Terrence Terrell is an actor with tons of charm. Over the years, he’s stood out in roles on shows like Bosch and the BET original series Bigger. He's currently playing Eli Russel on CBS’s B Positive. Terrell took home the Daytime Emmy Award in 2019 for his portrayal of Kwasi in the series Giants. His role challenged the common stereotypes of Black men in regards to sexuality, masculinity, and mental health. Off-screen, Terrell himself strives to redefine and expand his idea of what being a "man" is.
It’s his vulnerability that greets you when you speak with him. There’s an approachable nature that one might attribute to his Mississippi upbringing. He’s purposefully transparent about the paths he has taken. Plus, he's also a self-published children's author. His first book Blacky (Be Loving Caring and Adoring Always), was his personal story of childhood self-love and acceptance. Although unintentional, you might call him a modern-day renaissance man.
Ahead, Terrell discusses his experiences with self-image, weekly beauty rituals, and how he uses reinvention as a form of self-care.
When was the first time you could look in the mirror and feel a sense of confidence in your appearance?
It had to be when I was in the process of writing my first book Blacky. It’s so funny. When we’re children, we’re taught to put these barriers up like "Don’t do this. You can’t cry. You’re a boy. Get up and keep it moving!" We’re put into boxes. Then when you grow up everybody is trying to find and come back to self. We knew who we were a long time ago. It was the year after that book. I did a lot of soul-searching and worked on myself. I finally saw myself in the mirror. When you can finally face yourself in the mirror, tell yourself how much you love yourself and really mean it. I was 31; that’s when I did all that great stuff.
As an actor in Hollywood, have you been able to identify with the concept of beauty?
When I did Giants, I remember a scene between myself and Sean Samuels (who wonderfully played Ade). When they first told me about that role, I thought, "there’s no way I’m going to get this right." He’s tall and dark. I’m tall and dark. That’s a lot of lighting and work. But it was the most beautiful work I’ve done. Specifically because of the lighting and the way it came together. I remember watching the park scene. I saw the colors, and I was like, "Wow!" It was a really beautiful picture. I’ve since aimed to present myself in that way so that people can capture what we were able to capture on Giants."
Films like Moonlight opened up that conversation about lighting Black actors in a proper way for their appearance and artistic.
Even now on B Positive with the way that they light me, they make sure they take care of me. They take their time, even with makeup. They keep [my complexion] true to who I am. I enjoy that. They’re doing a really great job.
How were you able to find empowerment in your overall self-image?
After losing several members of my family, I started to realize that I only have one life. I only have one body. I was trying to be the standard I thought people wanted from me—not who I wanted to be. Eventually, I started living my life and taking care of myself. This vessel that we’re in is a blessing to have. I’m finding new things about myself each day. That comes with beauty and just being a man. Specifically, my definition of a man as opposed to what people told me it should be.
What inspired you to self-publish books dedicated to children?
The first book started with me making diary entries. I was just writing. Then I realized it was an ugly duckling story and that it was a children’s book. A lot of adults are set in their ways. Children are the key to the future. They’re very knowledgeable. Many of the schools I went to were in poorer neighborhoods like I grew up in. I didn’t have any men who looked like me come to my school [to encourage us]. So to step into that space, you can just see the kids' eyes light up. They can see what they can grow up to be. That’s why I started doing this.
Do you have any rituals for maintaining your mental health and wellness at home?
I’m a Virgo, so my space has to be organized. I always fill my home with fragrances like orange and eucalyptus. There’s always a lavender-scented candle burning. I burn sage once a month. I’m always recharging. I work out every day, even if it's a jog. Working out helps me a lot mentally. At the same time, I know when to relax. I sleep a lot.
Let’s talk about your skincare and beauty rituals.
When I was growing up, my skin was very oily, so I had a lot of acne. I started getting microdermabrasion because I thought something was wrong with my skin. I just needed to find the right products. Now I exfoliate regularly. When I'm on set, I’m always asking the makeup artists questions about what they're using. I'm in makeup Wednesday through Friday, so every two weeks, I get a facial. I go to Dawne Gordan Millenium Day Spa in Inglewood. It’s a Black-owned business, and she knows [everything about] skin. I love the vitamin C mask and the oxygen mask. She’s amazing!
How do you maintain your beard in between being on set?
I wash and condition my beard regularly. I comb it and treat it like it's the hair on my head. I make sure it’s cleansed and moisturized. I cut it short once or twice a year so it can grow back stronger and healthier. I maintain it myself, so when I’m on set, they’re like, "You’re good to go!" The same goes for my skin. Drinking water and eating right helps as well.
What about maintaining your hair?
My barber Brandon Lam comes to me every Tuesday. We shoot the show Wednesday through Friday. I use conditioner, Murray’s pomade, and a durag at night so that my hair lays right. On my days off, I let my hair breathe. The only product I use is a deep conditioner. I was so blessed to be raised by amazing women. My grandmother taught me a lot about skin, hair, and how to take care of myself.
I was also raised by women, so I learned that self-care was nothing to be ashamed of.
Even as a teenager, I was into manicures and pedicures because my grandmother always did that. I still do that today. But, of course, you can’t just focus on your face. There’s a whole body waiting to be taken care of. Your environment is important as well. Even making your bed in the morning is a beauty ritual.
I know Eddie Murphy and Boomerang inspired you. How would you like to inspire people who may be watching you as they grow up?
That’s a tricky question. I remember watching Boomerang with all those suits and outfits. It was just the swag that Eddie had; there was an energy that came with his look. I thought, "Oh, I have to look like that." That's when I started getting into my hair and things like that. When it comes to my life and career, I want to let other men know that it’s ok to be vulnerable. Being a man is what you make it. At the same time, grooming is important. Know who you are and take care of yourself.
You’ve talked about wanting to play legendary soul singer Teddy Pendergrass. Who would you want to direct the film? Would you also produce it?
I see Lee Daniels directing it or even Whoppi Goldberg. She understands stories. I would love to produce it. I’d also love to direct it myself. Growing up, my mom always mentioned Teddy Pendergrass. He went through so much, trying not to be seen. I also remember trying to fit in by not being seen. Eventually, he came into himself and stepped up to the front. To go from that to a sex symbol, and then his accident. His story is very complex.
You’ve spoken a lot about reinvention. Why is that important to you?
In this life, you have to be reborn a few times like the phoenix rising. I started an exercise where I put my name in a circle. Then I’d write down what I wanted that name to mean and that I saw in comparison [to what others saw]. In doing that, I realized that there are certain things we have to shed. It's cool to be who you are now, but you have to challenge yourself and discover something new about yourself.
[Writer's note: Before getting off the call, Terrell noticed my blue-gray nails.]
I love your nails. I was always fascinated by guys who would paint their nails. When you see something different, you know it’s not scary. It’s just new. You know it’s cool even if it’s not for you. It's a [sense of] freedom. I’d wonder, "Who made up the rules?" Who cares what anyone thinks of you? They’re always going to find something to talk about. Be free.