Film & TV

A Walk Down Memory Lane with Hari Nef

The actress and intellect tells us all about her early days in New York City after relocating to LA.
Reading time 4 minutes

Photography by Jeiroh

Styling by Julian Antetomaso

Hari Nef’s done so much already that it’s hard to believe she only moved to New York City in 2011. The Massachusetts-bred actress/model has done everything from throwing underground raves in Williamsburg, where people like Grimes and A$AP Rocky would show up, to walking NYFW, starring in a Gucci campaign and, most recently, acting in an Off-Broadway play.

Hari Nef arrived in the city to study drama at Columbia University, from which she graduated in 2015, but she wasn’t your average Ivy League school kid. She got in trouble for hotboxing her college dorm and made her NYFW debut at walking for Adam Selman and Eckhaus Latta Spring 2015. Amongst her many achievements, Nef is perhaps most known for becoming the first trans woman to be signed by IMG Models, a title she has embraced yet also called out at times. Nef is known for her witty social media presence, where she is unequivocally herself and teetering on bitchy, but in the best way possible. When she gets on Twitter, you have no choice but to hang on to every word the 280-character limit will allow her. Her social media banter touches on trans activism, but she echoes the sentiments of our former cover star Viola Davis, who essentially shared that she didn’t want to always be making a statement as a black actress. In a clever tweet, Nef expressed her desire for people to stop referring to her as a trans actress: “dear journalists and also everyone: would you introduce Viola Davis as a ‘black actress?’ would you introduce Kristen as a ‘gay actress?’ would you introduce Millicent Simmonds as a ‘deaf actress?’ no? okay, cool: so please stop introducing me as a ‘trans actress.'” So, Nef is an actress, first and foremost, and a great one at that. She played the endearingly rude, queen bee MFA student Blythe on Netflix’s smash show You, and has just made her feature film debut with Assassination Nation, which just dropped on Hulu. These days, though she’s relocated to LA, she's back in the city she called home for almost six years to act in Daddy, an Off-Broadway play where she stars alongside Alan Cumming and Tommy Dorfman.

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As for her relationship with the city, when asked to describe it in a few words, she pauses and responds: “fast and hard,” which isn’t the answer you’d expect from a girl who says she’s more of an uptown gal. “It’s still New York up there!” Living in a “hovel” on 1st avenue and 12th street as her first New York apartment was apparently scarring for Nef. Lessons were learned. “I’ll never live downtown again,” she laughs.

Still, her ideal NYC moment is “something impossibly classy, followed by something impossibly trashy.”

Ever the intellectual, Nef cites Fran Lebowitz as an iconic New York figure: “She is staunch and unwavering, and smarter than you. She has a point of view that is not subject to change from moment to moment, year to year, moment to moment, it’s unmistakable…” she explains. A film she’d say exemplifies New York is Manhattan, while she names The Age of Innocence for a book. Her favorite season in the city is spring because of its lovely weather, and because “everyone’s been cooped up for months so people are acting a little crazy,” she says with a mischievous smile. She admits she romanticized her first year in the city because she feels it was the last time New York still had secrets before Instagram really blew up.

Finally, what makes a New Yorker according to Hari Nef? “A person that cannot possibly exist anywhere else, a distinctly American sensibility that fuses with a certain skepticism. In many ways, being a New Yorker is a refusal.”

Indeed, with her bewitching beauty, quick wit, and sharp intellect, Nef very much fits her definition of a New Yorker, and we can’t wait to see where her blossoming acting career will lead her next.

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Hair: Carolyn Riley @ De Facto Inc using Kerastase

Makeup: Andie Markoe-Byrne @ Bryan Bantry using Chanel

Photo Director: Jennifer Rosenblum 

Production Assistant: Mina Erkli 

Location: Root Studios

Catering: Red Hook Catering

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