“I try to check myself when I need to,” says actress Kyla Pratt. That’s what keeps her grounded in an industry—and a world—that can often be relentless.
Since 2001, Pratt has been the voice of Penny Proud, the widely loved star of animated comedy The Proud Family, in addition to playing a slew of roles in projects including One on One, The Dr. Dolittle franchise and Love & Basketball. These days, you’ll find Pratt on television screens as Randi in the new sitcom Call Me Kat. She’s also back as Penny Proud in the reboot, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
“Not a lot of artists get to play a character and then 20 years later get to revisit that character,” says Pratt. “We don’t always necessarily see our growth and notice how we’re growing.”
And the veteran actress has grown in more ways than in her career. Now a mother to Liyah, 8, Lyric, 11, and her “bonus baby” son who is 15, family is prime. But prioritizing herself, says Pratt, is also high on her to-do list. “Nothing is more important than my sanity,” says Pratt. “I think a lot of people forget that. You have to make sure your mind is set up right before you can venture off and try to do anything else.”
With Sweet July, Pratt chats about her life as a mom, how she continues to stay grounded in work and in life, and her thoughts on The Proud Family being back on television screens.
You entered the acting spotlight at a very early age. How do you stay grounded through it all?
I come from a very big family. I was never put on a pedestal. It was like, “Okay, you’ve done your [acting] work now come home and clean your room.” I’m very lucky in that way. I went to regular school, and I surrounded myself with real people. Individual people who love me for me. I’ve always known that I am a person with an extraordinary job and I’m very blessed and fortunate to be able to do something that I love to do. But I don’t want to lose myself in anything. I just want to make sure that I’m enjoying life to the fullest. I am Kyla outside of what I do for a living.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day because she works with a lot of different people in the industry. I’m from LA, I was born here. You get all these people that come to LA and they speak poorly about people from LA and it’s like, “No, no, no, it’s the people who come here and pretend like they have to do something different.” Don’t get it twisted.
People were so excited to find out that The Proud Family reboot was happening. How did you feel when you discovered you’d be voicing Penny Proud again?
I didn’t realize as a kid what type of impact Penny Proud and The Proud Family was going to have on everyone around me. This type of cartoon wasn’t on television. As I got older, I realized that; that this was rare. It just made so much sense that we continue to show representation in every kind of way. I really feel like when you are growing up or coming of age or even grown, when you watch something and you see someone who looks like you or acts like you or talks like you or just has the same vibe or has the same type of crazy relative, it helps you feel seen and makes you feel like you’re not alone. I think mentally, that’s empowering—something as small as a cartoon on Disney+. I think the ultimate goal was to do the same thing, to be the same type of show and be unapologetically us.
Have you watched the show with your kids?
Oh, yeah, I started them years ago. I put on The Proud Family movie for them just to see if they could recognize my voice when they were really young and they did. That was an amazing feeling. Then Disney+ added the show to their streaming services a couple years ago, and then they binge-watched those. They were very excited about the new one. My eight-year-old played the trailer literally 100 times to the point where I was tired of hearing myself. And now every week, my youngest daughter’s like, “Mom, there’s a new episode on.” She even asked me, “They just announced the second season—is it ready?”
I think that [the show] is opening their minds up to understanding that there’s not one type of person in the world, and that we should all respect each other and be kind to one another. And that even if we don’t understand something completely, we can still have love for someone. If you don’t have these conversations with your kids, somebody on the outside is, or they might learn from somewhere.
As you continue to grow as a mother, actress and person, what are some of your biggest values?
Family. The people I’m leaving a legacy with. Then there’s my mental health and physical health. Kindness—but I also let people know, “Don’t play with me.” Those are the things that I value: being a human being to other people and not forgetting that none of us are perfect. Not judging others because of certain situations. Then it’s about sitting back and being like, “Alright, remember what you preach.”