Fans of 13 Reasons Why will recognize Ajiona Alexus as Sheri Holland, the cheerleader who crashed her car into a stop sign and may have caused the death of Jeff Atkins (Brandon Larracuente).
The Alabama-native, who landed her first major television role on TV One's The Rickey Smiley Show, spoke to ESSENCE about her role on 13 Reasons Why, if she really thinks Sheri deserved a tape, and the possibility of Sheri and Clay (Dylan Minnette) ever hooking up.
Season two of 13 Reasons Why was great. I finished it in two nights. What could possibly happen in season three?
I feel like the options are open. These seasons are kind of like books. There are different chapters and there's always another chapter to explore. Just like in season one, people want to know about the aftermath. I think the aftermath is always just as important as when the current event is happening. So, the aftermath of the trial and everything else, I think it's important to show how it affects these characters in the long run.
How much did you know about season two before it premiered?
I went to a lot of the table reads, but I was also filming a lot of different shows at the time, so I didn't read every single episode. I wasn't aware of every single thing that happened. We heard about it and they talked to us about it a little, but it's different when you watch it and actually see it and put all of the moving parts together.
Is there a moment from season two that really sticks out for you?
The court scenes. It's really interesting and dynamic to see everyone telling their story and to see another side of them. I think all of those court scenes were really important, you really see a different side of people and who they really are.
I also feel like your character, Sheri, had a lot of growth. In season one, we could tell that Sheri's a good person, but she's not playing a major role in the tape drama. In season two, you are front and center in a lot of things.
Sheri went to a juvenile detention center for four months, so that was definitely a changing experience for her. She kind of grew up faster than the other characters. And, something that was so powerful about Sheri this season was that she was very self-aware. I feel like a self-aware woman is a very powerful woman. She was able to get to a point where she could speak the truth at any cost and help other characters and other people see their own truth as well.
My friends and I have been going back and forth over whether or not Sheri deserved a tape in season one. She definitely deserves blame for the stop sign, but I don't know if Sheri deserved a tape.
Honestly, I would say, I don't think she necessarily deserved a tape either. But, you never know how the smallest things could've affected a person at that time. I don't think it was necessarily about the stop sign, I think it was more so Hannah had witnessed a rape and she was a part of this incident that was really traumatizing in her life. So, that moment after...that's why it's always important to be aware of people. Whether they're brushing it off, you never know what they're going through at the time.
And, that was just a really strong moment. For Sheri to have been the last person—she was like her outlet. Sheri wasn't there because she didn't tell her and I feel like that's why Hannah put her on the tape. It wasn't necessarily Sheri's fault, but it was just...the smallest thing that happens after a traumatic incident like that can be a big incident as well, it adds fuel to the fire.
After season two, I’ve seen a few comments online about Clay and Sheri possibly becoming a couple. There are a few people who ship the two of you. Personally, I don’t see it. After Sheri goes into the clubhouse and comes back to tell Clay what happened, he immediately asks why you didn’t just leave and I almost lost it.
Yeah, I don't know about that. Sheri’s very evolved in season two and she's very strong. I feel like because she's so opinionated and focused on doing the right thing, I feel like her words will either attract a strong mind or offend a weak one. I feel like if they were to get together, that'll probably be their struggle as a couple. Clay is still struggling with Hannah and having a hard time of going through everything that happened, but I don't know. It could be a good thing or a bad thing, you never know.
How do you unwind after filming such heavy content? How do you refresh after all that?
For me, I love to take baths and drink wine. That's kind of my way of unraveling for the night. And, I love music. I feel like that's another outlet for me. And, realizing at the end of the day, this is a show and you also have your own life. So, you have to know how to make a balance between the two.
Glad you mentioned music because I’ve listened to “Baggage.” Do you have a project coming out?
Yeah, I'm actually working on it right now. I have the full project ready, I'm just still adding up a catalog. I still have to get all of my top songs together, but I'm really excited for the world to see another side of me. I've been putting in a lot of work writing and being in the studio. I'm really excited to showcase a different side of my talents, something that everyone hasn't seen before. It's gonna be really, really good.
You’re also pretty busy. On top of 13 Reasons Why and music, you’ve completed Acrimony and Breaking In. And, you had a role on Empire. Having worked with Gabrielle Union, Lee Daniels, Taraji P. Henson, and Tyler Perry what did you learn from them? Did they give you and advice about navigating the industry?
I love Gabrielle so much, she's like my big sister and we get along so well. I communicate with her all the time. But something I really appreciate about her is that she's someone who acknowledged me and told me more about the industry, like, don't let people limit you or your possibilities.
Sometimes the opportunities aren't there for a lot of African Americans, young women, or older women, and sometimes you have to create them yourself. That's something Gab not only taught me, but she showed me. She’s a producer and she acts. She's just so involved in so many moving components of her career and I think that's important for young people to do now more than ever. Don't feel like, oh, I have to wait until I'm older to produce and be an actor. Don't let your age or anything limit you. Anything's possible, you just have to put in work to get it done.
So what’s ahead for you for the remainder of 2018. Any goals you want to accomplish or a vacation in the works?
I was just talking to my friend about it before I got on the phone. I was like, "Man, I need a vacation," but at the same time, I don't know how to stop working. I'd rather work than take a vacation at this time in my life. But, definitely more music. I want to show people more of my music. And, I do a lot of community service. There's just so much I want to do as far as building my brand and everything else. I think it's just all a process and a matter of when it's gonna happen, not if. I'm just enjoying the moment and taking it all in as it comes and just working hard.