Taylour Paige was all smiles and positivity when we connected via Zoom three days ahead of the release of her latest project. The Santa Monica-born actress and dancer was on a natural high from meditating as she sat on camera with a black sherpa jacket and hair pulled away from her bare face in a half-up, half-down style.

“I’m feeling thankful to talk about the work,” she tells ESSENCE before we dive into her new movie Boogie. “I’ve got 10 fingers, 10 toes, I’m breathing without assistance. I can’t complain.”

The 30-year-old’s sweet, approachable demeanor is different from that of her most recent character in the coming-of-age feature film written and directed by Eddie Huang. Paige plays headstrong, self-assured high school baddie Eleanor, girlfriend of Alfred Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a second-generation Asian-American who dreams of being drafted into the NBA and defeating neighborhood champion — and antagonist — Monk, played by the late rapper Pop Smoke.

When Paige first read Eleanor’s character analysis in June she didn’t think she’d want to play a high school student. “Social media is just waiting to drag me for some sh-t and I don’t feel like it,” she shares.

As luck would have it, Paige auditioned for another role she didn’t land but the casting director of Boogie showed her audition tape to Huang and he was sold. While shooting for her role as Dussie Mae in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, the Boogie part circled back around. The offer felt good as a working actress who may hear more nos than yeses over the course of her career.

4153_D002_00771_RC Taylor Takahashi stars as Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin and Taylour Paige as Eleanor in director Eddie Huang’s BOOGIE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Nicole Rivelli / Focus Features

The role, which was shot throughout all five boroughs in New York City, also allowed Paige to fulfill her young adult dream of moving to the big apple — which she took as a sign she should accept. With only two days to prepare before flying out to set, Paige tirelessly studied her character, from her walk to her astrological sign, which she and Huang determined would be a Scorpio. “It was fun googling Scorpios, how they assert themselves, and some of their traits,” she says.

“I just loved Eleanor’s self-possessed confidence and how she was direct and cool. I wasn’t as tapped in, confident, or settled [as a teen]. She was just unapologetically herself — and at that age too. She’s got maturity and a protective nature but she cares a lot. She’s strong and not just a love interest that’s not doing anything.”

As a girlfriend, Eleanor foster’s Chin’s passion for basketball. She also has no problem calling him out on his flaws. “Women have a way of awakening men and I think she helps him see himself, that he’s sabotaging and wildin’ so she helps ground him.”

With breakout star Takahashi as lead in the Focus Features film and Huang making his directorial debut while also playing the role of Jackie, Paige believes Boogie is right on time as the #StopAsianHate movement gains momentum across the country. “I love that the movie exists. I think it is divine timing that this is coming out with the bullsh-t that’s going on. [Asian-Americans] want love and to feel settled and stabled just like everybody else. Eventually, we’re gonna look back at the way we lived our lives and just [notice] how ridiculous and outrageous it all is.”

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4153_D004_00190_RC Taylor Takahashi stars as Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin and Taylour Paige as Eleanor in director Eddie Huang’s BOOGIE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Nicole Rivelli / Focus Features

As for the recent increase in hate crimes that have been targeted toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, she adds, “It’s ignorant, a lack of empathy, and it’s demonic.” As a Black woman, Paige also recognizes the pattern of us taking on the responsibility of standing up for other marginalized groups who are impacted by the same kind of hate and bias as we are. “Protect the Asian community at all costs and protect us, too,” she says. “I have hope but gosh, it’s just like Groundhog’s Day sometimes.”

Paige’s upcoming role in the stripper drama Zola, co-written by Jeremy O’Harris and Janicza Bravo, will center the experiences of some of the least-protected Black women. Inspired by true events spilled in a 2015 Twitter thread by A’Ziah “Zola” King, Paige will play the titular character in the film which explores sex work, trafficking, relationships, and the nuances of racial constructs within the stripper world from an inside perspective.

“Our movie is a satire and racial commentary. Though it’s comedic, it’s heartbreaking too. Zola’s upside down on the pole, popping and working super hard not getting any money and the white girl walks across [the stage], does nothing and gets all the money.”

Zola premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is slated for wide release on June 30 of this year. Though initially shocked by the opportunity to play such a character, receiving Well’s blessing and thinking of all the Black women whose stories are never told, helped Paige rise to the occasion. “I was honored and humbled that they felt like I could illuminate the light that was Zola,” she says smiling. “I feel great responsibility to be as intentional as I can about the characters I play and what they’re trying to say. Some of them are going to be unlikable and, hopefully, you’ll question why. That’s what art is supposed to do. It’s supposed to ruffle your feathers. As long as I’m telling the truth of who that person is, I’m doing the work.”

Paige’s semi-private relationship with actor-activist Jesse Williams helps keep her grounded as she taps into different worlds on set while navigating the trying experiences of Black Americans in the real world. The art of managing her own mental health while also monitoring her partner’s is a consistent practice, she tells us.

“I’m learning that figuring out what your needs are and checking in with yourself instead of projecting them onto your partner is key — being conscious of what it is you’re feeling and really being an engaged listener.”

Positively, Paige is using the current stay-at-home orders as an opportunity for self-reflection. Rather than run away from herself, she’s been exploring what changes she needs to make for herself as well as for the betterment of her relationship. “As cliche as it sounds, it is putting on your seatbelt first and taking care of you while genuinely rooting for this person and their happiness.”

It’s through that self-reflection that Paige is able to not only be a better artist, but a better human being, she says, quoting her late Boogie co-star Bashar Barakah Jackson, also known as Pop Smoke. “I’m trying to get to the truth, be as conscious as I can, and just be good. Be a good person and a good soul which therefore can inform me as a good artist,” she says humbly.

“With every role, I give something of myself to the role I’m playing and I take something. It’s a collaboration between me and the character. While I’m here, I’m gonna, as Pop Smoke would say, shake the room.”