Any Black girl who’s ever seen the movie Matilda would be hard pressed to forget Kiami Davael who portrayed Lavender, Matilda’s best friend. The curious deep-voiced, bespeckled little girl was not only adorable. She had chops. A couple of years ago, we showed you what Kiami looks like now. Recently we had a chat with her about her future endeavors, her start in the industry, ‘Matilda’, and how she managed to dodge all the drama that comes with being a child actor.
What have you been doing in the years since Matilda?
Oh my goodness! I’ve had so much going on, from singing. And I’m actually getting ready to start working on my EP, to writing to executive producing. I’m actually the executive producer of my own show. So that’s basically what’s been going on in my life.
How would you classify the music that you make?
I would definitely say it’s more of an R&B feel. I like music that tells a story and has a message, that’s positive and uplifting. It’s feel-good music with an R&B twist to it.
Had you been singing since you were a child as well or did singing come later?
Actually, I started out modeling. I went to modeling conventions in New York and Los Angeles. And when I went to the convention in Los Angeles, I met my manager who helped me facilitate, along with my mom, the move to Los Angeles. And during my modeling days, there were talent portions of the conventions and I would sing there. So I’ve always loved music. Whitney Houston was my absolute favorite. So I just think that the acting picked up before the singing. But I’ve been singing forever. I haven’t always been able to sing well when I was younger but as I grew up and developed I realized not only was there a passion for it but I was able to kind of hone in on that aspect of my talent as well.
Take us back to the beginning how did you get your start in the industry? Were you one of those kids who knew you were going to be in the limelight?
I started at an early age, between 2-3 years old, I knew I wanted to be an entertainer. I wanted to be in the industry, I wanted to be on tv, I wanted to sing. Whitney Houston was my all-time fame and I remember she had this concert for the troops overseas. And my grandmother taped it. And I was watching this concert religiously. I had word for word, ad-libs, hand gestures all of that. And I told my mother, at three years old, ‘I want to be Whitney Houston. I’m going to be here.’ That’s it. I remember my mother told, ‘You can’t be Whitney but you can be the best Kiami that you can be.’ Then once The Bodyguard came out and I saw that she was singing and acting. I was like, ‘Oh my God she does everything. I knew I was supposed to be Whitney Houston. I knew it! This makes sense to me.’ So, from that point on that solidified my passion.
From there, my mom was meeting people and they would suggest that I get into plays and different acting workshops and things like that because they would all say that I had “it.” And my mom was like, ‘Well, what is it?’ And to this day, to be honest with you, I don’t know what that ‘it’ is because I don’t really consider myself really different from any other human being. I think that what might differentiate me from other individuals is that some people aren’t able to find their passion so early. But that’s really the only difference. I knew that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is it for me. There’s nothing else that makes me happy, at all… I know that there is nothing else that I should be doing, that would satisfy me.
Even when I went to college and did the whole college thing and allowed myself an opportunity to work at the front desk at my dorm. And I was like ‘So now I understand this is not for me. I’m not happy.’
I actually have a friend who went to school with you. And I think we’re about the same age. I remember she told me ‘Girl, I think Lavender, the Black girl from Matilda goes to my school.’ So how was that for you? Did people recognize you and make a big deal about it?
Sometimes they did. Even to this day, I have people who will stop me and say, ‘I know you. You were in Matilda.’ And it’s always interesting. I’m grateful. I don’t know that anyone can say that they live a normal life but I’m grateful that when I was in college, I had those moments of “normalcy” where I was able to go to class. I had individuals who felt that I was “better” than everyone else because of the industry that I was in. But I was able not to worry about it too much. I kept a tight circle and I had a really strong support system. That was a really big life-learning time for me. I needed that to be able to shape the woman that I am now.
What would you say were some of the greatest lessons you learned during that time?
I think I was able to accept during that period of time and years after, that it’s ok to be different, that it’s ok not to fit in. No matter what anybody says to you. Folks will try to talk bad about you, they may try to disrespect, demean you, whatever they may try to do, you are worthy. So never apologize and feel bad about the favor that may be placed on your life. It’s ok for everybody not to like you because you are not for everybody and everybody is not for you. But that does not mean that you are less worthy, that you’re any less of an amazing individual, that God is not going to bless you any less than anyone else.
