White Men Can’t Jump (2023) star Laura Harrier knows what it’s like to be the newcomer on set. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that she made what she considers to be her feature film debut opposite Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). So, in Calmatic’s new take on Ron Shelton’s 1992 classic, White Men Can’t Jump, Harrier found herself welcoming rapper Jack Harlow to his first movie set and serving as the more experienced scene partner.
Harrier plays Tatiana, a dancer and choreographer who begins to lose her patience with her longtime boyfriend, Jeremy (Harlow), as the former college basketball player just can’t let go of his hoop dreams. Fortunately, unlike their characters, Harrier and Harlow didn’t take long to get on the same page.
“There’s always an aspect of working with a newer actor that’s just different, and I’ve been on that end of it, too,” Harrier tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But at the same time, I wasn’t super worried about it just because Jack [Harlow] is just so naturally charismatic. He went on to impress and surprise me, because he has natural gifts as an actor.”
In 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Harrier played Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) first love, Liz, who turned out to be the daughter of Michael Keaton’s baddie, Adrian Toomes/Vulture. In the end, Liz and her family moved to Oregon as a result of Spider-Man bringing down her father en route to his arrest.
Naturally, Harrier can’t help but wonder what Liz’s new life is like in Oregon, having lost everything from probable asset seizure and reputational damage, and she’d be eager to explore that story at some point.
“I don’t think it’s been an easy trajectory for her. So she’s probably had a bit of a tough go, but if Marvel ever wanted to explore that story, I would be very interested in doing that. So let’s see what happens,” Harrier says.
Harrier is also looking back on her life-changing experience as Patrice Dumas in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018), alongside John David Washington.
“As important and impactful as Spider-Man was, BlacKkKlansman was the movie that really changed my life and changed me as an actor. Spike is Spike. He showed me the intellectual side of making films and doing character research, so I learned a lot from that set,” Harrier recalls.
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Harrier also reflects on one of the MCU’s most beloved scenes between her, Keaton and Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
So did White Men Can’t Jump (1992) make its way to your generation at all? Was it on your radar growing up?
I was definitely aware of it. I probably saw it in high school for the first time, and then didn’t see it for years until I went back to rewatch it for this. It’s just one of those movies that’s so in the cultural zeitgeist that you just know of it, and it’s affected so much in terms of style, vibe and fashion. The soundtrack was also incredible. So it just felt like, “This is an iconic film. Should it be looked at again?” And for me the answer was yes, and the way that we did it doesn’t feel like a remake at all. Our director, Chuck [Charles “Calmatic” Kidd II], kept calling it a remix or sampling. I also wasn’t interested in stepping into something that was already done and beloved, but it’s such a fresh new take on this story with a completely different point of view. So that made me want to do it.
The detail that stuck with me the most from the original is Rosie Perez’s trivia prowess involving “foods that begin with the letter Q.” She was a Jeopardy savant. But I’m actually glad that they took your character in a different direction and didn’t try to give her some kind of modernized trivia skill set.
Yeah, me too. Rosie is just so amazing in the original, and it’s such a beloved performance. She’s an actress that I really look up to, and I was never gonna try and go do what she did. It was never gonna be what she did. I’m a completely different person, so I just wanted to make Tatiana someone who stands on her own as her own person. I didn’t want to feel like I had these very large shoes to fill because, in reality, the two people are completely different characters.
So, Tatiana is a choreographer/dancer, and she’s been in a long-term relationship with Jeremy (Jack Harlow), a former college basketball player who’s now down on his luck. Assuming they met in college, is she sticking it out because she still remembers the good times? Is she resting on their laurels?
The story that I crafted for myself and that Jack and I spoke about was that they’ve been together for so long and they’re really each other’s safe place. Neither of them are really close to their families, and so they are each other’s families. They have just built this world and this really solid foundation together that she doesn’t want to give up. She does really love him, but there are obviously issues in their relationship. So it gets to the point where she doesn’t want to step away, but she will if that’s what she has to do.
