It is 75 degrees and Herizen Guardiola is feeling good. Dressed in a black leotard and sheer silk Bottega Veneta skirt, her natural curly hair billowing in the breeze, she is a doing a sort of short, syncopated dance around the rooftop of London’s National Theater as the photographer and a flurry of assistants check the lighting. “Coachella! I want to go back,” she says, twirling in circles as the mesmerizing electronic beat of Flume fills the air. When they decide to move to the other side of the roof to begin shooting, she picks up the speakers herself and carries them across the way. When it comes to the music—and nailing just right beat—she’s not taking any chances.
One might say the same about Baz Luhrmann, who instantly recognized the multi-hyphenate potential of the relatively unknown singer and model when he cast her in his upcoming Netflix musical drama, The Get Down. “It was one of my first auditions,” says the former model, who had just been offered representation by the theatrical side of her talent agency. “I was really nervous because I had never acted before. The only thing that was familiar for me was the singing. I sang Alicia Keyes, Falling. I was sick that day—of all days—but two days later, I got flown to New York for the callback. And a week later, Baz called personally. He said, ‘Hi Herizen, I was just wondering if you want to be a part of The Get Down.’” Guardiola was on her way for a hike at the Hollywood sign when she received the call. “I remember thinking, what a coincidence. It was the coolest thing ever, honestly.”
The Get Down, Luhrman’s first—and much buzzed about—foray into the small screen, explores the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx during the late seventies. In the show, Guardiola plays Mylene Cruz, a young singer from a conservative religious background who dreams about becoming a disco star. “Music has always been my first love,” says the fledgling actress, who easily identified with the character she portrays on screen. The shoot has just wrapped and we are sitting across from each other on the roof of the National Theater. “My dad is a ragae musician and I was raised around the Marleys. Growing up around that world influenced me in a lot of ways. As a kid, I would be on stage with my Dad, you know, his little backup singer. He had us record a couple things on his album when I was about six. So I’ve been doing this a long time. Music is really who I am, I would say. It’s the way I express how I feel, and how I’ve learned to tell my story.”
To get into character to play Marlene, Guardiola studied the lives—and outfits—of disco icons such as Donna Summers and Diana Ross. “I really didn’t know anything about disco before this. “So everyday on set was like a history class. With Baz, you learn so much just being around him.” Prior to being cast in The Get Down, Guardiola didn’t give much thought to fashion, gravitating towards low key staples such as Converse sneakers and leather bombers. “I’m not a fashionista,” she says. “My style is kind of boyish. I wear a lot of t-shirts, jeans and baseball caps. I have naturally curly hair and I usually just let it do its thing.” Though she still often finds herself in the t-shirt section when she shops, Guardiola now has a newfound appreciation for the power of clothing to define who you are. “My character Mylene starts off in a cocoon. She wears a lot of high-waisted skirts and modest tops. But as the season progresses, she becomes a butterfly. She turns into a real, 70s disco star and gets to wear the coolest, most amazing dresses. It’s been awesome for me because I’ve kind of evolved with my character. I’m learning about fashion at the same time that she is.”
Guardiola had her first big fashion moment at the Met Ball earlier this year. Though she can’t remember the name of the designer she wore (for the record, it was Monique L’Huillier and she looked gorgeous) she enjoyed getting dressed up. “It was a whole new experience—the makeup, finding a dress.” More exciting still? Meeting actress Kristen Stewart and “all of these people she admires musically” such as Lady Gaga. “Everyone was really welcoming and cool.” Guardiola—whose first name has less to do with the skyline and more to do with her parents’ chill outlook (mom is a Buddhist; Dad named her Herizen to symbolize “her eye plus Zen” she explains) is a “go with the flow” kind of person when it comes to fashion—and life. “The people I look up to most in life are in my immediate circle. “My little sis [who has Downes Syndrome] is my best friend. And my Dad is so dope. He wears jeans; he has dreads. He just does his music and doesn’t give a sh#$. And as for her mom? The yoga instructor/personal trainer/health counselor/poet/movie maker/special needs therapist is “an amazing, strong woman who never lets anyone tell her no.” Which sounds a lot like someone else we know. Watch out, Hollywood.
For more orginal shots of Herizen Guardiola, pick up the September issue of InStyle!
Shoot credits: Billy Ballard; hair: Alexandry Costa/Artist; makeup: Maria Comparetto/Emma Davies; styling: Jane Howard; manicure: Ama Quashie/Chanel/CLM; production: Rosco Production