Karrueche Talks Moving On & Her New Role On TNT's Claws

Photo: John Salangsang/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.
A reality of our current media landscape that people, especially women, can become famous by association. A paparazzi picture, a mention on Instagram, or an overanalyzed screenshot from someone’s Snapchat story can easily catapult an unsuspecting stylist into fame. This is the beginning of the story for Karrueche Tran, who became a recognizable figure in pop culture when she started dating Chris Brown in 2010. From a life of obscurity to an Instagram following of millions, Tran is a celebrity any way you cut it. However, the way we first met Tran may not be the way we remember her.
Still dealing with the aftermath of a relationship that was certainly less than ideal, Tran is playing the hand she was dealt. After dabbling in modeling, cosmetics (the 28-year-old has already launched two successful collections with ColourPop), fashion, and smaller acting roles, Tran is on the brink of her first big break. She is co-starring with Niecy Nash in the upcoming TNT series, Claws, about a nail shop that moonlights as the headquarters for crime ring. She plays Virginia, a young nail tech who will to go to any lengths to be accepted by Desna (Nash) and her all-girl crew.
I had the honor of meeting Karrueche on the set of Claws, which premieres June 11. In addition to her new role, we talked about everything from being a role model to Southern hospitality (the show is set in Miami, but filmed in New Orleans). The woman I met is soft-spoken, warm, and so humble that she could make Kendrick Lamar second guess himself. She used “girl” as an informal segue, which is sign of comfort amongst women of color — so I immediately trust her. But most importantly, Tran was the perfect reminder that women are never just "someone’s girlfriend." We are human beings, independent individuals with our own opinions, aspirations, and lives — which, like any good show, must go on.
How has it been living in New Orleans?
"I feel like I can official say I’ve lived here. It’s been such a long time. I'm finally learning the streets and not having to bust out maps."
How is it different from L.A.?
"People are nice. They take their time, they talk to you. They have conversations. I can definitely feel the Southern hospitality, and just a difference. In L.A. it's more fast paced. People are in and out."
In what ways do you identify with your character Virginia?
"Her feistiness and just her being her. I relate to her in a sense of she has layers. We all have layers. During each episode you'll see the layers pulled back. In that sense I'm just like her. Wanting to be loved. With Virginia, she's looking for love because she didn't have a family. I had a family, so it's a little but different but it's the same essence of wanting to be a part of something and wanting to be better in life."
How did you get the role?
"I was in Mykonos last summer and I got an email from my agency, Paradigm. [I have to pause here to tell a story. I knew that Mykonos was a Greek island but never knew how to pronounce it properly. So when she mentions it, I ask, 'Where is that?' I’m more than a little embarrassed when she says 'Greece.' But Tran laughs with me and says, “It’s okay, girl!” And I believe her. Spending time with Tran is full of little moments of affirmation and compassion.]
"Any time that I'm out of town, you do a self tape where you record yourself and send it… For some reason (I was going home in like a day or two) I said, 'Can you please ask them if I can come in.' I hate self tapes. It's weird. When you're in person, it's different. It's a vibe. This was my first time ever doing that. [My agency] asked and they said okay. So I went in like a regular audition. Came back [to audition] for the network. Came back [to audition again] for the studio. And by the grace of God, I got the role. Which is a great feeling because a lot of things that I've done, or other roles, have been... not so much given, but more so offers. It was the first time going in for an audition and nailing it without anyone caring about followers or background. It was pure, just me. It's a great feeling."
Photo: Tony Kelly/TNT.
Karrueche Tran (left) and the cast of "Claws"
You've gained a following from your personal life, and it hasn't always been great. What has it been like to keep working and moving forward through all of the negative press? What does it mean to be in a moment where it's finally about your work now?
"For years — which is unfortunate and fortunate — my life has been so exposed and I didn't have much privacy. And even to this day I still have moments where it's like that. I feel so blessed and so grateful to be part of this production. For me it's a huge moment because this is my biggest project. And hopefully this will open up more doors for me. These girls are seasoned. They've done this. Carrie’s won Emmys [She's referring Carrie Preston]. Niecy's won Emmys. They've done all kinds of stuff. For me this is my first big break. I can't worry about all that extra stuff because at the end of the day that's not going to pay my bills. I have to be focused on this. I have to make sure that when I'm on set, this is where my mind is. I can't be worried about 'Oh god! what are they saying on Instagram?' or, 'The Shade Room done posted this.' For me it is very important to drain all that negativity out and just focus on what's important, because to me this is life changing."
Do you have any advice for other women who might be in a similar situation, even if they don't have the same amount of visibility? I know that my friends and I are really inspired by you. Do you feel responsibility to be an influence for other women in that way?
"Yeah, especially with this following. Every time I look at my phone... I'm at 6.6 million followers which is like 'What?! Who are these 6 million people following me? What are you doing?' [Laughs] So it's important to be a role model, to do the right thing. I have a big audience of young females. This life has just kind of fallen into my lap. It wasn't something that I was searching for. It was like this happened, and this happened, and this happened, and this, and now I'm here. It's important for me to utilize my voice in the realist way possible. That's why I'm cautious of things I post and things I say, because girls are out there watching.
"And if there's anybody out there, whether they're young or old — because we're all humans and we all share the same emotions, the same problems — just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I think people think that life is supposed to be easy breezy. It's just 'I'm happy all the time,' and that's not really what life is. Life is growing and getting over these bumps and having problems, situations, and learning from them and progressing. It's a little bit of everything. Nothing is perfect.
"It's crazy because sometimes I have these talks sometimes with myself where it's just like, 'Girl, what? This is your life!' I'm living in New Orleans. I'm part of this show. This is the time to step up and show out and realize what I wanted.
That is crazy since you never wanted to be an actress...
"No girl! I used to be so shy..."
What were your aspirations before?
"I went to community college for graphic design. School wasn't my thing so I stopped going. I wanted to do hair. I wanted to be a stylist. I wanted to be an interior designer. I was one of those girls that didn't have that one specific thing. I wanted try this and that. And like I said, this just kind of fell into my lap."
So I guess this is kind of a full circle moment because now you play a nail tech who designs nails. Do you identity with Virginia’s style? I love you with blonde hair!
"It's so funny because everybody on set — the boys and production — they see me every day with blonde hair. And when they see me before I get dressed, to get water or something, without blonde hair, they're like, 'Who is this girl?' And I'm like 'It's me guys! I just don't have my hair.' [Laughs] It's so funny. It's such a huge difference.
"One thing I do like — me personally, on a day-to-day I'm a bit more laid back. Not too crazy. Not as crazy as Virginia. It's fun playing her because I can let that side of me out. I can have fun with colors and mesh. And oh my god, everyday I have on a different color lip. And every day [off set] I'm like just give me some Chapstick and I'm good [laughs]. So it's so much fun playing her and living through her."
That pink fur and bikini was such a Lil' Kim moment. I couldn't think of anything else except Lil' Kim.
"Girl! Yes and the stripper heel?!"
What's next for you after Claws?
"Nothing set in stone. Hopefully [She knocks on something that we both hope is wood.] we do season 2. I don't know what doors may open after that. I'm working on my third collection at ColourPop as we speak. We're still in production with that. In between, I still have my little ventures. I'm still modeling and little things like that. But down the line, acting for me is a main goal. It's so much longevity in it. So hopefully I’ll just keep getting these roles girl! [She snaps her fingers and laughs.]
And with 6.6 million followers girl, you can always pay the bills.
"Right, right!" [More laughs and a knowing look.]

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