While the long, lazy days of summer have come to an end, a new season is just beginning. Not only is school back in session, it’s also the return of our favorite TV shows and their compelling characters. From comedy to drama to adventure, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
So sit back, relax, and get to know some of this year’s hottest stars as they dish with BELLA about their latest roles.
Fans of the hit show “Rosewood” know her as the smart, fun-loving, protective toxicologist expert Pippy (and sister to Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr.), but actress Gabrielle Dennis has been making a name for herself ever since she arrived in Los Angeles after graduating from Howard University.
“I got my start on a wing and a prayer,” she says. “I hopped in my car and drove cross-country; the rest is history.”
Acting wasn’t her first love, however. “My initial goal was to be the first Misty Copeland – before we knew Misty Copeland,” says the former dancer. “I wanted to be a full-fledged ballerina.”
Over time, injuries sidelined that dream; however, after starring in some commercials and small productions in her hometown of Cincinnati, Dennis caught the acting bug. “It’s funny how we have a plan and God has something different in mind,” she says.
Before joining “Rosewood,” Dennis found work on smaller projects. In 1998 she served as a co-host on “Teen Summit,” a teenage talk show on BET, and in 2006 she worked with Damon Wayans on his sketch comedy show “The Underground.”
“That was one of my ‘pinch-me’ moments,” Dennis says. “Landing that show, I thought I had made it. But after one season we were canceled – that was my first taste of failure in Hollywood.”
Fast-forward a few years to her breakout role on “The Game,” a show that brought her more into the public eye. “People started recognizing me and it felt a bit strange,” she says. “Now being on ‘Rosewood’ puts me on a whole other level – it’s that next tier appearing on network TV.”
Dennis enjoys being part of the “Rosewood” cast and working with consummate professionals, both in front of and behind the camera. “There’s a bit of magic and energy that surrounds our set because most of us haven’t been here before,” she says of her fellow young actors. She also gives a shout-out to the more experienced talent who set an example for the rest of the cast.
“I love that Morris [Chestnut] is the captain of our team,” says the actress. “He’s such a pro and sets the tone for the rest of us. He loves his job and is a great role model.”
Fans of the show can expect to see Dennis’ character rediscovering her passion for music this season. “She gave up singing when she went to work with her brother, but now that she’s quit her job and lost her fiancé, it’s time to see her dealing with real-life issues of heartbreak and loss,” says Dennis. “It will be interesting to see how Pippy deals with this pain.”
With the additional musical component on the show, Dennis, who studied musical theater, now has the opportunity to do something else she loves: sing. “As an actor you can portray so many things and not have to make a career out of it,” she says.
Beyond her work on-screen, Dennis makes sure to give back through volunteering. From helping feed the homeless at a friend’s church to working with Habitat for Humanity and assisting fellow actor Pooch Hall and his wife Linda with their organization Djanai’s Angels, the actress is committed to philanthropy. Recently, she spent time in Jamaica with the RuJohn Foundation, helping children who are less fortunate see that they can accomplish their dreams.
“I try to surround myself with people who want to give back,” says Dennis. “Maybe one day I’ll start my own non-profit.”
Looking ahead, Dennis says she’d love to be part of an all-female comedy cast like “Miss Congeniality” or “Bridesmaids.” A comedian herself, the actress loves funny women who can carry a movie. And, she adds, “the other side of me would love to do an action film, something that involves physicality.”
Happiest when she is surrounded by the people she loves, Dennis is embracing all of the amazing opportunities she’s encountered since getting her start. “The sky’s the limit and I don’t feel like I’ve peaked yet,” she says. “I’m on my way.”
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As the daughter of military parents, Florida-born actress Erica Ash never spent much time in one place. So after graduating from college, she decided to spend a year in Japan before starting medical school. Her time of self-discovery altered her life’s course, as it was then that she discovered performing arts as a career.
“I’ve always been a bit of a ham,” says the actress. “It’s just the personality I was born with.”
Though her parents had decided she would be a doctor, landing a few paying gigs in Japan (her first was a back-up singer in a band) led her to move back to the States and pursue acting as a career. “Had I been free to follow my spirit from the start, I think I would have chosen to be an actor early on,” says Ash.
After a brief stop in Los Angeles, Ash settled in New York City. Her early work included the final season of “MADtv” as well as the Broadway National Tour for both “The Lion King” and “The Color Purple.” The actress made her Broadway debut with “Baby It’s You!”
“I was an original cast member,” says Ash. “It was my face on the buildings and billboards, and my voice on the original cast album.” With aspirations to revisit the stage at some point in her career, she says, “Broadway has not seen the last of me for sure.”
Since 2013, the actress has appeared in two hit TV shows – “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and “Survivor’s Remorse.” “‘Real Husbands of Hollywood’ was the first role that got me noticed when walking down the street,” she says. “But as an artist, my character M-Chuck in ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ is the breakout role I’m most proud of.”
On “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” Ash says she has been blessed to work with some of the funniest names in comedy, spending her days with seasoned professionals who help her become a better comedic actress. “I get a free comedy show every day and I get paid for it,” says the actress. “I’ve always learned best on the job, and I could not have asked for better teachers.”
Her character, Bridgette Hart, is the fictional ex-wife of actor and comedian Kevin Hart. She’s a hustler who is not only crazy, but also gets a ton of laughs. “She’s everything my mother and father raised me not to be!” jokes Ash. Bridgette is the type of person who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and Ash is enjoying the opportunity to play such a character. “I have the excuse, ‘Because it’s my job,’” she says.
