Keri Hilson Dishes On Her New Movie Lust – Exclusive Interview

She’s well-known as a songwriter, singer, and dancer, navigating freely in the worlds of R&B and pop with Grammy nods and hit singles, including “Knock You Down” and “Pretty Girl Rock.” But Keri Hilson is a restless creative, and lately her work has evolved toward acting. In the new Lifetime Original Movie Lust: A Seven Deadly Sins Story, Hilson stars as Tiffanie Cooper, a woman who is about to embark on a storybook marriage with the man of her dreams, the handsome and successful Damon King (Tobias Truvillian). But things start to unravel for Tiffanie when Damon’s old buddy arrives, smoldering mystery man and ex-con Trey (Durrell “Tank” Babbs), and suddenly the storybook might have an unexpected ending.

In this exclusive interview with Nicki Swift, Hilson gave us an update on where new music from her might stand, dished on all things Lust, and discussed how her conscious break from social media (and subsequent return via Twitter and Cameo) transformed her outlook on life and work for the better.

Keri Hilson on transitioning to lead roles with Lust

Lust is the first film made from the Seven Deadly Sins books series, right?

Yeah.

How did your participation end up coming around to do the project?

Oh, good question. Hmm. We just got the call, honestly. It wasn’t one of the ones that I had to audition for. We got the call. They were very sure. I had a lot of different things going on and they fought really hard to have me be a part of this project. And I’m just super grateful. I mean, because I really wanted to work with [Jumping the Broom producer] T.D. Jakes. It really was painstaking but I honestly thought that it would conflict with another project. Well, due to COVID delays on another project, I was able to accept this. So I was really excited because it’s a dream to work with him. I respect what he does, spiritually, a lot. And I think that he’s one of those humans that’s really socially responsible, and I love doing socially responsible work. I knew it would stretch me, but I was excited for the challenge.

Were you familiar with the Victoria Christopher Murray novels that the films are based on?

Not at all. I learned that they were there as I was reading the script and having the conversations with my agents. And I still have not read them, but I think that it would be a really good thing to do, honestly.

I think sometimes maybe, when you’re doing a project that’s based on a book you might not really want to read the book, right? It’s like, you want to just approach it, coming from your perspective on the material.

There’s that. And honestly, the script wasn’t the kind that made you feel like that was necessary to do. Because it was so, mind you, I haven’t read the book, but the story told itself, right? There wasn’t any prior understanding that you needed to have to be able to portray these roles or tell the story. So I think that’s why. But I have done a book, you’re right, I have done a film that was based off of a book. This is a film that just aired a couple of weeks ago.

Right. Don’t Waste Your Pretty.

Don’t Waste Your Pretty. And I found it best to not be swayed, so I did not… Actually, I was also encouraged not to. But I did, I [thought], “I think you guys are right. I don’t want to be swayed one way or the other based on how I perceive or how I am internalizing the role.”

Speaking of that, now with that film, it’s a 2021 film. And now with Lust coming out, you’re transitioning into these lead acting roles. Is that something that feels pretty natural for you to be exploring in your career?

Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I would say the way that they are happening has been very natural, so it must have been. Because all I had to do was say yes.

It sounds like you didn’t have to audition.

Well, in some cases it is, I’m saying yes to the audition, sometimes I’m saying yes to just, try it out. If nothing else, it’s great practice. It’s great, You know, if nothing else, even if it doesn’t even come out ever, that happens sometimes. Then it’s like, I just look at it, 2020 taught me, just say yes to the universe because it’s trying to provide you opportunity.

How did COVID affect Keri Hilson's career?

Can you think of another example of how COVID has sort of informed your work here going forward into 2021? Because we’re all trying to look for that jumping off point of when we’re all getting back, and what does that look like, what does it feel like?

Oh, you’re saying can I pinpoint another way that COVID has impacted me in the career space?

Yeah, right.

I think it taught me the art of surrender. It taught me, and that’s similar to just saying yes, but it’s also surrendering to, how can I word this? I don’t know if I can articulate it, but the act and the art of surrender.

I guess maybe it gives us a boldness, it gives us the freedom to be bold. Or to say, to maybe not consider all the potential limitations we might otherwise consider, right?

For some. Now for some, it closed them up even more, they became more fearful and less risky. For some, I think that would have been, no, that is a response they’re holding onto their money really tightly, and with good reason. You know, fear, that’s a healthy fear to have at this time.

But yeah, I think it’s just, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s like just surrendering to what God or the universe, whatever you believe, source, is wanting to provide for you. Just surrender. Don’t have so much control because there’s so much … there’s so much about life that you will not control even if you wanted to, even if you desire it, and we all do.

Right. No matter how hard we’re holding on, it’s like it’s going to hit us however it hits us.

