The following interview for Backstage’s on-camera series The Slate was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.
Following her Tony-nominated breakthrough performance as Ti Moune in the Broadway revival of “Once on This Island,” actor Hailey Kilgore is taking her talents to the screen. She’s playing Aretha Franklin’s younger sister in the film “Respect” and Jukebox on acclaimed Starz spinoff series “Power Book III: Raising Kanan.” In Backstage’s latest Instagram Takeover Q&A, Kilgore discussed everything from dealing with her insecurities to how she got started in the industry.
What’s the biggest difference between stage and screen acting for you?
I trained from a very young age in theater and musical theater, so everything is big and clear and loud. For film and TV, you’ve got a camera lens right in front of your face in different sizes, so you don’t have to do as much. Now, I can do things really muted and really small, and the camera will pick up on every single intricate part of my performance. So it’s really fun for me to go in and navigate what I want you to pick and see.
What would you recommend doing if you’re really insecure about yourself and don’t know whether you fit into the acting industry?
Actor to actor, you’re in the right place. I’m very insecure; I get nervous; I care about my performance. It’s all about how you treat yourself and how you speak to yourself. It’s so important to treat yourself with care and speak to yourself lovingly. Just do the work; that’s all you can do. I put my head down and I do the work, and I work hard and do my very best. There’s nothing else that can be said, because I did everything that I needed to do. You can, too. A lot of actors are insecure and just want to do a good job. It’s normal; it’s all love; you got this. It’s very easy to get sucked into the highlight reel of Instagram or press releases; it’s not important. It’s about you, your heart, and what you bring to the table. I have to remind myself of it sometimes. I’m sure Barbra Streisand has to remind herself of it, too.
What would you say has been the biggest accomplishment of your career?
Definitely my work ethic. When you’ve been doing it for a long time and you get some success and attention, it’s easy to fall back; but I have the same curiosity. I want to deconstruct things and put them back together and have fun.
How can you become an actor if you’re working with a low budget?
A lot of your favorite actors did not come up with a lot of money. I did not grow up with a lot of money; it was truly my family’s support and love, and going to after-school programs and training. You will start meeting people and working with the right people when you just keep training. Keep training, and everything falls into place.
Before going into acting, would you suggest pursuing a diploma or degree as a backup?
It’s up to you. You control your own destiny. The beautiful thing about art is that it’s always going to be here. I’ve seen people who go on to be veterinarians, chefs, or florists, and they still come back and do acting work. If there’s anything else you want to do, go for it. Auditions are always going to be there—that is one thing I can promise you. Put your mind to whatever you want to do, and do it.
How do you manage traveling on an everyday basis?
Travel is a huge element of what I do. I have to say, I’ve gotten really good at packing on the fly. You get used to it; you know what snacks and what music you want to listen to.
How did you first get into acting?
I got in trouble. I got called into a parent-teacher conference with my first-grade teacher, and she said, “Your daughter is singing in the bathroom during her bathroom breaks really loud. But she’s got a beautiful voice; let’s put her in choir.”
Do you have any tips on dealing with nerves before auditions?
I still get butterflies. The first thing is: You start doing so many auditions [that] you’ll get used to it, and you’ll see familiar faces, and they just want to book the role. Remember: That can be you. The most important thing you can do is show up and be prepared. Show them what you’ll do with the role when you’re given the opportunity, and when you do that, you’ll be less nervous—I promise.
What were the outlets you used to find auditions and agents?
This brings me back to just doing the work and you’ll meet the right person. I met my agents through a mentor that I had worked with for four or five years before I even signed with them. So just keep doing the work, and they’ll come to you.
Do you have any vocal health tips?
My best vocal tips are to know your range, know where you need to stop, and don’t overdo it. Drink lots of water, treat your body lovingly, and hire a vocal coach. They’re the best!
How old were you when you started acting?
I started performing and auditioning when I was 9 years old. I’m 22. It’s been a long time.
What are ways that I can do the work?
This is something that I figured out much later in my career. The best thing you can do is take care of your mind, your heart, and your physical health. Eat healthy, go to the gym, train—that’s the first step. Second step: reading scenes, auditioning for things, doing the work whether you book a job or not, just keep practicing, watch performances that you love, pick up on nuances, pick up on technique, do a lot of technique training. Step three in my Instagram tutorial is then once you book the job and you show up in the room be prepared, know your lines, know your character’s arc, know what they want and it’ll be great. You’ll just put it all together.
Can you talk about your first audition experience?
My first really big audition was for Little Inez in Hairspray and I was super young and confident. I said, “My name is Hailey Kilgore and I’m auditioning for Little Inez.” I sang a song from “Singin’ in the Rain,” did a cute little dance, and booked the gig.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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