Grace Gealey, who grew up in Bodden Town and learned about acting from her high school teacher, local artist Nasaria Suckoo Chollette, and who was mentored by local director Henry Muttoo, makes her network television debut in “Empire,” a 20th Century Fox drama series.
Gealey, 30, stars alongside Terrence Howard and Gabourey Sidibe in the series, which airs on Wednesday nights, based around a hip hop label owner looking to groom one of his children to take over the company. She plays Anika Gibbons, an official with Empire Entertainment and girlfriend of Lucius Lyon (Howard) the CEO of Empire.
“I am overwhelmed and humbled by all of the support I received on my television debut,” Gealey said. “…I hope all of my friends, family and fans in Cayman will tune in on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. to cheer me on.”
Grace Gealey’s moment in the spotlight is well earned, as it has taken years of schooling and hard work.
Her first audition for “Empire” led to a screen test with Academy Award nominee Lee Daniels, a producer and director whose titles include “The Butler,” “Precious” and “Monster’s Ball. Unfazed by the idea of not getting the big break in her career, Gealey remembers thinking that even if nothing came of it, she would hold on to that experience for the rest of her life.
Gealey earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from the University of South Florida, and a master of fine arts in acting from the University of California-Irvine. She moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she juggled many jobs to cover living expenses and photo shoots required for her profession, and she performed in several theater productions and short films. Her role in national commercials led her to Chicago.
In 2012 she was chosen for the role of Mimi Márquez in “Rent” in Chicago, and later she performed in “Elemeno Pea” in Minneapolis, and “The Misanthrope” and “Tartuffe” in Chicago.
Gealey’s artistic talents go beyond acting, however. She is also a painter and ballroom dancer.
Her sister Faith Gealey-Brown, a speech language pathologist with the Health Services Authority, says the entire family is extremely proud of Grace.
“It was surreal watching her on television Wednesday night when we finally go to see Grace’s years of dedication and hard work come to fruition,” said Ms. Gealey-Brown. “Grace carried herself on screen with poise, elegance and grace. This is only the beginning for her career, and we will continue to pray for her and support her every step of the way.”
She said only the family knows of Grace’s struggles, sacrifices, dedication and hard work to get to this point. “She is now a shining example to a new generation of young Caymanians of what you can do when you focus on and strive towards your goals…Grace is proof that the world is yours if you want it.”
The women’s mother Cheryl McCoy-Gealey also is understandably proud.
“I encouraged her to focus on God, follow her heart and go forward,” she says. “Finally, she is standing in the path towards success by being who she is.”