Lovie Simone didn’t have far to travel when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country and shut down the New York production of her latest TV show, the Power spinoff Power Book III: Raising Kanan. The Bronx-born actress returned to her borough and locked down with her family.
Despite being in the American epicenter of the disease, Simone is calm and at peace—optimistic, even—when we speak over the phone.
“I’m a homebody, an introvert, so, [staying at home is] nothing new,” she laughs. Still, this restricted way of life is helping her connect with something deeper. “I want to be spontaneous and this has forced me to sit down and relax. It’s just forcing me to exist. I feel like when everybody was on go and everybody was outside, I feel like we never got to do what we came here for. There was nothing planned or assigned to us when we’re born, so we’re finally able to just exist and to be.”
Simone’s centered way of being is just one way the 21-year-old differs from the hard-partying, domineering character she plays in her first feature film, Selah and the Spades, streaming now Amazon Prime. [Read our review here.] She stars in the titular role and her co-stars Jharrel Jerome and Celeste O’Connor play members of the Spades, a group of students she leads in a drug-dealing operation at a prestigious boarding school.
“Selah [is] the rebel for her family,” Simone says of her 17-year-old character who “could’ve gotten more attention and more love,” from her mother (played by Gina Rodriguez) before being shipped away to boarding school.
For audiences who have loved Simone’s range as troubled preacher’s kid Zora on OWN’s hit megachurch drama Greenleaf, they will see Simone at her best in Selah, as her character’s reign gets undermined by enemy factions and her own insecurities.
“I was very happy to play an unapologetic [Black teenage girl] that was kind of her own hero and villain at the same time,” she says.
Getting into the mind of a girl as self-possessed as Selah also empowered Simone to be bolder in her own life.
“I knew that Selah did not ask anybody for permission, and it was kind of like her way had to be the way,” she says. “You know, no compromises. Simone adds, “I feel like I was attracted to this role because everything for Selah had a place…you can tell a lot of her power struggles came from her relationship with her mom and having no control there, so, of course she was going to overcompensate in another area.”
I know which stories I’m trying to tell right now.
The fact that Selah came from the mind of emerging writer/director Tayarisha Poe was also a draw. “I love empowering stories and I love female directors as well,” Simone says. Working with Poe, “wasn’t like work, it was kind of like I just got paid to like go…hang out at this camp. It felt like Tayarisha’s my big sister.” Like Selah, Poe was uncompromising in executing her vision on set, and that’s what Simone found inspiring about both observing and working with her.
“Our filming days didn’t always last long because as soon as she cut, she was like, ‘Okay that’s it, that’s what I saw, I don’t need anything else, I’m good.’ And that’s how I like to see women work in the industry.”
But it’s when Simone shares her affection for her castmates, Jerome (who plays Maxxie) and O’Connor (who plays Paloma), that she reveals her source of balance and optimism in the midst of the unpredictable.
“I’m into astrology, so I’m going to be saying some things here—me and Celeste are both Sagittarius, so by nature we’re very optimistic and fun and bubbly, and we love to make jokes and we love to laugh. When I found out that Jharrel’s a Libra, Libras are also known to be like social butterflies. The energy between us, it was always like we were making a joke or laughing,” she says. “The jokes never stopped.”
In addition to being an astrological energy match, Simone discovered that recent Emmy-winner Jerome is also from the Bronx and that they had grown up only two train stops away from each other. “As soon as we met we were like, ‘Oh, that’s like my bro,’” she says.
When she’s not vibing with her directors and costars, Simone’s intent crafting a career based on who she is and wants to be, rather than what may be expected of her. “I spend a lot of time with myself, so I take myself very seriously. I won’t allow like the industry or anything like that to kind of sway me to be anything [other than who I am],” she says.
“Even going about like auditioning, I don’t accept every audition that my manager or agent will send me because I don’t see that for myself sometimes. I know which stories I’m trying to tell right now,” she says. Even as young actresses can be made to feel “ungrateful” for rejecting roles that don’t serve them, Simone has learned to trust herself and the path her life is on.
With Hollywood shutting down and the future being uncertain as we all wait, indoors, for a vaccine and a treatment for the virus, Simone has peace about not knowing what’s next.
“I have no clue and that’s the beautiful part. I feel like if anything a lot of art will come out of this because I feel like now people are forced to sit with themselves. A lot of the time, art and beautiful things and knowledge come out of that. Humanity has proven that before,” she says. “I’m not sure what’s going to come but I’m excited for it.”