Saturday, 10 May 2008

Cocoa Chat: Yaya Dacosta

Anyone who is a fan of America's Next Top Model will remember the sassy, outspoken, Afrocentric aspiring model/actress, Yaya Dacosta. I remember among my friends our opinions were equally split on whether we championed the Harlem born beauty. On the one hand many found her unbending confidence, and desire for perfection quite inspiring. While the naysayers considered her to be arrogant, manipulative and self-righteous. Well whatever your thoughts are, there's no denying that of all the ANTM protegees, Yaya is so far the most successful. She has already had a major role starring opposite Antonio Banderas in the dance film Take the Lead. And this month sees the release of the John Sayles directed, Honeydripper, an African American ensemble film starring Danny Glover, in which Yaya also has a significant role. I caught up with Yaya recently during her promotional rounds for the film. I defintely found her to be assertive: this is a girl who knows exactly what she wants from life. But I also found her to be talkative, polite in an old-school sense, and really frank. She spoke quite candidly about her experience on America's Next Top Model. I have to hand it to her, becasue not many up and coming entertainers would be brave enough to take on the whole Tyra machine. But she really shed some light on what goes on once the cameras stop rolling. Read here for the full interview:
Ms Quiche: So tell us about Honeydripper?

Yaya: Honeydripper is a real beautiful story that takes place in the 1950’s. One thing that I think that people will come away with is is that this film is different. And I just mean it stands out from all the other films that John Sayles has done because of the political undertones which is just a natural consequence of the time, the place and the people. It’s really just about people’s lives and I think it’s something that everyone can relate too, or maybe not everyone, but I know so many people around the world who really for example love blues music and it’s interesting to pay attention to that moment.

MsQuiche: You star alongside Danny Glover and Lisa Gay Hamilton, two highly accomplished actors. Were you intimidated going into a film with such an experienced cast, or quietly confident?

Yaya: I think that being relaxed and, or confident would be very dangerous. A slight a sense of nervousness or anticipation or pressure, or some kind of tension is necessary in order to do the work well. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been able to work with people that were not only talented but really nice and really cool. Lisa Gay Hamilton gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Charles Dutton is an amazing storyteller and had us all laughing all the time, and Danny Glover is such an inspiration.

MsQuiche: So how did you get to hear about the role of China Doll who you play in the film?

Yaya: Well with acting scripts they don’t get sent to you, you go and seek them out. If your agent sees that an audition is happening that week, if there’s a role that you could be right for, they’ll try to set up an appointment for you. I mean there’s no difference between the way I’m doing it and the way the majority of actors are doing it. Scripts get sent to you when you’re well established like Johnny Depp and Meryl Strepp or you know, Halle Berry. But I’m at the beginning of my career.

MsQuiche: You first came to our attention in America’s Next Top Model. The show kind of hinted that you had other interests, but when did you get into acting?

Yaya: You know, "hinting" would be giving too much credit to the Editors. There was no mention at all of the fact that I was an actor. The evidence was in the storyline: they put me in as a dancer with an attitude, and that’s everything that you got. These shows are written as everyone has their boxes. Eut I’d just graduated from school and just kind of you know did that as a fun thing. But I’ve been studying acting since I was 11.

MsQuiche: So do you look at the America’s Next Top Model experience as a negative?

Yaya: No I don’t. I mean of course there were moments where you look at yourself saying things that you didn’t say because of editing. Or seeing situations manipulated and looking back at your journal at what you wrote that doesn’t coincide with what they were showing the viewers. But because it’s your career, you have to get over that of course. But it was positive. And the most positive thing about it was that I was able to use the attention from that to attract viewers to the projects that I’m really interested in, like HoneyDripper, hadn’t it been for Top Model, we may not be doing this interview.

MsQuiche: So it seems as if acting is your main priority now; do you still have an interest in modelling?

Yaya: I have a hard time being absolute with anything, so it's nice to do both. Everything is last minute in both businesses actually. It’s Wednesday and you’ll get a call from your modelling agency saying that you have a casting at one o’ clock for some editorial work and by the way it pays around $150 dollars, and of course people don’t realise what models go through. You go through a lot before you get to be a Naomi or Giselle. So anyhow at the same time you get a call for a model casting and you get a call from your acting agent for an audition. You kind of have to make a choice.I will choose the acting audition because that’s my main thing, but otherwise if I can make it yeah , if they call me for a job, a catalogue or whatever and I have the time, absolutely.

MsQuiche: Do you still keep in touch with Tyra?

