A graduate of Julliard, NCIS: New Orleans star Shalita Grant grew up craving diversity on the small screen.
When a performing arts high school opened in her then-home of Virginia, she decided to audition for the theater program. Little did she know that would be her first steps toward Hollywood.
From Virginia to Maryland to New York to L.A., Shalita Grant, 27, has had a crazy ride (and she’s not done yet!).
1. She Once Slapped Herself for an Audition
“When I was in high school, they opened an arts high school. I didn’t read music and I wasn’t a trained dancer, so I was like, ‘Ok, I guess I’ll go into acting.’ I asked my mom if she knew any plays for my audition, and the only one she knew was A Raisin in the Sun. She suggested that instead of doing a monologue, that I do a scene where I play both characters. So I did the scene between Mama and Beneatha when Beneatha tells Mama that she doesn’t believe in God, and Mama slaps her and says, ‘In my house, there’s always God.’ So I slapped myself, and I got into the school.”
2. She Had No Idea of Julliard’s Reputation When She Went There
“Toward the end of 11th grade, my acting teacher asked me if I was thinking about going to college. I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ He said, ‘You should audition to Julliard.” I was like, ‘What’s that?” I’m accepted to Julliard, and I realize within the first couple of weeks just how lucky I was to be in the program. I had received a scholarship and was at the crème de la crème of art schools in the country and had no idea.”
3. She Was Nominated for a Tony Award
“A few years after I graduated, I was doing a play in Boston and was asked to audition for Christophe Durang’s play, Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and I got the part. We were performing in Lincoln Center when, during our weekly meeting with producers, they that said they loved our show and wanted to take us to Broadway. Two months later, we were on Broadway, and after a month on Broadway, I was nominated for a Tony.”
4. She Was Out of Work for a Year When She Moved to L.A.
“After the Tonys, I thought, ‘I’m going to move out to L.A., do something crazy. The doors are going to burst open. I’m a Tony-nominated actress.’ I went there, and it was like, ‘Who are you? I’m sorry, darling—can you act?’ It was awful. I didn’t work in television. I didn’t work in film. I didn’t do anything for a year. I ran out of money, and I was like, ‘Oh, God. I’ve got to find a way to support myself,’ so I went on YouTube and I taught myself how to bartend. And about a year to the day to me being in L.A., I booked my first job.”
5. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is Her Long-Time Idol
“When I was a kid, it was during the 90s and all the Black shows were getting cancelled and coming to an end. But I remember watching Jurnee Smollett-Bell and just being slack-jawed by her and the fact that she looked like me and was a kid. That made me feel like, ‘Wow. This is a possibility.’”
6. She Doesn’t Own a Television
“I don’t have a television in my house. I haven’t owned one in years. In truth, it’s about mental health for me. It’s hard for me to have a television in the house because I’ll just stay inside and binge-watch stuff that I don’t even want to watch. I’ve learned when I don’t have a TV, it forces me to go outside.”
7. She Wants Her NCIS Character to be a Positive Image for Black Girls
“Sonja Percy is a very strong, dynamic woman, and she’s not afraid to say what she thinks and stand for what she believes. I love how physical she is: She’s shooting and running and tackling just like the guys are. I hope to be one of those many images for this generation to see on television, kicking butt and taking names. I’m not the Black character, but I’m a human being, and I’m just as dynamic as the people I share the screen with.”