by Hector Gutierrez
We caught up with the sixteen-year-old star about her break-out role in Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, her inspiring work with her production company, and her go-to quarantine snack, among other things.
Lexi Underwood might be playing the new kid in town in Little Fires Everywhere, but she is no rookie.
Pearl Warren simply wants a more stable life. She yearns to paint more than one wall in her room, graduate from a high school where she spends more than a few months in, and make meaningful connections without the constant fear that time’s running out. Soon after moving to Shaker Heights, Pearl’s life becomes entangled with that of the Richardsons: a rich, white family that watches too much TV and cares little for the world outside their perfectly manicured lawn.
“I remember the first time I read the script I was like ‘wow’, because I could relate to Pearl in so many ways. At the end of the day she’s just trying to figure out where she fits in and who she is,” Lexi tells me.
Pearl is every fifteen year old struggling to find their place in this world. Yet, unlike the other young characters, she’s quick to learn from her mistakes. I was mesmerized by Lexi’s close resemblance to the Pearl that Celeste Ng, the author, imagined in the novel. She translates that character from the page to the screen in the most captivating way.
“Looking back at last year, I never could have imagined that I would be in this position right now,” Lexi says in response to the great reviews the show has received. “It’s a lovely feeling when your hard work pays off.”
Even though Little Fires Everywhere is set in the 90s, the social and cultural issues it tackles give it an air of modernity. Pearl navigates classism, emerging sexuality, and concepts of privilege. One of the major storylines in this season shows how a character uses Pearl’s hardships for their own gain, which fuels a conversation about cultural appropriation and racism.
“For young black teenagers, when you’re in an arena where the All-American dream is white, blonde hair, blue eyes or green eyes, you struggle to find a place where you fit in. I hope young people can learn from Pearl that it’s okay to be weird and stand out. That it’s okay to be different,” Lexi says.
Although she shines just fine on her own, Lexi is joined by the amazing Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies) and Kerry Washington (Scandal), who she credits for helping her reach new heights in her acting. Ms. Kerry, as Lexi refers to the Scandal actress, taught her a lot about filming intense scenes, and making the viewers feel the emotions.
“They are so fun and loveable,” she says. “We had so many beautiful moments.”
In between takes, Lexi used the time to get producing and acting advice from her co-stars, and in return, taught Reese how to hit the ‘woah’. She recalls being so nervous and excited when filming began, but she credits the two actresses for helping her ease into her character and tackle the more intense scenes.
“I formed a true bond with Ms. Kerry. We had inside jokes. It was like a mother-daughter relationship. I truly saw her as a mom. How could you not when you’re telling a story like Mia and Pearl’s?” she says.
Lexi also formed a close friendship with her younger cast-mates. From trips to Disneyland to grabbing dinner after filming, they forged their own family, much like their characters do on the show.
Even though filming has ended, Lexi continues to stay in touch with the entire cast, and gets super excited when she sees them for press events. It’s as though the on-screen relationship between the Richardson children and Pearl Warren carried onto real life. It comes to show that the casting director did a terrific job picking these actors, especially since they resemble their characters on a profound level.
Lexi and Pearl are two-kindred spirits doing their best to figure out this crazy world. If you ask me, I’d say the sixteen-year-old is crushing it.
Weeks after turning fifteen, Lexi created her own production company called Ultimate Dreamer Productions. As an aspiring director and producer, she wants to elevate diverse voices, especially those of young women. Lexi wants other young women to explore their creativity, and she believes that making screens more inclusive can help them achieve that.
“An ultimate dreamer is an audacious visionary who does what they set their mind to,” Lexi says with confidence. “As a young female who wants to act and produce as well, I consider it super inspiring to be surrounded by strong women at the helm of this project. These women are audacious visionaries.”
I could honestly go on forever about Lexi’s impact, both on and off the screen, but it’s best to see her in action to witness her influence. Little Fires Everywhere is only on episode four, and although I’m salty that Hulu made it impossible for us to binge-watch the entire show, I’ve compensated by rewatching them a few times.
The storyline? Riveting.
The cast? Legendary.
Lexi’s performance? Worthy of that Lady Gaga video where she lists off a bunch of positive adjectives.
Off-screen, Lexi is having the time of her life. She’s gracing our Insta feeds with superb karaoke skills, and live-tweeting hilarious memes of her reactions to the episodes. And if Tik Tok had been a thing in the 90s, I’m sure Pearl would have duetted Lexi's fire rendition of Doja Cat’s “Say So.”
Towards the end of our conversation, Lexi and I bond over our obsession with Twitter (“It’s just so much fun!”) and come to the conclusion that Goldfish are the best quarantine snack. She’s wise beyond her years, but doesn’t shy away from having fun. And that’s what Gen Z represents to her.
“Being young in America today is a journey,” Lexi says. “Young people are struggling right now with our current situation. There are no true leaders and it’s up to our generation to create change. The people in charge of doing that are not doing their jobs, so it’s up to us.”
Despite being sixteen years old, Lexi knows what she wants. Her poise is mature, her perspective on the world inspirational, and her charming personality a joy to be around. She speaks with the confidence of a young trailblazer, one who recognizes that her legacy extends beyond a fictionalized character.
“It is an honor to be part of this generation,” she says with pride. “We’re truly the ones who are going to change the world. And, even though it’s going to take a while to get there, we’re already changing up the narrative.”
Young people are sold the false narrative that “finding ourselves” is an event instead of a journey. We are told that it happens to us instead of being an everyday pursuit. Pearl encounters this challenge in the show, and sometimes makes the wrong choice when it comes to forging her identity. But that’s what being a teenager is all about: fucking up. Falling in love with the wrong people, recognizing our parents can be wrong as much as they can be right, and dealing with the growing pains of adolescence.
Our teenage years are a time of growth, and Lexi has certainly been growing.
When she could be resting from her exhausting schedule and spending more time being young, Lexi has made the choice to be different. The way she uses her voice to galvanize young people to raise theirs is a testament to the quality of her soul. Doing good is so important to her and it shows.
If there is one thing that I’m absolutely certain about is that Lexi Underwood is rocketing, and there’s no limit to how far she’ll go.