‘Greenleaf’s’ Kim Hawthorne on Keeping Her Newark Card Close
When it comes to the fire she summons to the formidable female characters she portrays on screen Kim Hawthorne got it honest. The Newark native has brought her no-nonsense attitude to every set she’s set foot on and it’s served her well.
“I have a pretty strong bullshit detector” said Hawthorne, who stars as Kerissa on OWN’s critically acclaimed original series “Greenleaf”. “I think it’s just in my blood. I didn’t grow up spoiled per se. I put myself through school and I was surrounded by strong women. My father, he raised me to be able to think on my own and to get an education and work hard, to earn things.”
Those things include an arts degree from Alabama’s Birghimham-Southern College, roles on Broadway, memorable turns on shows like “The L Word”, “Private Practice”, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, a new business venture, and two beautiful children.
Hawthorne also notes that her strength comes from “my upbringing, my surroundings, even just growing up in Newark…you knows it’s just a certain kind of attitude an energy that we have here.”
The power of that energy wasn’t always apparent to the entertainment industry veteran. But as an adult she sees how it prepared her for her unique line of work “there’s a shoot from the hip, call it like you see it type thing” Hawthorne says of her beloved Brick City “which Kerissa exhibits a lot of on the show…and also just an element of don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. It’s like everything’s fine until you go past a certain point and then you can pull that Newark card out your back pocket if you need it.”
She has been involved in the arts since she was a child and she is passionate about its potential to change young lives. For Hawthorne the arts “kept me from falling into the wrong company.” She says “when you’re a child and you find out you’re good at something singing or drawing or playing an instrument you can focus on that you don’t have to go along with the crowd because you have something that keeps your interest and makes you understand that you have something to offer.”
But just because you have something to offer doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it. “I happened to be able to sing naturally so I ended up doing a lot of singing and getting scholarships to college and going to (Newark’s) Arts High for singing so that was like what I would call God’s natural gift that he gave me. The acting was something that I had to work at something that I had to learn to learn my craft and learn how to do it and learn how to be believable that’s been a longer journey for me getting to the point where I could say I know I’m a good actress. You know? I know I’m a good singer because you can hear whether or not you can sing you know what I mean?”Some naturally talented people might be resentful about having to work to hone a skill set but she was so committed to mastering acting that she was willing to set ego aside and concentrate.
Maintaining that level of concentration can be difficult for younger actresses who are puzzled by informal nature of the arts. “Just because it’s an artistic profession doesn't mean it’s not a profession” says Hawthorne “The same etiquette that exists in other businesses exists in this one. I think people appreciate those little extra things.” She suggests classic standbys like thank-you notes as ways to stand out amongst the crowd and advises against relying solely on appearance “learn your craft because there’s not of cute girls out there and you ain’t gon’ be cute forever. You know it’s better to actually know how to act than to know how to dress and look cute because you’re only going to get but so far on that.”
Instead they can simply “mind their business…it takes an incredible amount of focus to do what we do
Proper preparation like the years she spent studying can not only help actresses with securing jobs it can help them show up mentally prepared to excel. Hawthorne says that knowing your craft “will also help you with your confidence because you won’t be standing around feeling like an imposter when you do get a job”.
Like many performers before her Hawthorne knew that she was blossoming as an artist when she was ready to fiercely defend her work. She cites the moment she was completely sure about her craft as when she refused to kowtow to direction that would hinder her performance. “Acting is a collaborative effort but when I was not as confident when a director gave me direction and I thought ‘What? That’s weird.’ But I would do it anyway then I would see it later and be like I know I shouldn’t have done that, he didn’t get the best performance out of me. That’s when I started to treat myself like an artist and speak in my artist voice when necessary. I think that’s when I decided okay I know what I’m doing. I’m confident enough with it to defend it and not just go along with the program.”
The part-time jewelry designer, who got hooked on the craft after being invited to a class by a close friend, often wears a silver ring she created herself bearing the word “Triumph”. Not surprisingly she says her greatest triumph to date is being a mom “I wouldn't trade that for anything… that is the thing that I'm attempting to triumph at the most.”
As a result of that she encourages her children to tap into their creativity energy as well. Her eldest son is only in middle school and he’s already a “cinematic arts major” where “he’s learning everything about filmmaking, writing, camera work, directing, producing and special effects.” While her nine year old is the home’s style authority “he has an absolutely amazing design sense. I will not leave the house before I get clearance on which shoe I should wear from him old because he has an exceptional eye and impeccable taste.”
Her focus remains on her family at all times and whenever she comes home to Newark their home is her first stop however like any bona fide Jersey Girl she “did ask about the White Castle on Frelinghuysen Ave.” when she came into town for the Newark International Film Festival.
Hawthorne is lending her personal taste to a line of head wraps that cater to those without the time “to stand in the mirror for twenty minutes trying to get the perfect wrap.” The wraps are unique because they are entirely ready-to-wear meaning there’s no time spent “tucking all the fabric all you have to do is put it on like you would a hat or a crown and walk on out the door because we’re too busy to be wrangling wraps.”
A prime trait of native Newarkers is that “we handle ourselves well. We’re not gonna get stepped on or pushed over. I think anybody that grew up here knows that.” It’s important to Hawthorne that people know that their resilience can survive any circumstances, especially those going through their own tough times who might feel afraid, ashamed, or overwhelmed. She works with nonprofit Safe Passages because “I have witnessed domestic violence up-close and it has personally affected me. When I was a small child, I was 11 and my brother was 9, my mother my brother and I lived in a homeless shelter a shelter for battered women for like 2 to 3 months. The people there facilitating the shelter were amazing. I saw my mom how scared she was and how vulnerable and how everything worked out in the end how she made the right decision. So I just wanted to give back to some of the other mothers who made the same choice and look them in the face and tell them you’re doing the right thing for your children. I wanted to let them know everything was going to be okay based on where I ended up in my life, to let them know that see your child can be okay too.”
With her clear artistic sensibilities, incredible business savvy, and ability to triumph while displaying an incredible amount of grace on-screen and off some would say this shining star is more than okay.
“Greenleaf” airs on OWN at 10pm EST on Wednesdays. Missed the critically acclaimed first season? Catch up the next time you Netflix and chill!
Learn more about Safe Passages and even the smallest of donations can change lives here.
Photo Credits: OWN, Tribeca Film Festival, Caribe Test