Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. Was Born For This

The star of Chevalier is redefining Renaissance man and rock star.

“I've always wanted to play a rock star,” Kelvin Harrison Jr. shares. With that, one thing was for sure: it has never been more evident that a Leo was in the room. Within the first five minutes of meeting, the actor pretended to splash water all over his torso, waxed at length about his musical prowess (sings, plays the piano, violin, and the trumpet, in case you didn’t know), and rattled off the major icons he’s portrayed on-screen like it was nothing. In just a few short years, Harrison built a résumé that reads like a legend in the making, but that’s just Kelvin. The multi-hyphenate is ridiculously talented — and it all comes like second nature.

As we all observe him dip, dive, swoop, and scream on set for his photoshoot, the room is silent with awe. To watch him glide so naturally from pose to pose, a feeling washes over: to bear witness to Harrison’s artistry is to be part of something rare and intangible — almost like seeing a shooting star in the night sky. From the moment he steps in front of a camera, it is so evident that Harrison was born for this and you can’t wait to see what he does next.

With recent roles as Fred Hampton in The Trial of Chicago 7 and B.B. King in 2022’s Elvis, you’ve most likely seen his masterful acting chops, even if you didn’t know his name. Just don’t call him Kevin (or Calvin Harris, for that matter).

“I went to an audition once, and the assistant put the name wrong, and then suddenly people were expecting to see Calvin Harris walk through, and it wasn't, and I was like ... I don't like the disappointment on the faces of people,” Harrison jokes. With a leading role in Chevalier (in theaters now), however, his latest awe-inspiring performance is his best yet.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Turtleneck and ring: Botter.

Isaac Anthony

Chevalier is based on the true story of Joseph Bologne, a Black man in the 18th century who was taken from his enslaved mother and put into a predominantly white school in order to harness his natural musical talent. The virtuoso grows up to become a renowned violinist and composer in Paris, claiming people like Marie Antoinette as close friends and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as adversaries. His life is flipped upside-down when his mother is freed and comes to France to reunite with her long-lost son. All the while, he is fighting to become the first person of color to head the Paris Opera and runs into trouble after falling in love with a married (white) woman. 

While the plot may feel Bridgerton-esque, the inner complexity Harrison develops for the titular character lends a sense of gravitas that is rare in today’s young stars. Most of his characters have packed an emotional punch — perhaps even leaving you sliding down the wall in agony for the tragic fates of his characters (if you haven’t seen Waves yet, you will need tissues — you’ve been warned). He insists that it’s not intentional: he’s merely drawn to a well-written story, saying, “If the writing is good and the character has an arc, then I'm there.” 

Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Turtleneck and suit: Botter. Shoes: Grenson.

Isaac Anthony

As the recipient of a Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA Rising Star Award, and Independent Spirit Award, Harrison is facing a new kind of challenge: being known enough in indie circles, but not well-known enough to have his pick of roles. “I would love to do more fun stuff. I just think that either the movie's too big and they don't want me because I'm an indie actor, or the role isn't right,” he says. “But it's not my choice, really. It's just how the cookie crumbles.”

Just as Joseph Bologne grew up to lean into his natural talents, Kelvin Harrison Jr. was also an incredibly gifted child. The son of a classical musician, Harrison grew up in Louisiana playing a multitude of instruments while embedding himself into the local arts scene. When the opportunity arose to take on the role of Chevalier, the New Orleans native was instantly drawn in — it was a role where his musicality could come to the fore.

“I was obsessed with Joseph once I read the script. I think [screenwriter] Stefani [Robinson] did a beautiful job of really chronicling this guy's life, and it felt operatic in its structure. I've always wanted to play a rock star, but I'm always kind of being like, ‘Well, everyone wants to play a rock star. How can I play a rock star but make it different?’” he explains. “And what better way to do it than playing an 18th-century French composer who is also a great fencer and also kind-of like the violin rock star of the time? That sounds like my shit.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Isaac Anthony

In addition to the six-to-seven hours of violin lessons a day, Harrison also learned to fence from the pros to fully embody the look and feel of the Chevalier of Saint-Georges. While the actor makes it look easy, becoming Joseph Bologne didn’t come without its challenges. He mentions scenes with Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, who plays Joseph’s mother, Nanon, as some of the toughest things he had to shoot.

