Sarah J. Edwards gets on the phone with actor and musician, Katerina 'Kat' Graham for an honest conversation about how there's joy in the hard work that leads to success, discussing elements from childhood right through to at that moment of nearly quitting when things come together.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 2 print edition in 2011, this is an edited version.
Interview by Sarah J. Edwards
Photography by Alex Prager
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Styling by Jenny Ricker
Hair by Larry Sims
Make Up by Jamie Greenburg
Discover How Kat Graham Got Her Big Break When She Felt At Her Unluckiest
It would be easy to look at Kat Graham and think how fortunate she is. She’s got it all, right? Great looks, talent, she can act, sing, dance, model and clearly she does it well. It wasn't an overnight success, as she has worked to the bone for her opportunities and has hit a few Hollywood potholes along the way. The (super)girl now has a resume that held up would drop to the floor with credits many of which you couldn't imagine on the same piece of paper.
Now a rising international star, Katerina can be seen in the global TV hit, The Vampire Diaries, but you’d never imagine what happened just two weeks before she originally got the part...
You’re multi-lingual, which I’m very envious of....
“Oh no! It’s just something fun, I learnt over the years and my parents are multi-lingual too, so it’s kind of contagious.”
That’s great. So, you moved to LA at four, is that right?
“Yes, around that time, I don’t really remember. I was four or five and my Mom got me into entertainment. I don’t know whether she noticed that I was into acting and dancing and all that stuff at a young age, or she just got word from her friends, ‘You should put her in entertainment.’ However the case, I ended up in the entertainment industry and I’m still here.”
It’s good. I was thinking, you move there at four and two years later you’re working. What’s your earliest memory of professionally working. You know, when you realised and you were like, ‘Hang on a minute. This is a job!’?
“I totally remember my first commercial. It was for a charity, we shot it Downtown, I remember it like it was yesterday. I think my second commercial was Barbie. I remember all the jobs I’ve done, over the [laughs] decades.”
Wait, there’s only one and a half after that!
“[Laughing] I remember a lot of them.”
I know that you do singing, dancing and modeling too. It must be great being able to bring all those different elements into acting.
“Oh, I love that. I like being able to give people the option to say, ‘Oh! We don’t have to bring anybody else in, because she can do it herself.’ Like we had this one scene in the Vampire Diaries where we were cheerleading and Nina [who plays Elena Gilbert] is also a dancer, so we didn’t need anyone to double us or anything, which was really amazing. We both just did our thing.”
Would you look to start doing stunts too?
“I would love to do my own stunts, unfortunately there’s so much of a liability. The production people just need the actors to be safe, but one of my favourite directors [on the show] is also a great stunt coordinator, we would talk for hours about really cool things that we could do and stuff like that. So, I love all things stunt and I give so many props to everyone in that area of work, because it’s very hard and there’s so much at risk, but all of us in the show [gets excitable] really love doing stunts when we can!”
Before we chat more about the Vampire Diaries, I wanted to talk with you about your resume of work. Things like Malcolm In The Middle and The O.C.
“Everything that I’ve had on that resume is really just from auditioning. Going in front of casting directors and producers. Really just starting from the bottom like any other actor. I mean, my story is not that phenomenal in terms of, ‘Oh, I got discovered at a supermarket and put in a movie.’ I envy people who are like that, who just walked into...”
“I didn’t have it that easy. It was really, get the audition and do the audition. It was definitely more of a serious conscious effort, than ‘Oh, I got discovered.’ You know what I mean? It was definitely, putting in the work. A lot of work, a lot of early mornings and long nights. I would back- up dance to pay the bills, because my Mom couldn’t support me. Not because she wouldn’t, you know. I come from very humble beginnings. So, I had to work to make money, which helps my drive even now. Now I’m at a more stable place in my life, but I’m still working as if I’m broke [laughs]. Which is great!”
I can absolutely relate to that. I started work at 14 and it’s a good thing to do, you just have so much more appreciation for any jobs that you do and any income you make as you get older. As opposed to... it’s like you say you envy someone who may be discovered, but really I think they would envy you more, because you worked your way up. It’s an exciting story.
“Right! And it’s funny too, people always tell me and I’m sure they tell you and your sister, when you work that hard and you do it all yourself and you don’t get handouts, no-one can ever take anything away from you.”
“You’ve always been working and you know what it takes to have to get there. You’re not all of a sudden a fish out of water, when something happens or you know... It’s so funny and a lot of people don’t know this, but my agency, which was a bigger agency, dropped me three weeks before I booked the Vampire Diaries.”
“Literally three weeks and you know, it was just devastating for me. A lot of people were like... I thought, I’m just going to take a break from acting for a while, it’s too much stress. Too much pressure. You always book a big job, right? And then you’re right back to where you started. I’m definitely glad that I pushed forward immediately and started really getting everything back together.”
That is really admirable. I can empathise, sometimes you just work so, so hard and maybe it’s just one person’s view, when really you know that you can do it and you just have to re-situate yourself. You couldn’t have really landed a more exciting project, could you?
