THE GIFTED & EMPIRE star, GRACE BYERS talks about Boo Boo Kitty, acting, and her role as Kate in the upcoming Indie Thriller BENT in our exclusive interview!
About Grace Flash-Questions:
In Butler, PA.; raised in the Cayman Islands.
Mama = Afro-Caribbean, Dad =Caucasian.
One. My older sissy, Faith.
B.A. in Theatre Arts from University of South Florida.
M.F.A. in Acting from University of California - Irvine.
Both of my parents are hearing impaired. I'm bilingual as I speak both English and Sign Language.
After graduating, I moved to New York, signed with an agent and hit the pavement unsuccessfully for a few years - except for a couple of small gigs few and far between. Then, I began to book Chicago theatre out of NY and eventually moved after facing possible eviction in NY. I signed with an amazing agency; Paonessa Talent and immediately Marisa Paonessa began to send me out on auditions. Within two months, I booked a few national commercials and then a month later, I booked Empire. God is definitely good.
Who is Grace growing up and who is Grace now as a person?
Grace as a child: carefree, kind, happy, extremely active and athletic. I readily loved others with an open, wide heart but found myself susceptible to the effects of bullying - which devastated me and caught me extremely off-guard.
Grace as an adult: similar.
She knows who she is.
She knows her value, worth and isn't afraid to use the word 'no' for her self-preservation and health - even if it means, at times, disappointing others.
Bullying no longer has a place in her space.
She still loves deeply but has learned to first, love herself unconditionally.
She feels fear but chooses bravery.
She balances between giving and boundaries.
She sees her vulnerability as a strength instead of something that leaves her defenseless.
She charges towards her future with hope and faith.
She knows that she is enough.
What inspired you to be an actress? Was it something that you really wanted when you were young?
I was actually a very quiet child but my mother tells me that I was singing and dancing as soon as I could speak and stand. All I remember is, when I was on the stage performing (whether it was ballet, singing, playing the piano or performing a poem), it electrified me. I constantly dressed up and performed for my family - pretending to be different characters and people. My family says I was a trip!
Among all the characters that you have ever portrayed, are there any favorites? Why?
For a long time, it was Anita in West Side Story. It was a physically, vocally and emotionally challenging role where I was stretched to powerful heights and it forever changed something in me. So was playing MiMi in 'Rent'.
But, most recently, I encountered the role of Kate in 'Bent' written and directed by Bobby Moresco and the growth that occurred was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The support that surrounded me melted my heart. Even through the process, there were moments when I was wondering if I could really find and execute the extremely intricate nuances needed for crucial moments. I think as actors, we all have those times where we doubt ourselves. But then, the moment of truth comes and you just free-fall; you tip yourself over, commit 100% and God does the rest. So that is now one of my favorite roles to date.
How is it playing Anika from Empire?
Every season she's definitely different so discovering the ways in which she arcs is a journey - but it's been the most rewarding part of my craft to access certain emotional aspects of myself that I had no idea were readily available over and over again in the moment.
If you can describe Booboo Kitty with food, what would she be and why?
A box of chocolates. Sometimes sweet.... but you *still* never know what you're gonna get. Ha.
Are there going to be more explosive revelations and scenes with Anika in the upcoming season?
We ended Season 3 with her being arrested for a crime she didn't commit - but there's something so interesting about the way karma works since there wasn't really justice served for her tearing down Andre's nuclear family. So although I can't answer that question specifically, I will say that if it's explored, it will be interesting to see what justice finally looks like with Anika in this upcoming season.
In selecting your roles, are there any types of roles that you prefer over the other?
I'm open to playing any role that serves truth. If there's a fascinating, challenging arc and sharing truth is the lynchpin of the character, I'll always be down for it.
What keeps you busy aside from acting?
Shooting 'Bent' was amazing and now I'm doing motivational speaking engagements centered around believing in yourself, embracing diversity, imparting more grace in catabolic situations and very recently, the weight of education in our society. It's a thrilling time of purpose as I move forward into how I'd love to be affecting the world.
How do you balance your time?
I'm just beginning to learn that during this hiatus actually. I've seen that when my tank runs on empty, I'm not able to show up in the world as a full, whole person that is ready to give. That's of no use to anyone (or myself). So I balance my time best by first honoring my body's call for 8-9 hours of sleep. Once I'm well-rested, I begin my day with praying/meditating, drinking hot water with lemon and honey, walking my pup and setting my mind and body on the positive intention for the day. After that, as long as I ensure to eat well, remain physically active and kiss my husband, that's a great start to balancing the day for me!
Any upcoming projects that can get your fans excited?
I have a children's book coming out March 2018! I'm thrilled as this was a few years in the making and I can't wait to share it with you all. It's called; 'I Am Enough'.
Book you’re currently reading.
'Don't Settle For Safe' by Sarah Jakes-Roberts. I have a list of books on queue but that's the first. Really great.
Currently binge watching:
'The Keepers.' Have you seen this docu-series? It takes you step by step through an unsolved murder in the '60's of a nun that wanted to blow the whistle on a pedophile priest. It's a true account that is infuriating and terrifying and brilliantly done. As much as it angers you, it simultaneously inspires you to keep pumping love into the world.
Any advice you can give to any aspiring actors out there?
1.) Continue to hone your craft.
2.) Employ passion but also, wisdom; have a survival job to support yourself while you pursue your dreams.
3.) This industry can be very unstable so find something that grounds you. Have a full 360 degree life; part of it includes acting, part of it doesn't. What will help in this is not only pursuing your soul's passion but also, your spiritual purpose. Sometimes they intertwine and that's wondrous.
4.) Live life deeply. All experiences you have in life will help you translate art in a more profound way when the time comes.
5.) Believe in yourself. Sometimes you may be the only one who does - and that is truly, all you need.
If you had the chance and opportunity to help a specific charity, what would it be and why?
I currently work with a non-profit organization called 'Saving Our Daughters' that empowers young girls with the tools they need to overcome bullying. It speaks closely to my own experience of being bullied as a child (about 80% of children are) and I believe that with the right tools, bullying can be combated and in the best of times, prevented.
Photography & Creative Direction IRVIN RIVERA
Styling ADENA ROHATINER
Makeup ANTHONY MERANTE
Hair KIYAH WRIGHT
Photo Asst PHIL LIMPRASERTWONG
Catch Grace as the powerful mutant, Reeva Payge on THE GIFTED.