Love Struck: An Interview With Kaitlin Doubleday

Kaitlin Doubleday

As we move from spring into summer, Empire actress, Kaitlin Doubleday, has a hot tip: “Put your clothing on the hangers backwards; when you wear it, put the hanger the other way. If it stays backwards for a year you know you won’t wear it and you can throw it away.”

She can’t take full credit for the idea; she read it in Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up. Well, okay, she googled it — she hasn’t read Kondo’s book yet, but she’s planning to. In her defense, she’s been pretty busy. Over 15 million viewers tune in to watch her play Rhonda Lyon on Fox’s Empire. She lives in Chicago for most of the year filming the musical drama, and she’s been planning a summer wedding for the past few months. In fact, by the time this interview is published, she will have married DJ Devin Lucien in a beautiful ceremony along California’s Central Coast. Kaitlin certainly has a lot on her plate, but she’s used to it; she’s been working hard for a pretty long time.

An LA-native, Kaitlin was born into a family of actors. Her father, Franklin Doubleday, was cast as the villain in various ‘80s action movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. Her mother, Christina Hart, started as an actress and has now directed over 50 plays. Her sister, Portia Doubleday, is on the USA drama, Mr. Robot. Now Kaitlin and her family turn to each other when preparing for a role.

“We work with each other, run lines, ask for advice. Well, my parents don’t ask us ... we ask them. They’ve been doing it 30 years longer than I have.”

Even though they made their living performing, Kaitlin’s family was less-than-thrilled when Kaitlin first admitted her ambition to join the family business.

“They definitely were like, ‘Really? I don’t know if you want to do that.’ It’s hard, especially to have children ... I always thought I would go into another career.”

But after a visit to the Music Academy at Hamilton High School “blew her away,” Kaitlin decided to try it. The school’s drama department really put their all into its productions, showcasing the students-slash-performers and supporting their growing talent.

“The shows were really high quality, unparalleled in any other school,” says Kaitlin, and Hamilton’s notable alums can certainly speak to that; Kaitlin was classmates with Master of Sex’s Lizzy Caplan, Mission: Impossible’s Paula Patton, and Into the Wild’s Emile Hirsch, to name a few. “Once I got on stage I was like ‘oh I guess this is where I have to be now,’” Doubleday remembers. But it would take a lot of steps and soul-searching to embrace her ambitions.

Kaitlin’s obvious talent secured her an agent in her teens (something she calls a “weird, miracle experience”). But she was worried that she should focus her efforts on applying to college.

“I got an agent at a show I was doing in high school ... still, I thought I was going to go to [college]. I didn’t know if I was for sure going to major in theater.” Kaitlin started applying to colleges on the East Coast, because, “I felt like in another life I grew up in New York.” But Hollywood was insistent on keeping one of its own.

Kaitlin was given a small role in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 biographical crime dramedy Catch Me If You Can, which gave her momentum and thrust some more acting opportunities into her lap. “I loved auditioning, I loved the work. I didn’t want to graduate with loans and get a new agent at 22.” So Kaitlin continued to audition, traveled in her free time, and “forgave [herself] for not going to college.”

Choosing not to go to school didn’t mean foregoing learning experiences. “I backpacked through Thailand, India, and Peru, one month in each,” Kaitlin remembers, describing the life-changing trip as filled with “happy- go-lucky, sweet, open” locals. She visited family in London, taking in a bustling city after experiencing the wildness of foot travel. She studied acting with famed coach, Gregory Berger-Sobeck, a faculty member at the Yale School of Drama. She describes him as her mentor.

Meanwhile, the roles kept coming. She was in the 2005 comedy Waiting... starring soon-to-be-internationally- known heartthrob, Ryan Reynolds. Her performance as sexually-adventurous Logan Lewis on HBO’s Hung ended up sowing the seeds for her current and most notable role.

“She was overly sexual and very comfortable in her own skin, and I’m more shy,” Doubleday comments. “I feel like after playing her ... she was completely forward, over the top, made no apologies, powerful, used her sexuality. I feel like I use that girl when I’m playing a powerful woman, which I feel Rhonda is.”

If you haven’t been paying much attention to your television lately, the “Rhonda” Kaitlin is referring to is Rhonda Lyon, one of the main characters on Fox’s runaway hit, Empire. Kaitlin’s character is the wife of Andre Lyon, the eldest son in a music mogul family secretly suffering from bipolar disorder. The show is part musical, part soap opera, and full of commentary on racial stereotypes in both the music industry and American society at large. So, how did Kaitlin get in the running to be part of it? Her answer is refreshingly simple.

“I just auditioned, just like any other show,” she says. “It came across my email and I thought ‘wow’ because of the people involved.”

The “people” she is referring to is a very long, very exciting list. The show was created by Lee Daniels, director of the Oscar-winning film, Precious, and Danny Strong, who is known for his roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls. Empire stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, but it wasn’t all these credits that grabbed Kaitlin Doubleday’s attention.

“When Timbaland was doing the music, that floored me; I grew up on Timbaland. He made all of the Justin Timberlake beats, Aaliyah, all the ‘90s stuff everyone was dancing to. You can never predict what show is gonna be a success. A million shows you read and think, ‘well this is gonna be huge, everybody’s gonna be obsessed with this,’ and it never sees the light of day. But with Empire I thought, ‘this has to have a life somewhere.’”

In speaking with Kaitlin, it’s clear that she really follows her gut. Most of her peers were going off to college, but she decided not to. Even though she was attracted to a life on the East Coast, she loved auditioning and getting work, so she stuck it out on the West. And while a lot of components of Empire might have seemed improbable to someone else, Kaitlin could see a future for the show.

And this living-by-intuition gal shows no signs of slowing down. She’s embracing every unexpected turn on Empire.

“I didn’t think Rhonda would get pregnant,” she says, “It was fun having a pregnant belly.” And she’s pretty sure she’s taking on a first for the Empire cast. “I feel like I’m the first one to get married in a traditional wedding sort of way.” The May 6th wedding was held at the Ventana Inn and Spa in Big Sur, with a party afterwards where Kaitlin (following her gut again!) swapped her wedding dress for a shorter number, complete with Adidas sneakers.

“‘Surround yourself with what you love,’ is what that book says,” Kaitlin recalls, revisiting The Life- Changing Art of Tidying Up as we finish our interview. “It makes for a more comfortable existence.” After hearing about Kaitlin’s life, I think she might be onto something.

Features Editor Logan Guntzelman
Photographed by Jim Jordan

Stylist Apuje Kalu
Stylist Assistants Jody Jacobs and Nancy Mikhail
Hair Jonathan Hanousek for Exclusive Artists Management using Kevin Murphy and Varis Styling Tools
Makeup Aliana Moss
Manicurist Elisa Wishan

Dresses provided by Mark Zunino
Produced in conjunction with White Cross Productions, White Cross Studios and White Cross Cosmetics