It’s 7:00 p.m. in Brooklyn, and for the last 10 hours, 20-year-old Cuban-Jamaican singer and actress Herizen Guardiola has been bouncing between meetings and photo shoots. Just the day before, she was in a Care Bear onesie alongside Hamilton star Daveed Diggs as part of the 16th annual 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, and tomorrow, she’s shooting season two of Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix show, The Get Down, where she plays Mylene Cruz—an aspiring disco singer from the Bronx—before attending a gala at the Guggenheim. Guardiola is understandably exhausted and already looking forward to being back at home.
“I feel good in Oregon where I live,” Guardiola admits. “I feel good in the woods, in the nature, down on the coast. That’s where I dwell and where I create.” With a childhood spent by the beach in Miami and Santa Monica, California, an outdoorsy agenda has always been her thing: she surfs, skateboards, and frequently takes hikes. “I was a total tomboy,” she says. “I didn’t even wear clothes until I grew boobs. I was like Mowgli from the Jungle Book until the world was like, you’re naked.”
Guardiola describes her upbringing as “living in a hippie world.” Her Cuban father is a reggae musician and her Jamaican mother is a polymathic doer: a Baptist-turned-Buddhist, a nutritionist, a personal trainer, and a yoga instructor. Not allowed to listen to hip-hop or rock music while growing up, Guardiola eventually rebelled and had a goth period. “I had my own Mylene Cruz moment,” she says, relating to her most recent character. Now, outfits filled with tie-dye and crochet alternate with black chokers and leather jackets on her Instagram.
Although strict at times, her parents always encouraged creativity. Guardiola was home-schooled under the Waldorf curriculum—which teaches the importance of imagination in learning—until her senior year of high school. “My parents taught me to stand your ground, always speak your truth, and always be honest with yourself,” she says. “I think that’s really huge. To accept the moment you’re in. Whenever I complain, I think about what my mom says. ‘Just bloom where you’re planted, accept where you are in that moment, change it from the inside, and think of something that makes you happy.’”
Naming something that makes her happy is easy for Guardiola. Although she has gained renown as an actress, her first passion is music. “For me, singing is like breathing,” she says. “At Santa Monica High, I would get kicked out of class for singing, but I wouldn’t even notice I was doing it. My teachers thought I wasn’t paying attention, but I was. Singing helped me focus.”
Gearing up to release her first EP, Guardiola is following this passion now. She says it won’t sound much like the disco music she sings as Mylene, having more of an electronic and indie vibe with lots of bass. In choosing to make herself happy on her own terms, Guardiola has taken her mother’s words to heart.
“Change is always hard, but sometimes it’s for the better,” she says. “You gotta leap, like you gotta jump, so I did and I am still in the middle of my jump. I have to complete it. Starting the jump was like, you got this. Now, I’m in the middle, and I’m like, I gotta finish this jump. So that’s what I’m doing.”