ALEXAN­DRA SHIPP

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Col­lage by PA­TRICK WAUGH Alexan­dra Shipp is the 2018 re­cip­i­ent of the Women in Film Max Mara Face of the Fu­ture Award

We meet the X-Men ac­tress on the cusp of se­ri­ous star­dom

FROM A ROLE in X-MEN TO MAX MARA’S FACE OF THE FU­TURE AWARD, ALEXAN­DRA SHIPP IS on THE CUSP

of MA­JOR. MOLLY CREEDEN TALKS BIG BREAKS, AS­TROL­OGY and HAIR POL­I­TICS with A RIS­ING FORCE

THERE ARE MO­MENTS in one’s ca­reer when you be­come aware of the dis­tance you have trav­elled since you started out. For Alexan­dra Shipp, it was when a waiter in Mon­treal brought out the oys­ters. Shipp had been au­di­tion­ing for six years in LA – fin­ish­ing high school on­line, hus­tling in side jobs to pay her rent, and book­ing a steady stream of TV roles, in­clud­ing Aaliyah in Life­time’s Aaliyah:

The Princess of R&B. Then, in 2O15, she found her­self at a din­ner in Canada to kick off film­ing for X-Men: Apoca­lypse, with a cast that in­cluded Jen­nifer Lawrence and Michael Fass­ben­der. She says of the night: ‘So­phie Turner and I were just eat­ing these oys­ters and truf­fle mac and cheese, look­ing at each other, like: “Who gave us these jobs?”’

In an in­dus­try where it’s in­creas­ingly likely that a new tal­ent emerges by way of a par­ent who works in the busi­ness, or through a skill for gar­ner­ing In­sta­gram likes, Shipp’s Hol­ly­wood story has an old-school arc. She ar­rived in Los An­ge­les from Ari­zona aged 17, af­ter years of fly­ing back and forth for au­di­tions, with a role fi­nally booked for Alvin and the Chip­munks: The

Squeakquel. ‘I was like, I’ve made it!’ she re­calls — ‘And then I didn’t work for five years.’ Well, Shipp did work: she was a nanny, a shop worker, a mo­bile pet groomer. On the day of her X-Men au­di­tion, she could barely af­ford to put petrol in her car. ‘I thought about quit­ting a mil­lion times,’ she says. ‘The re­al­ity is you have to go in there and al­most have this air of, “I’m prob­a­bly not go­ing to get this, but I’m go­ing to give you my best...” And then you work your butt off in the streets to pay your rent, eat some ra­men noo­dles and get to that next au­di­tion.’

Shipp now lives in the Val­ley in Los An­ge­les with a bluenose pit­bull named Leila and a Yorkie named Kali the De­stroyer, who she brings on jobs to keep her spir­its high. ‘I’m a Can­cer, Queen,’ Shipp tells me (she calls ev­ery­one Queen), ‘so I’m such a sen­si­tive, emo­tional per­son — just a wreckage of tears and laugh­ter. And when I’m work­ing I live alone, away from ev­ery­one I love, and that can drive you crazy.’ A lot for Shipp comes back to be­ing a Cance­rian, she says. She grew up with an un­cle who is a vedic as­trologer, and the zo­diac looms large. ‘In terms of dat­ing, I give ev­ery­one — ex­cept for Pis­cean men — the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Pisces women, how­ever, are my favourite on the planet,’ she says.

We’re in a suite at the Sun­set Tower Ho­tel in West Hol­ly­wood. Shipp is wear­ing a form-fit­ting Max Mara grey dress and her hair in re­laxed curls. She has all the hall­marks of a theatre kid: ges­tic­u­lat­ing wildly, adding ac­cents when it serves the story. To­mor­row, she’ll be hon­oured at the 2018 Women in Film Crys­tal + Lucy Awards, where she’ll re­ceive the Max Mara Face of the Fu­ture Award, whose pre­vi­ous re­cip­i­ents in­clude Zoe Sal­dana, Kate Mara and Chloë Grace Moretz. ‘What I like about Max Mara is how they make so­phis­ti­cated women look sexy. Some­times, when you want to be classy, you feel you look like Nancy Rea­gan,’ she says, putting on a Mid­west­ern twang.

