It takes drive, determination and top-notch acting chops to make in Hollywood. Top that recipe off with a vivacious personality and an infectious smile and you have the unstoppable force that is Nadia Gray. Born in Clearwater, Florida, Gray began her journey through the world of modeling at 17 years old. An avid fan of television and film, it wasn’t long before she threw caution to the wind and made the trek to Los Angeles to pursue her passion for acting. She soon began to amass credits with roles on projects ranging from “Days Of Our Lives” to “Anger Management” to “2 Broke Girls” and “Sandy Wexler.”
2018 is shaping up to be a breakout year for this multi-faceted actress. With her latest project, director David Ayer’s ambitious sci-fi flick, Gray has been paired with some of the most talented creatives in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. Set in a world populated with human and alien races, ‘Bright’ follows LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) who is forced to work with an Orc (Joel Edgerton). Battling their differences and an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a deadly, thought-to-be-forgotten relic that, in the wrong hands, could destroy everything. Nadia Gray stars as Larika, an elf and member of “The Inferni” who plays a pivotal role in film.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Nadia Gray to discuss her journey as an artist, the influences that have shaped her creatively and what the future may hold for this star on the rise!
You have been busy building a resume with impressive projects. Let’s go back to the beginning — how did you get involved with the creative arts early in life?
Acting is something I dabbed in at a very early age. Eventually, I was steered toward having a more practical life. I really stumbled into modeling in my later teens. I felt that was something which could get me to Los Angeles, where I could pursue acting. That was a really great stepping stone for me. The acting bug bit me very early. I’ve always been into movies and television because my mom was so into it. That was our bond thing; watching TV or going to movies together. I’ve always wanted to be a part of it in some way!
What type of movies impacted you as a kid?
I loved every horror movie! I was also into whatever my older brother was into at the time, so I saw a lot of stuff like “Clerks,” “Mallrats” and other stuff like that. My mom was really heavy into “The X-Files,” so the sci-fi genre is something else I have always been into!
Let’s talk influences. Who are some of the actors you looked to for inspiration?
I’ve always loved Natalie Portman. Seeing “The Professional” when I was so young had a big impact on me. It’s one of my favorites! I’m still a fan of hers to this day and I think she’s incredible. Frances McDormand is amazing and “Fargo” was another one of my favorites. Today, I just love Zoe Saldana. She’s just so cool and badass. She keeps a low-profile and brings these incredibly strong female characters to the screen. I’m so attracted to that!
You grew up in Florida but eventually made the jump to Los Angeles. Was there a culture shock when you made the move? It’s a big step to take for anyone at that age.
For sure! It was a shock but it was a good one! I was so freakin’ excited to be here! I found myself just walking around and fangirling over every corner! Living in West Hollywood, you see all the billboards and there are movie studios around every corner. I fell in love with it right way! I started doing background work as soon as I could just to be on a set and get to witness the magic. I was definitely obsessed with it immediately!
As a young actor, you start small and work to bigger and better roles. Which of your early roles did you learn from the most?
I think it was “Days of Our Lives.” Getting booked on that soap, it was my first recurring character. It really allowed me to see the hustle. Those people work so hard and the turnaround time that they have to accomplish within a week is so impressive. I learned to be really quick on my feet, always be on book and always be ready. That was such an important experience.
Being on set, you cross paths with interesting and seasoned actors. Who gave you much needed advice or a creative push at any point?
I worked on a show with Raymond Cruz, who played Tuco on “Breaking Bad.” I had a really nice chat with him, during my first year in LA. He was like, “Listen, it’s going to take at least 10 years. Anyone who tells you that you’re going to walk into a Starbucks tomorrow and be discovered is so full of shit! Keep your head down, work hard and don’t become impatient.” I thought that was such a great thing to tell someone new in town, who’s hungry and want to be working as of yesterday, ya know? He’s so right! That’s a conversation that I look back on very fondly. It was such a great piece of advice to give me.
A career in the entertainment industry isn’t an easy path to follow. What keeps you driven?
That’s a really good question. I think it’s just a part of my makeup. Not moving forward or trying to hustle each day is something I don’t know how to do. I say that because I just feel bad when I’m not doing something! When it comes to inspiration, just watching the work that’s being done with all the great new films and TV series that are coming out and the roles that are being cast is really inspiring. I think the quality of content we are getting these days is so good that it makes me really excited for the future of the industry.
Speaking of quality content, your latest project falls into that category! What can you tell us about your role in Netflix’s “Bright,” which stars Will Smith and Joel Edgerton?
I got the initial audience and then my callbacks were with David [Ayer] himself. Initially, they don’t actually give you anything that is real. They don’t give you the real script or sides, so I really had no idea what I was getting into other than know it was David Ayer and Netflix. So, I was like, “Holy shit! I have to book this!” [laughs] My character, Larika, is an elf. She is a member of The Inferni and she’s an assassin. It was just the coolest project to be involved with! I’m obsessed with the movie and I still have it on in the background every day! [laughs] It’s just so much fun!
