Joy Bryant on Starring in HBO’s ‘Ballers’, Marriage Tips, Playing Drums, and More

'Good Girls Revolt' New York Screening
'Good Girls Revolt' New York Screening D Dipasupil / Getty Images

Ballers star Joy Bryant, who dropped out of Yale to become a Victoria’s Secret model, talks long-distance marriage and the upside of smoking weed.

You’re starring with the Rock on HBO’s Ballers. Are you a sports fan in real life?

I know how football works, and basketball, and hockey even, but I just watch the playoffs. Tennis is the sport I really care about. I’m all about Serena. My best friend and I made a pact—it’s on our bucket list as best friends—to go to all of the Grand Slams. We want to fly first class to the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon.

How did you get so into tennis?

Well, I played a little in high school, but I was really, really crappy at it. I actually was better at squash. It’s weird that I played squash at all—I grew up a poor, poor kid in the South Bronx, but I got a scholarship to this swanky boarding school in Connecticut, where I learned how to play both.

Would you describe yourself as athletic or outdoorsy?

I was a city kid, so I didn’t know anything about the outdoors. I loved looking at the stars, and I rollerbladed through the city— that’s about as outdoorsy as I was back in the day. It’s fairly new for me, in terms of the last 10 years.

 

And now?

I hike all the time, and about 10 years ago I learned how to surf when I dated this hot surfer. My husband is very outdoorsy— he’s a stuntman who grew up in Washington state and was an Eagle Scout. One of the things we first connected over was snowboarding, which I didn’t start until I moved to California. He grew up that way, but I just sort of discovered these things later on in life.

Speaking of your husband [Dave Pope] being a stuntman, do you worry about him getting injured when he goes off to work?

Not really. On set it’s all calculated risks that are very well thought out, planned, and choreographed. Honestly, I’m more worried for him when he’s on his motorcycle, just going from point A to point B in the city.

Do you ever ride with him?

Hell no! Not interested.

You’ve been married for a decade. What keeps it fresh?

You’ve got to do your own thing. I mean, two days after our wedding, he went to a job in Morocco and I went to do a pilot in Vancouver, and we were apart for three months. Even now, I just got back from being away for two weeks, and before that, he was away for two months. There are plenty of people who spend every single day together and hate each other or get divorced. Maybe a little bit of time away isn’t a bad thing.

You’ve been open about not wanting to have kids.

We’re hearing more about women who are childless by choice. The expectations that are put on women in this society are that you’re supposed to look a certain way; you’re supposed to get married; you’re supposed to have a baby. Who determines these things? Why do they even care? I can decide my reproductive destiny. My mother didn’t have a choice.

You left Yale to model for Victoria’s Secret. That’s an unusual career path.

I was a poor kid from the Bronx. Going to an Ivy League school was supposed to be my end-all. But I was completely burned out and emotionally spent. Looking back on it now, it was the riskiest decision I ever made.

Did you stand out in both worlds?

There was definitely an impression of models back then that you’re dumb, just a mannequin with a pretty face and a nice body. I remember being on shoots where people were talking to me like I was an idiot. One editor asked me whether I’d finished high school, and once I told her I went to Yale, the way she dealt with me for the rest of the day was completely different. I always got a kick out of that. I love when people think I’m stupid.

You’ve Instagrammed a photo of your weed jar. Are you a big smoker?

I’m in my major pot smoker phase. It’s crazy how things have changed after it became legal [in California]. But I’m damn sure glad that I’m not in my 20s as it’s being legalized. I smoked a lot of weed back in the day, but I think that being an adult, I can deal with it in a way that I definitely would not have been able to when I was in my 20s.

How is it different at 43?

It’s not so much of a party thing for me. It helps me enhance that creative state. I smoke, and it unlocks a door—I want to write, I want to create. I want to brainstorm. And I want to play drums.

You play the drums?

Drums have always been my favorite instrument, so taking lessons was on my bucket list. It’s not like I’m trying to be in a band—I’m just learning for myself. It’s never too late to learn something new. To sit down at a drum set now, three years later, and actually play something that doesn’t suck? That’s cool.