Tiffany Boone has a secret she’d like to share with you. “I actually kind of hate working out” she confesses to me, having just finished a training session before hopping onto our Zoom call. Despite the early morning workout session, Boone is sweet and engaging during our half-hour conversation. The 33-year-old is 15 hours ahead of me, in Australia, shooting Nine Perfect Strangers, the upcoming Hulu limited series co-starring Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall, and Luke Evans. Boone will play the role of Delilah, an employee of a boutique wellness center (run by Kidman) that promises healing and transformation.
These themes have echoed within Boone’s personal and professional lives. Being on the other side of the world has afforded her a certain amount of normalcy, with Australia’s comparatively lower COVID cases. “There have not been any cases where I’m shooting since July. It has been really a nice kind of escape; it has been beautiful,” Boone shares. Her daily routine includes taking long walks, laying poolside, and guided meditation sessions.
The opportunity to relax is well-deserved for Boone, who found herself in the midst of a whirlwind controversy early last year when she broke her silence surrounding her sudden exit in 2018 from her role as Jerrika Little on the critically acclaimed Showtime series The Chi. Boone and the series' then-showrunner Ayanna Floyd had both made harassment allegations against co-star Jason Mitchell, who was ultimately fired by the network in 2019 after a contentious exit from another project. In an Instagram posted in February, Boone wrote “You don’t carelessly leave a ‘hit show’ that is praised by your community. I deeply love Chicago and the people of that city who have embraced me. I felt honored and privileged to be part of telling their story. The weight of what I was leaving behind felt like a ton, but the weight of my responsibility to speak up was even heavier.”
Boone’s bravery and fighting spirit were nurtured from an early age. Having lost her father to gun violence when she was only three years old, Boone looked to her mother, who worked several jobs to support them and ensured that her daughter had access to better schools and education, as a role model. That same focus and discipline would help Boone navigate through an industry that can be especially difficult for young actresses to break into — but Hollywood is now paying attention: Boone landed on Variety’s “2020 10 Actors To Watch” list and The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Gen” list. This past spring, Boone got rave reviews from both critics and viewers for her work in Little Fires Everywhere in a flashback episode where she portrayed Kerry Washington’s younger counterpart, Mia Warren. The craft and accuracy in Boone’s performance was mesmerizing, as she nailed Washington’s physical mannerisms in addition to the character’s strength and vulnerabilities. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Boone revealed the creative process in bringing a younger Mia Warren to life. “I focused less on sounding like her, although she had certain rhythms I tried to stick to, but I feel like physically Kerry is such a specific actress and she’s doing really interesting things with Mia in particular. So for me to get into the character, I really went from the outside in. I tried to understand her by the physical choices she was making, watching every hand movement.”
Boone would follow up with roles in the Amazon series Hunters as the beautiful and deadly Roxy Jones, who joins a group of vigilantes in 1977 New York to bring down Nazi war criminals who are plotting to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. Next up, Boone heads into space as flight engineer Maya Lawrence in Midnight Sky, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure with an all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones and Demian Bichir.
Clooney, who also directs, explains what Boone brought to the table as a performer. “Tiffany’s was a part she made bigger and better,” he said in a press release for the film. “There are certain actors that can’t tell a lie. They get onscreen and you believe every single thing that they say. Immediately, she felt truthful. She felt as if she could be on the spaceship. But she also felt like she could be young enough to be wanting to go home. You have to have that weird balance. She smiles and you love her.”
“It’s her first flight, so she’s kind of the mascot,” says Boone of her character. “Everything’s brand new to her. She’s the one that wears her heart and her fear on her sleeve throughout everything that they’re going through. And she’s desperately looking for connection with each of her flight members.”
Read on for Boone's experience filming with so many Hollywood legends, her recipe for self-care, and what's next.
InStyle: You are working with Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Regina Hall in Nine Perfect Strangers. What have you learned working with such amazing actresses?
Tiffany Boone: I have been so lucky, especially over the last year, to just work with some really incredible actors I have been a fan of for so long. Every single legend that I have gotten to work with, I pick up something different, I would say specifically on this job. Like with Nicole she’s quite Method and pretty much stayed in character all the time. She has a really specific accent that she did not want to fall out of. She told us, "You have not met me yet. You will not meet me until this is over.” It is very different from the way I work, but it is so interesting to watch her dedication to it and how she can just stay in character for months.
