To many, Tanzyn Crawford might be considered new on the block. Funnily enough, however, the same could be said for her on-screen persona, Rae Kincade, who makes her debut on Hulu’s original limited series, Tiny Beautiful Things.
Adapted from the best-selling book penned by Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Thingsfollows Clare — a struggling writer dealing with a crumbling marriage and a daughter who is seemingly pushing her away. Yet what Tiny Beautiful Thingshappens to capture so effortlessly is just that: finding light and beauty in the pockets of trauma often considered unfit for a movie-style plot. This, in particular, drew Crawford herself to the project, who – through Rae’s character – was able to digthrough her own pockets. Whether that be the actor’s own struggles with her identity, both in terms of her race and sexuality, or her ability to finally find her voice in an industry she often struggled to fit into, Crawford’s participation in the project proves to be one of enlightenment, reflection and growth.
Sitting down with Rollacoaster, excited and so trustingly unfiltered, Crawford takes us through her (albeit just starting) journey so far, the rises and falls that rested in between, and the beautiful things that are still yet to come…
Hey Tanzyn! How has this year been so far for you?
It has been so crazy so far. I really can't believe that Tiny Beautiful Things is actually out in the world right now. It felt so personal making it that now you know everyone else gets to see it feels like a very unusual experience. I've had so many like people message me on Instagram to say how much they relate to a character and to Rae, it's really something special. This year has just started off great. Plus, I had a really amazing Australian summer before I came to rainy LA. What are we in now, spring or something? I don't know. But yeah, overall really good.
We wanted to know a little bit about your background, what was your experience like growing up?
I was born in Perth, Australia, and I pretty much spent the majority of my life growing up there. I just kind of dipped back and forth between my family in Indiana and Perth. But it was just my mum, my sister and I — we were like a tiny little three-unit. But I had a really happy time growing up. You know, my mum's just a single mum, so we didn't have a lot of money but she always did everything that she could for me and I had a lot of hobbies. I started dancing when I was really young and I also played basketball and violin… I played soccer for a little bit too. So whatever I wanted to do, my mum was always very supportive. And then my sister is two years older than me, so we had a relationship where I’d follow her around and copy everything that she did for the first 13 years of my life. Of course, we had like rocky times every family does, but my childhood was super fun.
What view did you have of your future? Did you always want to get into acting?
I didn't really have any view of my future. I didn't really think about acting until later on, like I did some acting in primary school, then when I went to high school, I only went for like a year and a half before I started being homeschooled. So I didn't really have any options of doing acting in high school. I auditioned for short films and stuff here and there around Perth, but it’s not a very “entertainment industry” kind of city. My sister and I were in commercials when we were younger, but I didn't really get to choose whether to do that or not. I went to university, and I studied wildlife biology and conservation, so that was what I was envisioning my future to be. I really wanted to be a zoologist. But then, you know, one of my friends was like, “Yeah, I'm trying out for this acting school, I have always liked acting. So let me give it a go.” It's hard to see yourself in a career like this because it seems so out of reach sometimes. So it probably wasn't until I like graduated from that acting school in 2021 that I was like, “Oh! It could happen!” When I got my first manager, which was two weeks after I graduated, it became a real career choice. So yeah, I would say I didn't see myself acting until around two, two and a half years ago… ish.
Huge congratulations on booking Tiny Beautiful Things! What drew you to the project initially?
I auditioned for this in early 2022, and at that point, I had been auditioning for stuff for like six months. I had gotten maybe one role that was a specific mixed-race role. A lot of the roles that I get are either just a person of colour or specifically Black or open ethnicity. I don't really get a lot where it’s Black OR white. So I was super excited about that. When I read the script, it felt like a normal argument that my mum and I have heard a million times, which is what I really loved. You know, because my mum is also white — it just felt so normal and so real. Even auditioning for it, it felt like therapy almost, you know, you get to say all of these things seven years later that you wish you would have said to your mum in an argument when you were 16. So I was really inspired by how normal it felt.
Did you always have your eyes set on the role of Rae Kincade?
The only role that I auditioned for was Rae. So the second I got it, I just felt like it was something special and something that I could really sink my teeth into. It was such a special project right away. After I did my initial audition, I was actually in Philadelphia when I filmed that, and then by the time I got back to LA, I got a callback and then every time I would wait for the next stageto find out if I made it through I would do all my manifesting. So I was just like really trying to think, “At least if I don't get this role I know it's not because of my race. It just means there’s some other slay mix girl out there that's gonna crush the role." I found that really comforting. That was another thing I really liked about this audition, sometimes when you go into an open ethnicity casting, you're thinking, “Oh, maybe my hair's too ethnic for them." Or maybe if it's a Black role, I’ll think I'm too light-skinned. So it was reassuring to know if I didn’t get it, it wasn’t anything to do with any of that.
