Shalita Grant discusses her new series regular role on ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ and other projects

Shalita Grant, NCIS: New Orleans, NCIS

Shalita Grant is an actress who just became a regular on the CBS drama NCIS: New Orleans. For the first season, she was a guest star as ATF Agent Sonja Percy, who mostly worked on her own as she took on undercover cases. Now that she is working with the NCIS crew, who consist of Scott Bakula’s Dwayne Pride, Lucas Black’s Chris LaSalle, and Zoe McLellan’s Meredith Brody, we will expect to see more of her as she learns to work together with the team.

Before working on NCIS: New Orleans, Grant had roles in other well-known television shows that include Bones, The Good Wife and Battle Creek. Not only is Grant a rising star, she is also a Tony-nominated actress, which she got for her role on Broadway’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as Cassandra. got to speak with Grant about her new role on NCIS: New Orleans and other projects she is a part of, including the upcoming PBS miniseries Mercy Street and her involvement with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. As we enter a new season of the third show in the hit NCIS franchise, learn more about the newest cast member and agent on the team.

TCC: When you first signed on to NCIS: New Orleans, did you ever imagine you would end up becoming a series regular?
Shalita Grant: Yeah, so when I booked the job, it was a three part deal. It was being a recur and then it was ‘Hey, this could turn into a series regular position.’ So I just looked at my episodes as paid auditions. See if this fits, if they like me, that whole thing.

TCC: What drew you to the character of Sonja Percy?
Shalita Grant: I really enjoy playing Percy because she is so strong, you know she’s a strong woman and the franchise like NCIS, these shows last forever and they mean so much to people. Being able to be a part of that one is really exciting and made me feel like ‘Whoa, this is great! Oh my gosh, I’m going to be like an American past time.’ And I love action films. I love all of the stunts and all that stuff, so the fact that the showrunner and writers write so heavily for my character for stunts is incredible and it feels really progressive because, for a lot of the action films and superhero films I watch, the women don’t have that center stage position. It’s very gendered, you know, you’re sexy in your heels and you don’t really do much. And the fact that they were willing to try that out and it’s working. People respond and they really like what they are seeing.

TCC: Sonja Percy has not had an easy time with being hazed on her first day. Have you had any similar experiences with the cast as they welcome you as a regular?
Shalita Grant: You know something, Lucas Black is sort of the resident prankster. So yeah, I mean our relationship onscreen is very much what it is in real life. He feels like a brother to me, the brother you don’t want. He is so goofy and we have a lot of fun on set so it’s great. In that way, it does feel like probie.

NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, Shalita Grant
Photo: Skip Bolen/CBS
©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

TCC: How were you approached to take on this role?
Shalita Grant: It was like any other audition. Really just come in, read the sides, and I didn’t even get to meet any of the creators or anything. It was really just the casting director and they sent the tape to the director and executive producer and the showrunner. And they liked the tape. It was crazy. I had no idea when I went in for the part that it could turn into this.

TCC: What do you like most about your character? How is she different from other roles you have taken on?
Shalita Grant: I am in the best shape of my life. The stunt work that we do, the running, the jumping, there’s some stuff that goes on that I can’t even tell you. It’s so crazy, but I had to do training and stuff. I’ve never done anything like this. Ever. None of the roles I had has been this physical and this strong. I’ve always admired Mariska Hargitay from Law and Order: SVU and she’s amazing, right? She’s incredible. So I kind of pulled from her with what she does on screen and it worked.

TCC: The NCIS franchise is so huge. Had you watched the flagship show or NCIS: LA before joining the third series?
Shalita Grant: Yeah, yeah! Like listen, you cannot be an American and never ever seen at least one episode of NCIS. Like people love this show and I was one of them. I love the franchise. And hearing, also seeing, what Mark Harmon has done with the franchise is amazing. He’s an incredibly smart man and an incredible actor. So yeah.

TCC: What drives you in your acting when you go to work every day?
Shalita Grant: I love the unpredictability of the job. I read the script and I see ‘Oh wow, we’re doing this! Oh wow, we’re doing that!’ It’s unpredictable. Every eight days, it’s a new thing; it’s a new story. That’s exciting and every day, you don’t know where we’re going to shoot. The locations are all crazy because New Orleans is incredible and so diverse and just bold, so we get some of these locations and I didn’t think it was going to look like this. It’s crazy! I tweet that out. I tweet and I Instagram pictures of our locations and I tweet and Instagram even my workouts. So sometimes I have heavy weeks because I know I’m going to be running or really heavy arms days because I know I have a lot of actions to do.

TCC: You will also be seen in a miniseries called Mercy Street. What can you tell us about your part?
Shalita Grant: The work that I did on Mercy Street is unlike any other work I’ve done. It is very provocative. It’s the subtlest I have ever been as well. Mercy Street is PBS’ first foray into original programming in 30 years. Downton Abbey is in its last year so they were looking to give the Downton audiences something else to watch. So it takes place during the second year of the Civil War and my character is Aurelia Johnson, she’s a laundress at the hospital. She admitted herself, she was a slave and went up North to Alexandria and started working in a hospital in hopes to reunite with her son and mother. She employs the help of her boss and you will see what happens after that.

NIC: New Orleans, shalita Grant
Photo: Skip Bolen/CBS
©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

TCC: Besides acting, what other projects are you actively part of?
Shalita Grant: Well, right now I am working with The People’s Institute of Survival and Beyond. What they do is anti-racism workshops all over the country. They’re incredible and I’ve learned a lot from them. I am so inspired by what they do. You can donate to them, they have a website. I also have started taking up my music again now that I am in New Orleans and have a regular job and have a little bit of free time so I’ve been working on that as well.

TCC: Do you play any instruments or do you sing?
Shalita Grant: Right now, it’s playing piano and singing. Nothing to write home about yet, we’re working on it.

TCC: What are you looking forward to for season two of NCIS: New Orleans? I’m sure you can’t give us any hints.
Shalita Grant: I can’t tell you anything but what I can say is I’m excited. It’s an explosive season. The back stories are coming out, the relationships between the teammates are getting more specific, more grounded, it’s a good time. I love that the writers and show runner allow me to be funny and tough and, you know, hot at the same time. It’s great. I’m having a great time.

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Elizabeth Learned

At Large Senior Editor, Arizona State University alum, coffee addict and television crime drama fan