How did you first meet with Lancôme?
My initial connection with Lancôme was through a product that my makeup artist, Nick Barose, used on me at the Toronto Film Festival. It was the Blush Subtil in Figue Espiègle; I really liked it because it brightened my cheeks without making me look overly flushed. Then I came in contact with some of the execs from the company during my 12 Years a Slave campaign. We had a very gentle conversation; I learned about the brand and what it stands for, and they learned about me and what’s important to me in terms of beauty and its portrayal in the media. And our relationship evolved from there.
How do your views and your approach to beauty align with Lancôme’s?
I like that the brand celebrates beauty of all backgrounds. Its ambassadors are all individual women whose beauty goes way beyond skin-deep. That appeals to me-the idea that beauty ideals are not being dictated, but rather being celebrated, expanded, and uplifted.
Speaking of Lancôme ambassadors. How do you feel about entering the Lancôme family alongside actresses such as Julia Roberts, Penélope Cruz, and Kate Winslet? Have you met any of them?
I genuinely respect and admire all of them, so I know I’m in very good company. I’ve met Julia Roberts a number of times. She’s just as warm and personable as she appears in the La vie est belle ads. The first time I met her she took out her phone and showed me photos of her family. To me that’s the modern-day symbol of peace and goodwill.
How does it feel to be a first black actress for the brand?
I’m very honored to be a pioneer in that regard and to be part of a company that’s changing the conversation and setting trends. I feel I’m in a place of privilege-and an important place, considering how the media consciously and subconsciously affects how we feel about ourselves. I’m particularly honored to be an image that young girls of my skin color will see and help them feel more beautiful and validated. As actresses, we are more than just faces; we connect more deeply with our audiences through our expression of the human spirit which is an added advantage for brands. Through my new role with Lancôme, I think, I’ve already made many women aware that there are more products on the market that are for them than they realized.
Three words to describe Lancôme?
Elegant, gentle, and vibrant.
What are your favorite Lancôme products?
I use Génifique, the youth-activating formula. It hydrates my skin, and I can use it before, during, and after makeup. I also like the Subtil blush in Figue Espiègle, as it works really well with my complexion. My dark skin is never visibly flushed, so I like a product that brightens without looking artificial. It’s also the first Lancôme product I ever used, so I have a sentimental connection with it. Baume in Love lip gloss is another favorite. It has the texture of a lip balm with a soft color and shine and is really easy to use on the go. It’s a nice size, too, for those small clutch bags.
Do you gravitate toward any particular shades with your makeup?
My relationship with makeup is similar to my relationship with food-I like to experiment, and it depends on what I’m in the mood for. So I just listen to my mood and go from there. Generally, for every day, I opt for light pink and plum glosses. In terms of lipstick, I like burgundies and earthy tones. I also like to play with bright colors, like red, especially for the red carpet.
How would you define beauty?
Beauty is accepting, acknowledging, and awakening desire. And desire is the fuel for love and aliveness.
Would you describe your daily beauty routine as high-or low-maintenance?
Very low-maintenance. On a regular day, I wear lip gloss or balm because it’s easy to throw on. I’ll define my eyebrows, and depending on how much time I have, I’ll put on eyeliner and mascara.
Would you say beauty is a gift?
More than anything, I think beauty is a state of being. It’s a result of developing compassion for yourself and others. In doing that, you create beauty that is a gift to share.
What lessons has your mother taught you about beauty?
She said to me early on that your outer shell will not sustain you as a person. You have to dig deeper in order for that outer shell to do its job. She also taught me that how I treat my body internally will eventually show up on my face.
What you put in is what you get out …
Exactly. Diet is the most important part of skin care.
Did you grow up eating healthily?
I did. My mother went through some sort of renaissance before I turned 10 and became very health-conscious. She read a lot about nutrition and instilled those things in me. I wasn’t very happy with the change at the time. No more chips-instead I got carrots! I didn’t appreciate it then, but of course I do now.
Aside from diet, how do you care for your skin?
I wash my face religiously morning and evening, which goes a long way. If my skin is feeling greasy, I’ll use a foamy cleanser. If it’s drier, I’ll go with a creamier formula. After cleansing, I tone and hydrate with Génifique. I also tend to use natural oils because I like the way they feel on my skin.
What is your number one beauty tip for black women?
Protect your skin from the sun. I stubbornly believed that the sun couldn’t harm me-until I was burned! For black women, because our skin is dark, it’s harder to detect a problem if one occurs. That’s why it’s so important to protect our skin. We’re not able to see the signs soon enough.
What was your biggest beauty faux pas?
I used to wear really dark – straight-up black, lip liner and I thought it was cute. Maybe it will come back, who knows! I also used to wear berets. That was sad. My mother would say, “You know nobody wears berets?”
What are your weapons of seduction?
Believing that my weapons of seduction work. Believing in myself allows me to change my artillery when it’s called for.
What do you always have in your handbag?
Eye drops, lip balm, a mirror, and pressed powder-in case I break into a sweat.
Who is your beauty icon?
Alek Wek is a major one. Seeing her in magazines at a young age, I recognized myself in a way that I never could before. She’s from South Sudan, and she has so many physical features that are like mine that it floored me when she came on the scene. I had never seen anyone who looked like us lauded as beautiful by the international media. And she was so unapologetic and sure of herself in a way that I dreamed of being. Elizabeth Taylor is another icon. I loved how her power and her femininity were not at odds with each other. She was curvaceous and regal and also confident, which are such beautiful qualities.
How would you define elegance?
Elegance is unaware of itself. It’s a gliding effortlessness, like a gazelle.
Which luxury are you indulging in at the moment?
I am eating chocolate when I feel like it, and that’s often! I also love to drink pineapple juice. I’m drinking a bottle of that right now.
Do you ever indulge in spa treatments?
I really enjoy the spa, but I like to earn my spa treatments. I need to feel like I deserve them. That way, I appreciate them more.
The philosophy of Lancôme is La vie est belle. What makes life more beautiful for you?
Laughter. I like a good laugh.
When do you find laughter most?
When I’m with my family and friends. I also really love John Cleese-he’s hilarious.
What is your definition of happiness?
To me, happiness is being overwhelmed with pleasure and momentarily forgetting your pain. Joy is choosing to be happy in spite of pain.
Image by Alexi Lubomirski