The lovely Tracie Thoms of "Rent," "Cold Case," "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Death Proof" is "happy to be nappy!"
In one of our most intimate celebrity interviews yet, the lovely Tracie keeps it real and dishes on everything from how she came to accept and love her natural curls, to how she feels natural hair is viewed in mainstream media.
Curly Nikki: Have you always been natural? If not, when and how did you make the transition from relaxed to naturally curly?
I started getting my hair relaxed when I was about 9. I loved it because I thought it made me pretty, even though it was painful, LOL! I thought I'd have a relaxer until the day I died. When I was at Howard University I started thinking about going natural because my best friend Joy went natural. Her curls were much looser than mine, and that, coupled with my desire to have curls like Cree Summer from "A Different World," was very discouraging. My hair was pretty thin, so the relaxer made it lay flat and lifeless, but my natural curls were very tight and I was afraid of them. So, I got braids for a bit and kept it pushing!
Then came graduate school at Juilliard.
In conservatory programs for theater, we do a lot of weird stuff. Lots of rolling around on the floor and exercises and such. Needless to say, my permed hair was no match for my lifestyle! So it was back to braids. I kept braids for about two years, and then when I finally took them out, my permed hair had broken off and I was left with a little fro. Not a TWA... enough for little afro puffs, which I wore to school the next day because I couldn't get to my braider. Everybody just LOVED my puffs! And I didn't exactly hate it.
The director of the play I was working on at the time loved them so much that she decided I needed them for the show! And that began the re-introduction to my actual, natural hair. Another of my best friends, Lynn, had been natural for years, and she began to teach me how to take care of it, and I haven't had a perm since!
I've been natural for twelve years now, and I don't plan on getting another relaxer... I would say ever, but I'll stick with any time soon :-)
CN: What is your current routine?
Well, currently, I've been wearing my hair in Baby Curl Twists which involve kinky extensions. They're basically braids at the roots and then double strand twisted all the way down. So to avoid slippage, I don't do a full shampoo and conditioner often -- about once a month. I just rinse it every morning and sometimes I'll use Herbal Cleanse Dry shampoo to take care of any build up. I'll go to my stylist and get a full touch-up with a shampoo and deep conditioning every six weeks. The style itself lasts three months.
BUT, when I don't have extensions and I'm just double strand twisting my own hair, I'll wash it about once every other week. If I wash it too often it won't hold the twists. I'll twist it every few days in big chunky twists, but the more product that builds up, the more the hair holds the twist.
CN: What are your staple hair styles? How do you achieve the looks?
My staple hair style is the double strand twist (every now and then I'll rock the fro!). To get this effect with my own hair, I wash it, condition it, and then blow dry it. Not so that it's super straight, but so that it has some length and volume. Then, I'll put some leave in conditioner/hair creme in it. Next, I take a holding agent (locking butter or Twist and Lock) and a shine agent (Aveda Brilliant Humectant Pomade) on my fingers with just a teeny spritz of water and then separate each twist into two halves and twist them around each other. Then I twirl the ends around my fingers with some good old styling gel to define the curls at the ends.
CN: What are your must-have products?!
Okay. I've discovered this new line of products by a celebrity stylist named Robert Ramos. He has a great Sulfate and Paraben-free shampoo and conditioner. He also has a leave-in spray conditioner with HorseTail extract, green tea extract and Aloe Vera extract. It leaves my hair feeling great. And he has a Volumizer and Texture Crema that help give hair great volume and defined curls without unwanted frizz... and finally, he has a new Argan Rescue Serum to repair damaged hair. Just put a bit on after shampooing and conditioning.
RobertRamos.com for more info.
Another celebrity stylist who has new products available is Kim Kimble. She does EVERYBODY'S hair! I particularly love her Bounce Back Curling Revitalizer! And her Wax Stick is a must-have for those stubborn "baby hairs!"
Some products I love and that my stylist uses are by the Jane Carter Solution. Their Nourish and Shine, Condition and Sculpt, and Twist and Lock are three fantastic products you can find at some health food stores or online.
Carol's Daughter's Hair Milk is incredible for conditioning, and their Locking Butter is a staple for me.
Aveda has three products I love; the Phomollient Styling Foam, the Be Curly curl enhancer, and the Brilliant Humectant Pomade are all great -- even for my extension hair!
My stylist on my show maintains my hair with good old Infusium 23 everyday, and I always make sure I have plain old Prostyle gel or Kera Care gel for frizzies and emergencies.
And finally, Pantene has a line of shampoos and conditioners for natural hair. I dig it. And you can get it at the drug store.
With my extensions, I just wrap it with a scarf. With my own hair I do the same unless my twists are losing their definition. If so, I twist in relatively big twists at night with a spritz of water. Relatively big is like an inch to two inches of hair in each twist. The hair plot, I mean. And then I tie it down. It's important to tie the hair down at night. I wore a fro for a bit and didn't wrap it at night, and it broke my hair off... so now, I put it in big plaits at night and tie it down!
CN: What's the best thing about being curly?
There are so many great things. The obvious great things are that I feel unique and special, because no two peoples' natural hair is exactly the same. It's like fingerprints. But my favorite thing is rather practical. I'm not afraid of rain or sweat!
CN: What do we have to look forward to? What projects are you currently working on?
Well, I'm in my fourth season of "Cold Case," so that's still happening. I'm doing a lot of singing gigs this year! My own cabaret show at Center Stage in my hometown of Baltimore MD (centerstage.org
Readers Questions for Tracie:
CNReader: On "Cold Case" you wear your hair in micro 2 strand twists. I would like to know how often you get your hair re-twisted? How do you maintain your hair during this period (i.e. wash or just clean scalp, etc.)?