“No, no. I’m so happy. This is the role of my dreams. I’m so happy, I can’t even tell you. I get so excited when I go to the set everyday. I love working with the people. The writers are beyond incredible, I mean, they’re iconic and Kevin Williamson is one of my favourite writers and creators from when I was a little girl. He was always someone I’d admired, so to be in the same room as him when I was auditioning was surreal.”
I know! Such good credentials.
“Yeah, he’s got crazy credentials.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your character Bonnie, I know that she... actually I’m going to let you roll with it, because it’s much better if you describe her.
“Yeah, sure! For some of the readers who haven’t watched the show yet, Bonnie is a 17 year old girl from Mystic Falls, Virginia. She has ancestors who are from Salem who are Salem witches and she’s come to find that she actually has these psychic abilities and these other physical abilities like moving things with her mind. She’s best friends with Elena Gilbert played by Nina Dobrev. She’s really just coming into her own right now, she’s really realising who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s like a coming of age mixed with a realisation of your powers and what you’re capable of, stuff like that. It’s an incredible story line that they’re developing and the fans are really responding to it. They love Bonnie and I don’t know if it’s because she’s so innocent and sweet, or if she’s just the best friend that everybody wants, or if people are loving the way she’s evolved. But she’s definitely getting a crazy response from the fans.”
As a cast, you’re all really good friends off-screen as well, aren’t you?
That’s really exciting. Did you know each other before?
“Well, I knew Michael Trevino before – who plays Tyler Lockwood on the show – because we did a pilot together a few years back. But, no, I didn’t know anyone before, but we got along so well, I mean, it’s so funny, because I think we’ve all lived with each other [laughing]... at some point. At least, us girls have! Because we’re so close and there’s been so much travelling, going back and fourth. I have a two bedroomed place and I turned the second bedroom into you know, Nina’s extra bedroom! We’re very close, I’d do anything for those girls. I’d do anything for my cast and the production and writers and directors. They’re such a remarkable group of talented people. I swear, I’m so lucky.”
That’s really good.
“Yeah. I would never big up people. I’d be like [more blasé] ‘Oh yeah, they’re cool. I like my job.’ But I’m really a huge fan of every single person in the cast and behind the scenes. Every single person puts their work in. And everyone in the uK has been so supportive and so sweet. It’s been awesome. I love the UK because my father’s British.”
“So, I’ve been going back and fourth for a while. London is my second home. I’ve always wanted to be able to reach the people that were a part of my upbringing. My culture and how I act. How I behave and the style and stuff like that.”
Have you mastered the English accent? [laughing] Don’t worry, I won’t test you.
“[In cut glass English] I have actually, I have a bit of an English accent when I want to.”
“It’s not bad, I mean you’re probably like, [Goes back to it] ‘Oh God! It’s awful!’ but I think it’s pretty good.”
[laughing] It wasn’t bad! Right, I noticed that the soundtrack to the show is really pretty on it.
Let’s talk about your music too, especially the degree.
“Oh yeah. Well, it’s so exciting. I always worry that when I’m doing interviews, the network is going to read this and I’ve been promoting my music! I’m not. They always ask me about it because they do their research. It’s like, ‘Wow! She’s got an engineering degree.’ Wow! She went on tour with the Black Eyed Peas.’ It’s not something that can really go under the radar. Obviously, my main focus right now is the Vampire Diaries. When we’re not shooting and I’m not promoting it, then obviously I’m in the studio and I’m absorbed in my music. It’s really just always been a part of me. I did a degree in recording engineering, it’s something I felt like... Like we were talking about, you have to just do it yourself and I was never handed anything, so I could either just give up and wait for someone to ‘discover me’ or I could go out and get the equipment and do what I had to do to make an album and go from there. Which has gotten me pretty far, so I’m glad I did that and I’m glad I have that. I’m glad I can mix and produce my own records, I’m in a great place.”
“Yeah, I’m very familiar with it. It’s kind of like a coffee table book! Which is great, [starts laughing] who doesn’t want to be in a magazine like that? It’s a very clever idea of a magazine, I look at it more as an actual book. Like a collectors edition or something very upscale. It’s not just like a magazine, it doesn’t come out every month, it’s something that is very treasured and you get loyal to it. You know what I mean? Because it’s a collectors edition kind of thing. I’m very flattered to be a part of it. It’s an international magazine, I mean, who doesn’t want to be in something like that?”
Exactly! Good! So, when I don’t shoot we choose some of our favourite photographers who can do a shoot for us. We chose Alex Prager because she’s really creative, she’s more like a fine artist. I really love what she did with you, so I wondered if you can chat some more about the day?
“Yeah, it was cool. At first I was like, ‘Wow! What’s going on?’ because my style is very, very funky. Very, like, you know, couture meets circa-90’s. I have a specific style! So, [laughs] I walked in and everything was like, from the ‘60’s. I was like, [laughing] ‘I didn’t get the memo!’ It turned out great, we shot some really cool things and I think once we got in the groove of the shots that we wanted and the shots that she wanted specifically, everything flowed really, really well. Everyone became a little bit more relaxed. It’s always interesting when you’re doing something a little bit different and you’re trying to capture the essence of an era, there’s always [laughs] a bit of nervousness. We want to make it right, we want to make it artistic, we don’t want it to be cheesy. It was great, we shot it on Doheny infront of this really cute little boutique. It was just great.”