Three Great Things: Kiersey Clemons

The acclaimed actor and singer, who's currently starring in The Young Wife, on journaling, London and acting.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release in theaters and on digital of the new romantic drama The Young Wife, starring Kiersey Clemons, Leon Bridges, Kelly Marie Tran, Michaela Watkins, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Judith Light, acclaimed actor Clemons shared some of the things they are most passionate about in life. — N.D.

I’m a journal person. I have journals everywhere, and I’m always journaling. I’ve always got something to say. I have a little journal that’s normally in my bag, and then I carry a pencil for a to-do list or something that could change. And for definitive things, I have my red pen.

Right now I have a Tiny Truths journal, which has journal prompts. The page I’m on currently says, “What does perfection mean to you? What does imperfection mean to you? If you could invent anything, what would it be?” The other day, the prompt was to ask three to five people who support you a series of questions, and I asked my 15-year-old sister and my mom. It was just so interesting. Just from those few questions, I learned a lot about myself. I never used to finish prompt journals, because I’d leave them at home and then go off to film somewhere, but I’m halfway through Tiny Truths and I’ve been doing it every day. I used to do my gratitudes in the morning, but I felt like I started repeating myself, so journaling has been really nice.

If I don’t have some type of morning routine, I’ll get thrown off for the rest of the day and become anxious. Normally, I’ll wake up, cuddle with my cat and my dog, make coffee while they eat, then journal outside while my dog sits in the yard. After that, I’ll FaceTime with one of my best friends and we’ll talk about what we’re going to do that day, and then I’ll get dressed and go about my day. Of course, that’s on a leisurely day, when I don’t wake up at four in the morning to go to work. But even when I’m filming, I’ll take a shower first thing to wake up and then journal when I’m in hair and makeup.

When I’m journaling, I’m normally writing about a thought that has come to me. I write a lot of poetry and music. I write down a lot of questions I’m asking myself. And a lot of times by the end, I will find an answer. Sometimes I’ll write letters to people that I don’t need to send. And sometimes I’ll read something or listen to a podcast or watch a movie, and then write about how it made me feel. I write about everything. I keep all my journals, so one day I will probably put out a book of poetry, mixed with some essays and some of the letters I didn’t send. I would love to do that.

London is one of my big loves in this life and I talk about it every day. I love Hyde Park. I am a snotty brat because I love Notting Hill; I stayed there once when I was filming, so I got used to the area and liked the market on Portobello Road and getting my flowers at the flower shop. I love walkable cities, but I particularly love London.

There are people from all over the world there and it doesn’t feel as sad as New York. I love going to see shows, there’s amazing art, and you can just get on the train and go to Amsterdam or Paris! That’s so rad. I’ve just had really good times in London and I feel like the best version of myself there. I’ll bike to the park and sit there and use my laptop and my little mic to record sound elements to go with recordings of my poems. If it’s a rainy day, I might record a car driving through a puddle. I love walking in the rain. I’m from Florida, so I love anywhere that rains a lot and London is just the perfect place, in my mind. It feels like it was made for me. I love it so much.

I spent a lot of time there because I dated someone who was from there, and it was one of those situations where the relationship painted a picture of the place that wasn’t accurate or complete. It was more capturing the gloominess of London, the grey and the buildings. The person I was with made me feel like it was such an unsafe, scary, small place and that there wasn’t much to see. I felt very trapped when I was there and so I thought I hated London, but when I went back years later to film for six months, I was in a beautiful flat, one of my friends came to stay with me and I just loved it. I loved taking the train. I really appreciated everything the city had to offer, and it triggered a healing in me from realizing, “Oh my God, I let that person dictate what this gorgeous city was to me. One person can take something so beautiful and make it look like something that it’s not. That’s crazy.” It made all of these light bulbs go off in my mind.

Now I’m writing something that takes place in London, and I keep trying to find reasons to go back. I mean, I go back all the time, but I want to live there. I want to be there.

It feels too obvious, maybe, but I love acting. I love the collaboration of it, the amount of people it takes to make something.

If I’m doing theater, I love waking up and walking to the theater and having my scarf on if it’s cold. I love the smell of the theater and how it’s dark and kinda empty when you arrive a little early. You’re seeing people who are about to trickle in, or getting there to see if they can buy tickets. I love finding out how many people are in the audience. I love the feeling of being in the audience when a show starts, so I love the feeling of being up there and feeling their feeling of when the show starts. It’s so exciting and I think about the challenge of whatever the show is about: Am I going to hear people sobbing? Am I going to hear them laughing? If you’re doing a small show and there’s only four people in the audience, it feels so intimate, so you think, “How am I going to show up tonight?” I love all of it.

I obviously love the act of acting, but I also love the process of it. That makes up a lot of it for me. I love the experience of going to a small town and filming with a group of people, where you’re away from your families and everything that you know, and you’re forced to build relationships that maybe you wouldn’t if you were filming in L.A. or New York. I love learning things about myself. I’ve learned to assert myself and say what I mean through acting and being on a set with lots of different personalities, which allows me to grow as a person. And I just love playing pretend. I don’t know why, but I do.

I was always a kid who played pretend and had a big imagination, and the adults around me really indulged that, which was great. When I’m writing, my crazy brain needs to hear people talking, so sometimes I’ll put on something familiar in the background. It’s cozy. Recently, I put on The Cheetah Girls, and it made me emotional. I could quote that whole movie! I didn’t realize how much it impacted me and made being an actor and being on television or in the theater feel obtainable. It all came rushing back to me. I’m so lucky that as a young child I was so impacted by watching The Cheetah Girls and That’s So Raven and Moesha and Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston. They all made me really feel, “I don’t just want to be an actor. I’m gonna be an actor.”

Kiersey Clemons is a multi-faceted actress who is currently starring opposite Leon Bridges in the drama The Young Wife. She recently played Iris West the DC film The Flash and costarred opposite Janelle Monáe in the dramatic thriller Antebellum. Her film credits also include the Disney+ CGI / live action feature Lady and the Tramp, the music-themed dramedy Hearts Beat Loud, Marc Webb’s Only Living Boy in New York and An L.A Minute, which she also co-produced. On TV, she has voiced roles in the animated TV series Fairfax and Bojack Horseman. Clemons made her mark on the industry in 2015 with her role as “Diggy” innRick Famuyiwa’s hit comedy Dope, which received the Grand Jury prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win an AAFCA as well as nominations for BET Award, GLAAD Media Award and an NAACP Image Award. In addition to acting, Clemons is a classically trained musician who has collaborated with Grammy Award-winning producer/artist Pharrell Williams on multiple tracks and whose vocals can be heard in a handful of projects including Dope, Transparent and Hearts Beat Loud. (Photo courtesy Republic Pictures, a Paramount Pictures label.)