Your scene partner, Jack Harlow, makes his acting debut in this movie. When you signed on, did you expect to have to show him the ropes a little bit and be more patient than you’d normally have to be with someone more experienced?
There’s always an aspect of working with a newer actor that’s just different, and I’ve been on that end of it, too. My first film was Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I worked with Michael Keaton, so I understand how that feels to step into something as the person with less experience. But at the same time, I wasn’t super worried about it just because Jack is just so naturally charismatic. He really has that movie star energy, for lack of a better word about him. So I felt confident that we would be able to create a natural organic flow together just based on the fact that we have great chemistry and felt comfortable. From there, he went on to impress and surprise me, because he has natural gifts as an actor. So I truly enjoyed working with him.
So you found a rhythm pretty quickly.
Yeah, it really was kind of effortless. It’s funny when you step onto those sets where everything feels like it falls into place. Sometimes, making movies can be really hard work. There are long days and there can be a lot of conflicting personalities, but this job really felt comfortable and natural. And I loved working with Chuck as well. So much of the vibe of a film set comes from the top and from the director, and he just made everyone feel valued and appreciated. There was always room for our ideas to be heard. There was always room to bring something to the table and I really appreciated him being open to that.
Well, according to the Internet, you’re a vegetarian, and while there’s certainly a difference between the two, can we pretend that the writers wrote the vegan restaurant scene and vegetable dialogue with you in mind?
That’s really funny because I’m actually not a vegetarian. (Laughs.)
Are you saying the Internet can be wrong?
(Laughs.) The Internet has false information!? I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I’m not a vegetarian. I’ll dabble in meat sometimes if it’s good.
Now, just to be clear, I rely on many other sources of information, but your Wikipedia page literally says, “Harrier has been a vegetarian since she was eight years old.”
That is so funny. I didn’t eat red meat for a long time. and I recently started eating beef again, but maybe that’s where that came from. (Laughs.) So, while I do understand the vegan persuasion, it’s not me.
Well, to make a complete tonal shift from false Wiki entries, were you able to meet the late great Lance Reddick during the birthday party shoot?
I was, and unfortunately, that was the only day that we overlapped. That was the one day that the entire cast was on set together, so I can’t say that I knew him well. He’s an actor that I’ve always admired and really appreciated from afar, and knowing that he was going to be part of this film really made me want to be a part of it even more. But that day on set, when everyone was hanging out, he was just really kind. He had this quiet strength about him. Everyone was in the cast area; they made a little tent for everyone’s chairs. And I just remember he brought everybody snacks, which was really sweet. That’s what stuck with me about him.
So you mentioned Micheal Keaton earlier, and I have to tell you that you’re in the MCU’s best scene, which is Homecoming’s Jaguar scene. What do you remember about putting it together?
It’s funny because people reference that scene a lot and how great of a scene it is, especially for being in a car, which is hard to shoot in. We shot that scene over two days, and it took a long time. I was also chewing gum the entire time, so I remember feeling pretty nauseated from having gum in my mouth for 12 hours a day, constantly. But more so than that, everyone knows that Michael Keaton is one of the greatest actors, and I was just so struck with the way that he brought that same intensity to every single take. No matter if it was his coverage or my coverage, he was still bringing that intensity, even if he was completely off camera. And to work with somebody who is off camera and contributing to your performance in that way, it’s the biggest gift as an actor. This was very early in my career, and to have the best of the best behave that way on set really stuck with me. He’s just a consummate professional, and that’s why he’s at the top.
Could you feel the tension in the air during the Jaguar scene, or did it mostly come from the final product?
Well, in my performance as Liz, I made the choice to be oblivious of the tension in the air, but of course, when I looked outside of it, I could see and feel what was going on. I was just focused on actually being in my own world and being completely oblivious to the tension happening between Tom and Michael’s characters. So I was having my own internal dialogue and ignoring all of the crazy tension that was happening in the scene. But while looking at the monitor, I definitely could tell that it was a pretty great thing to be a part of.
By the way, if anyone disproves the title of your new movie, it’s Tom Holland.
