Originally published on BET.com.
DESPITE WHAT THE MOST OPTIMISTIC OF INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES BUZZING around on Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr (are you kids still on that?) may suggest, the undertaking of successfully reinventing oneself can feel as daunting as climbing Mount Everest. Just ask Taylor Swift, who is currently epically failing at it. For Karrueche Tran, the tenacity to preserve and navigate the obstacle course that is Hollywood has become as ingrained in her daily routine as eating her vegetables. #Adulting. In fact, being in the public eye for the majority of the past seven years has amplified her determination to not only flip the script (literally) and make a name for herself as an actress, but also to inspire others to discover new passions as well.
At 29 years old, the Vietnamese and African-American stylist-turned-model-turned-actress has followed the typical millennial slash career path. While the LA native's rise into the spotlight has been meteoric, fueled in part by being in a high-profile relationship in the dawning age of social media, Karrueche's journey establishing herself as a multi-talented tour de force in entertainment has been as consistent as it has been calculated and conscious. And if you know anything about her, you know it hasn’t been the smoothest ride. But for an industry that has chewed her up and spat her back out on countless occasions, Karrueche isn’t calling it quits anytime soon.
“People are so consumed with how we look and what we wear and it's hitting the younger generation. I mean, if we had social media when we were younger, we'd be so f**ked. Seriously. I want to stress to people to be themselves instead of trying to be like others. If one person did one thing to be successful, that doesn't necessarily mean that's your story, too.”
After landing a lead role on the TNT drama Claws, it finally feels like she is on a steadfast path to greatness, with the show not only becoming a fast-rising hit for the TNT Network but a catalyst for her own career. From this moment forward, Karrueche is in the business of building her legacy, and exemplified from the nine hours she spent with BET spent by her side, not much else can steal her focus. "I'm a workaholic but I also like to vacation," she says with a laugh, gearing up for the busy day awaiting her. "It's all about balance. Right now, though, it's time to WORK!"
I arrive with a crew in tow to her Los Angeles home. Before so much as having a coffee or even taking a moment to throw a little makeup on, the actress graciously opens her door to a segment producer, a photographer, a videographer, a publicist and me for the day, with her daily routine tipping off around 8 a.m.. Workout ready and dressed in an UnderArmour sports bra and matching yoga pants, Karrueche eases us into her morning. Despite the chaos of having a film crew beginning to capture her every move not too long after waking up, she finds time to make her bed before speeding out the door, remembering first to blow out all her candles.
I hop in the passenger seat of her white Maserati, a car she proudly copped for herself last year as one of her first major purchases, and I notice that Karrueche is perhaps the calmest driver in Los Angeles, although she incessantly claims otherwise. "Girl, I do have road rage. Trust me," she tells me, before diving into a story about how her 8-year-old niece recently experienced her wrath behind the wheel firsthand.
Expertly navigating Los Angeles to avoid local traffic and still finding herself mesmerized by the palm tree-lined streets ("This is what makes you feel like you're in LA!"), Karrueche pulls up to her personal trainer's private facility, eager to get the day rolling. Her trainer, Mario Guevara, kindly pokes a couple jokes about witnessing her eating a piece of pound cake on Snapchat the other day, using his client's known sweet tooth as motivation for her to get the most out of her hour-long sweat session. From squats and ab exercises to bench presses and battle ropes, Kae remains focused, getting her heart rate up as radio staples from Drake, Kanye West and Madeintyo pour out of the converted garage's speakers.
CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, PLAYING THE ROLE OF AN EX-STRIPPER who works in a nail salon in Florida inspired her to get in the best shape of her life. Explaining that the background of her Claws character, Virginia Loc, Karrueche emphasizes that her focus remains on achieving natural results and, in turn, is motivating others to work toward the same. "I want to motivate people to be natural and to embrace their body and who they are," she says. "People are so consumed with how we look and what we wear and it's hitting the younger generation. I mean, if we had social media when we were younger, we'd be so f**ked. Seriously. I want to stress to people to be themselves instead of trying to be like others. If one person did one thing to be successful, that doesn't necessarily mean that's your story, too."
Yet, even her feel good message of personal betterment never stops the haters. And in 2017, the word "natural" can have several colorful interpretations. Just a few weeks ago, Tran posted a photo of herself in character on set in a string bikini, which led to a slew of negative comments being hurled her way. No-name struggle rapper Ralo commented under the pic, "U looks better wit clothes on," provoking Tran's rumored boyfriend Quavoof Migos to come to her defense. Not that she needed it. She took on the haters head on herself on Twitter, but ultimately deleted the pic. The negativity, pervasive and poisonous, became too much.
