In a matter of months, actress Alexandra Shipp has gone from being relatively unknown in Hollywood to starring in two buzz worthy TV films, Drumline: A New Beat, and the controversy-riddled Lifetime biopic Aaliyah: The Princess of Pop. So who is the rising young star? ESSENCE.com got the Phoenix, Arizona native to share 5 things we didn’t know about her.
1. She used to be a celebrity mobile pet groomer.
“I would go to stars’ houses in a van with my boss at the time—who is still my Armenian mother—and I would wash the dogs, dry them and cut their nails,” says Shipp. “We would service all kinds of stars—people like Kate Hudson, Mandy Moore, Denise Richards, and a bunch of Glee kids, which is actually funny because I’ve met them and hung out with them and never told them this. They don’t recognize me. The thing is people don’t recognize the help. It’s kind of funny that I’ll see these famous people and they won’t know that I’ve already been inside their house.
2. Just a few months ago she was a struggling actress, trying to make ends meet.
“I couldn’t pay my rent six months ago,” says the 23-year-old, reflecting on her big break. “I’ve just been really fortunate and God has really blessed me this year. I cry about it all the time and I get really excited because it’s hard to be Black and to be female and look for any sort of lead role in Los Angeles. The fact that I got two roles in two months is just… that’s God.
3. She started shooting the Aaliyah biopic the day of her 23rd birthday.
“I didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare for it though because it was a week after shooting Drumline,” says Shipp. “Aaliyah had a huge following in Arizona. I don’t know if a lot of people realize that but she’s got a lot of “desert babies” who love her. I actually remember when she passed because there was a huge memorial for her in downtown Phoenix and I’m pretty sure that the mural is still up today.”
4. Her relationship with Hollywood is “complicated.”
“Hollywood is a dirty temptress that has stolen my wallet way too many times,” jokes Shipp. “It’s a great town but at the same time it’s a hustle. So if you’re not on any sort of grind or hustle you get lost in the sea of girls that look exactly like you. I mean Hollywood is where big fish from small ponds go to make it. You walk into a room for an audition and you see twenty other girls who look exactly like you. Some might be skinnier, they might have better skin, better hair. I mean it doesn’t even matter. It’s very cut throat.
5. She still cringes when she sees her face on billboards for Drumline and Aaliyah.
“I was freaking out a little bit when I saw my Aaliyah poster in Time Square,” says Shipp. “I had heart palpitations. I’m just so excited because as a kid you would see posters and watch TV and movie commercials and you would think that that was normal and then to actually be in it is just humbling and scary and it make you want to sweat.
Drumline: A New Beat premiers tonight at 9pm EST on VH1.