Rae has so many layers, representing narratives on sexuality, race, familial dynamics, how were you able to personally resonate with her to find her character?
Rae does have a lot of layers, and I really love that she has a lot of individuality in the story. She has our own storyline which I super love, but I definitely resonated with that because I was also a 16-year-old girl that was confused about my sexuality and felt uncomfortable. Like I was saying before, auditioning did feel like therapy, but then filming made me feel like I could have free reign over my life at that point again. Now instead, what actually went down right yeah, but sorry, I'm just rereading the question. There was nothing about Rae in the book, so I feel like I really got to build something from day one — the writing was also immaculate. So I had such a good level to start with, dialogue-wise, but I really felt like I could insert my own life experiences into this character. So yeah, I definitely connected with her a lot.
What was your favourite thing about playing Rae?
My favourite thing about Rae would probably be how even in the midst of all of this family chaos she was having, she is true to herself and is not afraid to show the hand that she has right now. She's not hung up on having to be this one thing right now. I feel like she feels it's okay to still be figuring things out. And I really liked that about her and I also admire how much she's able to express her own opinion, which is something I didn't really have at 16, including about my sexuality. So I think that's a really honourable trait in a teenager.
Your character is also described as an introvert… Would you say you are the same or the opposite?
I'm like a heavy mix of both. I mean, I really love socialising and going out with my friends, but I'm super happy to sit at home by myself. I live by myself, so I do spend a lot of time alone and I feel like that’s where I’m at my happiest, so that's probably an indication that I'm an introvert. But if you put me in a group of people that are extroverts, then I will also be an extrovert.
Have you ever felt pressured to “fit in”, whether that be your personal life or within your career?
Absolutely I have. Throughout primary school I was very confused about myself. I was mostly surrounded by my white mum and her white family and I didn't look like them. I basically denied my ethnicity for the first 11 years of my life basically. And I would tell people that like people would ask me all the time what I was and I would say, “I'm African American, Australian, but I'm not really African American or I'm more Australian.” I was very confused about who I was for a long time. I pretended to be straight for so long, I only came out when I was 21. So not even two years ago. However, I didn't really grow up in America and I didn't grow up around African American people, so sometimes I do feel like I don't have the experience of, you know, an authentic African American family. I've spent a long time just trying to fit into what other people wanted. And also, you know, with my acting as well, I feel like I'm always trying to figure out where I can sit when it comes to being mixed.
The series itself covers themes that go hand-in-hand with Rae’s own circumstances from grief to mother/daughter relationships… But what do you think is the overall message of Tiny Beautiful Things?
That is such a tricky question because there's so much going on in this series. I feel like it really depends on the person, I think. I gave the book to my mum to read and you know, we read it and we were talking about the stories or whatever and we were both coming to different conclusions. So I think it really just depends on what you're needing in life right now. For me, what I would say is that it's okay to accept every piece of yourself even if those pieces are filled with trauma. They make up who you are and you are a collection of your whole life. So you've got to round up all those pieces and try and make a full person.
What was it like working with Liz Tigelaar and the huge array of EPs?
She's the coolest person ever in the world, so it was so wonderful working with her. She was in every audition every callback that I did. And then when I finally met her, she was so kind and warm. I feel like she's a cool aunt that I have now, you know? I just love how many women we had on the show, it was wicked. Everyone felt like it was just such a nice, warm environment. It wasn’t like all of the EPS were coming in and invading you every episode if that makes sense.
Do you have a favourite moment from filming?
I really loved the last episode of the show when it's like all the horses and stuff — that was so special. That whole scene I was like the coolest thing ever. Catherine and I would just like lay snuggled up in the blankets in between takes and there was this one song that she would sing to me. We made this playlist together to listen to on set and whatever. And there was one song in it that was really special and she was singing it to me. It was 2 AM with all these horses around and it was really special. So that's definitely up there.
Has the project taught you anything in particular?
Oh that's such a good one. I feel like I've learned so much from this. I mean everyone on this set was just very experienced. I asked for so much advice. I was very unsure of myself in the beginning, and honestly at the end as well. But I realised slowly that people want your opinions on set. They wanted my opinion about how she speaks and how she exists with her Black family and how she talks to her Black dad versus her white mum and how she decorated her room and I just never realised that I could have so much of a voice on set. So that was really great.
What’s next for you? Do you have your sights set on anything in particular?
I would super love my next thing that I do to be something Australian where I can use my own accent — that would be really cool. Yeah, but I'm just auditioning for things and I don't really have any one thing in mind right now. It's just the next thing that comes that really speaks to me the way Tiny Beautiful Things did. I am going to assess it and take notes and see what comes from me, you know?
Words and interview by Ella West
Photography by Jonny Marlow