But as I watch her sweat it out in the gym, I am impressed by her honest commitment to doing it the old fashioned way and remember a split photo she also posted on Instagram documenting her undeniable fitness transformation. Hard work pays off, a sentiment that reigns true across the board from her personal goals to her professional aspirations. After checking a solid workout off the to-do list, she consults Guevara about her plans for the days ahead, excited to continue her fitness regimen with her work schedule for the next month keeping her grounded (and busy) in LA.
While she remains steadfast about embracing her natural body, one thing she does enhance is her face (via makeup, of course), which led to a deal with Colour Pop Cosmetics. "For my new collection, I opened one of my botanical books to get a creative flow going and decided to base it around roses. I did some research to make sure each color reflected a specific type of rose and drew inspiration from there. Originally, I had every color named after the specific name of each rose and color, but the scientific names are too long. However, the packaging had to have roses on it. I was like, 'It has to, has to, has to!'"
The full kit, which features an eyeshadow palette, a three-piece face palette (blush, highlighter, bronzer) and glossy lip shades, originally sold out within 45 minutes, a first for Karrueche but likely not the last. "Being on set all the time definitely opened my eyes to the world of makeup," she says, her voice as soft as it is enthusiastic. "Before I was just a bronzer kind of girl, no foundation, just bronzer all over my face [Laughs]. I've kind of learned how to do my own face in a decent way, you know, with a little contour, a little highlight, all that stuff. I like to keep it simple and basic. Throw in a little accent of color here and there. I've become very particular about my makeup and how I look, especially when I'm on a red carpet or on camera and want to make sure I'm feeling comfortable and not awkward. I'd also say my makeup collection has dramatically increased. It's just so fun."
“I'm not going to do something just to do something. I want to do it the right way and work with the right people. I want to be hands on, treat it like a baby and really take my time. Especially with a clothing line, because I'm so petite, a lot of girls always ask me where I shop and where I get my clothes from. I definitely represent the itty bitty committee [laughs] and I want to cater toward that.”
Despite her recent influx of new opportunities — she's currently filming a new movie where she plays an 18-year-old — Karrueche isn't in a hurry to rush anything that will have her name on it, especially when it comes to changing people's perception of her.
"I'm not going to do something just to do something," she adds, asserting she would love to revisit making her own clothing line when the timing makes sense. "I want to do it the right way and work with the right people. I want to be hands on, treat it like a baby and really take my time. Especially with a clothing line, because I'm so petite, a lot of girls always ask me where I shop and where I get my clothes from. I definitely represent the itty bitty committee [laughs] and I want to cater toward that."
While she remains deadset on being particular about what projects she dips her hands into, she also is just as stubborn that she isn't interested in making a quick check or doing reality TV. "I've never been motivated by money," she adds. "My manager used to hate when I would say that. But it's true. If that were the case, I would have done reality TV. I've been offered big bucks to do it. But that's just not me."
After switching gears to finish her makeup and sharing one of her beauty tips (applying moisturizer with a beauty blender), Karrueche's schedule takes us to a nail appointment at esNAIL on Melrose. "Coming from Claws and always having crazy nails, I want my nails done all the time," she says, contemplating her color and eventually landing a soft light pink, much like those found in her new ColourPop palette.
“I don't think people take me seriously.”
THE SHOW, IN WHICH KARRUECHE CO-STARS ALONGSIDE Niecy Nash, Carrie Preston, Judy Reyes, Dean Norris and Jenn Lyon, follows a group of manicurists who become waist-deep in a money-laundering scheme and get into all sorts of over-the-top trouble as a result, with extravagant nail designs to match the drama. The program was recently renewed for a second season, winning over unlikely compliments from the likes of Stephen King and increasing viewership with the airing of each episode. With her role on the Rashida Jones-produced show, Karrueche continues the momentum she first garnered as part of the Emmy Award-winning series The Bay, but this time around, is slamming the door shut on anyone who doubts her talent and dedication in the acting world.
"I don't think people take me seriously," Kae says thoughtfully. "The best part is, with Clawsand everything coming out, I'm able to let my work speak for itself." Citing Halle Berry as her big screen inspiration (the two have yet to meet, despite once being on the same flight), Karrueche explains her passion for acting is why she's taking it so seriously, taking acting classes and accepting roles that challenge her range. "People are finally believing in me as an actor," she says, although that's not what she's doing it for it. "I'm so serious about acting because I see longevity and substance in it. I can see a growth in myself too — I'm a different person than I was last year even. The more I do, the better I become, and the more I grow. It's definitely all a learning experience and I'm trying to soak all of it in."
