June 6, 2019
Culture & Music
“I literally transform all the time. I constantly catch myself absorbing and transforming and absorbing and transforming again and again.” Mette Towley is fluid and fierce. Dancer, singer, actor. Her Insta bio states ‘Female protagonist. Performing pride.’ You might know her as the shaven-haired star of N.E.R.D and Rihanna’s Lemon – a galvanising performance of pure liberation. Right now she’s living in London wrapping filming of the big-screen adaptation of the musical Cats (in which she plays ingénue kitty Jemima.) I meet her in her Primrose Hill flat, where she’s baking a rhubarb crumble whilst looking like she could kick your ass in a cut-off black vest and leggings.
Right: Louis Vuitton blouse, Goom Heo trousers, Costume Studio hat
Left: Miu Miu blouse, Mette’s own bra
JW: It sounds like you’re a very busy woman.
MT: I’m shooting Cats and I’m working on music and I’m auditioning for future film projects and I’m getting to know myself in a way that is so intense, like never before.
JW: The singing is new?
MT: Yeah let’s talk about singing. I wanted to be a musician or a singer before I knew I wanted to dance, and I just enjoyed screaming as loud as I could when I had to do my chores. That’s when I got the opportunity to sing and belt: vacuuming the house!
JW: When you were hoovering, what did you like to sing?
MT: Chaka Khan. [Sings] My dad’s an engineer. My mother is an accountant. I grew up listening to The Stylistics, James Taylor, Bobby Womack, Sade. I had a lot of energy as a child, and I always felt fearless and free expressing myself through dance, through singing. No caution.
JW: At what point did you give some of this creativity a bit of structure?
MT: I was in choir in high school and I played bassoon. When I was thirteen I made a Michelle Branch cover tape with my guitar. I grew up in Minnesota in a small town in Alexandria.
I didn’t know anyone that was in the professional music space. I just expressed. There wasn’t like the architecture of, ‘How am I gonna get to this place?’ I never thought, ‘One day I hope I win an Oscar!’ My room was my safe haven.
JW: So then you started to dance more seriously?
MT: I never thought that I would be a commercial dancer. I went to college at an American modern dance school. Very rigorous in dance academics and cultural theory and the politics of representation. We talked about that all the time. Why the hell would I choose to go into the commercial space after being reared to look at the commercial space and think, ‘Okay, misogyny is rampant. Sexual oppression is rampant. Over-sexualisation of women through the lens of patriarchy is rampant.’ So why would I wanna do that? And my gut just said go. Go because at one point maybe you’ll be able to imbue the ideas that you learned at school into that space, and you may not be welcomed at first but infil- trate and destroy. That was always my goal, and I did have to make some compromises along the way, and I’m still doing that now, but ultimately the goal is to hold space for others.
JW: After the move to LA did anyone take you under their wing?
MT: Yeah Pharrell took me under his wing. Completely. The first time I met Pharrell was at the 2014 NBA Allstar game half-time show rehearsal in Hollywood. He came in with his Vivienne Westwood hat on, I had a hat on too that day, and he was like, ‘I love your hat.’ And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this the guy that sings Beautiful with Snoop Dogg?’
JW: And then you worked with Rihanna for Lemon?
MT: I was in the studio everyday while N.E.R.D was recording the album, so I never was asked to assume the role [Laughs] and then one day Todd was like, ‘Why don’t we just use Mette?’ They sat me down and said, ‘Okay, well Rihanna’s gonna shave your head and you need to audition for the role,’ and then that put me back in that rigorous space and I was like, ‘Alright, cool, let’s go.’ So I wrote on my legs ‘Nothing to prove, only to share,’ and I’d put on my same leggings, I’d wash my leggings every night and every callback I’d wear the same thing with that written on my legs underneath. I went so hard, I just wanted it. And that’s when all of the insecurities and cares about being pretty or whatever that is just flew away.
Listen to Mette’s playlist here !
Louis Vuitton blouse, Goom Heo trousers, Costume Studio hat
JW: So was Lemon one of the first projects where you were able to start bringing some of your priorities, your politics into the work?
MT: I think it was. Not the choreography of Lemon but the character of who she is. I thought of that as an acting role, not just a dance role. Lemon is all about the death of an ego and having to kill your ego to get stronger and to combat any insecurities that you have. I’m shaving my hair because I don’t need it where I’m going. Just look into my eyes. It’s the best project I’ve ever worked on. Nothing else tops it.
JW: Tell me about the singing projects you’re working on.
MT: Okay I’m singing in Cats. I’m also in the studio playing around. My schedule’s insane, so I have the film, which is six days a week. I have acting lessons or audition training, everyday I have a reading for something. Then all of a sudden this music just comes into my life, and it’s like, ‘Alright. It’s time, let’s go.’ I have to get a bigger plate. Do you know what I mean? Oh, and I’m training with a trainer for an hour and a half a day for five days a week, cause I wanna be physically in incredible shape, cause I love being strong. I’m tryna do pull-ups, ‘cause I wanna be an action movie star!
JW: Amazing. We need some more variation in those, don’t we?
MT: We do, we need a lot more variation. We need women of different bodies to be taking on these roles and being seen in these roles.
JW: Who is your favourite action hero?
MT: You know I’ve always wanted to play Catwoman, isn’t that funny? I wanna be Catwoman and I’ve said that for a couple of years now.
JW: Who’s your favourite Catwoman?
MT: Oh my God. [Laughs] What’s her name?
Mane Mane shirt, shorts & bonnet, Falke tights
Right: Coach blouse, leather vest & fork earring, Costume Studio hat
Left: Fantabody body suit, Miu Miu skirt
“I’ll watch videos online of cats and how they immobilise their shoulders, how they move. They’re really incredible creatures.”
Givenchy earrings, stylist’s own blanket