The actor, director and mother talks us through each of these vital roles in our brand new digital cover story.
An actor, by definition, does. On stage and screens big and small, actors laugh and cry, they seethe and ponder and they expertly shuffle through emotions without a second thought. But by that logic, anyone can act. It’s the performers whose roles stick with us, the creatives who inspire us, the thespians that change the industry. With nearly three decades in Hollywood under her proverbial belt, it’s no question that Kyla Pratt sits pretty amongst the latter: “I have loved the arts my entire life,” Pratt says. “I watched my mother perform at a young age and just fell in love.”
While she may have gotten her start smart-mouthing members of the Women’s National Basketball Association in a series of Nike commercials as a child in 1998 and popping up in one-off episodes of television shows like “Sister, Sister” and “Lizzie McGuire,” Pratt’s major “here I am!” moments came in 2001 and would change the course of her career as she knew it. Voicing Penny Proud on the Disney Channel animated series “The Proud Family” and starring as Breanna Latrice Barnes on the UPN family sitcom “One on One”—at the same time—solidified Pratt as a child star loved by viewers ranging from her age contemporaries to adults. Pratt knew then to keep her eyes on her craft, full stop, and still does today, she says as a 36-year-old mother of two.
“I think if you get distracted by the many other factors involved in being an entertainer, it becomes overwhelming, so my focus remains on the creative parts; the love hasn’t faded at all over the years.”
In the years since both shows ended in 2005 and 2006, Pratt has remained a nostalgic face and a welcomed presence in entertainment. She took a step back from acting between 2010 and 2015 to start a family with fiance Danny Kirkpatrick— daughters Lyric and Liyah are now 12 and 9, respectively—but her comedic timing and penchant for delivering side-splitting laughs have never been forgotten. Black Twitter was lighting up for a reason the night Pratt showed up in a 2020 episode of “Insecure,” and fans were both hooting and hollering when she cameoed in an episode of “A Black Lady Sketch Show” earlier this year.
Of what draws her to a particular role, Pratt says “It honestly depends on the project.” “I like to do anything I find challenging if I haven’t done it before, or if I know I haven’t been viewed in that way before, or a great story that I would love to be a part of telling it.”
Sometimes, a great story means going back to your roots, a move Pratt jumped at the chance to do when a reboot of The Proud Family was announced in 2020. The show during its original run was nominated for numerous NAACP Image Awards and Annie Awards; it’s also regarded as one of the Disney Channel’s most celebrated and memorable shows for its depiction of family, friendship and overall silliness.
“I was very excited about The Proud Family returning,” Pratt says. “I got a call from [executive producers] Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar asking what I thought about the possibility of us coming back and if I would be interested in playing Penny again. I jokingly said “What you mean, who else gonna play Penny?!” They laughed so hard. I just let them know I was absolutely on board.”
The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, like Pratt, has matured with the inclusion of modern technology, discussions around influencers and social justice, and the fun, sly adult reference, but largely retains its original spark and humor. “Our cartoon series has always addressed most subjects that many other shows shy away from,” she states. “We’re basically doing the same thing, but with everything that needs to be addressed nowadays.”
Outside of re-familiarizing herself with Penny’s signature sass, Pratt is back in front of the camera as a flesh and blood person: Randi, a waitress-turned-cat cafe co-owner on the Fox sitcom “Call Me Kat.” Both roles have her comedy chops working overtime, and while it’s familiar territory for the actor, it’s not her only interest.
“I have always loved both comedy and drama,” she says. “When I was younger, comedy was just what was thrown my way, and after a while, it felt like people forgot I could do both. People have a way of putting other people in boxes without realizing that’s what they are doing.” She admits being guilty of assumptions herself, but does her best not to make it a habit. “I don’t limit myself to future possibilities. As long as I can make viewers feel something emotionally, I don’t care what genre it is.”
Being able to continue learning about her preferences and goals nearly thirty years into her show business career continues to serve Pratt; these revelations have opened her eyes to other parts of the entertainment industry she wants to explore, including directing, scriptwriting and starting her own production company. “I have always written, but [I’m] just now getting comfortable with sharing my work,” Pratt shares. “The most recent I have decided to move forward with is directing. I’m very observant and have been watching so many things on so many sets for so many years, so it’s time to take everything I have learned and jump behind the scenes.”
But a workhorse Pratt is not. If there’s one thing she takes as seriously as her craft, it’s her mental health. Feelings of “uncertainty” began to stir on her after becoming a mother, feelings she says grew from “wanting to give [her] kids the best version of [herself]. It was after the birth of her daughter Liyah in 2013 that she began to be more vocal about her mental state. Luckily, Pratt says, “I think that we are having more conversations as a society about mental health and how important it is. And we just have to continue the conversations.”
“We have to identify the way certain things are set up in our society beginning in childhood that interfere with our mental health,” she stressed. “We are all human beings and need to be nicer to ourselves and each other.”
These days, Pratt has a better handle on keeping her mental health in a comfortable place. She worries less and goes with the flow. She listens to her body and takes breaks when she needs them. But most importantly, she monitors her energy around her daughters. “I realized that any energy I have will be passed on to my kids in one way or another. I can say whatever I want to them, but they watch my actions. If I want them to be the best version of themselves, I have to let them see me working on being the best version of myself.”
Kyla Pratt’s Call Me Kat and The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder are out now.