Many of us became acquainted with Kayla Cromer last year when she appeared on our television screens as 17-year-old Matilda in Everything's Gonna Be Okay. The Freeform coming-of-age series follows Matilda, her sister Maeve, and her half-brother and newly-appointed guardian Nicholas as they navigate the loss of their father and young adulthood. In addition to its heartfelt moments, viewers have praised the show for its authentic and accurate portrayal of neurodiversity. Matilda is on the Autism spectrum, and her experiences and point of view are thoughtfully centered throughout the show.
Cromer was able to bring much of herself to the role as she is also on the Autism spectrum. In doing so, she has broken barriers as one of the first people on the Autism spectrum to play a leading character on the spectrum. The experience of playing Matilda has not only catapulted Cromer's confidence to new levels, but it has also allowed her to help people of all ages on the spectrum finally feel "seen."
"Authentic representation matters to viewership, how society views disability, and for talent that deserves the opportunity to audition," she says. "The show has changed the narrative of what autism looks like. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay started a remarkable turning point in the entertainment industry and inclusion."
On the heels of the season two finale, Cromer hopped on Zoom to reflect on the powerful impact of the show. She also opened up about making an impact in Hollywood, her career aspirations, and sensory-friendly makeup.
What has the past year been like for you?
The 2020 pandemic shut down the entertainment industry just as I was launching, which hit me hard mentally. I live alone and felt completely alone. I went through a breakup during that period, and I just wanted to hug my friends. It's healthy to actively process our feelings. It's hard, don't get me wrong, but it's important for emotional growth. Fitness at home and outdoor hiking were my stress relievers.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay's second season concluded in June. When you first found out about the role of Matilda, what did you think?
I was speechless at first. [A casting call] seeking an on-the-spectrum actress was something I had never seen. They sent me the pilot script, and I instantly fell in love with the character Matilda. I knew I had to put all of myself into booking this role.
Did you always dream of being an actress? Did you have other aspirations?
No, not always. I am fascinated with criminal profiling, forensics, and true crime. I am literally a true-crime encyclopedia. I also feel strongly about victims' advocacy too. Mariska Hargitay's path with Law & Order SVU and her Joyful Heart Foundation is amazing. It strongly exemplifies what I believe in—using my career to help others, not just myself. Being a part of a TV series or feature film about solving homicides or a kick-ass victim who takes down her attacker is also something I am down for.
What has been the best part of working on the show?
It has been amazing collaborating with Freeform and Disney's PR team on their diversity and inclusion brand. Doing so has built up my confidence, and I feel freer to be me. I love teamwork and working together to create. I cherish acting and working much more now.
What is a typical day on set like?
The call time was usually 5 am. Then, I'd head off to makeup and hair. I'd go over lines while they're making me camera-ready. The wardrobe department has the day's outfits in our dressing room waiting. So, I'd get dressed for the scene, head out to the set for rehearsal, and then shoot the scenes. You can also have waiting periods on set, and I like to run over lines at that time.
Do you have a favorite memory from season two?
The scene where Matilda and Genevieve are lying in bed talking about penises. It was awkward having the conversation being filmed, but it was real talk amongst two sisters. It was hilarious at times because I view Maeve as my real sister.
You often receive comments from people inspired by your confidence and commitment to amplifying inclusivity in Hollywood. What is it like to receive those kinds of responses and be viewed as a role model?
Having people of all ages send me fan mail, DM's, and comments really can pull on your heartstrings. There's a little girl with Autism who calls me "Princess Kayla." Her mom has assisted her in being my pen pal. Being a role model is an honor I take seriously, and it's wonderful to represent those seeking acceptance and inclusion on the big and small screen.
When you think about the legacy you wish to leave in the entertainment industry, what impact do you hope to make?
Since the Freeform Summit in 2019, I honestly feel communication amongst entertainment company CEOs has opened more conversations regarding inclusions and diversity. Being in the industry amplifies your voice, and many are now using that platform to speak about mental health, victims' rights, gender identity, sexual orientation, and visible and hidden disabilities. I want the entertainment industry to keep pace with the changing landscape and demographics we live in and for casting to reflect the beauty of our rapidly diversifying world.
Beyond the show, what are some of your career dreams?
One of my dreams is to do beauty print campaigns for brands like Urban Decay, Too Faced, Becca, Anastasia. Being a part of a Dior Beauty campaign would be a dream come true. In acting, I want to show my range and do a variety of genres. Method acting is one of my favorite styles, and I'd be so down to transform into a character or physically train for an empowering woman role. I want to be part of a film where women take the reins on-camera and behind the scenes.
What are some of your other interests outside of acting?
I love to go urban exploring and investigate places for paranormal activity. I am really into fitness—whether it's home workouts, outdoor fitness adventures, or the gym. I also belong to an animal rescue group and someday want a rescued French Bulldog. I like cooking and meal prepping with fresh, unprocessed ingredients. It is turning into a passion when time allows. I haven't had the privilege of traveling. When I have time, I want to travel the world and explore.
I know you’re into skincare—you’re a Youth to the People ambassador. What’s your skincare routine like?
I have rosacea, and skincare is very important to me. It's so important to feed your skin from within. I eat antioxidant-rich fruit, vegetables, healthy fish, and nuts. I drink lots of water too. When I am on set, my skin goes through a lot. I can be in heavy makeup all day [on set], and makeup artists often do touch-ups during that day too. So, the first thing I do is clean my face. I like the Honest Beauty Makeup Remover Facial Wipes ($8) or Magic Gel-to-Milk Makeup Melting Cleanser ($18). I also like to switch between the Honest Beauty Calm On Foaming Cream Cleanser ($18) and Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Face Cleanser ($11).
After cleansing in the morning, I use the Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum ($68). I follow it up with the Honest Beauty Everyday Radiance Moisturizer ($23) and Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($20-$34), and their Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50 ($10-$58). When my skin gets stressed from food or makeup, I turn to my Aphrona LED Facial Skin Care Mask ($150). It helps destroy pimple-causing bacteria and inflammation. I love sheet masks, and my all-time favorite is the No. 7 Restore & Renew Multi-Action Face & Neck Serum Boost Sheet Mask ($4)
My current nighttime cream is Youth to the People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream ($58). My face feels so hydrated using it. My other nighttime favorites are the Youth to the PeopleSuperberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask with Vitamin C ($48).
In the show, your character has a fairly natural beauty look. Is that how you approach makeup in real life as well? Do you have any go-to makeup products?
On my off days, I try to wear no makeup. I only wear moisturizer and sunscreen to give my skin a break. For make-up days, I keep it natural. Many girls on the spectrum ask me about cosmetic scents, textures, and brushes. My advice is to search for the texture and scents that work for them and do not trigger their sensory issues. Vegan, clean products work well.
Brushes are an investment for me, and texture matters too. Too Faced has some vegan bristle, cruelty-free "teddy bear hair" brushes. E.l.f. Cosmetics also has nice eye brushes. Urban Decay has some bold eye palettes I love. Charlotte Tilbury's Light Wonder Foundation ($46) is my go-to for sheer and natural-looking coverage. I also use Anastasia Beverly Hills' brow kits, stick blush, and lip balms. Tarte has cruelty and latex-free lashes. These falsies are very gentle on the eyes and add a pop for special evenings. Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara ($27) or Tarte Sugar Rush Mascara ($23) both lengthen and curl perfectly. For just a dab of scent, Skylar's Vanilla Sky Rollie ($29) does the trick.