Shalita Grant joined the cast of NCIS: New Orleans at the end of its first season as ATF Agent Sonja Percy, and has returned to the character for the show’s sophomore season, which now sees Percy as part of the main crew.

Shalita Grant On NCIS: New Orleans

Sonja, who is working with NCIS as a hacker, is a probie – which means she needs to keep proving her worth for the team in order to stick around. “There’s a lot of probie pranks and a lot of testing her on all the terminology ‘cause now she’s NCIS,” Grant told uInterview in an exclusive interview. “The relationships are getting deeper, but Sonja in general is a bit of a badass, she’s tough and kinda in your face.”

While Grant can’t hack a computer quite like Sonja, she’s just as proficient surprising people with her strength. “I’m very strong. I do pull-ups and can push-up with the best of them,” Grant said. “We get some crew member that doesn’t know and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah so you know push-ups,’ and I’ll get down there and out push-up him and like clap on him. I mean it’s bad. Then I get up and I look pretty and I like do my job. So in that way, we are a lot alike.”

Grant also admitted to being the good-humored victim of newbie ribbing and pranking on the NCIS set. However, while she might struggle with some of the scripted jargon now and again, she claims that she’s far from being the only one who gets tongue-tied.

“If you were privy to any of the blooper reels, you’ll see that all of us stumble when it comes to most of those words, all the terminology. It’s hilarious,” Grant revealed. “Those are considered hard days, when you have to spit that stuff out and make it seem like, you know, you’ve been saying this for years.”

Grant, a black actress who is involved with anti-racism organization A People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, was thrilled to see three black women – Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) and Regina King (American Crime) – pick up acting awards at the 2015 Emmys. But, Grant noted that the victory doesn’t come without a note of sourness, as it has taken so long to get to this point.

“We’ve been on television since television, but the roles that we were allowed to have were not very indicative of our experiences,” Grant explained. “Most of them were, or seemed, racist, and they were racist tropes or stereotypes. And how that affects the black community and how it affects a white community as well is damaging.”

As for Davis’ speech, Grant says she was “floored” by it. “I was floored by what Viola Davis said,” admitted Grant. “A lot of people of color understand that intrinsically, but to say that on such a large platform, it was something that needed to be said. I’m interested to see what next year’s Emmys are going to look like.”

Grant could be looking at the possibility of an Emmy herself at next year’s Emmys, as she’s set to star in PBS Civil War miniseries Mercy Street, which will premiere in early 2016. In Mercy Street, Grant plays a slave who manumits herself and finds a job in Virginia.

NCIS: New Orleans airs on CBS Tuesdays at 9/8c. Mercy Street is slated to premiere on PBS Sunday, Jan. 17., following an episode of Downton Abbey.

Read more about:

Leave a comment


Q: What can viewers expect from your character this season? -

Sonja Percy came on at the end of season one and she was an ATF Agent, and she was working undercover and she took her job incredibly seriously. She’s deep undercover. Then, towards the end of the season, her and the crew become really close and realize that they can work together. But, Percy ends up breaking into the computer to see if they have a budget to hire her – which is like not ever a good idea, like ever in life. Don’t ever do that if you actually want a job. Hacking is not the way. But she ends up getting the job. So season two we start – tonight is the premiere – and it’s explosive! Like big stuff happens. We blow up a bridge and we gotta find a missile and it’s insane! In the midst of all that, Sonja is a probie. So there’s a lot of probie pranks and a lot of testing her on all the terminology ‘cause now she’s NCIS. The relationships are getting deeper, but Sonja in general is a bit of a badass, she’s tough and kinda in your face.
This season you get to see more levels, more depth; it’s not just that, it’s other things.

Q: How do you relate to your character on the show? -

I don’t hack; that’s not my jam. But, in other ways, I’m very strong. I do pull-ups and can push-up with the best of them. The crew’s favorite thing... We get some crew member that doesn’t know and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah so you know push-ups,’ and I’ll get down there and out push-up him and like clap on him. I mean it’s bad. Then I get up and I look pretty and I like do my job. So in that way, we are a lot alike.

Two, I feel like in a lot of ways Sonja’s journey with the NCIS team is also parallel to mine, being in the cast. So all these people have been working together for a full season and I show up and there’s a lot of ribbing that goes on and a lot of pranking, so it’s a good time. It’s a good cast and in a lot of ways it’s almost as if I’m not acting.

Q: Did you do any research for this role? -

If you were privy to any of the blooper reels, you’ll see that all of us stumble when it comes to most of those words, all the terminology. It’s hilarious. Those are considered hard days, when you have to spit that stuff out and make it seem like, you know, you’ve been saying this for years. I watched before the audition, a few episodes of NCIS: New Orleans specifically, but the NCIS franchise is so much a part of American culture and most people have seen at least one episode of NCIS. So, in that way, I kinda felt like, ‘Oh, I get to do that thing.’ You know, a lot of people love these shows. They follow them, they love the characters, they put up Change.org petitions to keep people on the show. They are die-hard fans and so the opportunity to be a part of something like that was very exciting. But in a lot of ways, I felt like I already knew what this is about. Because the show has been on for 13 seasons.

Q: Who will you play on ‘Mercy Street’ ? -

Mercy Street takes place during the second year of the Civil War, and it’s a mini-series. My character is Aurelia Johnson and she manumitted herself and came up to Alexandria, Virginia, which was Union occupied and got a job in the hospital as a laundress. Freedom for black people at the time wasn’t exactly free unless you had your family with you. Those family ties were one of the aspects of life that was decimated by slavery. Your family members could be sold, so the idea of family was very fluid within the African American community. The ability to have people that you were biologically linked to, living with you everyday was sort of the top of the priority list. She asks a man that works at the hospital to help her reunite with her family and she’s taken advantage of.

Q: What is the anti-racism group you are involved with? -

The organization is called A People's Institute For Survival and Beyond, and what they do is anti-racism workshops. They have been around for 35/36 years. They do these workshops all over the country They’re looking racism straight in the face and believe that because racism is something that has been done, it can be undone. But, it takes a lot of work.

Q: What did you think about three black women winning Emmys this year? -

I think the fact that year by year you don’t count the amount of white actors that were nominated. It says a lot about where we are. I’m so glad, and I believe that those women who won, their work was incredible this year. But, truthfully, throughout the years, and I think this is what a lot of them have said in some way, we’ve been on television since television, but the roles that we were allowed to have were not very indicative of our experiences. Most of them were, or seemed, racist, and they were racist tropes or stereotypes. And how that affects the black community and how it affects a white community as well is damaging. So the fact that right now we have a record number of people of color on television, and a record number of people of color writing, and a record number of people of color directing... But as you go up those lines, those numbers decrease significantly to nothing. Our studio heads and executives look the same as 10 years ago. So, there hasn’t been much of a sea change. But, I was floored by what Viola Davis said. A lot of people of color understand that intrinsically, but to say that on such a large platform, it was something that needed to be said. I’m interested to see what next year’s Emmys are going to look like.