Am I pulling this off?” I’m posing in front of a friend in an ensemble that falls somewhere between childhood bestie reunion and New York minimalism, an outfit only halfway effective in surviving the blow of standing beside a model. Halfway.
I’m meeting Joy Bryant for the first time. Well, possibly.
Confirmation emails have finally been exchanged. Still, the chill of a stalled social media conversation lingers on. I’ve readied myself for disappointment by scheduling two early meetings at the same venue to soften the blow of a possible cancellation.
Sitting in LaMill Coffee on Silverlake Blvd, I stare with a bit of shock at the “Here!” text message I just received, before taking the last sips of an iced latte and making my way to the other side of the café.
As if reading my mind, or perhaps my vibe, Bryant stands up from the teal faux croc seat she had just parked in and exclaims with a wide smile, “Oh my god, I promise I’m not shady!” She presses her hand to her chest to further emphasize sincerity. The physical gesture is unnecessary. I immediately believe her. All 5’9” of her vibrates a palpable combination of warmth and cool. And as she hugs me while explaining that she has not looked at her Instagram DMs in over a month, I barely listen. I’m too busy imagining that we are in fact childhood best friends from the Bronx, eating icees and trading stories about boys on the stoop.
There is a certain grounded quality about Bryant that is apparent without a verbal exchange. She’s no frills, no fuss. Low-to-no maintenance. Pure. Not in the virginal sense. Rather, in the “no bullshit to cut through” sense. Her intentions are expressed clearly in her eyes. And while Bryant’s million-dollar smile is an absolute asset to the numerous professions she has had as a model turned actress turned apparel brand creator, it is nonetheless 100 percent genuine.
She has a lot to smile about. In her career, she’s done everything from working alongside Denzel Washington and Michael Ealy on the big screen to completing a five-year run with NBC’s critically acclaimed drama Parenthood. Not to mention her most recent role as Dr. Erica Kincaid, a mysterious doctor and the love interest of Morris Chestnut on Rosewood. The project that excites her the most, however, is Good Girls Revolt, an Amazon Studios series based on the true accounts of Lynn Povich (author of the book The Good Girls Revolt) and the 45 other female employees at Newsweek who charged the publication with discrimination in hiring and promotion in 1970. The case became the first female class action lawsuit and the first by women journalists. Bryant depicts the not often talked about yet extremely instrumental civil rights activist and attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton who helped them pull it off. “It’s finally a role that I can embrace, about someone of historical importance whom I respect and admire. It’s not me as a prop in someone else’s life or story.”
It is the kind of intellectual challenge Bryant loves. The research and preparation appeal to her cerebral side. Her brain (she attended Yale, by the way), and the fact that she looks like any given “After” photo (she was discovered by Next Models Management and booked multiple exclusive modeling contracts in her twenties) both add to her appeal. But her girl-next-door persona is what shines through in everything she does—from her 15-year acting career to the comfy-chic pieces in her blossoming apparel brand, Basic Terrain.My Uber pulls up to the steep stone staircase that ascends to Bryant’s home. Our very candid conversation about the music industry, family history, the realities of being Black in America, feminism, skiing and Hollywood had concluded with an invite to her home and promises for a forever friendship. I am determined to make good on both. Tucked away on a hill in Glendale, California, her abode is not one you can stumble upon. You have to seek it out. And you have to like dogs. Bubba, an eight-year-old pit bull greets me at the top of the stairs.
“He’s nice. Don’t worry.” Bryant’s husband/business partner Dave Pope stands in the doorway of their ranch style home, smiling. The two have had Bubba since he was a pup.
I’m not so worried. Bubba has kind eyes and we quickly fall in love. But I also feel very safe with Bryant’s husband in all of his 6’5.5” frame present to intervene if necessary. Dave Pope is pretty damn fit, a residual from his 15-year career as a movie stuntman. He’s a manly man. I mean the guy has four motorcycles that he has taken apart just to rebuild. He’s good with his hands and a fast learner. So it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise that he knows how to sew, taught himself how to make patterns and that two weeks after reading a book on knitting he had already completed a hat embellished with the couple’s initials.“I was blown,” Bryant says, as we sit at her kitchen island shoveling large portions of salmon spread on pita into our mouths. Neither of us are the kind of girls to not eat. “He just said, ‘I think I want to get back into sewing.’ And I’m like ‘Um. When the hell were you into sewing?’”
