Danielle Powell Cobb
Danielle Powell Cobb
"I continued betting on myself with no proof that it would go anywhere. I had this idea of what I wanted to do and what my life would look like."
Imagine you are three years old, standing on stage. Warm lights are shining down on you. Moments ago, you were dancing on stage with other girls your age, twirling in an uneven unison. But the others have faded into your periphery; they are now hazy shadows exiting stage left. The crowd is still cheering, and you are still standing at the center, letting their applause penetrate your chest. You are alone on stage now, bathed in light and adulation. You do not want the applause to end.
You are inside of actress Taylour Paige-Angulo’s moment of knowing she wanted to be on the stage, in front of the camera, and before an audience for the rest of her life.
I first meet Taylour in-person in New York, in the fall. She arrives with her husband of just over a year, fashion designer Gary “Rivington Starchild” Angulo. Taylour calls him Rivington. They are fresh off of the Paris Fashion Week circuit, where Taylour was dressed for the Schiaparelli show and sat front row at Acne and Paco Rabanne. In New York, Taylour is dressed in a loose, shearling-lined leather jacket over a lightly corseted tank top and a fitted skirt that falls to her calves. Rivington is wearing a black pillbox hat, an oversized coat, denim pants, and a t-shirt. She and Rivington walk in, whispering to each other—a duo. Upon seeing them, you may automatically reevaluate the fashion choices you made in the morning. They are effortlessly cool–fashionable in an “oh, this ol’ thing?” kind of way. They are also, at just a glance, hopelessly devoted to one another. They approach the table, speaking in low tones as though partners in negotiation with an outside party; throughout my time with them, they move in and out of the private world of “wife and husband,” seeking each other’s counsel and point of view.
"Looking back, I don't know where that self-trust came from because I was running on E with a car stacked to the brim with all my belongings."
Taylour sits with Rivington at the table where I have set up my computer for the day. She smiles and apologizes for being 15 minutes late. We are in Brooklyn, at Dumbo House, a private club, and I notice other guests noticing Taylour’s arrival. They look up from their computers or ongoing conversations, still typing or talking but also making quiet acknowledgment that they may know who she is or may have seen her face. This is what New Yorkers do. To be fair, Taylour has the sort of face–full lips, wide doe eyes, high cheekbones, a tiny heart tattoo below the outside corner of her right eye–that I imagine would elicit some kind of group acknowledgment even if she was not an actress with public-facing work.
We all sit there unrushed for a moment, as it is not the first time I have met Taylour. We have had conversations over email, text, and Zoom in the weeks leading up to our in-person meeting. Though this has become commonplace in a physical world fractured by technology and the reliance on it during the COVID pandemic, there is a uniquely comfortable familiarity that Taylour provokes. She was warm and open, sharing her most intimate intentions for herself during our first Zoom conversation weeks before our in-person meeting.
In person, she shows up with that openness again, an unguarded welcoming into her world. When I offer her a menu and ask if she would like to eat before we begin, she politely refuses, offering that she is in New York to undergo laparoscopy, a surgery meant to treat endometriosis. “I’m a little anxious about the surgery tomorrow,” she admits, “but I’m looking forward to this relief.”
Once Taylour has settled into the room, taken off her coat, and laid it across a couch, I ask her if she wants to talk with me across the room. We leave our things and Rivington behind and grab a table at the back of the room. Seated next to a window, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge dangling over the East River, Taylour’s face lit up by the orange glow of the setting sun, we begin to talk.
We come to people with our own narratives about who they are, narratives likely constructed with all but a brick or two missing. This is how I come to Taylour. I first heard Taylour’s name in 2019, when headlines concerned solely with the love life of her then-partner, television star Jesse Williams, designated her a character in his life story. (Full disclosure: I’ve met Jesse once; he is friendly with my husband.) A headline from People magazine read: “Jesse Williams Is Dating ‘Hit the Floor’ Actress Taylour Paige.” In this lazy telling, he is dating her. They are not dating each other. Like most people, I accepted that telling. I did not interrogate it, making the common calculation of placing someone into the story of a more popular spouse, partner, parent, or sibling. It is not until I am sitting with Taylour that I realize how deeply problematic such calculaitons are. They take. They write over the story of a full and dynamic human, casting them unwillingly in a supporting role.
“A producer named Stan Rogow came to a rehearsal one day and asked, ‘Who’s the girl in the purple shorts?’ That was me."
Luckily, Taylour has always been certain of her leading role in her own life–clear that she is destined to become a singular star. Meeting her, reviewing her full body of work, and hearing from those she has worked with makes it almost impossible to imagine her as anything other than that now.
