Hari Nef - Conversation taken from TTA13
Interview Giulio Perticari
Photography Julia Hetta
Styling Natasha Royt
The designer Alessandro Michele said that he doesn’t care about models, but faces: “It’s a way to show humanity. I think the era of ‘models’ is ended.” Indeed, Hari Nef sees herself not simply as a model or an actress. When Nef met Shayne Oliver in a downtown club, Oliver immediately asked her to walk the runway for the latest HBA collection, and soon afterwards Nef reconnected with a former camp counselor whose sister happened to be the creator of Transparent, Jill Soloway. Nef met with Soloway and made such an impression that a new role on the show was specifically created for her, prompting the model agency IMG to immediately represent Nef internationally. Now she’s become one of the new faces of Gucci and is starring in several TV and movie productions, an impressive example of a new generation and way of thinking without paradigms that is slowly becoming the defining spirit of our time. We sat down to talk with her about spirituality, Libras, the greatness of the new Twin Peaks, nightmarish interns, Internet trolls a gogo and traveling through China.
Hey Hari, I have 29 questions to ask you.
Okay. . .
Since this issue of the magazine is about magic, what does magic mean to you?
Magic is when something imagined becomes real. When a desire, thought, aspiration, dream or intention, by some way, whether by chance, fate or will, becomes real, becomes something that has material or spiritual consequences. There’s a crossing over. There’s a threshold with magic, always.
Do you believe in your dreams?
I’m a big fan of Freudian analysis of dreams. Recently I started watching 13 Reasons Why, a high school drama, and yesterday I dreamed of being in school again. But I don’t think the show made me dream of high school, rather that something from my time in high school has come back lately and has led me to watch 13 Reasons Why, which now has made me dream of high school in a very nuanced way. I remember the feeling of excitement and curiosity, but also being totally disoriented; the romantic and sexual longing, the feeling of restlessness and displacement. When you’re 17 everything is bigger and everything feels exaggerated, because it is, because you haven’t rehearsed anything in your life yet. It’s all coming for the first time. Maybe something like that is happening to me now. I also get called in a lot for auditions to play teenagers. . .
[Laughs] It sounds very useful to dream certain things as prep-work for acting roles. Sometimes it seems that we are having a secret dialogue with ourselves. . .
I have so much trust and confidence in my subconscious and I’ve been trying to operate from there. It always leads me in the right direction whether it’s artistically, romantically, in my friendships or family relationships. I try to listen to the back of my head, not the crown of my head. There’s a lot of valuable information that your body transmits that you don’t really listen to.
It seems a big part of intuition is listening to and feeling our bodies in order to be in sync with ourselves.
My body is integral to my work. When actresses talk about acting, magic comes up a lot. I know that Meryl Streep, for instance, says that her acting is a magical and spiritual experience. I don’t know whether that’s exactly the way I feel, but I know that when I’m acting I try not to act from my head, I try not even to act from my heart, I try to act from my pelvis, [laughs] cause that’s where motivation comes from, not only the sexual motivation, but the primal. . .
Don’t Yoga instructors always talk about how important the core is?
Yeah, the core is where it’s all going on. Following the core is like following the North Star, it can always lead you home.
Do you believe in astrology or is it all fun?
I believe less that star signs are real than that they reflect some aspects of reality. I believe that I am a Libra and I share a specific energy with others like me. Whether or not there are unseen forces in the universe that say that I am a Libra, she’s a Libra, and that Libras are all sort of dualistic, charming, artistic, shallow people—that might be true, who knows. I try to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspects of astrology. I like to buy into the feeling of community and the strengths of the zodiac signs. I really tend to ignore it all when I begin to date or see someone with whom I have incompatible astrological affinity.
I’m also a Libra! What’s in store for us next?
Libra season is upon us, and now I see the slight discomfort of summer turning into a profound relief going into fall, and once the season is upon us, things will be really churning, not just for me, but for all Libras. I felt that shift.
Would you ever consider writing a horoscope?
Absolutely not! I’m not an expert in astrology and I don’t want astrology Twitters dragging me [laughs].
Do you ever think therapy is magic?
