50 Cent’s baby mama—the movie version—landed on the big screen via the runway, but she’s out to prove that she’s more than just a pretty face who’s gotten a few breaks. On the cusp of Hollywood stardom, Joy Bryant dishes on the modeling biz, acting opposite Fif & dating in L.A.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's December 2005/January 2006 issue.
Joy Bryant might have a flawless body and a smile that’d weaken a man’s knees, but she’s got a mouth like a trucker. She’s sitting on the patio of Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmont, assuming her place as the latest It-girl in this town’s merry-go-round of celebrity. She gazes up into the pure blue California sky, looking serene one moment, then cackling the next. “I love this place,” she says. “I always call it the ‘Shit-ho Marmont.’ I’m not dissing the place, because obviously it’s beautiful here. I just like to call it that—you know, like, ‘Oh darling, here we are, just being fabulous at the Shit-ho Marmont!’”
Bryant giggles and crosses one long leg over the other. At 29, she’s transitioning from a career as a model—most notably, showing off lingerie for Victoria’s Secret—into an actress who isn’t afraid to reveal her sexy side. She was a Yale student before hitting the runways, a Bronx gal done good. Now, after 10 years hawking clothes and strutting the shows in Milan, Toyko, and Paris, Bryant has wisely pushed forward into the movies, honing her acting chops in films like Antwone Fisher, Honey, and The Skeleton Key. This fall she’s been breaking hearts and blowing minds as 50 Cent’s baby mama in Jim Sheridan’s 50 biopic, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. It’s a film Bryant calls “the most amazing and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” Maybe that trucker’s mouth has been softened. Then again, maybe not.
From the Ivy League to the fashion runway—that must have been a hell of a transition.
It’s funny, having gone to Yale, it always came in handy because as a model everyone assumes you’re a complete idiot. It saved me when I went over to Paris and there were all these playboys lurking about. I was smart enough, old enough, with enough experience to avoid them. Thanks to Yale, I didn’t wake up butt naked in a chateau wearing handcuffs, thinking, “Why am I here—with a headache?!” Who would have thought an Ivy League education would have come in handy that way.
Before you were scouted to model, what did you think you were going to do with your life?
I thought I was going to be working on Wall Street but instead I was suddenly reckoning with the vultures in Paris. It was a great experience, but it was pretty brutal too. Regardless of anything—Yale, or a good education—I was still 19 and I was definitely an idiot. If I had started doing modeling when I was really young, I would be strung out by now or God knows what. I could barely handle it to begin with. But the modeling world prepared me for acting. It taught me that no one is immune from falling down, or becoming a statistic. I mean, these industries are so competitive. But I have to remember where I came from and my first victory, which was getting into Yale and the Ivy League. Those schools are the most competitive thing going, you know? So I had already conquered something and that’s given me some strength. Because in this industry it’s always: “You’re pretty. But not pretty enough.”
Thanks to Yale, I didn’t wake up butt naked in a chateau wearing handcuffs, thinking, 'Why am I here—with a headache?!'
It seems like the worst part of either modeling or acting is the other women you have to deal with, the competition.
Oh man. We are brutal to each other. I mean, we are not sisters. It’s a sad thing. We’re all trying to come up, we’re all grabbing for the same scraps. But I’m a girl’s girl. I think other women maybe feel threatened by each other. But if I see a beautiful woman, I’m in awe; I want to be just like her. But some girls are like, “That bitch!” It’s ridiculous. I never understood that. There are some real mean girls in this industry. There are some chicks that to your face will be all sweet and nice and then suddenly, you’re like, “Wait a minute, why is my back bleeding? Where did this dagger come from?” I’ve gotten that a lot. But that’s all part of the business, so you’ve got to let it roll. But sometimes I’m like, “Bitch, I’m going to choke the shit out of you!”
Tell us about Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
It was super-intense. I wanted to be the best I could be and damn, it was hard. I would do it again in a heartbeat though...if I had some Zoloft and super-quadruple therapy. But seriously, the whole experience was amazing and intense. I mean, I’m not trying to be all Inside the Actors Studio, but it’s great when you can trust your director to guide you and lead you where you need to go. Sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes, there is no one driving the ship. But with Jim Sheridan, he’s the captain and you get on board. But let me tell you, there were times when I thought I would go off the deep end, become an E! True Hollywood Story, run off to the mountains somewhere and be a hermit and write a manifesto, Ted Kaczynski–style.
What made it so intense?
