From gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated to sharing the stage with Prince, Damaris Lewis is a force to be reckoned with.
It’s clear Damaris owns any space she enters. Hailing from Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York she strutted onto the runways of the world’s top fashion designers after being discovered at the age of 13. She delayed signing a modeling contract until she was 15, and since then she hasn’t stopped. She continues to evolve adding actress and entrepreneur to her repertoire.
There’s a lot to come this year for the multihyphenated artist, including a lead role in the movie Fatale alongside Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy coming in June. Aside from her roles on the big screen, you can see her on the DC series Titans in the role of Blackfire, and as Jazmine on the hit show Pose. Her Agenda spoke with Damaris about establishing her career and the new exciting projects she has on the way.
Her Agenda: How did your career in the arts begin?
Damaris Lewis: My career in the arts started when I was seven years old. My mom put me in an after school program. I started with African Dance and Ballet and then that transferred over to me being a member of the Boys and Girls club. Of which I am proudly in the hall of fame now. I did a dance camp there. After that, I ended up at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation in their junior dance company. And that is actually how I got [discovered] as a model. We were performing one day at Chelsea Piers, and someone gave me a card who would later go on to be my first agent. So the arts have always been around me.
Her Agenda: You were able to start a modeling career as a teen. Was it challenging to start a modeling career at a time when many girls are dealing with insecurities and uncertainty about themselves?
Damaris Lewis: [As a 15-year-old], I wanted what other kids wanted. I wanted the shoes, the bags, the material things. I [was never a person that fit in with my surroundings.]
The hardest part [about my modeling career] was keeping it a secret. I went to LaGuardia High School for dance [and if you were doing outside projects they didn’t recommend it so that you could focus your time on school].
I was living in the projects when I first started modeling but I was going to Paris. In the first four years of my modeling career, I lived in the projects. [This made me insecure at the time, but I wouldn’t give back my childhood for anything.]
In the first four years of my modeling career, I lived in the projects.
One of the hardest things about it in retrospect was that I was trained that I was not enough. When people told me I couldn’t do something, I always found a way around it. Modeling was like another notch under my belt for doing something unlimited. And it has changed my life.
Her Agenda: What are your greatest takeaways from your career in modeling?
Damaris Lewis: When I first started modeling, I had to change my hair, I had to get extensions. For my particular look, I had to stop wearing the clothes that I was used to. This is 15 years ago. So we hadn’t gotten to a point yet where everybody was free to be themselves. There was a different formula at play. And I wasn’t taught that I was a business. If I was taught that I was a business when I was 15 years old there would be a lot of anxiety that I could get back that I was putting into the world.
Her Agenda: You were Prince’s muse and shared a friendship with him and during his final years. What can you share with us about that experience?
Damaris Lewis: Prince changed my life. There’s no question about that. Having someone who saw me and accepted me for [who] I was on the inside was really big for me [especially] coming from the modeling industry where everything is very surface. Working with someone and being mentored by someone who never took no for an answer taught me a lot. There is never anything that you cannot do. That was the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from him, along with many others.
Being around a person who essentially did it his way and molded life to the way that he saw it in his mind was so inspiring for me. Working with someone who wasn’t about limitations, who was about using the full capacity of the life that you’ve been given was life-changing.
Working with someone and being mentored by someone who never took no for an answer taught me a lot. There is never anything that you can not do.
Her Agenda: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Damaris Lewis: In June, I will be in a movie with Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, and Mike Colter called Fatale. It is a thriller. I’m excited about this beautiful project. The director Deon Taylor is phenomenal. And truly, it’s going to be a fun ride. It will be in theaters on June 19th.
When we get into a lot of conversations about what we don’t have we negate the things we do have. Focusing our energy on moving forward instead of moving backward is how we continue to move forward.
Her Agenda: How are roles evolving for Black actresses? We typically don’t see Black women as the leads in a thriller or in the comic book genres.
Damaris Lewis: We thank the people who came before us, but there’s still work to do. So if we want something done, then we have to do it, by showing up and doing exactly what we’re doing now. We’re changing the narrative. It’s a beautiful thing to see. When we get into a lot of conversations about what we don’t have we negate the things we do have. Focusing our energy on moving forward instead of moving backward is how we continue to move forward. We thank the people who came before us who were told no but kept pushing and honor them by doing the work.
Her Agenda: What words do you live by? Any advice for other women pursuing their dreams?
Damaris Lewis: Love first. We are all out here looking for reciprocity. Some people call it validation, some people call it work, some people call it money, whatever you call it the root of it is reciprocity. What you are truly looking for is love and for people to see you and for you to give to them so that they can give back to you. If you feel like you’re in a place where things aren’t hitting the way you want them to hit ask yourself, where’s the reciprocity? You might need to shift some things that can lead you to that reciprocity that you are looking for. When you are passionate about something, when you’re doing something that you love, and you’re aligned with it, then eventually it will give you back what you’re giving out.