Yes, therapy is absolutely magic. I’m in therapy and I’m strong a proponent of it. Everybody should be in therapy. Who doesn’t want get some perspective on their problems? By talking about your issues and using sublimation, therapy allows you to turn into words those things you don’t necessarily say or act on but that are constantly swirling around in your head like ghouls. You get to bring them into the room, acknowledge them and treat them like they are real things. When you enter therapy with a sense of vulnerability and bravery and commitment to speaking the truth and being honest with your therapist, it feels like you can turn those creepy phantoms into voodoo dolls. The immaterial is always creeper and scarier than the material. The Greeks and Shakespeare had that right; when you don’t see the murder taking place on stage it’s so much scarier because you are imagining it, and what you can imagine is always scarier than what usually happens.
Would you say that you’re spiritual?
I found my way to a type of spirituality. The core of it has a lot to do with surrendering and giving yourself up to bigger forces, whether they are supernatural, physical, or those of some kind of omniscient god. It’s about realizing the bigness of the universe and working yourself over to it by allowing yourself to know how small you are and how little control you have over the way your life actually turns out, they way people treat you, and the things that your body does and the things that transpire in you life.
Do you feel more agency knowing that?
I feel more agency through that. Understanding that about certain aspects of my life allows me to gain control. I’m someone who craves and wants control, I don’t like change or unpredictability. My friends and I, we don’t dance around the fire but we call ourselves witches because we share a passion for manifesting things, for saying, ‘I want this,’ and then somehow manifesting it, finding our way into the things we want, careers, relationships. . .When we text each other with good news we say, ‘I can’t believe I manifested this!’ Often it’s something we’ve been talking about wanting to do for a long time. But you only really talk about the things you succeed in manifesting and you don’t really dwell on the rest. And that’s maybe spirituality! [Laughs] Spirituality is always positive.
It sounds like a positive force.
Yeah, it’s magic. I feel everybody has that magic. People resist it in favor of temporality, templates, and rubrics of things that they’ve always known and can bank on. Sure, one always needs to be practical in order to survive, but what’s the worst that could happen if you gave a shot at the unknown and at manifesting your desires? You get lost or scared, you run out of money. It’s oftentimes not as bad as that. I think it’s important to try always to liberate yourself from doubts and fears, but you have to think about it with your own knowledge of yourself. It’s not a process of pushing yourself, you don’t muscle into it, you have to fall backwards into it with a lot of love and tenderness for yourself. A lot of trust in yourself. And patience. Patience is important.
What’s the most magical place you’ve ever visited?
Maybe the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. I went there in 4th grade with my grandparents for a week and a half. I swam with the penguins and the sharks. I hung out with the turtles.
What do you think is missing in traveling culture?
I hope this doesn’t sound too Silicon Valley of me, but I wish to see a shift in focus from services to experiences. I’d rather have the best experience I can have than stay at the best hotel the city has to offer. But those things are inaccessible. Perhaps it’s good that you have to know someone who knows someone to have the best experience in a city.
What kind of experience are you looking for?
I want to get to a city and know where to go to meet the people I’m going to vibe with most, eat the food I’m going to like most. . .but then again, I’m trying to control the experience and I don’t want to do that. What I like most about travel is the sense of abandon, something coming to life in a way that I never could have predicted. It’s really seductive to think about travel like a trip to Disney, as if you’re entering a new world. You’re showing up for the thing that you signed up for, and you’re going to take pictures of it and treasure it forever. I’d rather go somewhere and get into some shit I didn’t expect. But it’s hard to do it. I traveled a lot with my family as a kid. My mother loves these bus tours, these awful bus tours. In one way they were cool. I saw China in a week. I spent one day in each major city over Christmas vacation.
[Laughs] That sounds like Traveling to China 101.
Yeah, it was literally China for Dummies. Ever since I’ve been an adult, I’ve been trying to travel in the opposite direction without an agenda and pick the lowest hanging fruit there, but not as a tourist! I’ll meet a friend of a friend I have, or I’ll post on my Twitter, “What’s up in Beijing tonight?” I’ll try to find a personal connection. If you can find that personal connection somewhere, I think those are the rabbit holes you want to follow. And if you don’t have one, then just go out there and make one. It can be scary but that’s the best way to travel.
What’s your favorite city to live in at the moment?
I live in New York. I’d love to live in LA too. If I lived in Europe I’d live in Berlin. I love Berlin. It has to be my third favorite place on earth.
Which are your favorite museums in those places?
Common Projects in LA is pretty amazing. I’m down to follow Jeffrey Deitch wherever he’s doing something. Gaven Brown Enterprise in New York is my favorite. I really like the community around that gallery. But I’m much more of a party girl than a culture girl. I go to things but I just don’t remember the names. I prefer hanging out with artists that I know in different cities. In Berlin it’s Wolfgang Tillmanns. In LA my friend Ser Serpas or Glen Luchford. In New York, Chloe Wise.
