“I’m very silly,” asserts actress Yaya DaCosta in an interview with the MSR to promote her new drama about Martha’s Vineyard’s Black elite, “Our Kind of People.” “Anyone who really knows me is like, ‘Why aren’t you a comedian?” she added light-heartedly.
Part of the reason the public may not know of DaCosta’s playful side is how she was introduced to the public. In 2004, DaCosta was a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model”(ANTM), the Tyra Banks hosted reality competition.
DaCosta was harshly criticized by the show’s judges and the public for being, among other things, too “intense” when she sported natural hair and clothing styles that highlighted her Blackness. “That introduction to the public eye felt very toxic and abusive,” she noted.
The appearance on the competition show also led many to believe that modeling was her primary goal when, in fact, the native New Yorker had been acting since childhood.
She shared that her junior high school acting teacher was “like a second mother to me. She said, ‘I really think you could do this as a career.’”
DaCosta said she started modeling to pay bills in college at the urging of a friend, eventually ending up on the reality show.
Modeling was only one of many jobs DaCosta did in service of her true calling. “I was teaching, I was hostessing, bartending, writing grants for people. When I was 11, someone told me ‘You are an actor.’ I spent years reminding myself of that and owning the confidence to call myself that no matter what side hustles I did,” she said.
DaCosta remains grateful for some of her experience on ANTM saying, “It created opportunities, gave me fans that have followed my whole career, and paid my college loans.”
However, she is candid about it also being extremely damaging. “It created heartbreak and trauma that I had to heal and separate myself from. I never had it on my resume or spoke about it. I declined offers to be a judge on it or go on Tyra’s talk show because I knew it didn’t resonate with who I was and where I needed to be.”
It may have also ended an acting career that she had been carefully and diligently nurturing since she was a child, something else many in the public didn’t realize about her. “At several wrap parties, I was told by directors that if they had known beforehand that I was on a reality show, they wouldn’t have even auditioned me,” DaCosta said.
The challenges she confronted during ANTM and the lingering after-effects forced DaCosta to make some changes in how she dealt with her self-care.
First, she achieved clarity about what she experienced during ANTM. “I had to realize that I’m dealing with people who have preconceived notions of me that are not real that were designed by these writers,” she said. “We were all impressionable young girls coaxed into saying certain things to serve these storylines.”
The experience forced her to work harder at maintaining emotional well-being. “I realized the work that it takes to heal and maintain one’s nervous system in a healthy state. I became a lot better at taking care of myself in those situations; shielding myself from anyone else’s story and being confident in my purpose regardless of anyone else’s confusion or insecurities or attempts to siphon my energy or thwart my path.”
DaCosta over time developed a comprehensive regimen for self-care. “I do Kundalini Yoga, take baths, work with essential oils and herbs. I take pauses.” DaCosta literally takes long pauses during the interview to make sure she says what she means to say. “I have to not feel pressured to be on anyone else’s timeline. When I was younger, I felt so overwhelmed with everything being demanded of me and felt I had to serve other people’s agendas,” she recalled.
The experience has also given her another dimension of appreciation for the role she plays in “Our Kind of People” as an outsider who insists on staying true to herself and dreams in the face of fierce pushback.
“One of the themes that is talked about in this show, is defining oneself for oneself. That was one of the most powerful lessons that I learned because I was very young and misrepresented and, in some ways, abused on national television,” DaCosta said.
What she ultimately came to know is most important, she said is, “My integrity, and am I making my parents proud, my ancestors proud. Am I doing the work? Am I making my junior high acting teacher—who gave me this gift—proud as she looks down from heaven? That’s what I hold onto.”
“Our Kind of People” premiered on Sept. 21. It airs Tuesdays at 8 pm CST on Fox.