Joy Bryant has been serving up Black beauty perfection for more than two decades. The former model-turned-actress dropped out of Yale in the mid-1990s to pose it up in fashion campaigns for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret. She made her film debut in 2001’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera and has continued to serve up effortless beauty ever since—in everything from such films as Antwone Fisher and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ to television series like Parenthood and Ballers.
[SEE ALSO: ‘For Life’ Star Joy Bryant Is Braided Perfection]
A few years ago, she also launched Basic Terrain, her own bohemian-esque activewear line, with free-flowing pieces you can hike, jet set, or just chill in. (Random, right?)
Now, she is playing Marie Wallace, the supportive wife of Aaron Wallace, in the critically acclaimed series For Life. The legal drama is loosely based on the life of Isaac Wright, Jr., who was wrongfully imprisoned and went on to provide legal defense to his fellow inmates before getting out of jail himself.
Joy says the series was a no-brainer for her. “I had a stack of pilots that I was reading and this pilot, which at the time was called “The untitled Hank Steinberg Project,” was by far my favorite. I just thought, ‘Wow, what an incredible story,” she says.
Here, we chat with the ageless beauty about preparing for the role and her no-fuss approach to beauty.
HYPE HAIR: You said the role was a natural fit. How?
JOY BRYANT: When it comes to Marie, I have loved ones who have been incarcerated. I have two really great girlfriends who have partners who are formerly incarcerated. So, I know what they were going through as they did the bids, too.
HH: How did you prepare?
JOY: I was able to lean into both of those experiences. Of course, unless you’re actually going through it, you really don›t know. But I knew enough of what that requires from a partner that I felt comfortable bringing that to life and bringing that to Marie.
HH: You mentioned your biggest takeaway from the series is having a belief in one’s self. Why is that so important?
JOY: In Aaron’s case, he would not have been able to embark on the journey that he was on if he did not believe it. These are extraordinary circumstances, but even just everyday life, whatever it is you want to be or do, it’d be nice if everyone was like, “Yeah, man, I believe in you.” But most of the time, no one’s ever going to believe in you, so what are you gonna do? You have no chance of success or anything if you don’t believe in yourself.
HH: Does that belief play out in your own life story?
JOY: My life started out as an exercise in self-belief. I grew up in the South Bronx. I was born to a teenage mother. My grandmother raised me. I grew up on welfare. Just start there, right? And one of the things that my grandmother taught me is that a poor Black girl from the South Bronx can actually dream. That’s the core of who I am.
Before I was modeling, before I was acting, I believed in myself enough to get good grades. I was lucky to get into certain programs that got me a great education, and I went to Yale. I did all these things that someone like me from where I come from ain’t supposed to be doing.
HH: How do you hold onto that in trying times?
JOY: I just carry that over into everything that I do. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where I’m like, “No girl, that’s not it.” That’s the test of life. How do you restore faith in yourself, in life? How do you keep hope alive? That’s the question, the challenge—because it’s not always going to be easy.
HH: I have to say, you have made beauty look easy—effortless Black beauty perfection. What’s your approach to beauty?
JOY: It comes from the inside out. I have a way of eating and living that works for me and keeps me healthy. Obviously, exercise and all that stuff help, too. But also, loving myself and accepting myself and not looking for the approval of others like I used to is important. It keeps me healthy, mentally.
HH: How did you get to that place of self-love?
JOY: I’ve been in the public eye as a model and also as an actress. Talent helps, but people also judge you on how you look. It’s been a process to get to that point where I’m not looking for other people to validate my beauty. I know that I’m beautiful—not in a conceited kind of way. I just believe that I’m enough, and I’m beautiful the way I am. And if you don’t like it, I don’t give a fuck and if you do like it. I don’t really give a fuck. Either way, I can accept myself on every level—flaws, beauty, and all that stuff—based on me and not somebody else.
At the end of the day, it’s “I love me, so that I love my hair. I love my little tiny butt.” It doesn’t matter what the world says about you.
HH: When did you fall in love with your hair?
JOY: I don’t think I started falling in love with my hair until recently, really.
HH: Why was that?
JOY: I didn’t really know how to style my hair [while growing up]. I wore ponytails a lot. I wasn’t a hair girl. I kind of wish I was, but I just didn’t know how to. All I could do was a ponytail. I got my hair braided when I was younger, and then I discovered weaves when I started modeling, which I really dug.
HH: What’s your hair doing now?
JOY: I wear wigs for work now, maybe a weave every now and then, but I’m really loving wearing my hair in braids. And if I can get the braids when I’m working, great! When I was doing Honey, I was able to wear braids, and when I was doing Parenthood, I wore braids.
HH: Do you have a go-to style?
JOY: I just need something super-low maintenance. For everyday life, my go-to thing, I’m going to rock braids—whether it be some kind of cornrow style or box braids.
HH: Any special hair care regimen?
JOY: I keep my hair moisturized!
HH: What would you say to women who are still struggling to find peace with their hair?
JOY: There are so many different things that Black women have available to them to achieve a look they want to achieve. There’s no judgment if you want to wear extensions, you want to wear a weave, you want to wear it natural hair. You want to wear braids. It doesn’t matter. We get to sort of play and mix in and out of all of these different styles on a dime if we want to. That’s magic. That’s wonderful.
For Life airs Tuesdays on ABC at 10 pm EST. Check local listings for channel details.