You recently posted this message: “Hello Twitters :) This is Hari. I’m Blonde. If you get a message from ‘Brunette Hari’ saying she’s trapped in a ‘Black Lodge’ it’s not true.” Let’s talk about Twin Peaks: The Return.
Isn’t it just the most amazing thing you’ve seen on TV?
Yes, the most. It’s stunning!
I love it! Actually it’s my new social filter. If I want to be friends with someone, I ask, did you watch the original Twin Peaks? Yes? Ok, cool! Did you watch The Return? If the answer is no, I couldn’t get into it, I think okay I probably don’t have much more to say to you. If it’s yes, I watched the Return, I think okay we can talk. If the answer is, I watched The Return and loved it, I think okay what’s your number? Let’s hang out!
[Laughs] I still can’t believe they put it on television.
It’s my favorite show and I’ll go on record and say that much. You have to be invested in a certain kind of entertainment and look at it from a different angle to get something out of it. I’ve been watching a lot of David Lynch. A lot of the writing I’ve been doing, I’ll say it flat out, is referential of Lynch. I find it cheap and try to evade answering when people ask me who’s the one person I’d work for. But I know that David Lynch has done The Travel Almanac before so make sure he sees this please. I’m kidding, but I’m also not. . .
[Laughs] The only problem I have with the show is that I feel spoiled. Shows and movies that are easily interpretable and not that weird seem boring now.
Traditionally in school, when we read The Scarlet Letter and Lord of the Flies, we’re taught to point out the symbolisms of every small thing and explain them. David Lynch doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t connect the dots through the text, which is what patriarchy wants us to do, what America wants us to do. That’s a masculine approach to story telling, where the whole thing is woven expertly and delicately into the text. Lynch explores his questions through images, light, sound and character, all of the elements that cinematic storytelling provides. I feel sorry for those Reddit bros that spin sense out the Twin Peaks universe—‘this connects with this and this with this’—Lynch’s psychological realism is too subjective and suggestive to be boiled down to a recap for an English class or the Internet. If he spelled everything out his work would cease to be magical. There’s something shamanic to what he does. He surrenders to his work and goes to the places the work takes him.
His work certainly resists final interpretations. . .even spoilers.
I’ve been writing a television pilot and at a certain point, maybe when I was stoned, I asked myself, what’s the who-killed-Laura-Palmer of this story? What is the question I’m trying to answer? Except it’s not a question to be answered so much as a question to be explored. What sticks in my head of Lynch is that he never intended to answer that question. The network pressured him into revealing the killer. He intended only to express what it feels like to try to figure out who killed Laura Palmer. No matter what the real answer is, it’s cheaper than not knowing.
News came out that you’re starring in an upcoming series called You. What’s it about?
I’m really excited to make my debut on network television. I can’t reveal too much but when I read the pilot, it made me sick to my stomach, in a cool way! This is a love story the likes of which we’ve never seen on TV. It’s a very disturbing show about love, and I think it’s appropriate that it takes place in America. But if you check out my character in the novel the show is based on, her adventures in love are perhaps a little less stomach-turning, so I’m looking forward to holding it down for something wholesome!
[Both laugh] You originally started your fashion career as an intern for casting directors. How was that?
I was a terrible intern! I was a brat. I said that I would intern for Jennifer Venditti who needed me for New York Fashion Week, but I ended up doing my own projects, so she let me go. She actually Myranda Presley-ed me, told me off, fired me and then told everybody else in the industry about me. She and I are on good terms now. At Baron & Baron I was notorious. I would sleep at my desk with my headphones on when I was supposed to be scanning all the Vogue Italia in the archive system. I wasn’t destined for the office or a nine-to-five existence. I knew I needed to find something else.
You’ve said that prior to modeling the other jobs didn’t make sense. How does modeling make sense to you?
I love fashion and its storytelling side. I bring to the set my own approach to imagery, and even though modeling can often feel creatively unsatisfying, objectifying or plain dull, there are other times when it can be very affirming, fun and satisfying. It’s fun, liberating and great as long as there are people that are fun, liberating and great.
What are some aspects of fashion that attract or repel you?
