‘Zola’ Star Taylour Paige Says Working As A Stripper Helped Her Feel ‘Free’

Taylour Paige, 30, is just getting started. From parts in hit TV shows like Hit the Floor to big roles in critically-acclaimed movies like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Boogie, Taylour’s unstoppable rise to stardom started almost overnight.

The NAACP Image Award-winner’s latest film, Zola, debuted on June 30. Taylour plays the title character, a stripper who gets into the industry for a weekend to make some extra cash. She quickly learns it’s so not what she signed up for, but Taylour learned a whole lot more as she transformed into Zola.

With stellar reviews, there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing a lot more about Zola and Taylour soon. Here’s everything you need to know about Taylour Paige:

At first, Taylour wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a part of Zola.

Zola started out with a script written by Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts, per People. But it just wasn’t for Taylour the first time around: “I ran from this project [originally],” she tells Women’s Health. “It was presented to me to audition with the original script I was like, ‘No, I’m not into this… I get that it will probably be a buzz-worthy thing, but it’s not meant for me.'”

Then, the movie was reinvented. With a new script and a new director, Janicza Bravo, at the helm, Taylour says she was ready to tackle the project head on. “A couple months later, I was reminded about it because I got an audition for Hustlers and I wasn’t particularly fond of that script, and I was like, ‘Whatever happened with Zola?'” she said. “And then my agent [told me], ‘Oh, it’s coming back around with a new director and new writer.’ So I read it, and then it was like ‘Yes, okay, I see this,’ but I was still pretty relaxed about it.”


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Taylour is from California.

Taylour grew up Inglewood, California, with her older brother, Travis. She described what it was like to be raised in a primarily white community: “I got an auntie voice, my educated, white-school voice, my high school,” she told The New York Times. “When I say ‘white-educated,’ I’m not saying that being white is educated. I’m saying I went to a very white college. I was around a lot of white people, so that was a voice.”


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She trained as a dancer from a young age.

Taylour’s been dancing since she was two, per E! News. She began training at the Westside Ballet Academy and spent two summers dancing at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. Then, Taylour studied under Debbie Allen, a famous celebrity choreographer. She was a featured dancer in Allen’s piece Pearl, and she performed in every one of Allen’s pieces from 2001-2009.

Taylour started dancing professionally and worked for a few years as a Los Angeles Laker Girl, per The New York Times. “Because I’ve given myself grace, I have a different availability to the roles that I always wanted. Before I was auditioning for my personality and auditioning for a role. So, everybody was lying,” she said.


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“I think that naturally I’m very conscious of my body because I’m a dancer first,” she tells Women’s Health. “Of course, I want to be aware of my body, but I don’t want to be conscious of it, and where I place it and my hand. I zoom in, and I’m really just overly critical of myself.”

Playing Zola helped Taylour find her confidence.

Once the movie got off the ground, Taylour realized that Zola wasn’t just another movie role. She says playing Zola boosted her confidence personally and as an actress. “It was like, ‘Wow, you guys think I can do this?'” she tells WH. “‘Well, I know I think I can do this, too, but like y’all really think I can do this?’ And then it was like me to me, ‘You can do this. This is why it’s come to you. What’s meant for you will never miss you and here you go.'”

To prepare for the movie, Taylour worked as a stripper for a month.

Zola tells the true story of Aziah “Zola” King, based on a thread of Tweets King wrote about a falling out she had with a fellow stripper, per People. To get in character, Taylour worked at Crazy Girls as a stripper in L.A., she tells Women’s Health. “The best dancers and strippers that I watched, they were just, like, free,” she said.

“This is a job, it’s selling an experience, and it’s freeing really. I think I started off looking like Bambi on ice, and then I finally kind of expanded into someone who was like, ‘Who cares?,’ and just learned how to walk, learn how to talk, learned how to say less… learned how to just flow.”

Taylour says the experience also helped her embrace Zola’s character: “So that was like, ‘Okay, now I am ready, my ego is out of the way, and now I can serve a guest story, and I now can allow spirit into places because if I’m doing all these voices and I’m doing all this insecurity and bullsh*t, then I’m not even being the character. I’m being Taylour with these insecurities trying to play a character.”


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Taylour even saw a little of herself in Zola.

Spending a month in a stripper’s tall heels made Taylour recognize the similarities between her own situation and Zola’s. “I just think, like, when you’re a stripper, and you’re getting money, and you have a job to do, and you have a mouth or any mouths to feed, and you got rent to pay, which is essentially like where I was at,” she tells Women’s Health.

“I was kind of holding, like you do indies and indies don’t pay very much, so I’m like in between. Like, I did an indie, did a couple of things and then it was like, all right, I’m waiting to go shoot Zola, I need the money so I’m in the same space as a lot of people are in where you’re like… I don’t know what I’m gonna do, I can’t afford my car payment, my car is getting repossessed. Like, fuck it,” she said.


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For Taylour, Zola was cathartic.

Taylour tells Women’s Health that Zola came at a key time in both in her personal life and in her career. Everything around me felt like it was falling apart. I was shedding a lot of trauma and relationships and friendships and let downs and rejection and just like really being like, okay, but you’re still worthy, you’re still here,” she said. “I just would refuse to audition for things, even though I really needed the money, or I would just work all these random odd jobs because I was like ‘No, I know what stories I want [to tell].'”

“But I think by the time [Zola] came around, it felt validating that if you are patient with yourself, and you are trusting with yourself, the right thing can find you,” Taylour continues. “And the funny thing was Janicza had seen me in a cafe, like, a whole year before. So it’s just trusting that there’s a net and trusting that your soul knows what it’s doing. I was supposed to play her.”


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Taylour says Zola pushed her to pursue more meaningful projects. “What does it look like if I just figure out between me and me what is it that I want to do?” she tells WH. “How is it that I want to wake up? What are the projects that are going to align with that, which is really just feeling free and loved, and free to love and free to explore.”

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