Former ‘NCIS: New Orlean’s’ Star Shalita Grant Did the Most Relatable Thing to Survive Before Landing the Role

Everyone in Hollywood has a backstory. The cast of NCIS: New Orleans gathered in The Big Easy from all across the country. Each has his or her own tale of survival before landing their NCIS roles. Former star, Shalita Grant, may have the ultimate story of perseverance. Here’s what she did before becoming ATF Agent Sonja Percy in the hit CBS series.

Shalita Grant had a ridiculous number of auditions before ‘NCIS: New Orleans’

'NCIS: New Orleans'
Shalita Grant as Sonja Percy and Vanessa Ferlito as FBI Special Agent Tammy Gregorio | Skip Bolen/CBS via Getty Images

Even though Shalita Grant is a Tony-nominated actress (for her work in the 2013 comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), the doors didn’t open automatically for the star.

Grant packed up and moved to Los Angeles after feeling she did all she could do in the New York theater scene. Grant previously admitted to Daily Actor she thought about trying to “get another show” and “try to win” but ultimately didn’t see it “worth” her time.

She didn’t want the scope of her career focused on obtaining awards.

“So I was like, ‘I would rather go and see what the rest of my career has to offer’. So, the next step was moving out to LA,'” she said.

That move, however, didn’t manifest into Grant’s dreams all at once. She assumed the Tony nomination might earn her industry respect, opening doors to all the roles she could imagine.

“That was not the case,” she said. Grant tested right away, multiple times, but didn’t book anything. In fact, the NCIS: New Orleans star had 59 different projects she auditioned for in the span of a year.

“Out of the 59, I had five tests. Four tests before the year and I had one more test for an HBO show that December before I booked NCIS,” she said. “The four tests, two went to network, two went to studio and no job. So for me, that was hard.”

While auditioning, Grant said there was a week she cried in her car. The reality of it all sank in, particularly the way casting calls work.

“A lot of times, stuff is already in play with other actors and the casting directors are covering their butts by taking on these other sessions where within like two days later you find out another person booked the job,” she said.

“So you realize of that audition I did two days ago where I made them laugh, they weren’t actually. They already had an actress with far more credits that they were looking to hire and her contract just went through. So that feels really bad.”

Luckily, Grant didn’t quit. Her big break was forming if only she could make ends meet long enough to get there.

What did Grant do to get jobs before ATF Agent Sonja Percy came along?

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Though Grant moved to L.A. with a $10,000 cushion, that didn’t last long — especially when she hadn’t booked any jobs from the dozens of auditions.

“I ran out of money and I was like, ‘I have to find a way to support myself because my career [laughs]is in the gutter,'” she said. This is typically where the strong separate themselves from the pack and find ways to carry one.

Many of Hollywood’s elite started out as a waitress or barista, but Grant didn’t want anyone to know her acting dream. Instead, she “made up a whole life” for herself, went on YouTube, and taught herself how to bartend.

“I talked my way into a job at a dive bar and got fired because they figured out that I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “And then I lied my way into another job at Dave and Buster’s. And I was working there, drenched in syrup and just having a bad attitude from clientele and I was embarrassed.”

Grant didn’t know ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ was just around the corner

It took an entire year before Grant booked her first acting job. She guest-starred on the CBS show, Battle Creek, which didn’t last. Then, panic set in.

“When in my gonna book the next job? I don’t want to live like this, I’m too smart. There are so many other things I could do, this is awful,’” she said. “And I really understood for the first time how LA can kill your dreams.”

Grant was so close to quitting, she called her managers to say as much. They told her to “stick it out,” so, she did. From there, she landed roles about every other month with NCIS: New Orleans in the mix.

“It was like a three-part thing where I was recurring but they gave me a holding deal and they were like, it could turn into a series regular. And here we are,” she said.

That holding deal turned into Grant becoming a series regular by her fourth episode. Around the same time, she booked the PBS miniseries, Mercy Street, which had her flying back and forth between Virginia and New Orleans.

As for Grant’s next project, it’s unclear. She’ll likely continue “sticking it out,” since it’s a proven method for success.

“Hopefully I’ll get another job. I love working. I love it. It’s my favorite thing,” she said. The NCIS franchise didn’t writer her character off entirely, so there’s always a chance Special Agent Percy could return. At least, fans hope so.

NCIS: New Orleans returns to CBS on Sunday, February 16.