Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) is perhaps the fiercest character on Fox’s hit drama Empire, but beyond the immediate blood lines of the hip-hop wielding family’s inner circle sits another self-empowered diva with plenty of bite: Anika Calhoun. Portrayed by 31-year-old actress Grace Gealey, the bold, pixie-haired girlfriend (and almost fiancé) to Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) brings plenty of left turns to the story’s plot, sleeping with her almost stepson Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and countlessly attempting to stop Cookie’s overbearing reign.
And while Anika’s trajectory is for sure evolving, there’s no denying that IRL star Gealey, who is engaged to co-star Trai Byers, is perfect for the role. Between slaying premiere red carpets and taking a relaxed approach to social media, the beauty has nothing but star quality. We caught up with her to talk all things Season 2, her most memorable fashion moments, and the secret to taking the perfect selfie.
So far in Season 2, Anika is trying to join Cookie’s new label. Will they become friends?
"I expect that you will see much more of her humanity this season. She's a broken, flawed woman that doesn't always make the right choices, but she's not inherently evil. Ha! It makes me laugh that I even have to remind people of that. I think that although Cookie and Anika may have a similar disdain for Lucious and a desire to be a part of the Empire, there is a level of distrust between them that could cause friction. There are real moments of honesty but the past can overshadow anyone's true attempt to move on into the future, which is really sad."
What do you love about your job?
"The fact that we boldly tackle social and political issues that may leave our communities with heavy hearts. In a way, I feel like we give a voice to the voiceless and we let people know. We are talking about it and raising awareness on these issues."
Did you always image you’d be this successful?
"I never had the burning desire to be famous, but I wanted to affect the world in a big way. This is a stepping-stone, but I know there's more to be done."
How do you and the cast spend time together off screen?
"We like to get together with pizza, liquor, and spades!"
What’s your most hilarious memory from being on set?
"The last day of set last season, Terrence was so excited he ran around set with a makeshift cape on."
Which fashion look from Season 2 are you most excited for us to see?
"She wears this stellar white Roland Mouret sleeveless dress with mesh cutouts on the waist."
Describe your personal style.
"It depends on the day. Sometimes feminine and sophisticated, at times edgy and funky, other times tomboyish and lax. I'm always exploring with style and fashion."
You always kill it on the red carpet. Do you have any rituals before you step out?
"I always pack a survival bag for red carpets: perfume, deodorant, mints, lipstick, tissue, blotting sheets, powder, and styling tape. It has to be stocked before hitting the carpet every time."
Your Instagram is full of selfies. What’s your secret to taking the perfect one?
"I love this question! I'm sure it's different for everyone, but I think the right lighting is everything when taking selfies!"