Shalita Grant in Search Party

HBO Max

Search Party

HBO Max

John Reynolds, Alia Shawkat, Shalita Grant in Search Party

HBO Max

Search Party

HBO Max

Shalita Grant and Lucas Black in NCIS: New Orleans

CBS
Fill 1
Fill 1
June 29, 2021
Online Originals

In Search of Happy

After a less-than-pleasant experience in a TV drama, Shalita Grant was ready for a laugh, and she found a lot of them in HBO Max’s Search Party. She also learned to heal, and she's sharing that with the world.

Melissa Byers

After three and a half seasons on a single-camera drama, Shalita Grant knew it was time to make a change.

She explains, "So actually when I left [NCIS: New Orleans], for me I looked at my career as a whole and I looked at how I wanted to feel. We are at work as actors for a 12 hour day as a light day. The hours are 14 to 16 when you are on TV, the hours are just long when you're doing single camera stuff in general.

"So when you're spending most of your day at work, I want to feel good at work. And good is different for everybody. But for me, I love to laugh. I just really enjoy keeping it light and positive. And especially when you're working with a bunch of strangers, and we all have tons of shit going on in our lives, spending that amount of time together doing things that you don't love, your attitude is really a big part of how that day goes.

"So that's the way I was, 'All right, when am I happy at work? And when have I been the most successful?' And for me, success is about how I'm making people feel because I'm an actor. So how people are feeling is my measure of success. And I needed comedy. So I said, 'Listen, just because I went to Juilliard and just because I can do drama and anything really, I want to do the thing that makes me happy.'

"So the first job that I got when I left was Santa Clarita Diet. And I was just fine and cool. OK, cool fine. But I thought, 'man, it would be a great universe if I got something that required the same level of energy and lightness and expertise like the show that I did on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony for' [Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike],"

That show was recently released as a film, and Grant had the opportunity to watch herself on stage and to assess the work and how it made her feel.

She says, "I went back and I watched it. I learned so much and I grew so much from that entire process. So I just wanted to see it and see what it looks like. And then the level of connection and keeping the ball up in the air like we all had to do was beautiful to watch, all of us committing to the same tempo and keeping the jokes up because you have to with comedy. The audience can't be ahead of you.

"That to me is my sweet spot when I am in such harmony with other human beings, surprising the fuck out of a bunch of other human beings. The flow was wild."

When she came to Search Party, reading for the role of Cassidy, she was ready for anything. Grant auditioned, not really expecting much, but she was surprised. She notes, "So Search Party, when I got that audition, first of all it was actually a recast.They had someone in the role. So she went into it and they got into the episodes and were like, 'We have to rehearse this.'

"So for me, I look at an audition as an opportunity to act for the day but I'm also looking at the project as a whole. How likely is it?

"So I thought, 'Oh, they probably want a white girl because that's what you show. OK' But then when I heard that it was a recast, I thought, 'Actually, they're probably looking at the talent.'

"So I put it on tape and I sent out a prayer and they flew me into New York and we did the callback. And at lunch, I heard that I got the job. So that's how I came on to Search Party."

Once there, she dove into her process to make the part her own. She says, "I as a person who's working a job, I'm aware that I'm working with other people. So most of my process when it comes to TV is really about the people around me and playing well. So whenever I look at a script for a character or whatever, I'm always looking to elevate, to elevate everybody in the room.

"I also don't learn my lines. I never know my lines on the day. Never, never, never, never, never, because - for many reasons.

"For one, with film, it can change on the dime. You can learn a monologue that you have to say six different times, for six different angles, in 30 minutes. So I never learn my lines for that reason. I don't learn them because I also I don't want to get stuck in a performance the way that you learn lines sometimes you can get. You like the way you sound when you say a thing..

"So I never get precious about anything that I'm doing. As an actor you're doing things so that people can see it. It's not about how you feel, it's about what you make other people think you're feeling. It's a visual medium.

