Kat Graham, who vows nothing ever comes easy for her, believes in the value of hard work — and, from the looks of it, her determination has paid off. We sat down with the (busy!) self-professed nerd for a refreshingly candid conversation.
In addition to her role as Bonnie Bennett on the hit CW series The Vampire Diaries, Kat Graham has an accomplished dancing career, a hit radio remix and a wedding in the works. For an entertainer who dabbles in singing, dancing and acting — as Graham does — downtime is kind of like an urban legend. So we seized a chance to catch up with the super-talented star by dropping in on her during a rehearsal for an upcoming show in Chicago.
Ever the good sport, she gamely agreed to field our questions. Not only was she not annoyed that we were interrupting her, but she was genuinely gracious about our impromptu visit, sweetly saying, “I’m glad you guys popped in — it’s cute!”
It’s such bubbly behavior that makes us like her immediately… and, coupled with her obvious outer beauty, makes us incredulous about her suffering through the awkward teenage years. But, she assures us, she did.
On being socially awkward
“I was just kind of this kid that just wanted to act and sing and dance,” she explains. “I was just a nerd, you know? I didn’t hang out with the cool crowd.”
She feels that being homeschooled made her “kind of awkward,” although she’s quick to note that not everyone who is homeschooled turns out as socially awkward as she was. Or, rather, is. “Even when we [would] shoot scenes in a high school where there’s other kids, I would get kind of intimidated when we would be on a high-school campus,” she says. “I would just get nervous and I wouldn’t know how to be, because there were so many kids my age and I just wasn’t used to it.”
Charmingly, Graham embraces her quirkiness. She doesn’t seem ashamed or embarrassed about it. OK, maybe a little embarrassed, but only when reminiscing about occasions like her only run-in (to date) with one of her idols, Janet Jackson.
On that day, a super-nervous Graham awkwardly — and upon some ill advice from a friend — wished Janet a happy birthday. “I didn’t even bother to check if it was, because I didn’t even remember my name at that point, right? Let alone Janet Jackson’s birthday,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘Happy birthday!’ She was like, ‘What?’ And I was like, ‘Ahhhhh!’ That was my one moment meeting her, and I wish I never had it.”
On her “Power”
Occasional embarrassment aside, though, Graham takes her lack of social finesse in stride. “I’m pretty awkward. I laugh too much. I’m very goofy. For a dancer, I’m really clumsy.” With the recent Lovelife remix of Kat’s single, “Power,” we couldn’t resist asking the self-deprecating star about her sources of strength.
“Eating healthy, even though I don’t like it all the time,” she says as she jokingly winces. “I’m just going on this whole new organic thing to be healthy.” Another source of power for Graham? Love, naturally. “Being in love gives me a lot of power. Love and vegetables!”
On her fiancé
The love she draws so much power from comes courtesy of her longtime squeeze, Cottrell Guidry. The two got engaged last October but, according to Graham, not much has changed. “I feel like we already are kind of married,” she said. “So it’s like I’m just planning a party. I already have this future that I’m having with this person now, so it doesn’t really feel that different.”
Strength isn’t the only thing Graham draws from Guidry, though. He’s also made a huge impact on his future wife’s fashion choices. “I used to skateboard to his work because I didn’t have a car,” she says, “and he used to make fun of me because I had these bright green shoes that I used to skateboard in and I would wear these really high socks and these cutoff Dickies and a wifebeater… and I thought I was just so cute. He’s since helped me in my fashion sense, but I’m now wearing leopard sports bras and leopard track pants.”
On hard work and perseverance
Luckily though, Graham struggles much less with singing than she does with style — although she emphasizes that nothing comes easy for her. “I envy people that are like, ‘I just woke up singing like Whitney Houston,’ and I’m like, ‘OK, thanks… that’s just great.'”
Graham’s talent, she vows, requires constant cultivation. “I have to work really, really, really hard at it, and I have to train — I feel like — twice as hard as everyone else,” she says. “I don’t know what it is. I wish it did but, no, nothing comes easy for me.”
She credits her inner competitive streak in part to never giving up, but also chalks up her success to the fact that she refused to see herself in any other industry. “I almost kind of backed myself into a corner and said, ‘If I don’t do this, then I’m not going to be doing anything.’ Like, I’d rather be poor than not do what I love.” That, she says, has been her guiding principle.
On The Vampire Diaries
And one — if judging by her hit series The Vampire Diaries, soon entering its fifth season — which has served her very well.
When asked if she ever expected the CW show to become such a huge success, Graham thinks for a minute. “No. I mean, kind of? I kind of had an idea, because there were already, like, fan sites built for the show before we had even finished shooting the pilot,” she explains. “But… I thought that I was probably going to get off the show, because they were killing people, and I realized it was one of those shows where they kill people off. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’m for sure going!'”
Five seasons strong, her character Bonnie Bennett is still alive. Well, sort of. She’s still on the show, but the only other character who can see her is Jeremy [Gilbert, played by Steven R. McQueen]. Just don’t expect any torrid physical romance to develop. “Because she’s dead,” Graham says, “they can’t feel each other — but they definitely have an emotional connection, for sure.”
Would Graham like to see Bonnie heat up the screen with someone, though? “Um, I’d like Bonnie to have a little fun… she’s been going through it!” she muses. “So whatever that means and whatever capacity the fans want to take it, I just want Bonnie to have some fun.”
Perhaps Bonnie will find some fun in one of this season’s “really cool upcoming guest stars,” whose identities Graham is remaining mum on.
What we can be sure of, however, is that Graham never intended any disrespect to the show’s writers when — during an interview at ComicCon — she remarked that if it were a personal choice, she would’ve been gone a long time ago.
Her wording, she admits, could have been clearer. What she meant was that the writers have no ulterior motives when it comes to her character. “The way they write is not personal — it’s just how they see the character,” she says. “I think they’re writing for the character, and I think they’re doing a damn good job.”
On what’s in store
With The Vampire Diaries‘ Season 5 premiere less than a month away, we can clearly look forward to more of Kat Graham’s supernaturally good work on the show. And, who knows? Maybe we’ll even see her pop up on The Vampire Diaries‘ new spin-off series, The Originals. “That would be really awesome! I think that it’s going to be a really great show, and it’s going to be well-acted.”
But, as we know, this girl always has more than one thing going on!
She also hopes to have a new album out by year’s end. “I have at least six albums worth of material,” she laughs. “It’s a collaboration thing, so there’s so many different ways to do it. Do we do an EP? Do we do a full album? Do we do another EP with another single and another four or five other songs? It’s kind of up in air, but we definitely have the material to do it.”
Looking forward with the same focus that’s gotten her this far, Graham admits that she has her sights set even higher for the future: “It’s cool to collab, you know what I mean?” she says. “I’m hoping as the years go on, though, they’ll let me produce my own…. but I’m a baby in the game, so I’ve still got time.”