“You know that person who says ‘I miss high school so much’? I don’t trust that person. You know the ones who say ‘those were the best years of my life’? Run away as fast as you can.” Aside from her relatable sentiments on the dangers of peaking as a teen, there’s something about Alisha Boe that makes you feel that she could be your best friend.
When we finally find a time in her busy schedule to connect—she has just touched down in London from dreary Scotland where she’s been filming her latest project, a period drama series by Apple TV+ inspired by Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers—she’s barefaced, wavy hair free-flowing and her effortless Norwegian-Somali beauty is shining through. “Thanks for making the time,” is one of the first things she says. Disarming and approachable seems to be her modus operandi, with a sense of big picture perspective that would be expected from someone twice her age.
“Cancel culture is interesting because it creates this narrative that human beings aren’t allowed to make mistakes, learn from them and then grow from them. There’s obviously a fine line. If you’ve done something that is unforgivable then you should be in jail. But there are certain things that we are too quick to judge. We’re all imperfect.” The 25-year-old actress is starring in a new movie Do Revenge—streaming on Netflix from 16 September—which tackles themes like bullying, shunning, disinformation and trauma by using dark comedy.
A popular girl’s leaked sex tape and an unfair outing of an alt girl’s sexual orientation bring together an unlikely pair of accomplices in Drea, played by Camila Mendes, and Eleanor, played by Maya Hawke. Recalling cult classics like Clueless, Cruel Intentions and 10 Things I Hate About You, girls getting even is at the core of it. But through the murky waters of rumours, retribution and tarnished reputations, it’s hard to get clarity on who to root for, including Boe’s character Tara.
To Boe, this is not dissimilar to the overtones of the real high school experience. “It’s campy but it’s grounded in reality. You’ll be laughing, then you’ll cry. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.” She adds: “Everybody is terrible. But then you think, ‘wait, I kind of understand why you’re so terrible’ and you feel bad for them.” It’s this empathy that makes Boe seem wiser beyond her years, especially as we explore the concept that people are potentially less forgiving these days.
“I feel extremely grateful when I get to play roles where girls who look like me can see themselves in my characters.”
“It feels that way because our world has become smaller with social media, how public everyone’s lives are all the time and just globalisation as a whole. There are more productive ways of dealing with these issues and that’s being kind, forgiving and holding people accountable—giving them space to be able to better themselves without attacking.” Perhaps Boe is able to have various frames of reference on things like this because she’s lived multiple, parallel teenage lives and has amassed a keen sense of high school hindsight, if you will. None more of a masterclass in learning than through her highly commended part of Jessica Davis in zeitgeist smash 13 Reasons Why.
Boe is particularly reflective about Jessica, seeing as she landed the role when she was just 19, and continued on with her for another four formative non-fictional years. It’s as if they grew up together. “Being able to have this open dialogue about sexual assault and women’s rights, it taught me a lot about feminism and awareness on trauma. Also, how we heal and how important open communication is without shame. It was like growing up. I feel like now I’m trying to be kind to people, which I think everyone should be.” Not only did she enjoy being able to play such a well-rounded protagonist, Boe was ecstatic she was cast as a lead, rather than the tokenistic, ethnically ambiguous side parts she was used to auditioning for as a biracial actress.
Born in Oslo, Norway, to a Norwegian mother and Somali father, Boe would perform as a youngster for her parents under duress. As a self-proclaimed attention seeker, she remembers having her mother and father as an unwitting audience for over 45 minutes at a time while she acted out improvised scenarios. At the age of seven, Boe moved to California with her mother and embarked on the adolescent rites of passage at El Camino Real Charter High School in San Fernando Valley until she left at around 17 to be homeschooled. “Did I experience microaggressions? Yes, absolutely. The school I went to was predominantly white and people weren’t as informed as they are now. They would say racist things to me, sometimes not knowing it was offensive.”
Now, Boe recognises she has a certain sense of authority as a young woman of colour in the public eye. “I feel grateful that I’m able to provide a type of representation for people who relate to me. The responsibility I feel is recognising that I have a privilege as a mixed woman in this industry because there is colourism in the entertainment business—that’s just a fact. I’m mindful of not taking up too much space where I don’t need to as this industry likes to hire mixed people rather than Black, African American or dark-skinned people. I also feel grateful when I get to play roles where girls who look like me can see themselves in my characters or in that light.”
“Cancel culture is interesting because it creates this narrative that human beings
aren’t allowed to make mistakes, learn from them and then grow from them.”
A younger Boe would never have been able to envisage the opportunities she has now, like her dream gig of being a co-lead as Conchita Closson in a historical tale in the yet-to-be named Buccaneers adaptation. And on Do Revenge, she’s in good company with the most elite-of-rising-talent peers like Austin Abrams of Euphoria and Jonathan Davis of Outer Banks in addition to the aforementioned Mendes and Hawke. Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson dubbed the cast as the Young Hollywood Avengers, a moniker that they evolved into the aptly named The Revengers.
“I can’t get out of high school! I’m 25 now and it’s time to leave high school.” Boe is cognisant of the fact that she’s a cinematic go-to classmate of sorts, but it’s also clear that she connects with the personas she assumes on screen. When we debate whether it’s feasible to be ‘too woke’ while discussing Lila, whom she plays in Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving the World (likely releasing at the end of this year), Boe answers pensively. “You can never be armed with too much information. It depends on how you use it, I guess. On how you treat other people more so, but I think the more information you have, the better you are, as long as you’re not pretentious or rude about it and putting others down because you know more. Lila is a sensitive, kind and caring character who is invested about the cause she talks about from a genuine place.”
She continues: “When you see people doing what they love and expressing themselves, that’s when they’re most attractive.” We finish our conversation, or by this point, girly catch-up, talking about the concept of ‘coming of age’. Boe is well-versed in it, but “it’s something that is so widely recognisable because we all go through it. You never really know when it happens because it’s so subtle and nuanced when you’re moving from an adolescent to a young adult.” She pauses. “You become more satisfied or content as the person you are and the sum of all your parts—you kind of have this moment. You always have these markers through different phases of your life, which is so beautiful. I can name four that I’ve had—from 10 to 14, then 16 to 18, then 18 to 21 and then 21 to now. It’s kind of like an education on yourself each time and you think ‘ah, I get it’.”
Boe certainly is a sum of many of her acted and lived parts. When I ask her what her yearbook quote would be now that she’s had a tuition in life via her many characters, she leaves me with one final pearl of wisdom. “It be like that sometimes.”
Photography Boo George
Styling Fabio Immediato
Hair Neil Moodie
Make-up Wendy Rowe/The Wall Group
Manicure Sabrina Gayle/The Wall Group
Set designer Tobias Blackmore
Post-production Slick Studios
Producer The Curated