journey is fulfilling enough.
Tell us about Undeclared War and the character you play?
The Undeclared War is a six-part drama on Channel 4 in the UK and Peacock in the US. It is an incredibly thrilling, gripping and intense show about… many things, but on the surface, it’s about cyber warfare between the UK and Russia. It’s also about the life of this girl, who I play, called Saara. Saara is an incredibly gifted coding prodigy who is thrown into the front line of this cyber war at GCHQ on her first day of a work placement. It follows her onto this front line, but it also follows her fighting battle lines in her mind, her sense of self, her personal and family life which, along with her work life and national and global politics, all goes into crisis at the same time. It’s a really exciting, thrilling but also moving piece of television that has a lot of different worlds in it – political, cyber and personal worlds. Highly bingeable stuff.
Was it difficult to get into your character’s head as an actress?
Interestingly, Saara is very different from me. I did have to put quite a lot of effort into stepping outside of myself and not just slip into Hannah. It’s something I worked on in the audition process with Peter Kosminsky. We aren’t similar in character or affectation but I love and understand her in such a profound way that made it feel completely right to play her. I mean, Saara definitely thinks differently to me and sees things differently and is even different in the way she moves, stands, talks and walks. It’s difficult but that’s part of the beautiful challenge we sign up for as actors. It’s the most satisfying thing.
Through doing my prep work, way before we started filming and even through the audition process with Peter, I had kind of already formed her. By that point, you have such a strong relationship with your character and such a connection and love for them. I like to build them as a whole human life other than myself, so then when it gets to filming you are opening yourself up to letting this fully formed person into your soul instead. That’s how I work and I feel it’s a lot more effortless to “get into your character’s head” after you’ve done a lot of prep work, as it’s more like you letting them into yours. That way when you get on set it can flow through you.
“I also find the kind of cultural mythology of America really cool…”
Top by Kingwen, Trousers by Laura Pitharas, Shoes by Prada, Earrings by LAG WORLD
Are you working on any other acting projects currently?
I am! I’ve just finished filming an exciting and highly anticipated feature film. I’ve loved working on this one, so I’m really excited for people to see it. I have a couple of other things in the pipeline which are really exciting, but you’ll have to wait and see. I’m sorry!
Besides acting, do you have any other ambitions in Entertainment?
Acting has kind of always been my number one. I have recently been reading about a lot of female actors that have also become producers, which is something I’ve never really considered before. I don’t know if it’s something I’m ready to even think about now, but I was reading about Margot Robbie being a producer on so many of the things she works on as well as other projects. Similar with Millie Bobby Brown and Enola Holmes. A lot of women in the industry are taking charge and having more autonomy over the work they’re creating, and I find it really exciting. Again, I don’t know yet if it’s something I’ll do because acting takes up so much brain space for me at the moment. It’s one of those things where you’re constantly learning and re-learning again and again, so it’s keeping me occupied for the moment!
What gets you excited about a project?
Great characters and great writing, initially. Usually, if the story is one, I feel a pull to be part of telling, that gets me excited. Then the people attached to a project can be very exciting too, so if there is a director that is exciting, especially those who are emerging or those whose previous work you admire. I got that with Peter Kosminsky for The Undeclared War (which ticked literally all the boxes) and recently got to work on a film with one of my favourite directors, so that is always a huge extra pull when a new project comes through.
Out of all the characters you’ve played -which role have you found the most challenging?
I would say Saara. Not just because it’s the role that, in terms of the script, required the most demanding work I’ve ever done, but she’s also very different from me. Playing that role involved a lot of work, both in prep and on set. It was a long shoot which involved long days and challenging work. It was more responsibility for me too, compared to the characters I’ve played before – leading a show like The Undeclared War, with my level of experience, was a huge challenge and what I had to do to build Saara’s character was challenging too. Because of that, it’s the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.
And the easiest and most natural role you’ve slipped into?
Generally, I tend not to want to do roles that are easy and natural because that doesn’t fulfil me as much as an artist. I don’t really like to play someone like me. If characters are similar to me, I try to change elements of their physicality or voice, or add in secrets and backstory to differentiate them from myself or make the work more complex for me. I have to feel challenged, always make it harder for myself. Although, contrary to that, when I did Tin Luck, so much of it was about hypernaturalism and improvisation so that was a really exciting and fulfilling way to be natural. A very rare but amazing experience! So I would have to say Leila in Tin Luck – it was natural but not “easy”. If it’s easy, I’m not comfortable!
