You Won’t Just Find ‘Baywatch’ Star Ilfenesh Hadera On The Beach This Summer
Jason LaVeris

Last year was incredibly busy for Ilfenesh Hadera. The native New Yorker was in four big projects, all seeing the light of day this year.

In addition to Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have ItMaster of None and Showtime’s Billions, the actress is also starring in Baywatch alongside Dwayne Johnson and Priyanka Chopra.

But with a name that means “you are infinite” in her Ethiopian father’s language of Tigrinya, she’s ready and willing to work. It also doesn’t hurt that she was raised in Harlem, with a tough-as-nails work ethic. 

“It was a lot last fall,” Hadera told ESSENCE about all the projects filming around the same time. “There were some weeks where I wasn’t doing anything. And then some weeks where it was everything. But back in the day when I was hostessing, I prayed for this. So it’s all good. Can’t complain.”

Hadera has been acting for years, first going to Stony Brook University for undergrad theater, and later graduate school in London for a joint program between the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College where she got her MFA. She credits Lee for being the first director to nurture her career.

For her role on Baywatch, playing Johnson’s love interest, she talked about getting the role.

“I was just walking around Harlem with my hair in a doobie wrap and my sweatpants on, and Dwayne Johnson was like ‘You’re the one’,” she joked about being discovered. “Yes, that’s a better story than me just auditioning for the role.”

The talent is funny, down to earth and incredibly knowledgeable of New York City. She can give good Ethiopian restaurant suggestions, as quick as she can remember her lines from roles. But most of all, she’s happy to be getting amazing jobs. 

“We had fun,” she said about working on Baywatch. “It’s about taking the things we most associated with it [TV series] and adding the funny and the anti. It’s not suppose to be a serious movie. It’s a cool movie. It’s pure entertainment.”

Baywatch hit theaters nationwide Friday, May 26.