Pope bought a practice sewing machine from Target and soon began creating gifts for his wife: a military canvas hammock, then a denim version of Bryant’s Thai fisherman pants. The pants soon became the spark for Basic Terrain; friends would request a pair whenever she wore them. Bryant bought her husband his first professional sewing machine for his birthday, and one year later, they launched their company.
Now they design the pieces together, she handles sales and marketing and he handles the nuts and bolts of the operation. “I never thought I’d have an apparel company. I never saw myself with a fashion line. Ski gear, sure. But my own fashion line? My own company? Why would I do that? That’s ridiculous.” It’s not so absurd. Basic Terrain is entering its third year and growing every month. Plans for menswear additions are in the works and the brand is already being sold in London at Selfridges as well as online through ShopBop and the Basic Terrain site. She’s got a handle on her business. Yet true to her personality, she keeps things lighthearted and chill. I ask her where she wants Basic Terrain to be in five years and she responds in her best Chris Rock impression, “Makin’ a profit! I sho’ is hungry.”Michael, Basic Terrain’s brand consultant, is repositioning a print against the T-shirt Bryant is wearing. I’m looking on from an ottoman while getting in some cuddle time with Bubba. This particular collection of Basic Terrain shirts is called Playlist Poetry and the shirts feature pairings of track names from Bryant’s alphabetically ordered playlist that read as serendipitous messages. Coincidental notes like “I’m Cool, I’m Designer” and “No Expectations, No Future Shock” she noticed one day while scrolling through her massive collection of music.
Bryant’s hubby is sitting in the corner quietly observing the process. Her creativity, I’m certain, is high on the list of things he admires about her. And vice versa. That kind of reciprocity is one of the reasons they are celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary this month. A mutual respect is prevalent. As is a solid friendship and the way they simply keep it all the way real with one another.
“Um. My wife is crazy,” Pope shares. “Clearly,” Bryant agrees furrowing her brow.
“Fortunately we like being around each other most of the time,” he finishes, looking at her and smiling. Bryant flashes her wide smile before replying, “I’m glad you added ‘most of the time’.”The two met on the Shreveport, LA set of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, a 2008 Martin Lawrence movie in which Bryant played the main character’s high maintenance fiancé, and Pope worked as one of the stuntmen. He begins to share the story of how it went down. “Wait, you never tell the story right,” Bryant interrupts with an eye roll. A bit of her Bronx roots are showing. “Stop tryna go for dramatic effect! That’s my job!” Pope laughs and shakes his head as his wife takes over the story. On their first date they ended up hanging out in a Mexican restaurant parking lot. That was followed by a skateboarding date. They quickly realized they shared the same laid back style and a mutual love for outdoor adventure: skiing, surfing, hiking, skateboarding…It only makes sense that they created a brand based around the same theme. One of the pieces that prompted Pope’s return to sewing was actually a pair of snow pants to fit his giant build. “We wanted to make the things that we wanted to see and have fun doing it,” Bryant tells me. Their sun-filled dining room subsequently became a yearlong incubator. Its walls covered with all forms of inspiration and ideas flung up to see what stuck. In the end, they concluded that it was really just about the fundamental elements. In life, in work, in play, in love.“That’s just it. Keep it basic. Fun. Simple,” Pope shrugs as if he can’t understand why people complicate life to be more than that. He looks at his wife to see if she agrees. I observe their eye contact. The admiration and comfort. I think about the way in which Bryant has seamlessly expanded her life to include extensions of her energy, her style and her nature. Her husband, her home, her business, her career… All real. All attained without compromise. All genuine.
I descend the stone steps of the Bryant-Pope abode with a few gifts. Among them, a real-life forever friendship, a heart full off puppy love and grown folk love and a valuable lesson learned: Keeping it simple and remaining true to yourself are truly the keys to mastering all terrains.
—words & photos, Qimmah Saafir