Tell us about the Matilda experience. How old were you when you got the role? How were you feeling about it?
I was eight at the time. I just remember I was so excited about it. That was basically my first movie role. I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect when it came to this but I just went in there and did what I was instructed to do. My first audition I was asked to come back and then I actually got to meet Danny [DeVito] and he actually hand-selected me himself for the role. That was a blessing. And to be honest with you, the role was actually not for someone who looked like me. The role was actually designed for a young, White kid. And for him to actually pick me and go against the grain, that was definitely all God. It was my destiny and when something is for you, there’s no door that’s going to be able to close to be able to keep you from it. Once he selected me, it was on and poppin’ from there.
I filmed for about four months. I celebrated my ninth birthday on set. They had a party for me, with cake. All this stuff. It was an amazing experience. And Danny is such an amazing teacher because he’s been around for so long. The knowledge that he possesses, it was such a great, great time for me.
I loved to have fun and I was allowed to be a child but I also had to act professionally because this is my job. So I was able to learn to balance both of those.
I always tell people that there’s no one else who could have done this job and directed this movie except for him. We had a ball. Of course, it’s a whole bunch of kids so being eight or nine years old, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is a huge playground.’ I couldn’t imagine anything better.
And Mara [Wilson], who played Matilda, we had so many scenes together, we actually became really good friends. So to be able to pretty much play with your friends. What kid wouldn’t enjoy that?
So, your voice was so raspy as a kid. Was that something they had you do for the movie or was that your natural voice?
That’s all me. Catch me on a really, really exhausted day or when I first wake up, my voice will be down in the basement, still. I think as I’ve matured, it may have lightened up slightly. But it’s an interesting tone.
Yeah, because it’s light and raspy at the same time.
And I literally have people who will be like, ‘I know I know you because I know your voice.’
You guys had a reunion a few years ago, how was that?
We had a ball! I hadn’t seen them since–Mara, Danny and I got together, maybe a year after we finished filming. And at the time of the reunion, I was maybe 25-26 so it had been a while since I had seen any of them.
And it was so funny because we started reenacting scenes, Danny started directing all over again. It was nostalgic. I was like we’re right back on set again. He was like, ‘I don’t like that. Let’s do that again.’ I was like ‘Wow, this feels so familiar.’ It didn’t feel like we’d missed a beat. It was a family reunion, basically. That’s exactly what it felt like.
It was cool to watch those videos. I was like, ‘They really like each other.’
We do! It is amazing to be able to work with people that you actually enjoy being around. But we were fortunate enough to really enjoy being around each other and feeding off each other’s energy and learning from each other. It was like old times. It was amazing so I’m very, very thankful.
So, a lot of child actors find that it’s hard to transition into adult roles–and you still look very young–we see people who resent missing out on part of their childhood and they end up being not so well-adjusted adults. So did you experience any of those things and if not, what would you say kept you grounded?
Honestly, I didn’t really find it to be a very hard transition for me, luckily. And I think that has a lot to do with my support system. And it had a lot to do with me growing up with my mother and my mother would always say, ‘There’s only one diva in my house and that’s me. So, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to act like you’re all that much because this is a job, this is a profession and you can be replaced. So you don’t get to have an attitude. Everything you do, do with an attitude of gratitude.’ With that foundation growing up, I was expected to no other way but accordingly. And of course, you go through your teenager times when you headbutt with your parents and then you get shut down. But I was raised with a strong foundation, with a strong faith and belief in God and knowing where my blessings come from. And knowing that because of that you are a representation of Him. You can’t be going out here acting like you don’t have no home training because that’s not what we doing.
And then being older, I understood how I wanted to be represented and what I wanted my image to look like. I understand that at the end of the day, the only thing I really have is my image and my name.
Plus, I have a lot of siblings and I’m the oldest. So I have little sisters that look to me. That all kind of played a role in being the adult now.
You can keep up with Kiami on her Instagram page.