Whether it’s this role or any other, what’s your process for fleshing a character out before stepping on set?
I don’t think there is anything I could say to you that wouldn’t make me sound like a complete psychopath! [laughs] I have my own weird thing that I do every time but, the one thing that I will say, is that it comes down to over-learning my lines and the script. I like to expose myself to it as much as I can because it gives me freedom in the moment to not be so stuck in my head, stuck on what I’m saying or what the other person is saying in the scene that cues me to make a certain action. I think knowing the material forward and back makes me more present in the moment.
It has to be an amazing experience to step on set with seasoned actors. What did you take away from watching them work?
Yeah, it was crazy! It was a huge set with these amazing stars. Everyone around me was bigger, better and badder than me times 10! [laughs] It was such a trip to be in the same room as these people. I was all eyes; watching and observing. I have to say, they were all so nice. It’s a miracle that doesn’t always happen — the most talented people in the room aren’t always the most personable or generous actors. That wasn’t the case on the set of “Bright.” Everyone was so kind and giving, especially David Ayer. He was an amazing director to work for and I’m still so grateful that I get to talk about this experience!
Did you encounter challenges with this role?
I can honestly say that there wasn’t a challenge; not to sound like a complete Pollyanna but there wasn’t really any downside to anything. Okay, so maybe there were a few days where I was in a harness in the wall! [laughs] The logistics of that and trying not to stay too hydrated all day as not to bug the stunt team to take me in and out of that rig! [laughs] Even that was fun, so there weren’t really any challenges and that is another reason it was all so cool. Even sitting in the makeup trailer for two hours getting the ears, colored contacts, sharp teeth and wig applied — it was all so badass! [laughs] We even had the lighter, reflective skin tone that was really cool. The makeup artists were geniuses. The wardrobe was just as crazy but it was all so much fun! It was way more fun than just showing up and having to be the pretty girl in the corner somewhere, if ya know what I mean. Way cooler!
Definitely! I have to give a SPOILER ALERT for this next question. Your character doesn’t meet a happy ending. I assume this is the first time you died on film. What was the experience like?
Oh, man! It was so cool! I’m a big fan of dying on film and I’d do it again 100 times if I could! [laughs] They put a little prosthetic under my neck so, if you are familiar with the scene, she is cutting my neck with something that looks like a knife. In reality, she’s cutting open the little blood prosthetic under my neck which was rigged to a blood bag! Oh my god! It was so cool! [laughs]
Although you are relatively new to the industry, I’m sure you have a few milestones. Tell us about those and how you view your evolution as an actor.
Yeah! I definitely think “Bright” is my biggest milestone. I think the perception that has changed for me along the way is that I always envisioned having a career in television. I crave schedule and I’m a creature of habit, so I always hoped that I would end up on a series and have something to count on; something that’s not as mercurial as doing features. But then I find myself on the set of “Bright,” which is a huge, $100+ million-dollar budget movie and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life with getting to do stunts and working with someone like David Ayer. I joke that he’s completely ruined my life because now that is what I want! [laughs] The bar is impossibly high and I just want more of it!
Looking to the future, what types of genres do you hope to tackle?
When it comes to my bucket list, I would love to do a horror movie. I also love comedy and I’ll always want to do comedy. I’m definitely interested in continuing to do stunt work. I mentioned Zoe Saldana before. If I had anything Zoe Saldana adjacent, if that ever happens in my life, I will have scored big time! [laughs] I would love to pursue that kind of work; something physical and even something charactery, like Larika, is so interesting to me.
We can look at the hard work you are putting into your career as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
First of all, that’s really nice of you to say. Thank you. I think it’s important that it’s hard, just like anything else. For anyone, being in LA can be hard, especially as a woman. I feel that if you love it, it makes everything else so much easier. You deal with a lot of bullshit from day to day and it makes it so much more palette-able when you get to do it. Even just having a taste of it goes a long way. For example, what I have with “Bright.” In the big picture, it was something small and it was a small period of time, but it makes me so happy, fulfilled and hopeful for what is coming next. Long story short, if you love it, don’t give up. Put your time in. It’s almost like a number game, right? If you keep at it and keep moving forward, it will happen eventually.
That’s a great outlook, Nadia. Before I let you go, can we shine a light on causes you support?
I’m a fan of Joyful Heart and everything they are doing for women. It’s so relevant right now and I think they’ve created a really great platform for people who have been abused to share their story in a safe place. I think that’s so wonderful and so important for everyone to have an opportunity to hear it. [For more information on Joyful Heart, visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org]
Thanks for taking time to talk with me today, Nadia. I can’t wait to see what is next for you and I know it’s only a matter of time until we chat again about the next big milestone in your career!
Thank you! I really appreciate it! Thanks so much for your time, Jason!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.