Taylour was born in 1990 and grew up in Inglewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. She was raised in what she describes as her “mom’s house” with her older brother, Travis.
“My mom was with my dad for eight years. When they had me, they broke up,” she explains. Her father, an Antiguaian man named Reginald Paige, remained a constant in her life. Taylour describes him as “a sweet guy.” But her mother, Cheryl Williams, originally from Louisiana, remained a dominant figure, the conductor of her everyday world. Describing a common narrative between mothers and their daughters, Taylour calls her mother her “curriculum,” the person in her life whose influence is ever-present, whose expectations or disappointments still linger with her today. “My mom was pretty strict,” she recalls.
Taylor attended Catholic her whole life, going to the same elementary school from second grade until 8th grade, then attending St. Bernard Catholic High School in Playa del Rey. But it was a dance that was the most beloved constant in her life. Taylour recalls that dance was her escape from an otherwise rigid home and school environment.
Taylour began dancing at two years old. That scene, the one in which she remained on stage, taking in applause after all the other small dancers had left the stage, happened when Taylour was three. After our talk in Brooklyn, she sends me a picture of that night. In it, she is dressed in a white leotard and tutu, with a broad smile on her face, hugging a bouquet of flowers that are easily half her height.
From age two to 11, Taylour devoted most of her free time to her dance training, attending dance academies in the Los Angeles area and spending two consecutive summers at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Then, in 2001, she became a student of choreographer Debbie Allen.
It was that training with Debbie Allen that, in part, led to Taylour’s transition into acting. “When I was 15, doing a musical with Debbie Allen. A producer named Stan Rogow came to a rehearsal one day and asked, ‘Who’s the girl in the purple shorts?’ That was me. Shortly after, he became my manager and started sending me out on auditions,” recalls Taylour. “Later in high school, I injured my back and could not dance professionally anymore. Acting became my new escape.”
Taylour was first cast as a featured dancer in 2008’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year, her first experience on a movie set. That same year, Taylour graduated from St. Bernard and enrolled at Loyola Marymount University. After a brief tenure as a Laker’s Girl, Taylour landed a number of appearances in national commercials, then landed a role on Hit the Floor, where she portrayed the newest member of the cheerleading squad for a fictional basketball team. This, for Taylour, felt like those early days of starting.
In 2016, Taylour landed her first lead role as the title character in Jean of the Jones, a small independent film, and the directorial debut of Stella Meghie (Everything, Everything, The Photograph). As Jean, Taylour carried an ensemble of more seasoned actresses (Sherri Shepherd, Erica Ash, Michelle Hurst, Gloria Reuben) with a deadpan and clever performance in which none of the lightness or her real-life self peaks through a cynical and dry Jean. In 2018, Taylour landed a role opposite Richie Merritt in “White Boy Rick,” a drama based on the real-life story of teenage drug runner Rick Wershe. Taylour booked the starring role in Zola in May of that same year. Directed by Janicza Bravo, Zola is based on a viral Twitter thread and tells the story of a young stripper lured into taking a wild and dangerous trip to Florida.
By the time I first heard of Taylour in 2019, she had written all the earlier chapters of the story of an award-winning and lauded actress and had only recently gotten into a new relationship.
“When I met Jesse, White Boy Rick had just come out. I was waiting to go shoot Zola and was working at Crazy Girls [a strip club] undercover to prepare for the role,” she recalls. “The film kept getting pushed back.” Taylour was in waiting, living with friends, and out of her car. She had placed all her chips on what would come after Zola.
“I continued betting on myself with no proof that it would go anywhere. I’d get a script for, let’s say, a network show, and I’d say ‘No.’ I just wasn’t ready to take the money yet. I had this idea of what I wanted to do and what my life would look like. Looking back, I don’t know where that self-trust came from because I was running on E with a car stacked to the brim with all my belongings,” Taylour says, looking out to the bridge behind us.
In 2019, Taylour filmed Zola, and on January 24, 2020, Zola premiered at Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.
Then, the world stopped.
“Zola premiered, but then the pandemic hit, right? That was also a sad weekend because Kobe Bryant died. So it was such an incredible premiere. The streets were buzzing. ‘Zola, Zola, Zola.’ And then boom, the shoe drops,” says Taylour. The COVID pandemic placed the theatrical release of the movie into limbo. It wasn’t until June of the following year that the movie, which was originally slated for wide release, had a limited release across the US.
Still, Taylour Paige’s performance shined, and she received resounding praise for her portrayal of the titular character, Zola. “Taylour is a very open and generous performer who will take risks with you. She trains hard and has the stamina of an athlete,” says Coleman Domingo, who plays a menacing villain in the A24 film.