(Laughs.) Yeah, he can jump very well. He’s athletic. It’s very impressive.
With her father (Keaton’s Adrian Toomes) being outed as a supervillain and her family likely losing everything as a result, do you think Liz is having a tough go of it in Oregon?
I don’t think it’s been an easy trajectory for her. So she’s probably had a bit of a tough go, but if Marvel ever wanted to explore that story, I would be very interested in doing that. So let’s see what happens.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. What did you walk away from that set with that didn’t you have previously?
As important and impactful as Spider-Man was, BlacKkKlansman was the movie that really changed my life and changed me as an actor. Spike is Spike. Everyone knows his importance, but I don’t think a lot of people know that he is a tenured professor at NYU. So I wanted to learn from him and I wanted to absorb as much as I could, but I really felt that professorial energy from him. He gave me a reading list and a list of films to watch. He also gave me a playlist and really encouraged me to build upon that. And going into BlacKkKlansman, I interviewed people who were in the Panthers. I interviewed Black student groups of the time. I only listened to music from the ‘70s while we were shooting. So I took those lessons into my other work. He showed me the intellectual side of making films and doing character research, so I learned a lot from that set.
Of all of Spike’s double dolly shots, you have one of his coolest ones. Did you frame that image and put it on your wall?
I haven’t, but I should do that. That would be nice to do. That was crazy because Spike didn’t tell us that we were doing that. John David [Washington] and I had no idea. We knew the scene we were shooting, but we didn’t know how he was going to set it up. So we didn’t know it was gonna be a double dolly shot, and literally on the day, we saw the dolly being set up with the camera on top of it. And both of us were just like, “Oh my God, are we about to be in one of those iconic shots?” And I think I’m only the second woman who’s been in one, which was very cool. So that was very exciting.
Did it take a minute to get your balance?
Well, we were sitting down, but I remember feeling like I wasn’t sure where to look. (Laughs.) It’s a very crafted shot, and Spike was definitely very exacting about what he wanted there.
How did I not know this? So even though it looks like you’re standing up, you’re actually sitting down.
Yeah, I don’t know about Spike’s other double dolly shots, but for ours, John David and I were seated.
When I went down the rabbit hole of information about you, most of which is wrong, apparently …
I noticed that you shot a pilot [Galyntine] for AMC nearly a decade ago, and while the show didn’t go, you seemed to gain a really good friend out of it in Alycia Debnam-Carey. There’s no real question here; I just think it’s cool that there was a silver lining to the ups and downs of pilot season.
It’s so funny you mentioned that. No interviewer has ever asked me about this before, but yeah, Alycia is one of my very, very closest friends. She’s very dear to me. We met doing this pilot in the middle of nowhere in Utah, and we were together for the summer with a bunch of crazy Australian boys. (Laughs.) So we gained a really beautiful friendship from that. There’s so many starts and stops in this business, and things are built up to be huge and then they don’t go anywhere. And I do feel like there’s always a lesson or a silver lining there. I mean, there was a project that was not a great experience for me. It didn’t even go anywhere. It was a film [Balance, Not Symmetry] that I did in Scotland a few years ago that no one ever saw, but out of that, I did gain another one of my closest friends, Bria Vinaite, who was in The Florida Project. So, even if these things don’t come to fruition sometimes, you either make great friends or you learn some sort of lesson. So I try to remind myself of that because there’s a lot of ups and downs in this business.
And lastly, in light of what’s happening in our industry right now, do you remember a time where you recognized the difference that great writing makes?
Oh my gosh, absolutely. Actors can only do so much, and we’re only as good as the words that a writer brings us. I value writers and have so much respect for their craft and for their art, and I completely stand with them in solidarity during the strike. Look at something like BlacKkKlansman. That film felt so grounded and connected and not at all like a caricature of a movement, and it was because of incredible direction and great writing. When I stepped into it, a whole new world opened up for me, and that’s the greatest gift that you can have as an actor.
White Men Can’t Jump (2023) is now streaming on Hulu. This interview was edited for length and clarity.