I get my hair completely re-twisted every three months. I get it touched up six weeks after getting a new set. During this time I rinse the ends almost every day and use a dry shampoo on my scalp every now and then. I do have extensions for length and volume and mainly for protection. When I started "Cold Case" and in "Rent" and "Devil Wears Prada," I was twisting my own hair every day. It's important in film that your hair looks the same every day for continuity. As we know, natural hair has a mind of its own! Some days it wants to be bushy and some days it wants to not be. So to try and make it look the same every day, I'd have to twist it every night. And I'd get my hair highlighted to define the curls on film. Well, all that twisting and dying caused my hair to break off. And I couldn't have that!
I started researching methods of extending and protecting my hair while keeping the exact same look! Someone told me to go to Khamit Kinks in Brooklyn, and there my prayers were answered. They have a style called the Baby Curl that looked EXACTLY like my hair! I made an appointment and Jahmillah Collier did wonders with my hair. So much so, that I was in the middle of a press tour for "Rent," and no one could tell I'd gotten extensions. The added hair was only maybe an inch longer than my hair, so the transition was extremely smooth, and I kept my natural style.
Over the years I've played with length, volume and color with this same style. It's saved my life and my hair, and kept me natural!! So many of us in Hollywood are faced with these problems because our hair cannot withstand styling every day. But there are alternatives to straight weaves and wigs. You can hold on to your natural texture and protect your hair at the same time! I get the hair from Lugo's in NY, and the hair is the Afro Kinky hair. Tell them I sent you! And of course, Khamit Kinks is the mecca!!! Khamitkinks.com
CNReader: Do you usually arrive on set with your hair already styled (do it on your own?)? If not, how has your experiences been with having other people style your hair?
I do. I'm blessed now because my stylist on "Cold Case" is an expert with natural hair, but I've often arrived on sets where I'm literally teaching the stylists how to do my hair, and that's not my job! It's infuriating... they want to spray products with water or alcohol in them on my natural twists (without extensions) and I have to cover my head a scream (NOOOOO!!!!! WATER WILL REVERT IT TO AN AFRO!!!!! AND ALCOHOL WILL DRY MY HAIR OUT!!!!) So, I just come to set with my hair done. All they say is "Oh... it's so cute! Um... maybe some shine?" And I say "Sure... shine would be lovely." I look forward to the day where hair stylists have to learn how to deal with natural hair in order to get their licenses. Wouldn't that be nice? :-)
CNReader: How do you maintain your hair color? What color is it, it's beautiful!
My color is in the extended hair right now. I get #4, #6 and #8, and Jahmillah mixes them together like an artist! When I was dying my own hair, I can't even remember what colors they were! It was kind of a honey blond I'd get mixed in there... I wish I could remember!
CNReader: Do you ever feel that you are typecast (maybe overlooked for "sexy" roles). If so, do you think your hair has something to do with it?
I do feel that way. I tend to play tough girls (or lesbians) haha! I couldn't be farther from a tough girl (and I happen to like boys)!!! I hardly ever get considered for the sexy girl roles and it gets frustrating. I don't need to be the hot girl (cuz I'm not really that girl), but we don't even tend to get the quirky cute love interest roles. The role doesn't really exist for black actresses. It's usually one extreme or the other. The super sexy hot girl or the tough chick.
So I like to think that's why I'm not getting these non-existent roles, and not because of my hair. But I'd be lying if I said I don't wonder about it. I even went and got some pictures done with a straight wig on to combat that idea. Is there discrimination in Hollywood? Absolutely. Is there hair discrimination specifically? Absolutely. It has come up. But I try not to let it deter me. I did think that I would for one summer get a weave and see what happens. But I'm a little scared to do it!!! Because If I do it and then start booking more jobs, will I be stuck with a straight weave forever???!!! It's a dilemma... we'll see what happens...
CNReader: How do you feel being one of the few natural beauties in the limelight? Do you ever resent the status, or embrace it?
I didn't go natural to make a statement or to be the spokeswoman for natural women everywhere. But it turns out there are so few of us with natural hair that it becomes a "thing." I get so many questions about my hair... and so many women have told me that I've somehow helped them go natural or love their natural hair. And that is so important to me. Do I resent it? Absolutely not! Do I embrace it? YES!!!
Now the problem will arise when I do need to straighten it for a role or if I just decide to straighten it for a change. I don't have anything against sisters with straight hair. The beautiful thing about our hair is its versatility! We can go from super curly to bone straight in an afternoon! My problem is that ALL of our versatility isn't celebrated and seen as beautiful or sexy or sophisticated. It's ALLLLLL beautiful!!! But if/when I straighten my hair, chances are people will view me as a sellout. That's what happens.
You become known for being natural, and if you change, you come under scrutiny. Women who were never natural in the first place aren't seen as sellouts, but those of us who are natural will be seen as sellouts if we ever make the change. It's a funny little situation, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. As for now, I'm happy to be nappy! And thrilled that I feel supported by all of you!
CNReader: I was wondering if you felt you had an edge being natural in being cast in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." I ask because he always seems to know exactly what he's looking for when he casts.
Hmm... interesting question, but I think the answer is no. Quentin LOVES actors. He saw EVERY Black actress in Hollywood for that role -- straight, kinky, short, long, weaved, wigged and everything in between! He was looking for something very specific, but it wasn't hair related, I don't think. But then again, it IS Quentin. Who knows what goes on in his brain?! But when I was cast I asked him how he wanted my hair. I could see it working both ways -- kinky or straight. He said, "I want your hair exactly like you wear it." And that was that!