"And so whoever's producing or whoever is directing, they may not get what you're doing, so they'll give you a note to get you in the direction that they want. Because at the end of the day, it is about what they want. But it's beautiful when you can give them things that they didn't even know that they want.

"So that's my process. I show up on the day open and totally down for whatever is going to happen. So when I talk about elevating, I elevate in the sense that I only focus on what I like. I focus on what my character would like.

"So when I do my auditions and everything, I'm getting information about who the character is from the producers based on the stage directions and how they describe the person, based on what the other characters say about my character, and what my character says about myself.

"So just answering those three questions, I have a really strong sense of who this person is. And so I inhabit that by taking all that information and then seeing the world from that person's perspective. And from that I can gain like, "Oh, my God. My character will love that." Or, "Oh, my God. My character would hate that." And much listening. I have to listen because I just learned my lines 10 minutes ago.

"My level of listening is so deep. I'm listening in terms of what my cue line is, how this character who's speaking is feeling, and what fits the information that they're conveying subconsciously. And I'm also listening from my character's perspective, what my character would pick up. And I get that based on the lines that they say but also based on what my partners are doing.

"So I'm always up for improv. I'm always throwing things out there because I don't know my lines. And also my character may feel something and those are the things that the people that I work for don't know that they want.

"The example of that is in the courtroom scene [in Search Party] when Cassidy is grilling Portia [Meredith Hagner] and when the actress, when Meredith walked in, I was like, "Wow, you look stunning."

She's in this blue, on blue, on blue. It's a Gucci outfit. It doesn't say Gucci but it's that expensive and well made. And the shoes. She has these gorgeous platforms on and the way she walked in, like just that's her, like she was prepping because she'll have to do the cry, cry, but she was gorgeous.

"And so I was like, "Wow." And Cassidy would probably feel the same. So when I'm grilling her and really stabbing her, I throw in a compliment because I just think that that's who Cassidy would be. They said, 'We love that.' And it's one of things that people repeat back to me; 'baby blue realness.' That was how I felt. I was like, 'Well, you're baby blue real—'

"There were so many ad-libs but it was just based off of how I was feeling and what I was learning about the people in the room.

"I love Makayla Watson (Polly). She is amazing and she works in a similar vein in that she's very open. I never want to make the people around me wrong. Like. 'you're right, you're absolutely right. And you're wrong this way.' But I never want to make my scene partners bad or make them seem like liars. So if you're saying I'm a crazy bitch, I'm going to give you a crazy."

Her earlier experience on NCIS: New Orleans had left her traumatized and hurting, so the new role came at just the right time. Grant explains, "I had a really rough, rough, rough time on NCIS. It was rough on me physically, not just in terms of the hours, but also my hair was falling out because of the hair department not really knowing what they were doing and then being committed to not allowing me to wear my natural curl pattern.

"So I was in these wigs and these wigs, extensions, my hair literally around the front of my hair was falling out, which is why I looked like I did at the beginning of season 4.

"I had this full lace wig on that I attached to the very front of my hair because that summer when I took the wig off I saw that I had like less than two inches of hair around the perimeter of my forehead It was horrifying.

"I got traction alopecia the second year because of the extensions that they had me in and I had this one episode where I'd go underwater. Well, that required a few days of work in a pool. So there was no care for my hair at all actually.

"That weekend after that episode when I took my extensions out, first of all, they were matted into my hair because of all the water, going under the water.

"So in the center of my head I had a bald spot that I was so ashamed of because I had never had a bald spot. But I knew that this was because of the damage. When it was my first year or two I was a team player, man. And I was like, 'Hey, whatever it takes.'

"But I realized that I wasn't getting the same level of respect and care back. And that was the story of why I had to leave, because I was falling apart and sending pictures to producers and [they responded], 'No we want this ponytail and we don't want a tight curl girl. We want a loose curl girl.' So whatever we have to do to go straight or to go loose cuirl is what we will do in spite of the actress literally falling apart.

"At the beginning of season 4 - I actually never watched the show after season 2 because it was so traumatizing. But at the beginning of season 4, I looked like [I was wearing] shoe polish that people would tweet at me and send me these comments that were coming from a point of 'we want the best for you.'

