Demi Singleton on How to Play a Legend on Camera

Demi Singleton, styled by Jason Bolden. All clothing and shoes by Gucci.
Demi Singleton, styled by Jason Bolden. All clothing and shoes by Gucci.

If you’re familiar with the teachings of Eckhart Tolle then you’re familiar with the saying that “True Power is within, and it is available now.” Demi Singleton is a walking testament to this. At just 14 years old, her passion, inward power and deep awareness of her purpose have allowed her to live many lives. One such mission being her role as a young Serena Williams in the new, highly anticipated, critically acclaimed film King Richard. Singleton plays alongside Hollywood legend Will Smith, who stars as Richard Williams, the father of Venus (played by Saniyya Sidney) and Serena. The film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and set to release November 19, focuses on the upbringing and family dynamics of the Williams sisters and chronicles their early journey to greatness.

Demi poses in a gold headband and black coat.
Hair by Vernon François. Makeup by Nick Barose for Exclusive Artists using Armani Beauty.

The young actor is the exemplary Pisces: creative, intuitive and sensitive. Although this is her first major role, Singleton has been preparing for this moment for years. “My whole life, performing has always been my number-one thing,” she says. “When I was three, I started dancing. I started playing cello when I was four. I started singing when I was seven. Performing is something that I’ve always loved to do even before I officially started training."

After years of hard work and a three-year-long audition process, the young star landed the role of Serena Williams. Playing one of the most iconic and history-making tennis legends didn’t come without intensive study of her mannerisms, yet Singleton was able to accomplish such feats with lots of online digging and very close communication with the family. “The Internet was really my best friend. I would search the Internet for any videos I could find of Serena and Venus, to understand the relationship a little better. I studied the way that she walked, the way that she talked. There was this one video where she laughs a certain way, and I try to laugh like her. Their family was also very involved with the film. Their sister, Isha Price, was an executive producer, so she would help on set with their mannerisms and send us videos of them when they were little, videos that I couldn’t find on the Internet.”

Demi Singleton in Gucci.

Singleton also had the benefit of filming with a master teacher like Will Smith, who helped make the experience even more memorable. Recounting her time on set filming with Will, she says, “He is truly one of the funniest people I have ever met in all of my 14 years. He’s super kind and really humble and down to earth. He’s accomplished so much in his life but he’s still a normal person. As far as advice, I gained a lot of knowledge from watching him get into character for 10 hours to 15 hours straight, without breaking his accent, which is something that inspires me.”

King Richard deals with themes of societal pressure, family dynamics, race relations and so much more, which Singleton says are all crucial themes for audiences to understand. “I would say one important theme is family. Family is everything. Throughout the movie, you see how close the Williams family really was with one another. Serena and Venus are iconic, but they didn’t do it on their own. People don’t know what Serena and Venus and the rest of the family went through behind the scenes for them to get to this point. No one knows what Richard even went through just to have his girls play safely on the tennis court. They really had to work harder than any other player that they were playing against, especially with them being Black girls in an all-white sport.”

Like Serena, Singleton has a similar message for other young BIPOC women following their dreams, “If there’s something that you really love, don’t hold back... don’t let ‘no’ stop you, because being in this industry, I’ve heard ‘no’ so many times, but if I let that stop me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Just keep going and try your best to tune out any of the negative things that you hear.”

Suffice to say, Singleton has been following her own advice. Outside of acting, the multi-hyphenated actor continues to stretch her legs and express her Honduran and Dominican roots through other creative outlets, “I try to infuse my culture in my work. Over quarantine, I’ve been working on an EP and some music that I would like to get out by early-to-mid next year. In the music you’ll hear some Dominican inspirations. Outside of music, I think that I would like to branch out to producing and hopefully directing. Especially to create stories that are by Black authors and that have a really strong and powerful message. I think those are the types of stories that the world needs to see."

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