“We had a drama therapist on set, and we worked through [the scenes] with her throughout the whole film, because we knew that the content was really hard emotionally and mentally. It afforded us the opportunity to really be able to talk through Joseph's trauma,” he says. “Those scenes, you sit for a week and ... I don't know. It messes with your brain. You start to see everyone differently. You're working through a lot of generational drama at that point.”

Without a word of dialogue, the scene of Joseph and Manon’s reunion is one of the most emotionally charged in the entire film, a testament to the chemistry Harrison and Adékoluẹjo built. Their bond spilled over off-camera, where Harrison attributes Adékoluẹjo as a big part of his self-care during his downtime.

“I do little dance parties. Sometimes, by myself. Sometimes, I had friends, like Ronkẹ,” he says. “She would cook fried chicken and she'd come over. We would just hang out, and build community. Stefani, Ronald, my violin teacher. We would all just kind of get together and keep our wits about us, vibe out, and then go back to the opera.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Isaac Anthony

As Harrison studied Bologne’s life and crafted his take on the character, community became a major through line for the story he wanted to get across. “It felt like [the music] was more about the opportunity to be a part of community. Joseph's gift was that he could bring people together and bring joy into people's life through the gift,” he says. “He wants love. He wants joy. He confuses it with ... ‘When I get to Paris, they think of this as transactional.’ I personally don't even think Joseph really likes the violin that much. I think he's like, ‘All I really want to do is love on my people.’”

Does Harrison feel the same way? Given how his natural gifts have afforded him newfound acclaim (fashion contracts, spots on late-night talk shows), does he get the feeling that his talent, especially as a Black man, is transactional?

“I think it's tricky. It's a conversation that comes up. What's good about these new inclusivity riders is that everyone wants to include people of color — what's tricky about it is they don't know how,” he shares. “So, the conversations are really, ‘Can you just check my box? If you just say that it was OK for you, then maybe we're OK and we won't get in trouble, and then we got you involved in this.’ I think that element of it is dehumanizing, but it's something you have to kind of navigate. It's a process. I'm not mad at it. It just is what it is, and I just do my part and make sure I'm honoring myself, respecting myself in the process, and not getting caught up in wanting to work and devaluing myself by throwing away my self-worth in the process.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Turtleneck and suit: Botter. Shoes: Grenson.

Isaac Anthony

Integrity — and preserving it — clearly holds the utmost importance for Harrison, a North Star that guides him in most decisions, from deciding which roles to take on to making sure his mental health is intact while navigating (and surviving) Hollywood. Although he has worked with Naomi Watts, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Baz Luhrmann, Sterling K. Brown, Minnie Driver, Tom Hanks, Tracee Ellis Ross, and many, many other heavyweights in his field, Harrison still feels like he has so much further to go.

“I don't know if I'll ever feel like I made it, simply because I know that this business is so ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ But I will say that what I am proud of is that if my career were to stop tomorrow, I did some things that are really meaningful and I'm really proud of,” he says. “And I know that if I have kids, they will be able to look at their dad and go, ‘Wow, look. Dad played Martin Luther King, and he really showed the man. He played this guy named Joseph Bologne. Wow. I didn't know about this guy. He's incredible. He played Fred Hampton.’ If my career is done tomorrow, I will be proud of it. I have a lot more to do. But I'm proud.”

Without spoiling too much of Chevalier’s ending, the image of the French people taking to the streets is a particularly powerful (and apt) image in 2023. Paris is burning — and the film’s depiction of the French Revolution reminds us of how cyclical groundswell movements of revolution have been. While Robinson and director Stephen Williams did not create the film with any IRL connection, the final scene leaves audiences wondering what could be, if everyone collectively chose community.

