Empire’s Grace Gealey: “More deep episodes coming up for Anika”

Jeff Pfeiffer

grace-gealeyFOX’s midseason series Empire has become a fast hit — it has continued rising in its ratings over its first three weeks, and after only two episodes it was renewed for a second season. The hip-hop drama has quickly developed a fan base, with people tweeting about it excitedly during its airing. Grace Gealey, who plays Anika Calhoun, head of Empire Entertainment A&R and the love interest of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), is also excited about the success of the show. In Gealey’s first network TV role, her character had a breakout episode on Jan. 28, and just ahead of that, we were able to get some of her thoughts on her character and the show.

You had a big episode as Anika on the Jan 28 episode of Empire. Can you recap that for us — how you felt about the bigger role in the episode, and what that means for your character going forward? Will we see more big episodes for Anika?
Grace Gealey: I’m excited because you get to see more of a multi-faceted Anika. It can be easy to vilify her from the outskirts — but in this episode, you get the opportunity to begin to see her heart, her intentions, how much she really loves Lucious and what the company means to her.  She isn’t perfect — none of the characters are — but in the best way she knows how, she’s pushing through an unfortunate situation, just like everyone else. I truly admire her tenacity and strength! There are some more deep episodes coming up for Anika. Keep it locked!

Empire has been renewed for Season 2 already, and is one of the hottest shows on. What has the fan reaction been like?
I’m overwhelmed by how wonderfully we are being received; there is a lot of support from everyone, and the viewers are loving the current drama, which is always fun!

Empire is your network television debut; what has that been like? Do you and the rest of the cast have much freedom with your characters, to add insight to the script? What’s it like working with Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson?
It’s been such a wonderful experience working with everyone; Terrence and Taraji are grace-gealey-empireamazing to work alongside and we have so much fun on set. When it comes to insight, we all take our characters very seriously so we are constant advocates for what is going to make sense for their trajectory. Our creative team is always open to any thoughts or ideas we may have — they still have the final say but they allow us to express our thoughts.

Have you done any research inside the music business to help with your character?
Yes. Apart from days of research on my own, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the head of A&R for a current hip-hop label who also happens to be a woman. This was such an eye-opening conversation because she gave me a great idea of what the music industry is like — and more so, what it can be like for a high-profile woman in power. It was quite enlightening.

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET/PT on FOX.

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Grace Gealey: Credit Ben Miller

Grace Gealey in Empire: © 2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Matt Dinnerstein/FOX