When it comes to criticism about her work or negative comments related to any and all aspects of her life, Karrueche has heard it all. Over time, she has learned exactly how to channel the negative side of social media positively, using it as fuel and letting backlash go in one ear and out the other."In this business, you're going to hear no a lot and you're going to hear things you don't want to hear," she says. "Something told me on the inside just to stick to it and to keep going. Something said, 'You'll be fine. This is what you want to do, so keep going.'" Pointing out the accolades of the cast of Claws, whose combined resume boasts credits from shows such as Criminal Minds, Angle Tribeca, Lost, Scrubs, True Blood, Breaking Bad and more, Karrueche explains that working with such a reputed group of people has its intimidating moments, but she soon became at home.
"What I love about this show is anytime I felt uncomfortable or needed help, I could ask one of the girls," she says. "It was kind of like having your own group of acting coaches. They understand where I come from, being the younger actor on set. I also bring a fresh set of eyes and was able to offer advice myself or share how I would do something. It's been awesome to see how I've been able to apply and actually use what I've learned in my acting classes. This is the biggest project I've been a part of and it's just such a great feeling being involved and doing what I love. I definitely have the hunger now, the acting bug, but it's at a different level. Hard work is paying off and I can't wait to see where it goes from here."
While getting her nails done, an artful process that takes upwards of two hours, the conversation spans from her favorite emoji (the middle finger), her Starbucks order (Venti iced vanilla or caramel latte with extra ice), her friendship with Neicy ("People love the chronicles of Virgina and Desna on Snapchat and are always commenting for us to do our own show together"), her plans to one day open a jerk chicken spot and retire on an island (but not for years, of course), being a romantic (but not understanding the concept of love at first sight), wanting her next tattoo (but not sure of what or where) and how acting doubles as an emotional and therapeutic release for someone who agrees she's the textbook definition of a Taurus.
After unexpectedly breaking a nail set the appointment back a couple minutes, as well as running back inside with a generous tip after a #nailsdid promotional photoshoot highlighting her charm-adorned, coffin-shaped nails distracted her, it's time for lunch and, speaking honestly, Kae is hangry. Despite it nearing 3 p.m. and her stomach growling, she doesn't lose sight of her politeness and cheerfulness, making sure she's good to go before taking off.
Upon arriving at Fred Segal's Mauro Cafe, one of her favorite places to eat lunch in LA, Karrueche doesn't need even a millisecond to glance at the menu. With an order of an Arnold Palmer, the spaghetti aglio olio and an appetizer of sautéed kale, onions and zucchini en route, Karrueche looks at her phone, something she mostly ignored throughout the duration of the afternoon. She kindly recommends ordering something different, offering to share a bite or two off her plate.
"I think what makes a woman a badass, what makes a woman a woman, is her story and her strength," Karrueche muses, returning the conversation full circle. "We've all gone through struggles, certain situations and certain circumstances that have made us who we are. That's what makes women beautiful. We are tough on the outside and tough on the inside."
"Just like Virgina, I've been through some s**t. [Laughs]," she continues. "That's why I relate to her so much. I went through hard times and that made me who I am today. We both have had to fight to survive. It's made me realize who I am and what I want, what I don't want. Being empowered is about grabbing life by the horn and taking control. I say do what makes you happy and honor the complexities, the imperfections, the struggle, the fight and the reward. I love how we're all just so uniquely different but we're still the same in a sense. There are a million stories being told."
Karrueche's natural ability to wholeheartedly give the very advice she's taken herself shines through once again, despite earlier asserting that she doesn't really have any mantras. In fact, much like cameras, positive messages and mantras follow her everywhere, whether tattooed on her body (like her forearm tattoo that reads "The Past Is Practice") or throughout the pages of the various books in her collection, such as Moments of Mindfulness and RZA's Tao of Wu.
"Whatever your heart or your gut feeling is telling you to do, do it," she says, finishing her meal in a matter of minutes to head over to her acting class and, later, a fitting for the film. "You have to be patient and you have to keep faith. Everything seems so fast, especially with Instagram and social media. You don't become like Beyoncé overnight. I never expected to become an actor, but you have to explore and remember things take time. I tried it and I liked it. Try it out. If it doesn't work out, that's OK. It wasn't meant for you. Move onto the next."
As Karrueche does just that, our best advice is to try and keep up.