Slick Woods’ coolness is bone-deep. She’s one in possession of hard-earned wisdom and cozy-glam fits that don’t seek acceptance. (Meanwhile, we all approve and hope she tags the designers on Instagram.) Her buzzcut is a marmalade color that blends into pastel lime green, but that’s likely to change. She’s 5’10”, has a glorious, gapped smile and doesn’t want to do anything but be herself.
As a model, Woods has strutted down runways for Moschino, Fendi and Helmut Lang. She’s Rihanna’s mentee and favorite model, too. Since becoming a fashion it-girl in 2015, she’s started exploring another form of creative expression—acting. In July, Freeform announced the 26-year-old would appear in the upcoming season of Grown-ish, playing a variation of herself. It will mark the second time she’s appeared onscreen, with the first being the 2019 film Goldie. Don’t be fooled by the glitz though, she’s worked for her shine and knows hardship.
Born in Minneapolis and raised in Los Angeles, Woods was homeless for years after her mother was imprisoned when she was just four years old. At 19, she was discovered at a bus stop by fellow model Ash Stymest, who introduced her to his agents. She never slept on the streets again.
Woods got her big break with modeling in 2015, following an appearance in Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 2 fashion show. She soon became associated with Rihanna, whom she calls “Rob,” (short for “Robyn,” the singer’s first name), with the superstar tapping Woods for her Fenty x Puma collaboration, as well as her additional beauty and lingerie pursuits. Woods was even in labor with her child, Saphir, as she walked for Rihanna’s premier Savage x Fenty show in 2018. Basically, Slick Woods is among the baddest. And you know it.
ESSENCE: Can you talk about the audition process for Grown-ish?
Slick Woods: Well, I’m going to be completely 100 with you. I’m not the best at audition tapes, because I feel like it’s awkward. But I sort of made it really easy, and so did the cast. Just being able to play myself was the best part of it. I get really uncomfortable when I have to do things out of my element because when I’m not myself, I feel uncomfortable. So it was just a great way they incorporated my feelings and how I dressed, everything was just very copacetic. Doing a sitcom, you’re going to be doing the little punchlines and everything, but they let me do me, and I love that about that team.
I think it’s so important to bring that authenticity to whatever you do. So I’m really glad they allowed you to bring your full self to the role. How did you feel when you got word that you landed it?
I thought somebody was punking me, but I thought Afrikaa [Afrikaa Johnson, Woods’ manager] got the wrong email.
I’ve known Justine Skye for years. I’ve known Trevor Jackson for years. So it was cool being with friends. I’ve known Luka Sabbat for years even though he wasn’t in the show. It’s just cool being around people I already knew. So I wasn’t being judged on top of not being judged. You know what I’m saying? It was just perfect.
You said that you have pre-existing relationships with actors Justine Skye and Trevor Jackson. Did you take any pointers from them?
I didn’t really have to ask for any pointers because my character is not only named Slick, it actually is me. They gave me the leeway to switch up things and just kind of just… What’s the right way to say this? They would let me be me. I can’t even say it any other way. They’re just like, “Okay, this is our research, this is how we see you, but how do you see yourself?” We kind of met in the middle of that and then got to move forward.
“Not being myself just really makes my skin split, because it took so long to be myself in the first place.”
Are there any similarities between modeling and acting?
Slick Woods: Similarities with modeling and acting? Well, the way I model is I always dress myself. A stylist will put 100 million things in front of me and I’ll just pick what I want and if I’m not wearing that, I’m leaving. So then I would put on that character in my head, because I watch a lot of anime. I’m probably boring you.
Not at all.
Modeling and acting are really about putting the character on in my head. It’s not really what I want in the scene, it’s what I just feel.
When it comes to modeling and acting on a cross path, I’m not really that good of an actor. I would say I’m more like I make the character into something I’m comfortable with, which is probably my less strong suit, when I should be just doing what exactly people are telling me to do. But I just feel like it’d be less rough if I was being myself for everyone in this situation. You know what I’m saying? For everybody. Because I’m going to complain if I don’t feel comfortable. Not being myself just really makes my skin split, because it took so long to be myself in the first place.
How long did it take to film Goldie?
