Hailey Kilgore Says She “Never Felt Worthy Enough” to Lead a Movie Before “Cinnamon”

Zac Popik/Fox for Tubi

Hailey Kilgore is finally ready for her leading-lady moment. After scoring breakthrough roles in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” and Starz’s “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” the 24-year-old actor and singer is commanding attention on the big screen as the star of “Cinnamon.” The Tubi Blaxploitation-inspired thriller, written and directed by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr., features Kilgore as Jodi, whose aspirations resemble the actor’s own as a singer who dreams of chart-topping success. The film – which premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival – marks Kilgore’s first time anchoring a movie project, which she admittedly tells POPSUGAR is something she’s yearned to do for a while but “never really had the full confidence” to pursue.

“I never felt worthy enough to do it,” she shares, adding that her belief was mainly fueled by being a “young Black woman in an industry where [I’m overlooked] if I don’t fit a very specific thing.” “It just makes things a little bit more challenging,” she explains. “I’m not depressed over that. It’s just the truth of the industry. But it does creep into your mind like, ‘Am I worthy of being able to do something like that?’ But I did it, so I guess I have the answer now.”

“It was like I get to live this pop star dream with my Ariana Grande pony and my bright red nails.”

Kilgore stars in “Cinnamon” with “The Summer I Turned Pretty”‘s David Iacono, who plays her love interest, Eddie. Together, the two scheme to make Jodi’s music dreams a reality by staging a heist at her place of work, a gas station where her shady boss (played by Damon Wayans) has a stash of money hidden away. But when their robbery plan goes horribly wrong, the Bonnie and Clyde pair finds themselves being hunted by a ruthless family determined to make them pay for the crime – which turns Jodi’s goal of a music career into a literal fight for her life.

As with the rest of her breakout roles so far, Kilgore says she was “so excited” to, once again, merge her passions for both singing and acting in “Cinnamon.” “Anytime there’s an opportunity for me to sing, I’m very happy,” she says sweetly. “I love singing. I do have goals of doing straight plays or projects that don’t incorporate singing as much, as well. But definitely, when I read the script and it said that [Jodi] wanted to be a singer, I was so excited.”

Despite the fact that Kilgore’s character literally gets her hands dirty in the film, the actor says she was still ecstatic about experiencing the “glamorous” star treatment. “In ‘Power [Book III],’ I can’t even have my eyebrows done. It’s rough out here,” Kilgore shares. “So it was like I get to live this pop star dream with my Ariana Grande pony and my bright red nails.”

The hardest part about “Cinnamon,” though, was Kilgore shooting the movie in 18 days – and fresh off of filming the previous season of “Raising Kanan.” “I had no prep time,” she explains. “I literally had to film my last scene on a Friday, and my first day of filming [‘Cinnamon’] was the following Monday.” Which was “really intimidating” for Kilgore, because she had much more time to prepare for projects like “Respect.” “For this, that was not the case.”

“She really gave me the confidence to lead and I’m really grateful for that.”

Luckily, Kilgore had the support of Montgomery Jr., whom she calls an “awesome” director. She also leaned on “legendary” castmates Wayans and Pam Grier, a Blaxploitation icon. While Grier says very little in “Cinnamon” as a deaf character, she remained “an encyclopedia of knowledge” on set, according to Kilgore.

“I love her. All that she is, all of her stories,” the young star says of Grier. “She is an encyclopedia of strength and light and life. She is larger than life.”

Kilgore reveals that the two deeply related as Black female actors in Hollywood, and Grier even offered her some encouraging words as she stepped into her leading role. “She was like, ‘You were chosen. Embrace that and don’t be afraid of it. Run towards it. Don’t run away from it,'” Kilgore recalls. “She was like a mom. Even if she could sense that I was a little bit unsure, she would grab my hand and just look at me. . . . She really gave me the confidence to lead, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Kilgore doesn’t have too many expectations for audiences when they see “Cinnamon.” She just hopes viewers “find the heart in it” and “like my performance.” She does, however, believe the movie “truly does have something for everyone.” “If you love music, there’s that. If you love comedy, there’s that. If you love romance, we got that,” she says. “And heist, the thrill of the heist.” So buckle up, because “Cinnamon” is sure to take you on a wild ride.

“Cinnamon” begins streaming on Tubi on June 23.

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