Breakout star Lexi Underwood on her latest film and the power of Gen Z

The 'Little Fires Everywhere' actress talks about her budding career, representation in Hollywood, and more

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After her breakout role on Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, blossoming actress Lexi Underwood is ready to use her talent and voice to usher in a new generation of Hollywood talent.

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Although her profile was boosted by the Emmy-nominated series, the 17-year-old actress is not new to the screen. Before starring as Pearl on Fires with Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, she delivered on television shows including Criminal Minds, Family Reunion, and Raven’s Home. Underwood is currently working on a film for Disney called Sneakerella to reimagine the way that we see princesses and princes.

Lexi Underwood
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Her latest project is the Meagan Good directed and produced film If Not Now, When? Filmed when she was only 15, the drama is the directorial feature debut of co-directors Good and Tamara Bass. Both also join Underwood in the cast, alongside Meagan HolderMekia Cox, Valerie Pettiford, and Niles Fitch. In the movie, four high school friends who shared a deep bond in the past reunite through tragedy.

“The thing that I love about this film is the fact that it’s a story about love, friendship, forgiveness, and resilience. And I love that we get to see a range of Black women, you know, there are no stereotypes, each has a very beautiful story arc. And I believe that women everywhere will be able to see themselves,” Underwood said during a Zoom interview with theGrio.

In the film, Underwood plays Jillian, a character that she says she felt a kinship with.

“I think that the biggest thing that a lot of people can learn from this is redemption between mother, daughter, and friends, and also [from her] resilience,” she remarked. “I think that Jillian’s such a special and sweet character. Embracing and being comfortable in my own skin is something that I can relate to when it comes to Jillian.”

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Underwood was able to explore her behind-the-camera abilities as she shadowed both Good and Bass during the shoot. As production neared the end, she was even able to direct a scene.

“On one of our very last days, they threw me in there to direct a scene between Miss Meagan and Miss Valerie. I was so nervous but so excited at the same time. That was my first time directing anything, and the scene actually made it in the film. That was a really cool moment that I will absolutely never forget, and it’s actually kind of one of the reasons why I started my own production company,” Underwood said.

Her Ultimate Dreamer Productions is an extension of her desire to tell important, impactful, and entertaining stories. According to their Instagram bio, the company’s “mission is to create inclusive content, support underrepresented voices, & inspire others to dream.”

From historical films to celebrity biopics, Underwood hopes to deliver untold stories with care. She shared with theGrio her desire to portray the late R&B singer Aaliyah as well as using art to expose the cultural history of her hometown.

“I really want to play Aaliyah [in a] biopic, a proper one that fully explains her life and just the wonderful person that she was, and the impact that she’s had on this world and this industry,” Underwood said. “Also, there’s a town in Gastonia, where my family’s from in North Carolina called The Square. It’s an area where only Black people could go during the 40s, 50s, and 60s to get everything that they needed during that time.”

Lexi Underwood as Jillian in the drama, If Not Now, When?
Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Like everyone else in the world, Underwood was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent racial reckoning taking place in and out of Hollywood. As a leading voice of Gen Z, she wants to hold her industry and peers accountable.

“2020 has been quite a year, and it has flipped everybody’s worlds upside down. I’m really proud of the way that Hollywood has handled it,” the actress shared. “We were all within this big movement and I feel like everyone kind of found their voice in it.”

She continued, “There were quite a few promises that were made, especially from the industry, on the different roles, stereotypes, casting; just the different experiences that Black performers were going to be given and how we would be able to navigate on set. I think that the biggest thing is making sure that we’re holding each other accountable for sustainable change and making sure inclusion is a thing.”

The actress is confident her generation will be the one to ultimately disrupt the status quo and set a new industry standard.

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“I feel like Gen Z is so powerful. At the end of the day, we’re the ones that are going to change the world. Gen Z is the most diverse and inclusive generation, and we’ve definitely seen it. Whether that is with the stories that we tell within our own industry, whether that is with the way that we use social media. We’ve been deemed as the social media generation, but I think it’s incredibly smart how we’re taking these platforms and really using them for good.”

If Not Now, When? premieres on demand and digital on Jan. 8.

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