For Jamila Velazquez, Being Typecast Isn’t The Worst Thing

A lot of actors resent the fact that they get labeled as a certain type of character based on their physical appearance or previous roles they’ve undertaken. But for Jamila Velazquez, being typecast wasn’t the worst thing.

Instead of seeing it as a negative, Jamila used the various acting opportunities to build up her resumé, gain experience and gain plenty of exposure until ultimately, she landed a role on Empire – a show that exploded into pop culture from the moment it began.

Jamila emerged on the show in its second season as the lead singer of girl-group Ménage a Trois, and Hakeem Lyon’s newest love interest. We sat down with this breakout star to find out about her career goals, how she feels about her role on Empire, and other things that make her who she is.

What was your journey to fame like?

I’ve been acting since I was 6-years-old, but I didn’t get an agency until I was about 15. When I was 15 it took me 2 years to start booking guest star roles, and my first role was Law & Order: SVU. Shortly after, I got a recurring part on Twisted which was a short-lived ABC show. Two years after that I got Orange Is The New Black. I then auditioned for Empire and a week later I got the part.

Being in this industry from such a young age, have you felt pressured to look a certain way? 

I don’t know if I felt pressured to look a certain way, but I just always knew that because of the way I look it would be hard to get different roles. It’s hard to be brown and have black hair and not be typecast – playing the same “girlfriend of a gang-banger” role or just the antagonist role.

Do you resent that?

I don’t necessarily resent that because it’s hard when you’re an actor. You want to take every opportunity because you need to get work. But at the same time, the opportunities might limit you from getting other roles because people only see you as that, you know? It’s a little frustrating, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt pressure to look a certain way because this is the way I look, right? Take it or leave it.

Was there anything unique about your Empire audition?

I kind of knew I had a good audition. I went in and I was supposed to sing two songs, but they asked me to sing a third song, so I sang “Never Loved A Man” by Aretha Franklin.

How has your experience on Empire been different to any other acting you’ve done?

When I got the role I was really, really nervous. I was excited for what was going to happen with my career, but I was nervous because I hadn’t been performing in a while and I don’t dance. And I just knew they were going to make me dance. Performing on the show was a different experience. To perform in front of Taraji, and Terrence, and all these veteran actors was both amazing and really intimidating.

If you had to get trapped on a deserted island with any cast member, who would it be?

Jussie [Smollette]. He’s the nicest, and probably the person I would feel most comfortable with. I would make sure we survived.

Are there any similarities between you and Laura?

Yes, we’re both kind of naturally reserved and quiet, but we’re different because she’s a lover and she likes to make people happy – she likes to compromise – but I’m a fighter.

Who is your favorite artist? 

I love Hiatus Kaiyote – they’re like a future soul band.

Out of all of the characters you’ve played, which has been your favorite? 

My favorite was playing Sarita on Twisted. It was just so different from who I was. She was the mean girl.

What is your secret interest?

I’m actually really into detective shows – Happy Valley is my favorite right now.

And because you’re so into detective shows, is that a genre you’d like to perform in? 

Yes! I’d love to play a bad-ass detective.

NAS or Jay-Z?


Sneakers or 6-inch heels?


Matte or glossy (lips)?


Netflix or turn-up?


Salad or pizza?


Chick flicks or horrors?


New York or Los Angeles?

New York.

Bodysuit: TM Rio de Janeiro | Patent garter cage: Chromat | Shoes: Alexis Gamblin | Ear cuff: JOANNA LAURA CONSTANTINE | Ring: Marlo Laz 

Blazer: Seta Apparel | Suit: Chromat | Shoes: Topshop 

Swimsuit worn as a bodysuit: Onia | Rings: Laruicci and Marlo Laz 

Jumpsuit: M Missoni | Ring: Qiyada 

Photography: Alana Tyler Slutsky 

Makeup: Laramie for Laura Mercier

Hair: Kat Zemtsova using Oribe

Styling: Laura Zapata

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