Melissa is such a boss, she brings such a really focused energy to set, but she’s the warmest person. She is always prepared and keeping everybody on track, because she is a producer of the show as well. She has just been such a gift to watch. With Regina [laughter], Regina is like a ball of energy. She is showing me how you can just come to work no matter what, just smiling all the time. She is the funniest, nicest person on Earth. I learned something different from every single actor, but specifically with those three women, they have such different approaches and I respect all of them as artists. It has just been great to collaborate with them.
In Midnight Sky, you also worked with an equally talented ensemble cast. Do you have a favorite memory on set?
My favorite moment on set was with George [Clooney] when my sister came to visit me for a week. She was just on set with me all week long, and it was kind of far in the week and she had not met George yet, and I was like "I don’t know if you will meet him, we’ll see what happens." He appeared behind her, and I asked "George, can you come to meet my sister?" And he comes over and she starts crying. I’m like "Oh god, get it together," [laughter] but I knew that if she was going to cry in front of anyone, he was the person that she would be all right with, because he is just the most down-to-earth superstar you will ever meet in your life. He just rubbed her back and laughed, then proceeded to ask her about her life, about her job, about her family. I mean, it is a long story, but I just met my sister, like three years ago. So, he was asking her questions I have never even asked her. It was just such a beautiful moment to me, because it meant so much to her and just how kind he was when he didn’t have to spend that amount of time with her. It just touched my heart. It really speaks to what an incredible person and artist he is.
What did you learn from working on Midnight Sky?
As far as the whole production, I just took away that it doesn’t have to always be hard. Sets and productions can be really difficult, and it can be hard on the cast and the crew. Especially the crew, because they are working so much, such long hours. Sometimes that is just the way it is, but also does not have to be like that. It can be really efficient. It can be run, like clockwork, people can be on their jobs and be happy to be there. It really comes from the top down and on that production, I mean George, he just runs a tight ship, but it is also a place where everybody is smiling. Everyone is happy to be there. Everyone is doing their best work, because a tone is set, that we are going to get this done. You are going to be able to go home and sleep and take care of yourself. I feel like more sets could be like that, and I am interested in being a part of the change in the industry to make it more like that.
Speaking of which, you were very open about your experience on The Chi. Have you continued to have these conversations about ensuring the safety of cast and crew on film and TV sets?
I am having those conversations. I’ve talked to producers about things. I have learned how to advocate for myself and others through that process. It is still a real learning curve to know exactly how to use your voice, because it can get really tiring, honestly, to be the spokesperson for the underrepresented, underserved, and unheard people and be like, "as a Black woman. This is my experience. How can we fix it? How can we make this happen, as an ally of trans people and non-binary people. This is what I am seeing. How can we fix it?" It can get really tiring to be that person. But all of us need to take up that mantle, make sure it happens and keep the conversations happening. Because that is the only way there is going to be a change. When I feel like I do not want to have another discussion with the producer about this, I push myself because it is not about me, it is about making sure that the next person, the next Black woman who comes up in this industry does not have to deal with some stuff I have had to deal with.
Earlier this year you did an interview with Women of Impact where you discussed dealing with anxiety and depression. With everything that has happened with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement, how are you protecting your mental health and your peace of mind?
Good question, because I know all of us are dealing with this. I can’t say it is easy. I cannot say that I am the best at self-care. I am really not. However, for me, I actually got started with the trainer on Midnight Sky because we were doing so much physical work, and I’ve been with her for a year now. I think it has really helped me a lot. To have a routine, to have something where I am taking care of myself and my body, to have goals set for myself and to try to attain them.
It is just to make space in the day to really take care of myself. I am always reading A Course in Miracles, doing the exercises through that, and picking up different mantras. I read it in the morning before I go to set. Then I have mantras that I say to myself, that I repeat to myself throughout the day to keep me in a place of peace, joy, light, and forgiveness. I use the Calm app and do a sleep meditation, or rain sounds because I find with everything going on, I am really far from everyone that I love the most in the world. I am on a very different time schedule so I cannot even talk to them and work so much. I find myself very anxious at night and not able to sleep well, so I started using that to calm down and then just like having fun. I also find moments where I do not want to be around anyone. I just want to lie in bed and watch Netflix and that is OK, right?