“It happens every few centuries. We ride the wave until it's too big, and then we crash, and then we rebuild,” Harrison says of history repeating itself. “With a movie like this coming out this time, it's just a reflection of how life works. This is how history works when you do people wrong.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Turtleneck and ring: Botter.

Isaac Anthony

Favorite villain?
Maleficent. That girl is so fly.

First album you ever owned?
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.

Last time you cried?
I wanted to cry yesterday, but it didn't happen. Last time I cried, it was probably like last week. I don't know. I don't know. I need to do that more, huh? My tear ducts are straining.

Name a movie that made you want to be an actor.
You know, most of the time I watched the Disney Channel, and that's kind of why I wanted to be an actor, to be honest. I liked watching That's So Raven and Cory in the House and stuff like that. And All That. That was kind of cool. But in terms of movies, I would say what made me want to be a serious character actor is probably Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. I just thought she was so just so good. I was like, "How is she doing that?"

Favorite on-set memory?
It's really not even about the movie. It's more so my sister came to visit, and she's so funny. I have twin sisters. They're like four years younger than me, and they're so tiny, but they're so ... They're the coolest girls on the planet. I swear. But she came to visit, and we were shooting this scene over and over and over. The French Revolution was beginning. And she's sitting there, and she sits in Stephen's chair and she looks at him, and she goes, "I think you got it. We can go home." And I was like, "What?" She was like, "I mean, I don't understand why you keep redoing the scene. I think he's got it." And I was like, "Man, that's a ride or die. My sister sees! She’s peeping game! She sees what I'm giving, and she sees it." I'm like, "Stephen, get on her program."

What’s your go-to cologne or scent?
Right now, I love Rose 31 from Le Labo, Matcha 26, and Thé Noir 29. I like to mix them, because it kind-of has a tropical smell. It smells like vacation. I actually love the smell of sunscreen.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Isaac Anthony

Describe your ideal first date.
I would love to do a crawfish boil. In New Orleans, we just have these crawfish boils; that'd be really fun to meet up and go to a crawfish boil and hang out with some other friends, but then kind of go on your own path in a little corner. Because crawfish is more about community and listening to live music and stuff like that, too, but at the same time, you get to really get to know someone, and you get to kind of teach them — especially if they're not from New Orleans, you get to teach them how to use crawfish. I think that people like the old ... "Let me teach you how to play pool." I like to teach you how to eat crawfish.

What do you choose to fight for?
I choose to fight from my individuality. I think one of the things I've learned from this movie and enjoyed about this movie is how unique and singular Joseph was, and it just reminded me of, as an artist, as a person on this planet, what I'm contributing is me, and if I stop being me, then I'm not contributing anymore, and it ultimately is the detriment of the entire country. You know what I mean? I think our uniqueness is exciting, and I want to fight for that. I think that's what keeps movies interesting. That's what keeps characters interesting.

What was the last thing you read or watched that really made you think?
I'm rereading All About Love [by bell hooks] again. It's a great book, and it's interesting. I love books that you can reread over and over and over, and as you grow in life, the language and the commentary ... It settles differently on you. So it's really nice reading it this time around. Honestly, I'm watching a lot of Big Brother. I love Big Brother. Everybody's going to be like, "What has this dude got with Big Brother?" I think it's so interesting. To me, it reminds me of a business. People are getting evicted. People are strategizing. People are being manipulative. I'm like, "Dang." I love me some Big Brother.


  • Photographer
  • Isaac Anthony

  • Assisted by
  • Isaac Schell

  • Styling
  • Michael Fisher

  • Grooming
  • Jenny Sauce

  • Special Thanks to
  • Polaroid

  • Creative Director
  • Jenna Brillhart

  • Photo Director
  • Kelly Chiello

  • Video Director
  • Justine Manocherian

  • Production Assistant
  • Amanda Lauro

  • Booking
  • Ondine Jean-Baptiste
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