The sig­nif­i­cance of re­ceiv­ing the award as a woman of colour is cer­tainly not lost on Shipp. As the daugh­ter of a white mother and black father, she fre­quently ends up in the cross-hairs of naive, chal­leng­ing and out­right ugly con­ver­sa­tions about race hap­pen­ing on so­cial me­dia (most re­cently, comic-book nerds on Twit­ter took is­sue with the fact that her X-Men char­ac­ter Storm was orig­i­nally ren­dered with a darker com­plex­ion than hers).

Rather than ig­nore the com­ments or pre­pare wa­tered-down PR nuggets of­fer­ing plat­i­tudes about love and in­clu­sion, Shipp has de­cided to ad­dress the con­ver­sa­tion head on, which some­times means en­gag­ing with the

“I’M SUCH a SEN­SI­TIVE, EMO­TIONAL PER­SON – JUST A WRECKAGE

of TEARS and LAUGH­TER”

“BE­ING BIRACIAL, I WALK

this GREY AREA THAT MAKES PEO­PLE ASK ME QUES­TIONS they DON’T THINK

are OF­FEN­SIVE”

on­line cho­rus. ‘In this in­dus­try, there’s a re­al­ity when it comes to colourism. I know that a stu­dio or a di­rec­tor is go­ing to feel more com­fort­able with me in a lead black fe­male role than they would with some­one of a darker com­plex­ion. That’s a real thing. So with this Afro­cen­tric­ity we’re now see­ing in film, we’re get­ting a chance to show more rep­re­sen­ta­tion,’ she says, al­lud­ing to the over­due at­ten­tion and ex­cite­ment around black cinema. ‘I am not ev­ery shade of black. I can’t play ev­ery shade — I haven’t had the same ex­pe­ri­ences as ev­ery per­son. And be­ing biracial, I walk this strange grey area that makes peo­ple com­fort­able ask­ing me ques­tions they don’t think are of­fen­sive, even though, half of the time, they are. Most peo­ple are afraid to ask a dark woman about her hair, but they’re not afraid to ask me,’ she says. ‘It’s weird, but it’s some­thing I think I can use to ed­u­cate peo­ple.’

The ac­tor is more open to ‘talk­ing about the hard stuff’ – in part thanks to the Times Up move­ment. ‘I think it took a gen­er­a­tion say­ing, “You shouldn’t have to deal with the same kind of crap that we did.”’ Whether it’s mi­cro-ag­gres­sions on set, hav­ing a wardrobe un­nec­es­sar­ily sexed up or be­ing asked to ‘Do the line more ur­ban’, Shipp feels em­bold­ened to push back if it doesn’t feel right. She’s been a care­ful ob­server of in­dus­try vets. ‘I learned a lot from Ash­ley Judd,’ she says of her time film­ing 2O19’s A Dog’s Way Home. ‘She has a calm power about her I’d like to find in my­self.’

She also re­ceives sup­port from her group of friends – many with equally bright hori­zons – like Awk­wa­fina and Lucy Hale, her co-stars in Dude, and Kather­ine Lang­ford, with whom she re­mained close af­ter 2O18’s heart-warm­ing hit Love, Si­mon. ‘I have a great sup­port net­work of women, where we come to­gether, drink wine and talk about how to make each other bet­ter. It’s a beau­ti­ful coven com­mu­nity,’ she says.

When Shipp was grow­ing up, she re­mem­bers watch­ing Eartha Kitt in Boomerang and Dorothy Dan­dridge in Car­men Jones and feel­ing some­thing stir. ‘These pow­er­ful women gave me a feel­ing I could be strong like them. I wanted to play a knight in Camelot rather than one of the hand­maids. I wanted to play Othello. Those women did that. They were fear­less; they were also brown and looked like me. Even in a sup­port­ive role, they stole the show.’ It doesn’t sound all that dif­fer­ent to how Shipp will be de­scribed in years to come.

Left: coat, £1,225; top, £145, andskirt, £37O; and be­low: coat, £2,4OO; trousers,£62O, and bag, £4O5, all MAX MARAELLE OC­TO­BER

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