Beyoncé's new Lemonade visual album features a ton of celebrity cameos—Serena Williams, Zendaya, and Amandla Stenberg, to name a few. In the latter half of Lemonade, you might also have recognized Winnie Harlow, known for her boundary-breaking appearance on cycle 21 of America's Next Top Model. Back in December, she spent two days in New Orleans shooting her part in Lemonade, though she didn't know what it was at the time and had to wait 'til this past Saturday to see the final cut. Here, she talks about how she ended up in the film, what happened on set, and what it was like to work with Beyoncé.
How did your appearance in Lemonade come together? They actually tried to get in contact with me for two weeks prior to shooting, but we weren't getting much information about the job when we were trying to get in contact with them, so my manager at the time just kind of looked over the emails. But then I went to L.A. for filming with Heidi Klum for Germany's Next Top Model, and I got a call from my girlfriend like, "Hey, so my girl works for Beyoncé, she's her personal assistant. She wants your number, but she won't tell me what for," so I was like, "Okay." I gave her my number, and [Beyoncé's assistant] gave me a call and told me that they'd been trying to reach me for a while now and wanted to know if I could fly out to New Orleans the next day, and I was like, "I mean sure, I guess, that's cool," still the whole time not really knowing what the project was. But who can say no to Beyoncé? So I went.
What was the level of secrecy like on set? I think after the filming, we all didn't really know exactly what the project was, but we could sense how epic it was. Like of course we were part of the scenes, but we just weren't told what exactly was going on, you know?
So you didn't know it was an album or anything; you just knew that you were shooting something with Beyoncé. I just literally only knew it was called 'Lemonade.'
Did you hear any music? We heard tons of music. She came and sang "Freedom" for us a cappella. It was amazing because people pay crazy money to watch her do that, and that's what I get to call my job, you know? So at that point, I was really just grateful that that was something I had to do for my career, let alone just getting to see her at work.
What was your first meeting with her like? My first meeting with her was me walking on to set. I went and got my hair, makeup, and wardrobe done, and someone was walking me to set and I saw her running toward my direction for her wardrobe change. She stopped right in front of me, like, grabbed me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for coming. I was just kind of stunned, but I was like, "Oh no, thank you for having me!"
Were you allowed to tell anyone what you were doing or was it totally a secret? It was 100 percent a secret. I didn't talk to anyone like my friends; I didn't message anyone on set just because I wanted to be focused on working. But once I got home, I told my sister, I told my mom, because they were so worried. They had no idea where I was.
When did you get to see the finished product? When everyone else got to see the finished product! I actually haven't even gotten to finish the whole video because I literally just landed yesterday from London. I texted her personal assistant and I was like, "Okay, well, she put me in her trailer so can you at least tell me how much I'm going to be in the video? Because I know I filmed a lot, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be in the video a lot." She was like, "Girl, stay tuned!" with a little wink, and I was like, "I don't know if that wink should get me excited or if you're scaring me or you're leading me on, like, what does that mean?!" And she wouldn't tell me.
What did you think of it? I haven't gotten to finish it, but for the most part, I think it's so beautiful. It's so raw and so honest, and I think it's just amazing for her to do this.
In one scene, you're holding a photo of your great-grandfather. How did you choose that photo? Her personal assistant messaged me and asked me for a picture of someone who was maybe like a father figure that has passed. For me, my grandfather is a huge father figure to me, even though my father is and my uncles are, but they [haven't] passed and neither has my grandfather. But my great-grandfather has passed, and I've always been told that my grandfather and my great-grandfather are like twins, like they're almost exactly alike—in look, in the way they act, their personality. So I wanted to use a picture of my great-grandfather to represent my grandfather.
In the scene where everyone is having dinner, were you all really eating? Oh my gosh, the food was hella cold but it was all edible. That was actually the first thing that Beyoncé asked when we sat down. The directors had told us to sit wherever we wanted at the table. I sat down, like, dead center, and then I was just talking to people. Then I look over to my right and Bey was sitting next to me, so I was just like, "Oh, hey, didn't know you were gonna sit here. Cool." They directed us to have normal conversation, so we were all literally just talking about life and experiences and telling stories, and then Bey was like, "Can we find out if this food is edible? Because I'm starving." Then catering came out and told us it was all cold but it's edible ... so we started tasting things. I was kinda like testing everything. I ended up going to the buffet table and bringing some stuff back and tasting it before everyone else did, [and they'd ask,] "OK, Winnie, is it good? Does it taste good?" It was like a little game. There were certain things that I was not down to try and I got other people to try those for me. It was kind of like a family picnic.
How did Beyoncé explain your part in Lemonade to you? Our roles were pretty much just ourselves. We weren't told to act any other way other than ourselves. Everything was really just natural. All of the times when you hear music over scenes where we're all sitting down and talking, we're just having regular conversation. That's how it ended up being so natural. We literally just got to go and chill and have a good time with Beyoncé while filming. That was our job.
Did you get to meet Blue? Yeah. I met Blue, Beyoncé, and Jay Z all at the same time, like the first scene. Bey is in the tree for that scene. She came down and said hi, and Blue was in the center of that scene. Then Jay Z was watching, and he came over to me and said hi, gave me a hug, and said, "Thank you for coming." I never really actually got to speak to Blue but she is very smart. I have never seen a kid able to hold a position for a scene for so long. It's very still, very quiet, but powerful. And she's standing in the middle of all of us, as strong as we all are. So I thought that was really cool. It's not like she's [been brought up to act] or anything like that; other than her parents being who her parents are, she seems to lead a normal life. I feel like she just learned by watching her mom and being inspired by her mom. Actually, this is something that Beyoncé said to me. She was saying that she felt it was her responsibility to show black women themselves in the media, but even more so now that she has Blue.
What has the response been like since it aired Saturday? The Beyhive is all for it. They are absolutely all for it.
Have you been getting lemon emojis on your Instagram? Yeah, crazy lemons. Tons and tons and tons of lemons.
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