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In Dope, out this Friday, Chanel Iman snorts drugs, vomits on a guy’s chest, and pees in the bushes in front of a coffee shop. It’s a seriously edgier vibe for the model, who is better known for being a Victoria’s Secret Angel and walking the high fashion runways of Dior, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, and many more. And while the 24-year-old has established herself as one of the top models in the game, for the past few years, she’s also been on the lookout for acting roles.
“I was reading a lot of scripts, and then I got Dope and I read it once and I was so into it,” Iman tells Yahoo Style from her suite at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. She’s exhausted from a long weekend of press supporting the film but is visibly thrilled to be reunited with her co-stars, who include (her ex-boyfriend) A$AP Rocky and Zoë Kravitz as well as executive producer Pharrell Williams. “I wanted to be in this film because I felt connected to it — me growing up in L.A. not far from Inglewood [where the film is based],” she says. “We shot in a house just around the corner from the house I was raised in. I just felt like the character of Lily was perfect because she’s edgy, cool, wild, sexy. She has so many levels, and I really wanted to play her.”
Iman may be used to being cast in shows, but for this role, she dug in her heels and studied with an acting coach before auditioning for director Rick Famuyiwa. The complexity of her character, Lily — a bored, rich teen whose crazy behavior while on drugs goes viral — required that Iman tap into her inner diva. “My coach just helps me to become vulnerable while trying to tell the story,” she explains. “It’s just like modeling for me — the more you try too hard, the more it looks fake.”
Chanel Iman in Dope. Photo: Courtesy
In a sense Iman steals the show — her seminal YouTube scene propels the story of three unwitting high school kids who have to goofily unload an unwanted supply of cocaine. The dark comedy tackles the issues of race and class, asking questions about whether your background should determine your future — while also being an entertaining story about hip-hop obsessed teens who get caught up in the world of drug dealing.
“I grew up watching hood classics like Boyz n the Hood and Friday,” Iman says. “For them to make a cool movie like Dope for my generation, we needed to see that in Hollywood. We shot in real parts of L.A. That’s what people can relate to. There are some very powerful moments in the film. You get that feel of what it’s like to be a kid in the hood trying to do better for yourself. It’s not like everyone there is violent and killing each other.”
Iman’s role sees her exposed in more ways than one: She’s not only nude for most of the film, but she’s also showing some emotional range. Fortunately she’s not afraid to showcase a less-than-perfect side of herself. “It was not scary for me,” she says. “People are so used to seeing me made up and pulled together. This was an opportunity for people to see me messed up. The more messed up I was on film, the cooler the film was. I love seeing myself like that and see that I can be a different character for a few weeks and then move on to a different character.”
Chanel Iman walks the runway for DKNY in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
She pauses, then adds, “With Lily, I tried not to overthink things. I knew my lighting and my angles, and I’m always in front of a camera so that was the easy part. I think I knew what I was signing up for when I took the role, and I knew I had to give it my all and not care about how I looked and how it was going to turn out. Lily is not a character who is supposed to look good. She’s supposed to look screwed up.”
The experience has sent Iman, who cites Halle Berry as her all-time favorite actress and career idol, searching for her next movie gig. She consistently works with an acting coach and takes classes, which she says have really helped her hone her skills. The model also hopes to parlay this supporting role in Dope into something more significant next time.
“I’m hoping this film will open more opportunities and doors,” she says. “My focus is to work on another film, like an action movie or a romantic film or some thriller. I love playing girls who are badasses.” Hollywood, are you listening?