Toronto is on a bit of a run right now. In music, you have Drake, The Weeknd, and Tory Lanez. In sports, you have the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors. In film and television, you have Shamier Anderson, Stephen James, Vinessa Antoine, and Lilly Singh. Well, there’s a new name that’s beginning to leave her mark on the small screen and that name is Gabrielle Graham, one of the stars of BET’s Twenties.
Created by Lena Waithe, the series follows Hattie (Jonica T Gibbs), a black queer twenty-something year-old woman and her two straight best friends, Nia (Gabrielle Graham) and Marie (Christina Elmore) on their journeys to finding themselves and following their dreams.
While all three leading actors shine in their respective roles, Graham stands out as being a little bit different. Aside from playing a Caribbean role, a rarity on television, you also hear a different twang that made me wonder, “Is she Canadian?” To satisfy my curiosity, I quickly did a search and found she was a fellow Toronto native, so of course I had to reach out and find out more about her story.
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Born to Jamaican and Montserratian parents, she grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, attending Milliken Mills High School. Going into university, her career choices were between midwifery and acting. After graduating from York University’s Acting Conservatory Program she decided to pursue acting professionally and has quickly taken off ever since.
“I excelled in drama class in high school. My parents wanted me to go to a drama school in Markham, but I was too scared to go without my friends. At the time I wasn’t as serious about acting as I am now. Once I got to university and had auditioned and got in at York, then I really fell in love”, she told SHIFTER in a recent interview. “I got an agent right out of university luckily. They were interviewing different important people in the industry and bringing them into our class. My agent saw me and she was like, “There’s something interesting about you. You’re quirky and a little eccentric and I wanna have an audition with you, and she’s been working with me ever since.”
In talking to this deep soul, you get the sense that you’re also talking to Nia, which is unusual as most actors tend to be very different from the characters they portray onscreen. In this case, it was all by design.
“They kinda tailored her to me. Originally, she was Trinidadian and when I got the part they changed her to Jamaican and Monserattian, and they felt my vibe and made her more hippie and chill which is very much me. It was fun to play her because I got to bring a lot of myself to the role, but it was also challenging,” Gabrielle noted. “I’m in a constant battle with self doubt, about how truthfully I think I played the role.”
Apart from Twenties, Gabrielle Graham can be seen in the Mimi Leder film On the Basis of Sex opposite Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, in the Netflix film In the Shadow of the Moon opposite Boyd Holbrook and in Lucky Day opposite Luke Bracey and Jean Dujardin on Amazon. What’s most impressive is that her recent comes only four years after graduating, and in my opinion, this girl is well on her way.
Graham’s rise comes at a time where more and more black women are gracing the small screen in leading roles, from Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Simone Missick, to Canada’s Vinessa Antoine who stars in the CBC, and now BET, show Diggstown.
When asked about whether black women in leading roles has been widely accepted or if more progress is needed, Graham told SHIFTER, “I think there’s still a lot of work to do. The fact that Jonica’s character, Hattie was a groundbreaking role, speaks volumes. “I think there’s still a lot of work to do. The fact that Jonicas character, was groundbreaking, speaks volumes. There are many facets of black woman, that have yet to be explored on screen.”
She offers some parting wisdom for those wanting to follow in her shoes. “Go with the flow. Have those goals, and those dreams but stay in the reality that it’s not going to be what you expect it to be…”
Well, it’s easy to say we expect big things in the future for the very talented Gabrielle Graham.