IN CONVERSATION WITH ZURI REED
Interview by Jana Letonja
Actress and musician Zuri Reed made her debut at age 14 in the series ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ in 2010. Most recently she starred in Disney+ action series ‘National Treasure: Edge of History’. In her spare time, Zuri created an animated YouTube series ‘Roomies 3F’ based on her own move to New York City and her hilarious exploits with her roomies.
Zuri, how did you get into acting? What sparked your love for it?
I was a huge Disney fan when I was younger. Shows like ‘That’s So Raven’ and ‘Lizzie McGuire’ were huge inspirations for me. I wanted to have my own show and be a part of the Disney family, which eventually became true. I come from a big family and would put on performances for my family at just 2 years old.
You had your first professional audition at the age of 9 for the role of young Nala in the touring company of ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway. How has performig on stage prepared you for acting in front of a camera?
I am so happy to have experienced the stage at such a young age. ‘Lion King’ sparked my love for musical theater. There are so many gems that you learn from performing on stage. I really do believe that every actor should try theater at least once in their career. The live audience and performances really require a different level of skill. Once you are skilled in a big performance, camera work becomes easier.
Most recently we’ve been able to watch you in Disney+ series ‘National Treasure: Edge of History’ as Tasha. What attracted you to the script and being a part of this series?
It was such an honor to play Tasha Rivers. I was immediately drawn to the script when I read it. I was so excited to be playing someone so confident and sure of herself, but also very smart. Then of course, to be a part of such an iconic franchise was an honor in itself. On top of that, Tasha and Oren were the cutest pair.
The series has been canceled after one season, but what was your favorite scene from filming?
In episode 5 the gang attends a gala where they have to dress up. My character gets the urge to stand up on a table in front of the governor of Louisiana and a bunch of rich people, and chant about underfunded environments and food insecurity. I love Tasha because to her it really doesn’t matter the time or place, she is going to make her point known and stand for what she believes in.
Your performing roots are based in your church, where you first began to sing. You then attended The Creative Performing Arts High School of Philadelphia as a vocal major. Tell us more about your love of music. What meaning does music have in your life?
Music has been everything to me all my life. Growing up in church, I was in the choir and that gave me the confidence to write my own songs. Music is an outlet for me. If something’s on my mind that I have to work through or I’m not totally clear on, I start writing and by the time I’m finished I have clarity. I’d love to play a role that will allow me to sing.
Besides this, you also studied ballet for 8 years. Do you ever miss it? How does ballet or dance in general make you feel?
I love dance and respect those who can fully dedicate themselves to it. I still take an occasional class, but just as a workout and also so that if a role ever calls for it, I can still follow the choreography if I need to.
You created your animated YouTube series ‘Roomies 3F’, based on your own move to NYC and your hilarious exploits with your roomies. What inspired you to actually create a YouTube series about this? How fun was making it?
I created ‘Roomies 3F’, the colored pencil series in a time where the world was separated. I was able to virtually bring my friends together to help bring my vision to life. Living in New York City is amazing and a culture of its own. I wanted to create something that was authentic to the NYC experience in my own way. I had a blast piecing together my experiences with some other stories I’ve heard and making them into a story. In a city where anything is possible, like living in a 3 bedroom with 6 people of different ages, how could there not be an animated series about it?
Zuri, we know you are very proud to be from Philadelphia. What do you miss the most about home?
Philadelphia, my love. It is such an interesting place with so much history. I am the 4th generation to be born in the city, so my family is deeply rooted there as well. I may be biased, but I think Philadelphia has some of the best food in the country. There are so many restaurants that I miss and of course cheesesteaks.
Who or what inspires you the most artistically and in life in general?
I think I draw a lot of inspiration from children and the art that is around me. There’s something nice about witnessing pure authenticity when it comes to creating, that children naturally have. Seeing them live so carefree is inspiring.
It is important to you to inspire young black artists. How are you inspiring them? What would be your words of advice to them?
Representation is so important to me. I’m currently contributing to a non profit organization in NYC, where I teach young artists musical theater classes. I get to see their excitement and passion, and that ultimately drives me to want to do more. My biggest piece of advice would be to follow your heart and know that there are no limits to what you can do.
Zuri, tell us more about your upcoming projects, dreams and goals.
I consider myself a storyteller in all different ways. Whether it be in front of the camera or behind, it brings me joy to be able to express my creativity in many different ways. I want to continue writing my own projects and fulfill my dream role of playing a princess.
talent ZURI REED @zuri.reed
photographer FRÉDÉRIC GEORGES @fredericgeorges
stylist TYLER OKUNS @tyleeresosa
hair RACHEL POLYCRPE @rachelpolycarpe
make-up MARK DE LOS REYES @makeurmark
set design/prop stylist ELAINE WINTER @winter_classic_
custom backdrops work BASHIRA WEBB @bxwebb25
producer JEAN JARVIS @area1202
retouching/Post production KENNETH PIZZO @pizzok
styling assistant MAYOR@may.ori
photography assistant DAYANA RIVERO @__dayana.r
lighting director HABBIB KHAN AWAN @habibkhanawan
lighting assistant LOGAN POE @poe.logan
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA @timiletonja