In the same interview you also discussed the stigmatization in the African-American community about going to therapy and that there are certain stigmas that we need to let go of in order to move forward as a culture. With other Black celebrities like Taraji P. Henson and Jenifer Lewis being open about their mental health journeys, do you see a shift in the Black community in seeking mental health care?
I think there is a shift. I think what Taraji is doing is so amazing. I see more people talking more openly, especially in this year, in the uprising for Black Lives. I have seen so many people talking about their mental health really openly online, and in interviews. I would not call myself a celebrity, but I think everyone is sharing the difficult time they have been having mentally this year. Like providing a space for other people to talk about it and people sharing resources to make sure we are taking care of ourselves. It is beautiful to see from Black people. It makes me feel good every time I see it, and I think we just have to keep it going, not let it be just of this moment because of this year, but make sure that we use this as a catalyst to continue to talk about it within our community. Because I feel like that is the only way we are going to be able to fix it. I mean, we are never going to fix depression and all of those things, but if we can talk about it, people can feel less alone then maybe we could bring the suicide rate down. Maybe people won’t have to suffer in silence. I think it’s wonderful what I have seen this year.
Who was your celebrity crush growing up?
So many. In high school, it was Boris Kodjoe and Morris Chestnut.
What TV shows are you currently binge-watching?
Right now, I am binge-watching Grand Army. I am halfway through that. I know I’m late, but I have binged Watchmen. I’m obsessed with Lovecraft Country. On the other side of the spectrum, 60 Days In is my guilty pleasure television -- people volunteer to go into jail for 60 days as prisoners. I was doing that for a few weeks
There is a scene in Midnight Sky where your character Maya is about to take her first space walk and she keeps throwing up. Was there ever a performance or an audition where you were so nervous you felt sick?
My first play when I was eight, I did get up and sing in front of a bunch of people, and I cried through the whole thing pretty much. I felt so sick; I sat down in my chair afterwards, and I was like crying, I felt nauseous. I was like, "I know I did not get it," and then I got the call. I booked the role.
What are some of your favorite social media accounts?
Strong Black Lead is always a good time. Planned Parenthood is always good for me to follow, and the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles account. I always follow to make sure I know what is going down. Rock The Vote has been especially useful this year. There’s a guy called The Conscious Lee, I love him. I don’t always agree but I think he says some really interesting and powerful stuff. He also has fun with it, and he will read people for filth, I love it [laughter].
What were some of your favorite album releases for this year?
I can’t even remember what came out this year, to be honest, because I am a person who will listen to the same old albums, like over and over again.
So what do you like to listen to?
I listen to everything Beyoncé, all the time. This year, I really got turned on to Ari Lennox, I was going crazy over Shea Butter Baby. I have listened to “Black Parade,” a million times; it’s not an album, just a song, but I listened to it non-stop. Chilombo, Jhené Aiko’s album which came out this year, I listened to that quite a bit. I listen to a lot of Aretha Franklin.
What podcasts are you listening to?
FANTI is a great show with Jarrett Hill and Tre'vell Anderson as well as Okay, Now Listen. I listen to Rachel Maddow and ReidOut with Joy Reid every day. I listen to a lot of political podcasts. Heavyweight, It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders, NPR politics podcast, and Sibling Rivalry with Bob The Drag Queen and Monét X Change.
What is your favorite comfort food or go-to junk food?
Since I’ve been doing this job, I have eaten a lot of chocolate-covered raisins. I was cooking a lot of comfort food this year because the world is trash [laughs] so I have been cooking a lot of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. I love to make steak and potatoes in any form. I have been on a cheeseburger bender.
If you could only watch three movies for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Love Jones, Boomerang, and Clueless. You see I have a very specific taste from the '90s. I am not saying they are the best movies in the world, but I can watch them over and over and over again.
The Midnight Sky is streaming on Netflix on Dec. 23.
Join us for some Small Talk as we sit down with some of Hollywood’s biggest breakout stars.
Photographs by Erica Génécé. Styling by Samantha Sutton. Hair by Chrissy Zemura. Makeup by Sian Howard. Beauty direction by Kayla Greaves. Production by Kelly Chiello.