But it was also humiliating to have to [read comments] like, 'What the fuck is wrong with your hair? Like it's so much dry,' and me like wanting to say, 'Oh, my God, you're having no idea what I'm going through,' but having to stay the course because I really needed to get off of the show and take care of myself.

"So I did three months of trauma therapy, traumatic EMDR, after I got off the show because for me, inside of that being my experience, I really didn't want to take that every step that I went, the expectation that I would be mistreated again. So I needed to get myself healed as much as I could to continue working in the industry, let alone go on to my next job.

"So I was working on healing my hair and healing my spirit. I feel like I was ready when I asked the universe for what I needed, I had done the work to make the moment "

Even though Grant's experience was horrific, she has been able not only to come to an understanding of what happened to her, but also of how to heal not only herself, but other Black women who might have had similar trauma in regard to their hair. She explains, "I just feel like life  - it's happening through you.

"I'm always just interested in life and culture and why we are the way we are, and what people have figured out. So there is the philosophy of stoicism.

"I was talking about amor fati, which is Latin for love of one's fate. And the principle as applied in stoicism is, you understand that everything that happens in your life is necessary and you're not really thrown by the fear of pain or the excitement of desire. You are being fully present but loving and appreciating everything that's happening in your life because it is your life.

"And there is something that you can learn or that situation is teaching you. And so it's the lesson and it's about growth and not the event.

That's how I've contextualized my experience on that show is that that was an event. And what I took away from that, all of the lessons and everything I was able to put into this new part of my identity as a founder. So I created a hair treatment called the Four Naturals treatment based off of the pain and the experience that I had from that show.

"After three months of trauma therapy, I was still using wigs to be on television and I still had the effects, and my hair was still super fragile. And like most black people with type 4 hair, which is the type that I have, our hair is naturally very fragile. People assume that it's so strong because of how thick and how dry it can be but it's not; it's super fragile.

"So I thought 'what do I need to do to heal myself physically now?' In part of trauma therapy and different therapies, there's play therapy.

So I played a game with my myself where I was a cosmetic chemist. And I was on the hunt for the natural ingredient that would solve all of my problems, increase my hair pattern, my curl pattern, make my hair stronger, give me the length retention that I needed, and the moisture retention that I needed.

And I did some experiments and a bunch of research online and I made the henna emulsion. And I thought, 'Wow.' Henna mixed with all of these things and applied this way gave me the results that I needed. And I would use deep conditioning treatments like everyone. And you hope with a deep conditioning treatment that the product stays in your hair but it doesn't. You still have the problem that you have.

"What I noticed with the henna treatment that I did, which is essentially a deep protein treatment, that product naturally stays in your hair. Henna as a plant; it adheres to the bond of the hair and fills in the gaps of the hair strand. And every treatment, your hair gets thicker and stronger. And so I learned that because I started studying non Black hair cultures like India.

"The Indians use henna. So it's clear that the Indian culture uses henna, their hair culture around it. Because they use it for skin but they also use it for hair. They use it from the time their children are babies. They henna their hair on the weekends. And so the whole family wears this henna treatment for a few hours and then it gets wiped out.

"And in the Indian culture, it's a race thing, but it's also a hair care thing because henna is an isolated ingredient.

"So I'm launching Four Naturals Hair at Home in November 2021, but in 2019 I opened a hair spa, five star rated on Yelp, and I was encouraging women and also teaching black women about their hair. Whatever your hair absorbs stays in the hair. It's permanent. And now people will be able to use it at home.

"Four, as in F-O-U-R Naturals, Four Naturals. And it's fournaturalshair.com. So over the next couple of months you will see a bunch of different changes because there are videos and everything that I'm gearing up for the launch in 2021.

"So that damage and everything, that was an event. I'm so grateful actually that I had that experience, because I really took responsibility for that entire experience and I let it go. The people that did what they did, they did what they did. But at the end of the day my healing is my responsibility. So thank you for the experience. Also fuck you."

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