“I’ve just finished filming an exciting and highly anticipated feature film.”
Top, Skirt, Shoes and Bag (worn as top) by Prada, Earrings and ring by Mi Manera, Gloves stylist’s own
Three directors you want to work with?
Oh, that’s a good one! Darren Aronofsky, Damien Chazelle, and if Margot Robbie or Zendaya ever direct, I would love to work with them in that capacity.
Aside from acting, what makes Hannah tick?
That’s another great question. It’s something I need to work on – having a life outside of my work. I love reading, I love stories – so books and poetry make me tick. Music too. It’s all tied into my work in some way, so I need to get a hobby that doesn’t link with my work! I like being out in nature too.
What do you do in your spare time?
Again, I’m working on this! I’ve just decided that I’m going to start three new hobbies. One is taking up swimming, because I used to love being in water and I feel it’s a really meditative sport. Another is Ice Skating – It’s something I always wanted to do as a child. I’m obsessed with honouring my inner child at the moment. And last, I would love to try some sort of boxing or martial art. At the moment in my spare time, I mostly watch films and TV series, go on walks, listen to music, and make PowerPoints about my favourite actors, directors and films which is really embarrassing – I try to convince myself that it’s homework, but I feel like it’s slightly unhealthy that basically all I do when I’m not working is watch other people’s work. Which is why I’m going to try those three new hobbies. Wish me luck!
What’s your most favourite film?
Ok, I’m really bad at favourites. I can’t do them. I feel attached to films and I feel bad for them if I don’t pick them as my favourites. It’s completely neurotic. I have a list of about 40 favourite films which I’ve tried to get down to 5 for the last 10 years, so I simply can’t pick one.
Amélie, which I mentioned earlier, is always going to be up there because of how special it is to me and it’s one of my dad’s favourites too. I also love Quadrophenia, that’s another connection to my dad. Ah it’s so hard! There’s too many. If I really had to, maybe I’d pick the 2015 BBC TV film of The Go Between – it’s a remake of the 1974 Joseph Losey film based on the book by L.P. Hartley, which I wrote my dissertation on at university, it’s one of my favourite books and just has huge sentimental meaning for me for lots of reasons.
What’s a perfect day for you?
I feel embarrassed to say this, but it’s a day at work! Outside of working, probably going to a café, getting some food and tea, reading, watching a movie, spending time with my friends and family, listening to music on a park bench on a clear-sky day.
Top, Skirt, Shoes and Bag (worn as top) by Prada, Earrings and ring by Mi Manera, Gloves stylist’s own
We are a celeb/fashion magazine. Who are you favourite designers?
I love fashion and style, I always have, so I have loads of favourite designers. I really love Chanel, YSL, Louis Vuitton … It’s clear from that I love French fashion, but I really love Italian fashion too, classic English tailoring, and I find Italian and Japanese menswear really interesting. I also recently watched the documentary about McQueen and it completely floored me. I am terrible at favourites – I love it all!
Five things on your bucket list?
I don’t actually have a bucket list, I’ve never sat down and written one. I kind of just take each day as it comes. Life can be so magical and baffling sometimes, I tend to find daily life crazy enough as it is without jumping out of airplanes or going scuba diving. I would really like to meet Derren Brown and Lana Del Rey – two of my heroes though they’re very different! I would love to write a poetry book too and live in Paris and New York for a bit too. Generally, I’m more interested in growing as a person rather than ticking experiences off. I find life can be quite overwhelming sometimes and just getting through it is enough for me!
Our magazine is called CoolAmerica. What do you find cool about America?
I find American fashion and music history particularly cool. I also find the kind of cultural mythology of America really cool, like modern social mythology – the American dream, Americana – things that people can culturally buy into that hold people’s hearts and give a sense of meaning or nostalgia. I actually really heavily romanticise New York in my head. And I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and I think it’s cool that a place that you have no personal connection with can have such a sentimental hold on you. I love the variety in America too, the amount of diversity in experience – LA vs New York vs Texas vs Atlanta vs Philadelphia vs Arizona, etc. So much diversity of culture that can exist in one country.
What’s coolabout you?
I really don’t feel cool most of the time, and I don’t mind that! I think I try to treat people with kindness, and that’s cool.
Bodysuit by Room24, Earrings by LAG WORLD