Like there’s more strength to be found in letting go, surrendering, not trying to micromanage things or control them or manipulate things. It’s just you’re not going to be able to do that all your life. So I learned that surrendering feels better, it feels freer.

That’s great. Do you have more leading work coming up, lined up for after this film?

Two more, in film and theaters. One is coming out in theaters, and the next one is a short film for BET.

If it’s coming out in theaters, I guess that’s another thing that’s nice to have back after COVID.

I know, right? And I hope that does not change. I really hope we can get the theater moments. I need popcorn.

Keri Hilson spills the tea on steaming up the screen in Lust

In Lust, you play opposite Durell “Tank” Babbs. You both share backgrounds in the R&B and pop and songwriting worlds. Was he someone that you had worked with before, like in a music context?

Uh-huh, yes. I’ve known him like 20 years. I’ve worked, when I was just songwriting we had worked together on one of his projects.

Yeah. It struck me that your career arcs have sort of started in a similar manner and sort of, right around the same time. So it’s like in those worlds there’s got to be a lot of mashing of talent and creativity.

Yeah. Well, he was out some years before me, but he really started to kind of catapult, I guess. He’s kind of one of those artists that like will kind of fluctuate in his, I guess, popularity, but he’s super solid in what he does. The music is always great. It’s just, for some reason, people aren’t always aware of his projects. They just might, every few years, hear a single that they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s Tank,’ and it skyrockets. So I’m always rooting for him. He’s a great, great, great guy, really good spirit. Just an honest, funny, charismatic, super talented genius guy.

So, it must have been cool to work with them directly in this field then, too?

Absolutely. Absolutely. That was full circle though. It was weird. Like kissing someone—

Right. All of a sudden it’s like, “Oh look where we found ourselves,” right?

“Okay, we’ve got to do this.”

Well, that’s, that’s the nature of the Lifetime movie, right, it’s got to be sizzling.

Got to be, yeah.

They allude to quite a bit of that in the trailer, that’s for sure.

They do, it’s quite salacious. But this film really does, it really gives you what you think you’re getting. You know how some trailers are just, and then you see the film and it’s so underwhelming because you were just so built up by the… This is one that actually delivers, and I can confidently say that. I haven’t said that about many films that I’ve done.

Would you call it a cautionary tale?

Ultimately yes, it will be a cautionary tale. You get to learn from our mistakes, our mishaps, shortcomings.

What's the status of Keri Hilson's new music?

I wanted to ask a little bit about your music career, speaking of that side of things. Your Love Is A Religion record sort of appeared here and there, right? And then is it still kind of in the ether somewhere? Is that sort of something that’s still a project you’re still going to go back to? Or is there new music being made?

Well, so-

I know it’s a little weird.

I know, because I’m not in that space right now. I’ve got multiple pieces of work. And I don’t know, maybe when I die, I’ll just leave it in my will for people to release it and people get it. I don’t know when I’ll ever feel like I’m in that space, because I’m a person, by nature I’m an athlete. I grew up excelling in sports, like to the point where I was in the junior nationals. And in high school, I was, in a whole other sport I was two-year best offensive, senior year MVP, captain for two years.

What sports were those?

Swimming. I swam in the junior nationals at 14, and basketball in high school. So I am one of those people who has like an excellent frame of mind, like I have to excel. And I know that to do that, I must put my entire being into what I’m doing. And the time I felt like I was ready to do that with music, my father passed, and I kind of got knocked off of that idea.

And then the acting happened and I looked at that as a welcome. Because when you’re filming, you’re in an alternate universe. You’re in your own bubble, you’re in your own world. Time stops for a moment. And your family, you have a new family, you have a new partner, you have a new way of thinking, you’re completely there. This requires that, but it’s also, it was welcoming for me while I was grieving last year, and still grieving. So I think, when I feel that I am able and capable and just naturally willing to give the 500% to music again, because I know what that takes out of me. I know what that is, you know what I mean?

Yeah.

Then I will just press send, because they’re ready to go. I don’t have a lot of the credentials for it, like visuals and things like that, but that’s easy. But the music’s done.

So maybe like, who knows, maybe in three months a new single drops and there it is, you’re back in that space.

And it could be that soon.

It’s nice to have that ellipsis on a project, where it’s just like “to be continued…”

And I didn’t mean to, I feel bad. Fans, people that are waiting, feel like I’m like, what kind of person are you? But there were fake press releases for years, that were like, I felt my arm was being twisted to do it.

From what I was reading — because I’ve heard some tracks of that album here and there — but it felt like it was being, there were forces at work there that didn’t feel legitimate with that material. So, as a professional that’s got to be, like some things you can’t control when you’re watching that happen. It’s got to be just profoundly irritating.

Yeah. And it makes you want to go back to the drawing board because I care about things being fresh and things being received in a certain way. So it’s like, why would you, how dare you, wherever you hackers are, how dare you?

