Some might call it a coincidence, but for Kendrick Sampson it’s a matter of fate.
The 33-year-old “Insecure” star began his Hollywood journey 14 years ago, entering his teens in South Los Angeles and frequenting the same places in Ladera Heights as creator Issa Rae. He knew co-stars Yvonne Orji and Jean Eli long before they became co-stars.
“That’s how I knew it was intended,” Sampson said. “And it came from a higher place. All this was agreed upon, these were conversations and situations that I had already gone through, and with which I could easily find a common language. All I had to do was force myself to accept it, which is very, very rare in film and television. “
Sampson grew up in Houston, studied theater in high school, and film was his first love. Upon graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, as well as immerse himself in local activism and community organization. At the time, he could not afford to attend a conservatory, so in exchange for a few acting lessons, Sampson took odd studio jobs: reading scripts, cleaning, etc.
Now, more than a decade later, Sampson’s résumé includes Shonda Rhimes’ Avoiding Punishment for Murder, a role in Miss Juntins by Channing Godfrey Peeples and charming, lovable, elusive hairdresser Nathan.
“I need to play someone from my hometown who has mental health problems,” Sampson said. “Before, when I first came to Los Angeles and practiced acting, these characters were not around. He’s just a hairdresser; he is a drug addict, an ordinary barber. We have so many stories like this that I don’t think we will see them, so I hope it will inspire more. ”
For Sampson, Insecurity was the organic next chapter in his career. He knew he wanted to work with black creatives and he didn’t regret it. Then came the opportunity to join the cast after two seasons.
“I didn’t know exactly where he was going. I knew he could potentially be a romantic interest for Issa, but I wasn’t sure how far that would go. I was ready to get started! Sampson said. “Majority [the cast] came at the beginning and hoped that it would be something great, or initially knew that it would be great. But I came with proof.
Sampson first appears as Nathan in the third season premiere, when a skirmish breaks out between him and another passenger in Issa’s Lyft Party. They later bump into each other at Worldwide Taco during her lunch break. turns into a long, full-day date as the couple strolls around town, telling each other bits and pieces of their childhoods and exposing themselves – literally.
“I’m just grateful to be part of something that really changed Black’s story,” Sampson said. “Black people are always portrayed as either subhuman or superhuman. We need to be either demonized or criminalized, or we need to be a hidden figure, or we need to achieve something extraordinary, while mediocre white people are told their stories all the time. I loved the dirty gray area that Issa dared to insist that we are human and that we have our faults. “
But after Issa plays with him, Nathan sees her for a month, disappears without a trace, and returns home to Texas. Although he tries to return with a bouquet of flowers on Issa’s birthday in the season 3 finale, her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) quickly turns Nathan away so that he doesn’t ruin the holiday with a weak apology. In Episode 9 of Season 4, after reconciling and revealing that he was mentally “in a bad place,” Nathan shares the truth: he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Sampson told HuffPost that portraying a black person with a mental illness is important to destigmatizing them, and stressed the importance of showing black people living, growing, and solving personal problems like everyone else.
He added that Nathan’s experience of acting served as a model for dealing with mental health problems in relationships, while still talking about big changes, friendships, or the routine of everyday life. Sampson, whose relatives suffer from bipolar disorder or struggle with other mental illnesses, was not far from this experience.
“This is one of the things we live with. There are systems that focus on our mental health, so it is impossible to grow up in this country and not experience trauma and need healing from it, ”Sampson said. “We live with these problems and often do not have the necessary tools. It just shows us life, not some sensational version of the mental illness we usually see. “
“From time to time you do realize that although [Nathan] Perhaps he did not intend to hurt anyone or harm, there are still consequences that he must wrap up and navigate in his actions, ”Sampson said. “What it looks like to a young black man I think is important to show. It’s not that he’s some kind of toxic dude and was written off. It literally demonstrates his humanity. ”
Harnessing the power of Hollywood to shape perception was Sampson’s goal, and that’s what he aims to do through BLD PWR, a non-profit initiative he founded in 2019 that teaches entertainment professionals to use their platforms to fight for social justice. Occasionally, because of this work, he clashes with liberals and conservatives in Hollywood.
“I am focused on the cross-sectoral liberation of blacks and will not leave anyone behind. I am focused on the abolition of the death penalty, and at BLD PWR we are focused on the abolition of the death penalty, ”Sampson said. “What does it look like in the story? What is it like building a culture of caring as opposed to the repressive culture that we exude, embody and sustain through Hollywood promoting hypercapitalism and anti-blacks in storytelling? “
He continued: “When you watch documentaries like Disclosure or The 13th and just think about how we are portrayed, then we think about the people we know, how much more diverse we are and how much history is important. “It usually doesn’t take people long to understand why it is ultimately important to have autonomy in our stories and hold accountable the people who tell our stories.”
To outsiders, it may seem useless or disingenuous for an actor to participate in activism. For Sampson, it was never about optics, but rather about staying grounded and rooted in the community. Through “Insecure”, he not only penetrated deeper into his goal, but also found a unique experience that allows him to do this.
“I always say that Insecure was and remains a revolutionary show. This is an activist show, but not about activism. It shows us being, and we know that our existence is resistance, ”Sampson said. “Having something that actually expresses my values openly in many ways is something I could never have predicted or even asked for.”