The new FOX television show “Empire” has taken control over the small screen with an exotica mix of power, greed, revenge, failures and triumphs, family and success, all intertwined with one another. The hit show stars the always touch-your-nerve acting of the wonderful Terrence Howard and showcases the dominant presence of firecracker actress Taraji P. Henson.
“Empire” also shines with little known or upcoming thespians such as Grace Gealey, who plays Howard’s girlfriend, Anika Calhoun. Gealey doesn’t just play the role of the sidebar girlfriend to Howard’s Lucious Lyon character on the show. The Caymanian-American actress has quite a meaty role as the head of A & R at Empire Entertainment in which Lyon rules like a monarch. News4usonline.com caught up with and spoke to Gealey about “Empire” and what does it all this mean for her career.
News4usonline.com: How has it been with this whirlwind so far that you’re on?
Grace Gealey: “Whirlwind is a great word. I’m still reeling…I’m still reeling from everything. I’m real excited to see how “Empire” is viewed. I’m really glad that it is speaking to a lot of people in the nation.”
News4usonline.com: Who is exactly Anika Calhoun?
Grace Gealey: “She’s the head of A & R for Empire. She also happens to be the girlfriend of Lucious Lyons. She’s extremely smart. She’s talented. She’s very good at what she does. And she got her position definitely on her own merit. For Lucious, I have to be a strong black woman, a foundation on which he stands. She’s a huge moral support for him. The kind of love that she has for him…it’s tender, it’s vulnerable. It’s extremely comparable. It penetrates him in a whole another way. Who he is today…this refined, kind of chic, elegant, poised person that she brings to herself…they fit beautifully. Now when you see more of the show you’ll see that Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) coming back play a brief reminder of his past of what he used to be and we learn whether or not if he is still that person and how does that align with Anika.”
News4usonline.com: So without doubt there’s a lot of tension going on (between Cookie and Anika)?
Grace Gealey: “Yeah, I think that’s safe to say. You’ll see many more colors of what looks like in tonight’s episode and moving forward in the season.”
News4usonline.com: What’s it been like for you to play opposite proven, longstanding actors like Taraji (P. Henson) and Terrence Howard?
Grace Gealey: ” Well, Taraji (P. Henson) and Terrence (Howard) are fabulous, wonderful powerhouses as actors. They take their work seriously and they come with their A game every single time. They’ve have gotten to where they are because of this kind of work they’re producing…and they’re not shying away from that at all with Empire as you can see. So being opposite of them is so wonderful to work with people who are pleasant, who are honest, who are true and to always like to approach a character in seeing many different dimensions and facets, so that only continues to inspire me as I’m on set.”
News4usonline.com: “What’s the biggest thing (lesson) you’ve been able to learn from either one of them?
Grace Gealey: “To take risks, to continue taking risks. I was always a pretty bold actor but when you’re surrounded by people who will literally just take it to the next level, it is enthralling to be part of that. It is something that I have been reminded of.”
News4usonline.com: Is it a big transition to go from stage to dramatic acting in television? Is there a difference?
Grace Gealey: “Yes, there is a difference. With camera work you end shooting scenes out of order. And with theater you work the art of the character in the succession of the acts and the scenes. That would be the main difference, especially when it comes to climatic moments…That has been probably the most different thing for me. But as an artist it’s another craft to hone, it’s another challenge to accept. I get bored very easily when it comes to making art, so I love it. This is great for me.”
News4usonline.com: You sound like an individual who is not afraid of the big moment or the big stage. Where does that come from?
Grace Gealey: “I’m a Leo (laughter). I don’t know. I guess I would call myself a little bit of an introverted Leo. I love shooting my art. I take it very seriously, and so when it comes time to perform it, I take joy. What you hear is joy. I take joy in that and I take pride in that, and I love to be be able to share with the world something that is going to make them think, that is going to provoke them and make them feel something. That is where that kind of comes from. I can be a kind of bit extroverted. But I am a little bit on the introverted side at times. Sometimes I can throw people off a little bit.”
News4usonline.com: Share with me the audition process for the role of Anika Calhoun. What was that like?
Grace Gealey: “I auditioned out of Chicago. I moved to Chicago three months before auditioning for “Empire.” I was fortunate because they were shooting in Chicago. They were open to the Chicago talent pool, so I kind of jumped on that bandwagon and I submitted a tape. Lee (Daniels) took a look at it and was really impressed. So he flew down and he ran quite of few callbacks and screen tests, and I was part of that. A couple of day later I got the job. That was kind of overwhleming to say the least.”