Shalita Grant wasn’t scared of the stalking and violence in YOU Season 3. But she wasn’t prepared to cry on camera. “This was kind of, privately, my kryptonite as an actress,” she tells Bustle, laughing. “I went to Juilliard, I can do Shakespeare, I can do comedy, I can do drama. But a b*tch can’t cry on cue!”
It’s perhaps not surprising that an actor of Grant’s caliber has only one weak point. Since cutting her teeth on Broadway in the Tony-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the 33-year-old has portrayed a bevy of characters who could feel like broad cliches, but in her hands feel incredibly specific and nuanced: the no-nonsense special agent Sonja Percy on NCIS: New Orleans, the extremely millennial young Brooklyn defense lawyer Cassidy Diamond on Search Party, and YOU’s queen bee momfluencer Sherry.
She credits that to her acting process, which she’s dubbed her “Nasty Nerd™” side (a term she’s so committed to that she’s tattooed it on her body and registered it as a trademark). To prepare for roles, Grant researches everything she can about her character and builds out a portrait of their psyche. She writes her ideas — which include everything from how her character thinks about themselves, to how other characters talk about them, to what society thinks of their tics and mannerisms — down on paper. “It looks like a serial killer notebook,” Grant laughs. “[But] you want to be able to be creative within a boundary, and so within the boundary anything goes ... Those questions [are] my fence, and then I [get] to play.”
She doesn’t memorize her lines, choosing instead to rely on what she learned in her research, her rehearsals, and a visual memory of the script. Wherever possible, Grant improvises what feels most natural and personal to her in the scene. On YOU, that meant understanding Sherry’s “emotional motor” in the moment and reacting accordingly. “[Before I got divorced], I would’ve had all the judgment in the world [of Sherry], and part of the work would’ve been to scale back the judgment on this woman and her marriage,” Grant says of her character Sherry’s unique relationship with her husband Cary. “Hopefully people understand why she’s so b*tchy [to] Love: she’s protecting a very precarious inner circle … letting some new person in is not easy.”
Grant’s intuitive approach to acting has radiated out into the rest of her life, too. She’s developed a natural hair care line for Black women based on the products she sought out after her time on NCIS left her hair “utterly wrecked,” and she only says yes to projects she would genuinely watch. Right now, that’s shows that are funny and fun. Nothing delights Grant more than someone running all the way across the Warner Bros. lot to tell her that she was “f*cking hysterical” in a scene.
“It’s about joy ... Is this going to be a slog, or [am] I going to be able to find something to hold onto in hour 15 of the day? Is there going to be something that’s like, Wow, I cannot wait for the audience to see this f*cking show?” Grant asks. “That was me every day on YOU; I was like, I cannot wait for people to be like, ‘I hated you.’”
Get to know more about Grant in her Bustle Booth questionnaire below.
In The Bustle Booth
What’s your coffee order?
Chai tea latte with oat milk and an extra shot of espresso.
What are the saved weather locations on your phone?
Los Angeles, New York, Montevideo, Bangkok, Houston, Puebla, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Long Beach, Barcelona, Vancouver
What’s your sign?
Favorite overused movie quote?
“You’re killing me, Smalls” from The Sandlot
What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?
What’s one movie or TV show you’re currently obsessed with?
The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals
Who is your celeb idol?
If you had to be on a reality TV show, what would it be?
Go-to karaoke song?
“Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO, because I love the wiggle section and I do a dance for that part.
What’s something that’s inspiring you lately?
Russian exotic pole dance. It’s my style of pole dance and it’s so challenging and beautiful. Teaching myself and eventually nailing my choreography is the best workout inspiration.
What is something you would want people to say about you?
That not only am I inspiring, but I’m really f*cking funny.