Gugu Mbatha-Raw Takes Being a Role Model Seriously

Marie Claire Fresh Faces -Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zendaya, Kylie Jenner and Hailey Baldwin -H 2016
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Marie Claire

And this is why you should too.

Marie Claire's crop of "Fresh Faces" featured on a total of five May covers aren't so much new-to-the-scene-style talents. These ladies — (in alphabetical order, to be fair) Hailey Baldwin, Ellie Goulding, Kylie Jenner, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Zendaya — already have considerable name recognition to go with their freshly-printed covers.

That said, what is so fresh about them is their on-the-rise star power and growing influence over a new generation of women. Call it "a moment." That's what Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider does. "We always try to go for a mix of girls from TV and movies to music and modeling as well as the business of social media," she told Pret-a-Reporter on the press line at the mag's Sunset Tower-set cocktail party (featuring beats by celeb DJ Michelle Pesce) Monday night. "We really think about who is having a moment. Someone who is smart and sexy and fabulous."

Emphasis on the smart. Of the cover stars, Fulenwider explains: "I've admired Gugu's career for a long time; she has a thoughtful take on the industry. … Zendaya is very smart and focused and will go a long way. … Kylie, for all of the chaos that swirls around her, has a really good head on her shoulders. … Ellie Goulding's music is so beautiful and soulful. … Hailey is super smart and has a very strong foundation with her family."

Might as well add silent, too. Baldwin, Jenner and Zendaya declined all print/digital interview opportunities on the press line, presumably preferring to let their cover stories speak for them. (An absent Goulding is in the middle of her North American "Delirium" tour.) However, influence is a subject Mbatha-Raw easily opened up about, as did a handful of the night's other well-dressed attendees. 

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

How she uses her influence: "Role models come in every shape and form, and it's important for people to have something to aspire to, or an attitude that reflects your true self. So that's what I do. I take it very seriously."

Who influences her: "Meryl Streep is my ultimate. She's fantastic. I love and admire actresses like Helen Mirren, who have such longevity and are able to combine theater and film. Cate Blanchett. Actresses who are intelligent and not afraid to show it."

Cara Santana

How she uses her influence: "The younger generation is very discerning. They are looking for truth and what's organic and genuine. They can really feel the difference. I try and be me. It's all about authenticity."

Who influences her: "I'm always influenced by the people in my life — my mom, my friends. And so many others — it's a wide range, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Katharine Hepburn."

Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider

How she uses her influence: "We have a really empowering message. We love to celebrate women and their beauty — inside and out. It's not hard to spread that message. People are ready for that message. And our focus on social change — something we've always believed in — is really in fashion right now. I try to lead by example, give clear directions and tell people exactly what I think."

Who influences her: "My grandmother, who was a really fascinating, interesting Auntie Mame-type. She lived in New York her whole life, and died at age 102 a couple of years ago. She always approached life with a real joie de vivre and a sense of adventure. I've really been channeling her lately."

MAG MOMENTS: Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider and model Hailey Baldwin attend the "Fresh Faces" party celebrating May issue cover stars on April 11, 2016. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Marie Claire)

Actress Bailee Madison (Once Upon a Time)

How she uses her influence: "I wake up with the mentality that I'm so blessed to do this job and be given this platform. So I try to use it for good and be passionate about good things in the hope of inspiring someone who may be sitting in their bed in Oklahoma to jump up and do something they believe in to help change the world. This generation is so powerful and if we all come together, we can make a big impact."

Who influences her: "I've always loved Emma Stone. I love the fact that she's so vocal about what she believes in and even when she speaks out, she does it with such class. My mom and my sister also inspire me. Keeping your family close is important, and I've been fortunate to grow up in a women-filled family."

Comedian Iliza Shlesinger

How she uses her influence: "There's no reason to feel bad about yourself. There's no reason to be hard on yourself or hard on other women. If I can bring to light these issues through humor and through honesty, people will resonate with that. What always works: authenticity, honesty, being unabashedly proud of yourself and honest when things are not going great." 

Who influences her: "My mom, my friends, beautiful women. Women who are prettier than me, smarter than me, on a day to day basis women who don't give a f— and go out there and get it done. That influences me. And Tina Fey."

Actress Sarah Hay (Flesh and Bone)

How she uses her influence: "My entire social media focus is advocating others to be themselves. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do anything. In my early career as a dancer, I was told, 'You're not going to make it. You're too curvy.' I had tons of body shaming and I'm now in a place where I can finally use the power that I have as a woman to give to younger girls and encourage them to be themselves."

Who influences her: "I love Susan Sarandon. She's such a powerful, outspoken woman. With the Bernie (Sanders) campaign, she's right in the middle. It's very ballsy."