Tanya Wright of HBO's True Blood dishes on being natural in Hollywood.

Tanya Wright
photograph by Nathaniel Johnston

Always on the look out for the next big celebrity who might take our natural ways all the way to Hollywood with her, I sat down with Tanya Wright who plays Deputy Kenya Jones on HBO's True Blood.

The actresses admits that the Hollywood pressure to look like everyone else had her trying to hide her curls. But with a new season on the horizon and her first small-screen debut with her natural hair, she feels better than ever about her hair, her career and most importantly, herself.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I play the role of Deputy Kenya Jones on HBO's True Blood. Bronx born and bred, I'm a native New Yorker who LOVES dark chocolate, playing with my black Labrador dog (Macarena — yes, like the dance!), nature, hiking, movies and yoga. I LOVE to eat and am quite serious about some foods, especially pizza – did I say I was a New Yorker?

What about your natural hair journey?

My journey to embrace my natural curls happened when I embraced my WHOLE self. I struggled with my hair all my life! I've straightened it, relaxed it, braided it, colored it — you name it — all in an attempt to get my hair to look like everyone else's. In Hollywood, most folks wear weaves, so that's what I did too. Anything to not "stand out."

I was a tender-headed kid. I remember one day, my sister was getting her hair relaxed, but my mother said I couldn't. I went to the bathroom and put a whole heap of grease in my hair to make it "straight," but all it did was hang in greasy, limp strands on my shoulders. I tried to straighten it with a hot comb, and burned my hair, scalp and ears more times than I can count. My hair texture is very different from most everyone in my family, so no one knew what to do with it. Now, I never put heat of any kind near my head. Never, ever, ever.

Then, a few years ago, a friend gave me a book called "Curly Like Me" and it literally changed my life! Teri LaFlesh (the author of the book) was someone who had the same hair struggles and had perfected this "system" for her hair that she wanted to share with others. That book was like drinking a tall glass of water in the desert — I didn't even know how thirsty I was! Ever since that day, I started to take care of my hair with loving kindness and TONS of moisture!  I discovered a really cool natural/curly hair community on YouTube, where I learn new things all the time.

What is your current routine/regimen?

"Don't resist your curls! Embrace their unique quality and find a regime that works for you. At the end of the day, you'll be happier, your curls will be grateful and you'll be more than you've ever been."

I wash my hair about once every three weeks with a very mild shampoo like Trader Joe's Tea Tree Oil or Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. I massage my scalp and let the soap wash over the rest of my hair. I do all this in the shower. Then I put a TON of conditioner in my hair and let that sit while I wash.

Then, with a wide tooth comb — my hair is sopping wet and crazy moisturized — I divide my hair in four sections and start combing it through from bottom to top. It's tempting to want to do this part really fast, but raking a comb through your hair will only succeed in massive hair breakage.

Finally, I rinse my hair out with cool water (ALWAYS with cool water), wring it dry with my hands and put in more conditioner. There are several different brands I like and use interchangeably. Sometimes, I put some olive oil on the ends and let it dry naturally. Once a month, I'll do a deep conditioner — avocado, honey, banana, olive oil and some aloe vera water — blend that up, slather it on my hair and leave it in all day.

What about your hair stylist?

I don't see a stylist regularly. There's one on the show, but I basically do my own hair. There isn't much to do in the way of traditional styling. I've realized doing less is more with curly hair, so I just make sure it is always super hydrated. Mostly, I leave my curls alone.

What are your favorite hairstyles to wear with your curls? 

I like to wear my hair all out, wild and natural. The less I do to it, the freer I feel.

What do you do at nighttime for your hair? 

Sometimes I massage oil in my scalp and coat the ends with shea butter. Sometimes I "band" it so that my curls will be stretched in the morning, and sleep with a satin cap every night to keep in moisture and alleviate breakage. I'm religious about my satin cap.

What is the best thing about being curly?

I love that I have a cool, unique way to take care of myself. When I take care of my hair, I take care of ME. It's about nurturing myself and celebrating what is unique and different about me. Every curl seems to have an exuberant life all its own. I struggled with my hair's natural texture for so long, but now, I love my hair! It is my crowning glory and I celebrate it often.

How do you think having curly hair has impacted your daily life? 

It has impacted my life positively in every way! Embracing my natural hair has made my life easier and it has made me happier.

What would you tell other to encourage them to embrace their curls?

I recently went to a friend's house and noticed her daughter had hair that was very similar to mine: she had it up in two dry, crunch balls on top of her head. I told her I could help her with her daughter's hair and she nearly cried. Literally!  She struggled with it daily and had no idea how to deal with it. We went to Target and got a wide tooth comb, shampoo and about three different types of conditioners. I showed her how to do her daughter's hair and when we were through, Baby Girl Maddy had gleaming, glistening curls atop her head!  My friend almost cried again! I was so happy I could help her.

Mostly, I would tell people to go in the direction your hair is going. For me, straightening (via chemicals, hot comb, curling irons, etc.) was the opposite of what my hair wanted. Whenever I straightened it, it would inevitably curl back up 15 minutes later.

Don't resist your curls! Embrace their unique quality and find a regime that works for you. At the end of the day, you'll be happier, your curls will be grateful and you'll be more than you've ever been. I actually feel prettier with my natural hair and get tons of compliments about it. People ask me all the time why didn't I always wear my hair like this.

Current projects – life and what you're up to!

I am in the middle of shooting season 5 of True Blood. Kenya's back, and for the first time, I will be wearing my natural curls on the show. I usually come in with my hair wet and moisturized; the hairdresser on the show might spray a bit of gloss for shine and finger through a few curls. I don't really touch or manipulate my hair while it's drying.

I recently completed work on my directorial debut Butterfly Rising and wrote a book of the same name! Butterfly Rising is currently on the film festival circuit. We will tour 11 U.S. cities with the movie in August! For more information about the tour, what cities we'll stop in and when, please join our FB page. That's where we post all of the up-to-the-minute details!

I also shot a movie called "Predisposed" with Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo and Tracy Morgan that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and will be in theaters sometime this year.

I am working on a number of other projects: other films, television series, web shows. HAIRiette's of Harlem is a web show about an actress, with natural hair LOL! Part spoof, part real life, and totally fun!

Get more info on the movie, "Butterfly Rising."

Follow Tanya on Twitter!