Zola did mark a turning point in Taylour’s career, earning her the designation of “promising actress.” She had finally started.
Before Zola’s theatrical release, Taylour quietly parted ways with Jesse. After the release of Zola, she steadily built a life and a career that she could be proud of. Between 2020 and 2022, Taylour starred in four full-length films: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Boogie, Sharp Stick, and Mack & Rita.
Then, on her thirty-second birthday, just two weeks after announcing their engagement on Instagram, Taylour, married Rivington wearing a custom mermaid gown with a neckline that doubled as a dramatic structured hood. A few months later, Taylour moved with Rivington to Miami, Florida. Of the move, she says, “I just wanted change. I call it my feminine recharge. I just wanted to lean back, read and enjoy the sunshine. I grew up in Inglewood California. Went to high school in Santa Monica, went to LMU, then worked and grinded and auditioned and survived all of my twenties in LA. It is my home. I am proud of that. Yet everyone must leave home at some point.”
"I am proud of myself."
The night after meeting Taylour in Brooklyn, I am at dinner in the hated/lauded “micro-neighborhood” of Dimes Square, and Taylour and Rivington are at a hotel a few blocks. After dinner, partly wanting to have one last conversation with Taylour before she leaves for Miami and partly wanting to check in on her after her surgery, I walk to meet them. When I arrive in her room, Taylour is sitting up in bed, with a white hotel robe draped over her body. She smiles, invites me further into the room, and asks if I want to see her scar. “I am proud of myself,” she says with an exhausted smile. At this moment, I understand just how devoted Taylour is to the practice of openness, of being the sort of person who hides nothing.
I feel immediately protective of her.
She exercises openness in a way that some might mistake for naivety. But she is too unapologetic about her ambitions to be labeled naive, too headstrong, and aware of how she is perceived to be considered innocent. Her openness is genuine, perhaps even another assigned challenge she has given herself. She approaches the assignment of openness with the rigor of a method actor. I have lived for too long with my feet on the ground to, at first, think of her openness as anything other than an opening for harm. But she seems to have done away with those fears. Her openness is admirable in this way.
She shows me two scars just above her hips on each side. Rivington, who is in the room, sitting on the windowsill, asks her if she would like him to make her some tea.
We end up not talking about her career as I had hoped, but instead, I leave her a few minutes after arriving, realizing it is better to give her space and time to heal.
I do not see Taylour again in person, but in the weeks following her return to Miami, she occasionally texts me about things that have come to her mind, about her family and the women who have influenced her. She is, as she predicted, quiet as she heals and as we all head into the holiday season. She is in a recovery that she sees as a new beginning that will align with the next stage in her career.
On November 9, 2023, the SAG-AFTA strike ends. And, presumably, Taylour, along with approximately 160,000 other members of SAG-AFTA, are free to work, to promote their films, and to move forward with their careers and ambitions.
However, studios have been slow to place movies on their release schedule. Taylour is in waiting again, as two projects, Magazine Dreams and Toxic Avengers (projects we never discussed during our conversations), await release dates, and another project, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley, is set to be released at “some time in 2024”. (According to IndieWire, on October 27, Walt Disney and Searchlight Pictures removed Magazine Dreams from their theatrical release calendar for the year, and no new release date has been set.)
But perhaps it is not Taylour who is waiting. If we take her fellow co-stars at their word, we might find that we are the ones waiting for her.
Coleman Domingo, who Taylour has worked with on three projects now, says, “Taylour is a dreamer and a romantic. She believes in the good of all people. She has the best full-throated laugh of anyone I know. She feels deeply.” Kevin Bacon, who stars alongside Taylour in the yet-to-be-released Toxic Avengers and Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley, says, “I’m lucky enough to have worked with Taylour multiple times. She’s able to immerse herself in a role while at the same time she never seems to push. There’s an “in your face” honesty about her work that I really admire.” Glynn Turman, who Taylour worked with on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, says, “Taylour brings an old-school work ethic to her performance process. She isn’t afraid to dig deep and trust the discovery. It’s refreshing to see this attitude in today’s quick-fix culture.”
There seems to be a consensus that Taylour is a genuine, warm, and open actress, a welcomed reprieve from the inaccessible and perfected people-as-brands personalities of today’s Hollywood. As Hollywood reshapes itself and the world becomes louder and louder, we are all waiting for an actress who brings something new and honest on and off the screen. Taylour is poised to start running and end that long wait. And what a privilege it will be for all of us to watch her.