SKAI JACKSON: On Growing Up Hollywood, and Working Harder, Better, and Smarter.
photos / RAKEEM CUNNINGHAM
styling / CHAINÈ LEYENDECKER
makeup/ SAMUEL PAUL @ FORWARD ARTISTS
hair / ALEXANDER ARMAND
story / OLIVIA INKSTER
Skai Jackson, much like her name implies (but with cooler spelling, mind you!), is larger than life. When I was a teenager, I was focused on the next big school dance and trying to hide a mouth full of clear braces, but Skai is strategizing career moves between high-profile speaking engagements and Teen Vogue shoots. At barely 15 years old (she just celebrated a birthday in April), her resumé rivals that of industry folks twice her age. She’s not up-and-coming, she’s been up—probably since about 7 a.m. this morning—and there is no sign of this Disney darling slowing down anytime soon.
Skai is composed and articulate, brimming with confidence. Her sophisticated off-camera demeanor is a far cry from her memorable character, Zuri Ross, on the hit Disney shows, Jessie and Bunk’d (a spinoff), where she wore her hair in pigtails and relied on imaginary friends. Skai’s self-assurance emanates through the phone. But somehow she remains humble and hasn’t let her notoriety translate into arrogance. “A lot of people recognized me from that…from my first role as Zuri [on Jessie]. People started to come up to me, and that was really cool. I was like, ‘Hey! They know who I am!’ I think that’s when it hit me. You know, I was having people ask for my autograph and take photos. It was crazy.” Skai is recognizable beyond the magical world of Disney, with roles in several films and television appearances– most notably Rescue Me, Royal Pains, and Boardwalk Empire.
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Despite her early start in the entertainment industry (She was just nine months old when she
landed her first national modeling/acting gigs), she hasn’t allowed the Hollywood fast life to rush her through these formative years, although she possesses an undeniable maturity. “I don’t feel older than I am. I do actually feel 15. The only thing is, I maybe get to experience more things than the average fifteen-year-old…have the chance to see a little bit more. At the end of the day, I still find time to hang out with my friends. I might have this other life, where I get to see and do extra… I think it is pretty fun… to have both.”
Skai clearly hasn’t always maintained the privilege of privacy during her adolescence. With the prevalence of social media, it’s more difficult than ever to maintain a private life even as an average teenager, let alone as a public figure. I asked Skai how she copes with vicious comments, tweets, and posts, and she responded coolly, of course. “I just ignore it. They don’t bother me. Not everyone is going to like you and agree with what you do. I keep on doing what I do. I have more supporters than haters. So, I guess I’m doing something right. I block them or totally ignore them. It’s not worth it.” She doesn’t just approach life with grace for a fifteen year old, but approaches with grace. Period. Although she enjoys sharing with her friends and fans alike through social media, the actress says that she tries to practice caution when it comes to her personal life in particular.
“There’s a little bit of pressure with that. At the end of the day, I share as much as I can. You can’t share everything about yourself and your life with everyone. Be aware online and in real life. Everything from a photo to what you say, how you say it, all of that. I like to use it [social media] to share with people and talk to my fans, but I’ve learned that it can be a little scary when it’s your life and your business out there. Most of my friends aren’t in the acting business. For them, it’s weird when we’re out, and people are taking pictures. They think it’s strange, because they just know me as me. They’re all behind me, especially my family.”
Not only has Skai avoided the jaded attitude of many child stars, facing scrutiny and the sacrifice of privacy has not been in vain, as she uses her public platform to speak out (and loudly) against bullying, homophobia, and racism. In fact, Skai was honored with a ceremonial “torch” for her generation at MEGA KINGFEST in Little Rock, Arkansas, which celebrated the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the holiday. Skai spoke after Slick Rick (Grammy-Nominated rapper and storyteller) performed. “Most people think that because I’m an actress, that this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was,” Skai revealed as she spoke of her very public speaking role. “I wrote a 12-minute speech on my own…and did it. It felt so good! Believe me, twelve minutes is a long time. I kind of, like, broke through that feeling of being nervous in front of a live crowd.”
Boasting an Instagram of 2.8 million followers, Skai isn’t just a role model, she’s also accelerating into the honor of fashion icon upon which she has set her sights. Her photos are chock-full of both high end and street-style fashion. Describing her personal style as, “edgy, casual, put-together, classy, and adventurous,” Skai admitted that she doesn’t really follow trends and would prefer to lead rather than follow just as she does in other aspects of her life. “The thing with trends…once it starts, everyone does it, and everyone looks the same. I particularly don’t want to do that. I stay true to myself. I just kind of do whatever I feel like works best for me.”
Skai’s energy, individuality, and ambition remind me that this younger, sometimes intimidating generation, challenges the rest of us to continue to work harder, better, and smarter.
“Now that I’m getting older, I want to start trying new things. I know that besides acting in different roles and trying different genres, like drama, I want to achieve something in the fashion business. Directing and producing in the future would be really interesting and challenging too,” Skai said.
Although she seems to have found her niche, or many of them, Skai offers some advice to anyone who is struggling to find their direction in life.
“If you really want to do something, go for it. It might not happen right away. In fact, it probably won’t happen overnight. Take any opportunity that you have. Don’t pass any of them up.”
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