Beauty is inescapable in fashion. Fashion is beauty. Fashion is about making beauty and making people feel beautiful, any discussion of ugliness in fashion is a gesture. You never see someone truly ugly in fashion, and if you do it’s a self-conscious disavowal, because beauty is an unshakable standard in fashion. Fashion stands at the threshold between desire and reality. I always quote my friend Arabelle Sicradi on this: beauty is terror. Beauty is a way we somehow yank the immaterial of desire into the flesh. It’s one of the heads on the three-headed hound that guards the gates of hell. It comes with a price. It’s something that not everyone can have. Style is something different. Style is the leash on that hound. It’s something that everyone can have. I am much more inclined to exult style than fashion. Fashion is only a way style is shared. Style has brought me and what keeps me in fashion.
What is your philosophy of aesthetics?
There’s an unspoken aesthetic rule book—be clean, be symmetrical, be thin, be expensive, be effortless, be toned, be soft, be hard, be this be that. Obviously that rule book manifests itself in our culture in an awful way, but I also believe it has a blueprint within it to set its own house on fire. So even though I don’t have love or joy for the rulebook, I respect it. Let’s say that there are five rules, you follow four and you break one of them. People will look at you and say you’re beautiful, they will respect you, but they won’t be able to ignore that 20 percent of what they are seeing is not following the rules. The mixture of their attraction to you will be coupled with the shock of the one little thing that you are doing differently, and you can usher that little thing over the threshold into a conversation about something more important. Anyone who shreds the rule book is not going to change the conversation on beauty. Of course, I think about beauty this way because the beauty book is alive and well in what I do. I have to adhere to some degree of being beautiful for my work.
I wondered what happened to your Tumblr? I couldn’t find it online.
It’s still there but I made it unsearchable. Tumblr is kind of tired of me. They say, ‘We get it - we watched you go from a college student to a party girl to an intern to a model to an actress, and we are tired of seeing your press pictures and pictures of your trips to Europe.’ They’re tired of me!
[Both laugh] How are you so certain?
I’ve had the same number of followers there for the past two years. It hasn’t grown. Because I’ve entered a certain degree of visibility, I’ve booked some major things, and have defended people I’ve collaborated with or met along the way, Tumblr doesn’t see me as one of them anymore. Tumblr exists purely in this spiritual-virtual place. It’s like a teenage dream world where teenagers and Millennials collage this thing that they want their life to look like. When I first started using it, I used to think there were people who were woke and people who were problematic; things that were trash and things that were gold. I used to gain a lot of comfort and was able to build these lofty ideas of who I was and what I stood for by drawing clear cut black and white distinctions. Yet it’s very easy to be unproblematic when you aren’t making moves. Crossing over from aspiration to reality, you learn things along the way: it’s not that simple as this person is trash, this person is gold, this person is a woke queen, and this person is problematic so delete her. People aren’t as simple as that.
I guess like any other form of escapism, not confronting people in real life will make you out of touch and socially oblivious.
What’s more is that there’s an hysteria to social justice culture on Tumblr and Twitter, a true call out culture, because in the end everyone is problematic. That fire dragon that rises in your heart when you see someone who has betrayed you or said something non-PC, that feeling that makes you want to call people out, is your attempt to avenge and expunge yourself of your own shittiness, of those things that your mom and dad taught you and you believed for years and you’ve unlearned after reading an article on Teen Vogue. To feel better about all the time you spent unwoke, you take your gospel and scream it out to anyone who will listen, to those who you used to be like. You feel you are making a positive force in the world, but really, you are only spreading hatred, shame and guilt. I think accountability is essential. We need to be accountable for our actions, but we need to be able to fuck up and not be blacklisted and vilified for the rest of our lives. There needs to be empathy.
This indignant attitude is spreading like a virus. I’ve read articles by journalists who’ve singled out non-public figures with first and last names as examples of immoral conduct. It’s ludicrous, maybe illegal, but most of all it’s all humorless.
This culture of call-outs and social justice come from a desire to know what is going on in the world, but the ideas that this attitude is based on are new. They come from college campuses and the intelligentsia, in particular gender and race theories. The language that we are now adopting comes from these rarified institutions that most people don’t have access to. If you try to just teach it to people in one go, they might be unable to fully understand it. Intersectionality I think is one of the most important practical approaches one needs to take to any kind of race, class, and gender theory, but it’s a word that was created by an academic at an institution. Just because I feel and know that intersectionality will make the world a better place, it doesn’t mean that shoving this idea down other people’s throats and telling them how they’ve been doing things is wrong is going to be effective. And that’s been the meme these past five or six years. Everything has to feel like a great awakening. That’s the hot sell.