I know being on Empire marks your network television debut, so congratulations. How did you get involved with the show?
Thanks! It was a little different for me. After completing a Bachelor in theatre and a Masters in acting, I went to New York and was a part of the whole starving artist deal for a while. I was doing a lot of regional theatre at the time and one city that I would visit a lot due to work was Chicago. When I started to feel really overwhelmed by New York, I decided to give Chicago a shot. I was going to give myself a year, maybe two there. Three months after I moved there I booked Empire.
Growing up in the Cayman Islands, was there any kind of support or community for people who are interested in acting?
That’s a very good question. It’s not that there isn’t support because right now everyone on the island is just elated about Empire – we have a great Caribbean following – but it’s just not a widely pursued profession. It’s a small island and the biggest industries there are connected to tourism and finance. All I knew was that I wanted to perform. Being a professional actor wasn’t even anything that I had considered. I didn’t think it was an option because I had never seen anyone do it from my country. When I went to school, I went to become a drama teacher because I thought that was as close as I would be able to get to that kind of environment. It wasn’t until a freelance director approached me and said I should act as a career that I actually thought about it. I didn’t know if I could, but I wanted to try.
Tell me about your character Anika.
Anika is the head of A&R for Empire Records and also happens to be Lucious’ girlfriend. I’m a huge advocate of her! [Laughs] I feel like I’ve crafted so much history with her. She’s not a woman of many words, but when she speaks people listen. She is indomitable, confident, refined and extremely classy. She comes from money – her father is a doctor – so she’s not in this for the money. She enjoys her work and has an ear for music.
What would you say is the most relatable trait that the two of you share?
That we’re both independent. I’d love to throw a little refined, elegant and classy in there as well! [Laughs] But the number one thing is an independent woman of colour in this world.
I have to ask about the outfits because you and costar Taraji P. Henson have an incredible wardrobe on the show.
I know! I’m obsessed. I really am. It’s one of the most fun parts of playing Anika. Attention to detail from her hairstyle to her makeup is key – I remember Lee Daniels himself walking into the makeup room and telling the artists exactly how I was supposed to look. What’s interesting with her outfits is that as Cookie (Henson) becomes more prevalent, there will be a definite shift in what she wears. She’s never had to fight another female presence at work. Until now, she’s been the First Lady and has carried herself in that way.
There are really interesting dynamics on the show with regard to men versus women. At the head of Empire is Terrence Howard’s character and his three sons, but right next to him are two exceptionally strong-willed women.
When I was doing research on the A&R aspect of my character, what really interested me was that it’s a highly concentrated male environment. The music world is really a male-dominated industry. You don’t really see many women in these high-powered positions. There aren’t many women at all who are the head of A&R at a hip-hop record label. I found one, interviewed her and asked what it was like, and she said that every day she had to prove herself because she faces a lot of sexism. You have to know which battles to fight and which to brush off.
What can viewers look forward to in upcoming Empire episodes?
Having their socks completely blown off. The thing about Empire is that it’s totally unpredictable. I mean, during table reads for the show there are actual audible gasps. So, if we’re like that, I can’t even imagine viewers. There are a lot of cliffhangers coming up. Be prepared to be totally unprepared.