It was about 30 days.
But our turnaround was only like, I would say four to five hours. And we were in Poughkeepsie shooting most of it. Some of it was in the Bronx, but just coming all the way back to Bushwick and then turning around. It was the whole thing. Then, that was around the time when people were playing the Pokémon app game. So there were people just running around, trying to catch Pokémon.
I had a really strong mentor. I quit the movie about 40 times a day. One of the main people that helped me through it, she made sure that she came whenever they called her to make me go back to shooting a movie.
Also, I ain’t never really been around kids that often before that. That was kind of hard. And then just reliving a lot of my past traumas was difficult and I kind of tend to run away from things when that happens. So I definitely hurt a lot of people’s feelings on that movie, but I wanted to get it right. Because we was going to do it right. I watched my mom get arrested and I didn’t want to represent that part of my life a certain way. I wanted to do it exactly how I wanted to do it and I wanted to do it well. I wasn’t acting in that part.
“Do we ever really heal or do we just roll over in some more flour and fry ourselves again?”
The realness that you were able to bring, do you feel like that helped the success of the project?
I think that everybody on set just really was just all together as a team, we made it possible, but Sam de Jung [the director of Goldie] is a very, very creative director and he knows what he wants because all his projects are based off of actual events in his life. I wanted to display that woman that he fell in love with. But at the same time, I couldn’t stray too much away from who I am.
How did you heal after having to uncover and relive so much trauma?
Do we ever really heal or do we just roll over in some more flour and fry ourselves again? I don’t think we ever really heal because we evolve, we adjust, we change. All I do for me is to heal, is be vulnerable. Just to cry when I got to cry, yell when I got to yell. The rain pours, I’m the first to feel the rain. I’m vulnerable, down to my appearance and I can’t really hide nothing. And I’m a cry baby. You cry in the shower just to push through the day for the s— you not even sad about, just to cry. You got to get that out.
Yes, you do.
Slick Woods: [Cry] because you can’t save the world, because you can’t do this, because you can’t heal orphans, abused animals. What am I going to do? I’m going to just cry in the morning real quick and then get it out the way.
What has being a model shown you?
Modeling taught me that keeping your mouth closed will get you in deep sh–. When you talk, when you verbalize, when you let people know what you want and when you want it, that’s when… Closed mouths don’t get fed. I learned after already being humble, f— it. I’m confident now. F— it. I’m going to say. With humility and being broke or cocky with the checkbook? What you want? You know what I’m saying?
As Black women, we’re taught that we have to be quiet about our needs and accomplishments. It often leads to us being shut out of opportunities that we deserve or not getting what we need from an opportunity. So that’s a necessary perspective that you actually have to speak up. Being humble is almost a luxury.
I see all these young girls and they sit there and they take it, they take it, they take it. And sometimes it gets on your nerves to the point where you got to tap one of these young girls like, “Hey, tell them n—-s no. No, you don’t want to take off all your clothes. I see how uncomfortable you are.”
I’ll take off all my clothes because I don’t care. But if I see a 15-year-old girl from Russia and she’s sitting there, and trust and believe there are Black girls from Russia, like they sit there and they just take it because they’re 15. They don’t know. You got to say, “Hey, it’s okay to speak your mind. It’s all right. You’re not going nowhere. They already booked you. Tell them how you feel. They might be this simple to just put them on the shirt or something. Like you ain’t got to take all that.”
What are your aspirations for your acting career?
I’m kind. I will do the job on my time, but I will do it. I won’t take no sh–. And I try my best not to give them no sh–. And I just want everybody’s day to feel like they’re not at work, because production works really hard. We remember birthdays, we remember names. We try to just be there for them when we can because I know they woke up four hours earlier than I did to build the set, to do this. You got to remember everybody’s likes, dislikes and just be there for them.
Just because [I’m] an actor doesn’t mean they are less than me. I want to continue that because sometimes I’ll lose my wig and that’s somebody’s whole job at stake. Just because I got mad at something doesn’t mean that they should lose the job. Just being more thoughtful would be something that I aspire to do. Because I learned that from Rob. Rob is the one that remembers people’s birthdays and nicknames, mama’s names.