Yaya: I haven’t seen or spoken to her since the last day of filming the show. It was a kind of 'thank you very much for being on our show and goodbye'. Sure there are some people that keep in touch, especially the winners, if they really want to try and manage you and to make you successful to prove that the show really does work. I really don’t know, pretty much what you saw on TV is what I saw.You know it was four years ago and it is on my list of things that I’m proud of. But as far as keeping in touch, I keep in touch with Toccara and Amanda and Dianne.
They are the ones I'll talk to about something that only they would understand because it is a whole other world and it’s really hard to explain to other people. You can’t be honest without sounding ungrateful or confused because no one understands. Occasionally when someone who was on the show with me needs to vent or I need to vent, we will call each other because we know the real deal and everyone else thinks that we are crazy. But no, I haven’t spoken to Tyra at all, she’s obviously doing well and I think the season’s are continuing. I don’t know. I don’t really watch it but you know people ask me all the time “ what do you think about so and so?” and I’ll be like “I don’t know” (laughs).

MsQuiche: I love the fact that you wear you hear natural, which is quite a rarity in the entertainment industry...

Yaya: You know this is a funny question because people ask me about my hair all the time…

MsQuiche:You have beautiful hair by the way.

Yaya: Oh thanks! But it’s nothing new, you know like for me it’s just great because I’ve seen so many more curly, kinky, nappy whatever you want to call it, heads walking down the street now. I grew up in a time when that was not ok. In my family, you know my mother never had a relaxer in her entire life. My sister and I (have never had a relaxer) it was never an option. It wasn’t me trying to be a revolutionary, you know cutting off my perm trying to make a statement. It had nothing to do with that. That was just how I wore my hair and when I was younger, especially in junior high, I excelled academically but not socially I didn’t because people didn’t like me. I was skinny, I had natural hair and that’s just so uncool and I didn’t have name brand clothes and all those other things. So it became something that obviously was a part of me and I never wanted to change it and it never got to me to the point where I wanted to change it. I just realised that I was different and it was ok because my parents let me know that it was ok to be different. Once I got to high school though, things changed. Friends of mine who had relaxers started to ask me about to get my hair and started to confess that they like it like it was a really a dark secret. So I’ve always felt like an ambassador, I never really wanted to be but I would try to help people out and show love. I just realised how empowering it was and you know these days even strangers come up to me saying 'I cut my hair off and you inspired me' and it’s great and it makes you realise that times are changing. Ultimately I just want my hair to be healthy. So to act as the whole ambassador thing is by default and it’s a blessing and I’m glad that so many people are inspired, I think the more the merrier. That way if more girls feel beautiful as they are then great, but at the same time I’m not judging anybody, so please weave it up! Do what makes you feel good.

MsQuiche: You were born and raised in Harlem. What was it like growing up in such an iconic area?

Yaya: Well you know when I was growing up it was dirty. I mean now it’s changing because of gentrification, but when I was growing up it was not pretty. I was not allowed to go play outside because it was dangerous. There were gun shots all the time, constant boxes on the street with candles and pictures in them of somebody who had been shot. I lived in a dangerous strip of Harlem, maybe not all of Harlem was like that, but where I lived it was not ok. You did go trick or treating. Stuff like meant that there was no room to celebrate the glory that it was back in the day because what it was in the present was so depressing and it wasn’t uplifting. So now I've found a new pride for being from where I an from by going away from it. Which is interesting because it’s something that often happens when you look at certain writers. They have to go away to come back to love it and so that’s what happened with me.
MsQuiche: So how did your parents manage to keep you on the straight and narrow?

Yaya: My parents are amazing people and I’m just lucky to have come through. They have four kids and all of us came out pretty sane. They are a wonderful example and I just hope I can be that good of a parent. You know, even last night, it was late and I try not to take taxis ever but it was late so I was like fine I’ll take a taxi home. So the driver was from the Gambia and my hair was out in loose curls. He was like “Are you Puerto Rican?” and I was like “what?” and then we had this whole conversation about being an African from here. I was like “I’m from Harlem” and he was like “No no, you're not a Harlem girl, Harlem girls come in here and they do this and they do that…” Basically saying that if you were really a Harlem girl you wouldn’t be dressed or acting that way. I came in his cab and said “Hello sir, how are you?” he was surprised. Well that’s very unfortunate. But anyway, how did my parents do it? I don’t know but I love them and I hope that I can do it too.

MsQuiche: Where are your parents from? I read somewhere that one of your parent's is West African, while elsewhere it said you were half South American?

Yaya: I really apologise but I don’t pay a lot attention to the Internet. I don’t have access to it and I forget sometimes how much people spend wasting their time, speculating and inventing things. My sister sees lot of this stuff and she like “Oh my goodness, can you believe some of this stuff?” So she fills me in sometimes. So what I’ve decided is I’m over giving too much information about my personal life. Right now all I care about is that people think I’m good actor.

Honeydripper is out now in the UK

No comments:

About Me

My photo
I am a thirty-something African Caribbean female from South East London. My blog will shine a light on Black British culture offering the best in entertainment, fashion, beauty, community, film & music, with the occasional personal musing thrown in from yours truly. Thank you for taking out the time to peek into the pages of my diary. Now grab a cup of cocoa, relax and enjoy.