Who Is Anika On 'Empire'? Grace Gealey Is Making Waves On The Small Screen

"I see you got yourself a little Halle Berry," Cookie says to Lucious upon seeing his girlfriend Anika on Empire. The observation was undeniable, as the two women are both classic beauties with intimidating pixie haircuts who know how to play snobby, elitist debutants like nobody's business. Grace Gealey's Anika seriously reminds me of Berry's performance in The Flintstones, in the best possible way. 

Fox's hit soap opera managed to achieve many impossible feats in just three short weeks. The series, focusing on a music mogul diagnosed with ALS and the family drama surrounding him, saw ratings skyrocket week after week, while most other shows see a steady decline after the season premiere. The series has more finesse than Dallas or Dynasty as it remains steady on the impossible balance of ridiculous soap and earnest character study. Empire didn't just snag an all-star cast with the award-winning Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, they managed to also find amazing new talent like Bryshere Gray and Gealey. 

Now, we already know Anika is fierce and looks incredible dressed as a 1920s flapper, but who is newcomer Gealey? Here are a few things to know about one of Empire's breakout stars.

1. She Knows What She's Doing

The Cayman Islands-born actress has a Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of California, Irvine and a Bachelor's in Theater Arts from the University of South Florida. It's clear that Gealey knows her craft in and out. 

2. She's A Broadway Star Too 

Gealey isn't a stranger to the stage. She performed in off-broadway plays Venus Flytrap: A Femme Noir Mystery, The Misanthrope, and Tartuffe. Theater is where an actor's real talent gets put to the test and if Gealey can get through that, I don't doubt she'll continue to achieve great things.

3. She Knows An Unfair Snub When She Sees One

Gealey told Celebuzz about the recent Oscar snubs, saying, "I do wish that Selma had more nominations however, for the Oscars, because I did see that and I just thought that that was so phenomenal. I thought that David Oyelowo was really good and Ava DuVernay did such a great job directing." Those who speak up inspire change.

4. She Knows She's Pretty Damn Lucky (And Talented)

Gealey managed to snag her role as Anika without much experience, a reel, or an in-person interview. She told Paste Magazine of her luck, "I honestly believe in a force that’s larger than our own. I believe the divine had a lot to do with it. I was not a huge name. I wasn’t SAG, I didn’t even have a reel...I submitted a tape, and Lee took a look, and flew down to Chicago to check out a few callbacks and screen tests that I was a part of. I got the role about two days later." And history is made.

5. She Embraces Empire's Portrayal Of Social Politics

There isn't anything more annoying than when an actor remains willfully neutral about a controversy so they won't make waves. Empire is an important show, not just because it employs so many wonderful black artists, but because of the way it seeks to tackle some really heavy topics. 

Gealy spoke to Celebuzz about the show's portrayal of Lucious' homophobia and said, "There was a scene that’s not there anymore, where my character addresses the homophobia Lucious shows towards Jamal. I loved that scene, because she really stood up to him." 

She went onto to talk about playing a strong female lead, "There’s also the fact that you have this woman in the music industry as head of A&R. The more research I did, the more I discovered that this is a heavily male-dominated industry. So this is huge for all women, not just women of color. She’s successful and high-powered, so that was extremely interesting to me. Some may see her as beautiful, but her intelligence and ambition got her the job—Lucious got involved with her afterwards."

Anika may always be maniacally scheming, but she does have a few things in common with Gealey— they're both intelligent, ambitious women, making a name for themselves in their field without letting any barriers get in their way.

Missed any of Empire Season 1? Catch up with Bustle's drunk recap here:

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Images: Matt Dinnerstein/FOX; Giphy (5)

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