Digital Cover: KJ Smith On Living Her Best Hair Life & Redefining Beauty

KJ Smith

KJ Smith is already having a great year. She kicked off 2019 with announcements of her upcoming role in Madea’s Family Funeral. The young ingénue also nabbed her recurring roles as Sasha on Carl Weber’s The Family Business and her role on ABC’s The Fix

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Being booked and busy is the life KJ has been working for, but it didn’t come without challenges and her coming to terms with who she is in Hollywood. 

Hype Hair chatted with the actress about her latest projects, the impact of losing a parent and how she defines her beauty in an industry that doesn’t always accommodate #Blackgirlmagic. 

KJ Smith
Submitted photo

Hype Hair: Tell me a little bit about your role as Carol in Madea’s Family Funeral
KJ Smith: Well, Carol is a bit conservative, very well-to-do, very uppity, very judgmental and really looking at everyone else’s life and not reflecting on her own. Because she’s so outwardly focused, she doesn’t even see or isn’t trying to see [her flaws]. I can’t tell you her story arc, but I can tell you that we really start to see different facets of her towards the end of the film.

HH: Nice! How does it feel to be a part of the final Madea project?
KJ: I feel special because I always grew up watching it like when it was on VHS. I was too young to understand the material and the subject matter, but I just remember laughing at this woman who was just so funny. So to be a part of the Madea legacy, it’s really dope to me. I feel chosen, especially the way that it happened – right after my dad died. 

HH: Wow, I’m sorry to hear that, but it sounds like it was a blessing of a role for you. 
KJ: Yeah! I don’t think I could have done it if it didn’t happen because at that time I wasn’t vulnerable enough to do the things that Carol did in the film. I wasn’t even vulnerable enough to tap into those pieces of me, so it’s really weird how that catapulted my acting career and my acting chops. I think everything I did before was pretty surface level. It wasn’t deep. I wasn’t deep; not that the characters weren’t, I just couldn’t take it there. I had not experienced a loss that affected me in that way. Now, I can really tap into my emotions more readily because of that experience.

HH: You’ve got a lot of other projects dropping this year, including your role as Sasha Duncan in BET’s Family Business. What did you take away from playing this character?
KJ: With Sasha, I’m pretty sure she’s allergic to clothes! When she’s working, she’s super professional; she’s tied up tight. But in her personal life, she is a free spirit. The thing that I learned from playing Sasha is to love yourself, honey! Sasha is free; she gets the job done. She’s not worried about what anybody has to say about it or how she looks while she’s doing it. She’s a siren, she’s a seductress, and that requires a disgusting amount of self-confidence. 

KJ Smith
Submitted photo

HH: How does a character like Sasha play into your personal view of yourself when it comes to beauty? 
KJ: When I first moved to LA, people were like, “Oh, if you want to do commercials, you got to have big curly and hair, blah, blah, blah.” At that time, I had not started my natural hair journey, and I had a relaxed, short bob cut. I booked so much work with that hairstyle and people were telling me at that time be something I wasn’t. So I’ve always gone and played to the beat of my own drum. I do what I want. If I’m strong and if I do the work and I am acting my ass off and being professional and doing what I have to do, the work will come. I have always believed in myself regardless. But now, Sasha didn’t teach me that! 

HH: When it comes to the different hair requests on set, is it easier just to do protective styling? If so, what has worked for you? Wigs? Weaves?
KJ: Wigs! [laughs] I’m looking at five wigs right now as I talk to you. I got my short bob, a joint with a bang, my curly, my teeny, tiny afro. I have all of that. I did a print job for a hair company and I tell you my hair slayed in the photo! But afterward, my hair was so damaged that I had to start all over again. That experience taught me to wear protective styles. 

HH: What are your holy-grail hair products?
KJ: I love natural oils, so I always do a certified organic castor oil—that’s my jam! When I want to get funky or do an updo, I may do a little ponytail and use my little Eco Style Gel with the black castor and flaxseed oil. And lately, I’ve been using this Cantu Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioner, and that’s been doing really well. And I may add a few oils in it like a rosemary oil or a peppermint oil or something in it to just make it really hydrate my hair even more. But I always add oils in my leave-in conditioner. I don’t care which one I buy. I just add all the oils I can, because my hair can get very, very dry.

HH: In an industry obsessed with looks, how do you personally define beauty? 
KJ: I didn’t feel beautiful until I knew myself. I think knowing yourself, knowing your boundaries, knowing your worth, that makes a person, beautiful; no money, no hair, no makeup, no clothes, no boyfriend or girlfriend or job—none of that. It’s all about knowing who you are and knowing your worth. That shit is sexy; it’s beautiful. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.