Blame the Russians, I guess, for that or somebody, the hackers. 

Well, at one point we did track them down, and they were German. I don’t want to make Germany mad or anything, but those hackers were German.

That particular time, it was them.

Yeah, at that particular time.

Keri Hilson talks the bad news and good news about social media

So, it sounds like for now, certainly, acting is on the front burner for sure. You described the worlds being different from filming a movie to writing a record. But I think there’s probably some similarities in that collaborative spirit as well, right?

Very true. I hadn’t thought of that, because all I can think, normally, are the differences, but you’re right. You’re absolutely right. It’s a collaborative effort. We’re all there. We’re creatives. There are some liberties you’ll take, and sometimes you have to just trust someone-else’s expertise and take the back seat, and do what you’re told or whatever. Not what you’re told, but do what you feel is best for the project that you’re working on. And there are times where in music you have that same collaborative spirit. So yeah, absolutely.

You made me think of something I had never considered.

That’s what we do here at Nicki Swift, we make people think. Obviously hackers, German or otherwise, internet chatter — social media is a minefield, right? It’s just like, come on.

Yeah.

You took a break, a conscious break from social media, right?

Years, yeah.

That must have affected your mindset in a very real way, right, in a palpable way.

In a positive way.

So you would call it a positive thing to have taken that step back, that conscious step back?

Very much so. It allowed me to realize that the criticism, both the criticism and the praise, can be equally damaging, equally dangerous.

That’s a great point.

You’re inheriting these ideas that people have about you, these opinions that people have about you. You inherit them into your subconscious. And that can be a very dangerous thing, whether it’s good or bad. So while you’re developing your confidence, your ideas about yourself, trying to find some stability and structure in your life or whatever that is for you, I think it’s really good to put the peanut gallery on mute.

Peanut gallery is a good term for all of that, for sure. And everybody always seems like they have the right idea about something that they don’t understand. Breaks are probably something that more people should think about taking when it comes to social media.

I think so.

On your Twitter these days, you speak a lot about being present, present and positive thinking, and meditative practices, versus prayer. It strikes me that-

Not versus prayer.

Well not versus prayer, pardon me.

For me it’s both. Yeah.

But that, those both existing in time, as being pursuits, right? That has to be something that is positive for your wellbeing. Who you see as who you are. All things being said about the internet gossip, and everything else, you want to be who your best person is.

Right. Exactly. And if that’s what you strive to do, there are ways to go about it. You just want to have mental clarity and spiritual clarity to make decisions for yourself, to form ideas about yourself, for yourself. Your core beliefs, well, you got to be malleable in those, because a lot of the things that we feel are true are not true. But yeah, I think it’s really, those practices have been life-changing for me and a lot of friends that I had around. There’s no going backwards. Once you feel what being dialed in to the universe really feels like you’re never, you’re unable to go backwards, really. It’s just up from there.

Cameo has helped Keri Hilson meaningfully connect with fans

I was curious about, speaking of Internet stuff, that you were involved in doing Cameos for fans.

Yeah. Yeah. I do those every — I’ve got some to do today.

I don’t know a whole lot about it. I’ve encountered it here and there, it strikes me like it’s crazy intimate, but at the same time it’s weirdly detached. And I just wanted to get your sense of what goes on in that whole universe, how that works.

Well, it’s a way that I feel that fans are… I get a lot of requests to honor someone else who they know is a huge fan of mine.

Right.

And that feels good for me to be able to honor them personally. Like I’m literally saying, “Hey, it’s me.”

“It’s me, Keri Hilson.”

Yeah. I say, “Hey, I hear you’re turning 34 on the 16th. You’re a Pisces. Oh, Sag’s and Pisces get along a lot. I’m so happy that you…” and I give them back my personal feelings about what the thirties are or whatever. I actually go above and beyond in my Cameos, because mine are actually kind of long. … They tell me who it’s for, what occasion it is, and some will leave a script. Like if they want me to like promote something for them, you know?

Yeah.

But usually it’s like, hey, “My daughter is turning 14. She’s really not confident. She loves your song ‘Pretty Girl Rock.’ Can you please send her some encouraging words?” I find it, it’s like doubly gratifying.

That’s awesome.I think maybe we’ll see more of that stuff in 2021. I encountered it elsewhere in work and was surprised that it even existed. And now it’s like a thing. You’ve got five of them lined up today.

Yeah. You got Snoop Dog on there, you’ve got Martin Lawrence, you’ve got me. There’s just all kinds of people on there. But I enjoy it, I really enjoy doing it.

We appreciate you speaking with Nicki Swift for a few minutes and we’re looking forward to watching the film.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Lust: A Seven Deadly Sins Story is streaming on Lifetime.

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