Actress Kristin Kreuk may not have always been comfortable playing the role of starlet, but the Chinese-Dutch Canadian star of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast is finally embracing all sides of herself: leading lady, producer, adventurer, blogger and, yes, even a bit of a fashion plate.
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KRISTIN KREUK has been in the spotlight for more than a decade, from the time audiences fell for her as Superman’s girl-next-door crush Lana Lang in the popular TV series Smallville to present-day 2013, as star of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, which is about to start its second season in October. Though she’s become a natural at walking red carpets and posing for photo shoots, it took her a long time to embrace fashion as a vehicle for self-expression.
Sima Kumar, Kreuk’s longtime friend and stylist who acted as the creative director for this issue’s cover spread, remembers meeting Kreuk for the first time in 2002 when she was hired to style a photo shoot for Parade magazine. “I didn’t know who she was, so I was like, ‘Who is this little girl?’” says Kumar. “She was wearing cargo pants, desert boots and a backpack.”
Prior to acting in the Canadian TV productions Edgemont and Snow White, which she did right before landing Smallville, Kreuk was a bookish high school student who competed at the national level in gymnastics. “I was kind of a righteous child,” remembers Kreuk. “I was really anti-shallowness, and in my limited view, I perceived putting effort and caring about what I looked like to be something that was somehow wrong.”
“She comes from a family that didn’t feed into how beautiful she is, and she was taught that your currency isn’t in your looks,” explains Kumar. “So when Kristin first started acting, and there was a need for her to look a certain way, I don’t think she even understood it. It seemed silly and stupid to her, especially as a teenager incubated in the world of a TV set. You understand why you’re getting dressed up to play a character, but it doesn’t translate to why you have to look a certain way when you go out in public.”
It didn’t help that much of her commercial appeal at the time depended on her being the object of desire. “That was definitely something I was also pissed about,” Kreuk says, laughing. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to be seen this way. I want to be seen as a real person. So I’m going to wear the baggiest clothes ever!’”
It took an eye-opening hiking trip to Nepal, where she found herself really sick but surrounded by joyful children, for her to realize she was vehemently resisting something she actually loved.
“I literally got out of the Himalayas and was like, ‘I’m going to put on some freakin’ makeup, earrings and a nice shawl,’” says Kreuk. “‘What am I so afraid of? I love beautiful things, gorgeous textiles, colors and craftsmanship. I want to look good and feel good.’”
“She’s very defiant,” says Kumar. “If you tell her she can’t do something, she’ll say, ‘I’m doing it!’ And she does get stared at a lot, so I think she didn’t want to bring attention to herself. But once she worked through her issues and became more comfortable in her own skin, she realized that the way that you present yourself in an aesthetic sense can actually be a very deep representation of your inner beauty.”
As a biracial Asian actress, Kreuk has had a unique career in some ways, because her mixed ethnic background — her father is Dutch Canadian, her mother is a Chinese Canadian born in Indonesia — has often been a strength rather than a limitation.
“I don’t even know if [the casting director] knew I was part Asian when I went out for Smallville,” says Kreuk. “I don’t know what it is. It might just be the way that my mix turned out. I’m definitely not white, but I can bleed across many different categories, and that’s been beneficial to me in many ways.”
Though she doubts she’d be pursued for Old English roles, she can play characters for which ethnicity is not a defining factor — Lana Lang, Hannah in Chuck, Heather Thompson in Ecstasy, Maria Lucas in Vampire, even Snow White — as well as characters that are specifically Asian, like Edgemont’s Laurel Yeung and Street Fighter’s Chun-li (though she’s quick to point out that not everyone thought she was Chinese enough, nor muscular enough, for that role).
Just the fact that she was asked to put on her best Indian accent and mannerisms to portray a displaced Muslim woman (“Yes, if you go to the north of Pakistan, people do look like me, but not many people know this,” she says), resulting in her landing the acting role that she’s most proud of to date, speaks volumes. During a time when American fans’ investment in her was mostly filtered through the lens of Lana’s relationship with Clark Kent, the 2007 Canadian film Partition allowed Kreuk to be a part of a sweeping 1947 love story amidst the partition of British India that resulted in violent political and religious strife.
In recent years, Kreuk has amassed enough clout in Hollywood that both Chun-li and her current role as Catherine Chandler in Beauty and the Beast were specifically written as biracial Asian in order to accommodate her casting. With Beauty and the Beast, she returns to the world of mythology. Loosely inspired by the 1987 series of the same name, Catherine is the “Beauty,” a NYPD detective who, as a teenager, saw her mother murdered, and Vincent Keller (played by Jay Ryan) is the “Beast,” a former soldier who, as part of a top secret experiment gone awry, was injected with a genetic-mutating serum that causes him to have dangerous strength when provoked. This past May’s cliffhanger ended with one of them captured in a helicopter and the other looking up to the sky in despair.
“Last season, we established their love for each other, that they’d essentially do anything for each other,” says Kreuk. “Now you have to test it. This season, we’re going to see the toll that it takes on them.”
Though she’s proud of the show, it’s important to Kreuk that she not be confined by The CW box. Her main goal is to eventually become a creative producer. An actress who’s been reciting other people’s words for a decade, Kreuk wants to have a hand in telling stories of her own. In 2009, she cofounded the production company Parvati Creative Inc., which focuses on human-centric films that feature women both in front of and behind the camera. Supporting women’s voices is an issue she’s passionate about, and she cites female executive producers Sherri Cooper and Jennifer Levin as one of the main reasons she was excited to sign on for Beauty and the Beast.
In the meantime, she continues to dabble with the unexpected, whether it’s accumulating more international travels (her annual “Wild Women’s Adventure” trip with her three girlfriends has taken them everywhere from Argentina to Ecuador, from Italy to Syria and Turkey, and, this summer, Mongolia), writing personal stories on her new blog called New Culture Revolution (which she and Kumar just started in May while they were basking in Kauai sunshine eating papaya), taking more risks with her off-camera fashion choices (from her “rock-star girlfriend” furry vest look in this spread to showcase her wild side, to her bespectacled 1970s Charlotte Rampling look at Comic-Con 2013 to display her nerdier side), or — Kumar’s personal favorite — throwing out a politically incorrect joke that’s just enough to shock everyone who might think they’ve got her pinned down.
“She’s almost like a little jack-in-the-box,” says Kumar. “People have an idea of her being so prim and proper and innocent, and once in a while, she’ll pop up and be like, ‘I’m not like that!’ If you’re around for it when it happens, it’s jaw-on-the-ground funny.”
Want more Kristin? Check out photos from our cover shoot and behind-the-scenes video here.
story Ada Tseng
photos Dexter Quinto, dexterquinto.com
stylist Sima Kumar
makeup & hair Eman
Shot at Kaizen Studios in Toronto, Canada, studiokaizen.com.