It stirred up things in me. We filmed in my old neighborhood. I could throw a rock and hit my old bedroom window. Jim turned me inside out. His methods were so subtle and he was so sweet and smart, but man, it was emotional. The character was very similar to me in many ways. I related to her. And it made me reassess a lot of my methods, my way of approaching the world. It was cathartic and earthshaking. And 50? Man, that guy, he was incredible. I mean, he must have felt the whole experience intensely too. It was his life laid down in front of him. I told him, “If I were you, I’d be in the nuthouse already! Right here in rehearsal, I mean, I’m about to check myself in and it’s not even my story!” But he just laughed. He’s the ultimate professional. He keeps it together. This was his first acting job and he did everything in like, two takes. He was giving so much. I remember thinking, “Shit. He is really mopping the floor with me right now! It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” Not that I was supposed to be mopping the floor with him, but he really made me step it up. You watch him on film, and he’s subtle. He stripped it down. And that’s where he always was. Brilliant, professional, on time. He’s a hell of a lot smarter than people give him credit for, smart in ways you would not assume. Never judge a book by its cover. I mean, if I had an ounce of his focus and dedication, man, I’d rule the world.
In a way, 50 Cent has a lot to prove, making that move from music to movies. But it seems like hip-hop artists have been able to make that transition pretty easily. The industry is hungry for them, right?
I know, hip-hop and big corporations. Talk about strange bedfellows. But I guess it was inevitable. There are just so many great opportunities available now and it's wonderful to be able to see people--people who might not have had the access to these opportunities 10 years ago--who can capitalize on w hat's out there. It wasn't that long ago that we weren't able to drink from the same fountains. And now we have more black millionaires than in any other time in history. There's so much more opportunity now to capitalize on our talents. But look at me, getting all political! This is a men's magazine, right? Aren't we supposed to be talking T&A?
Dating in L.A. sucks. Because a pretty girl, with a nice face, and a nice body, is a dime a dozen. Maybe not a nice brain, but the rest? You throw a rock and you hit a hot chick.
Sure, let’s talk T&A. Let’s talk about dating in Hollywood. That’s always a good one.
Well, first off, dating in L.A. sucks. Because a pretty girl, with a nice face and a nice body, is a dime a dozen. Maybe not a nice brain, but the rest? You throw a rock and you hit a hot chick. So a gal’s got to rely on something else in this town. Right now I’m in a place where I’m not going to define myself by a man and a family. I can’t expect it and on the other hand, I can’t rule it out. I’m just trying to love myself and not do the same old bullshit I used to. We’re always putting these expectations on each other, trying to fit that square into the circle hole, you know? And you can’t change people. So you have to just concentrate on yourself, making yourself a better person. That’s why I tell my friends, “If you’re going to live in L.A., get yourself a good dildo and a good vibrator and learn to love yourself. And if you do that, you just might find somebody.”
You must not have a difficult time meeting guys.
You know, not to sound like an egotist, but like I said, a pretty face is a dime a dozen. It doesn’t mean anything to me when a man comes up and tells me I’m pretty. I’d rather he’d say I’m smart or interesting or fascinating or weird—anything but “pretty.” I mean, it’s nice and all, but “pretty” can get boring unless there’s an interesting mind in there. Someone with something to share. So yes, I meet people, but what are they looking for? It’s hard.
Do you date a lot of actors?
Hey listen, I’m in this business, so I’m probably going to end up dating some actors. I don’t close myself off to that. And sure, there may be a lot of people in this industry who are full of shit, but you know what? There are people like that in every industry. Granted, with actors, it’s hard to tell when they’re full of shit. I mean, they are actors. Sometimes it’s like, “Are you really like this, or are you just making a movie and I don’t know about it? Where’s the camera? Just who wrote that script you’re living by right now? I’d like to know, ’cause I have a few revisions! I think you maybe need to do some rewriting! ’Cause right now, that shit is janky!” But dating is difficult anywhere. Life is hard and dating is hard, regardless if you’re an A-list actor or a supermodel or whatever. Everyone gets their heart broken. You just have to do your best and hold your head up high and not be afraid to keep rolling the dice
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Lysa Cooper for Margaret Maldonado. (MAKEUP) Justin Henry for Avante Groupe. (HAIR) Bertrand W. (SET DESIGNER) Jamie Dean for Partos. FIRST AND FIFTH IMAGES: Jacket by Giorgio Armani / bottoms by Agent Provocateur / shoes by Cesare Paciotti / jewelry by Ron Hami. SECOND IMAGE: Top by Giorgio Armani / bottoms by Agent Provocateur / shoes by Elie Saab / jewelry by Ron Hami. THIRD IMAGE: Top by Jenni Kayne / bottoms by Agent Provocateur / shoes by Giorgio Armani. FOURTH IMAGE: Bra by Agent Provocateur / skirt by Rami Kashou / shoes by Bruno Frisoni. COVER AND SIXTH IMAGES: Jacket by Nicole Miller / bottom by Agent Provocateur / boots by Cesare Paciotti / jewelry by Ron Hami.