The show is a parody of reality TV, a phenomenon audiences can’t seem to get enough of. “It’s a form of release for people,” says Ash. “If your framework won’t allow you to react gutturally in a real-life situation, mentally you can put yourself in the shoes of someone who has no problem doing so.”
On “Survivor’s Remorse,” the actress is enjoying a completely different type of role, one in which she is able to dig deeper creatively. Her character, Mary “M-Chuck” Charles, is multi-dimensional and cynical – she says whatever is on her mind, much like the actress herself. “We’re both ballsy, but my character takes everything a few steps further than I would,” says Ash.
Basketball superstar LeBron James is one of the executive producers of the show, something Ash says is “epic” for both the show and for her, especially after he led his team to victory this summer, breaking a 52-year no-championship streak for Cleveland. “It figuratively and literally lets me know how close I am to greatness,” she says.
Looking ahead, the actress has plans not only to return to Broadway, but also to work in film. With everything she’s accomplished so far, she says her biggest “pinch-me” moment came at this year’s Essence Festival, when she took a selfie with Oprah.
A beautiful and talented actress, Ash believes it’s how you feel that radiates beauty. “If you sell it, people will surely buy it,” she says. “I am happiest when I am living an optimal healthy lifestyle.”
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“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Those words, spoken by her father, ring true for actress Candice Patton, best known for her role as Iris West on the CW’s hit show “The Flash.”
With a desire to act since childhood, Patton grew up watching “I Love Lucy” and idolizing Lucille Ball. “I knew I wanted to entertain like her – to make people feel as good as she made me feel when I would escape into her show every night,” says Patton.
After graduating from college with a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater, the Texas-raised actress headed straight to Los Angeles. “I was lucky to find my passion at a young age, and I was even luckier to have non-artistic parents who supported that every step of the way,” she says.
Following a brief stint on “The Young and the Restless” while still in college, Patton has worked steadily ever since, earning guest-starring roles on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” and “The Game,” to name just a few. In 2014, she landed her first series regular role on “The Flash.”
“It was my goal for a long time to book a long-term contract role on a show,” says Patton. “When I got the call from my manager, I fell to my knees – mostly out of sheer relief that I had reached that goal.”
When auditioning for a part in the series based on the DC Comics character of the same name, Patton didn’t know much about “The Flash” specifically, as she was more of a Batman fan growing up. “To prepare for the part, I read a few of the comics to get a feel for the tone of this world and the characters, but a lot of my creation of Iris came from the scripts,” she says.
“I didn’t want her to be a carbon copy of the comics; I wanted her to feel real to me,” says Patton. For fans of the series, it’s obvious that Iris West is no damsel in distress – she’s a strong woman who can clearly hold her own.
“She’s positive and hopeful, and I love that she’s not a superhero,” says Patton. “But that doesn’t stop her from wanting to help and do positive things for her community.”
Iris West is also the long-time best friend and love interest for Barry Allen (aka The Flash). As a reporter at Picture News, she helps Team Flash protect Central City and the world.
“I love the loyalty and deep connection she has to Barry,” says Patton. It’s something fans of the couple will get to see more of this season, along with the introduction of new villains.
And while Patton and West both assert themselves and are clear about what they believe in, the actress says her character is a lot more fearless and self-assured than she is.
Though the show has been a breakout role for Patton, her star has only just begun to shine. She looks up to actresses like Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts, and Zoe Saldana – classy and strong women whose careers she aspires to emulate. “These women have carved out long careers for themselves, and there’s something about each one of them that I hope to have for myself one day,” she says.
Patton’s future aspirations include focusing on film, both independent features and blockbusters. “I’m excited to eventually move into that world when the timing is right,” she says. “I’d also love to develop projects later in my career and be at the helm of making creative and diverse decisions in Hollywood.”
As she moves forward, Patton admits it’s not easy to choose that “one moment” in her career that has been defining. “There have been a lot of cool moments, but in the same breath, all of it feels right,” she says. “I have a lot of gratitude for where I am and how far I’ve come. Somewhere deep inside I know that I was destined for this journey.”
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Actor and comedian LaRoyce Hawkins credits a speech tournament in high school for his start in the business. “After winning a particular tournament, a judge told me he would have paid to see my performance. In my head I was in the business from that moment on,” says Hawkins.
As a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Hawkins explored many varied interests. While entertainment felt the most natural and provided the most fulfillment, he says what was most important was having the love and support of those closest to him. “That’s a major key for a kid, and I have to thank God for the powerful support system I grew up with,” he says.
While studying acting in college, Hawkins began doing stand-up comedy and participating in open mic nights. Although he has made his career on-screen as an actor, he’s never truly separated his talents; it’s what makes him a well-rounded entertainer.
“I’ve always felt like each gift was racing the other to see which would pop first, and I guess acting won,” he says. Still, he continues to perform at comedy shows a few times a month.
When he was still in school, the actor briefly left to shoot the film “The Express,” but chose to resume his studies afterward. Difficulty booking another gig and the fact that he squandered most of the money he earned left him humbled. In that moment, Hawkins says he realized how uncertain and indefinite the business could be. His goal was longevity and he knew that in order to attain it, he had to cultivate his talent.
“Going back to school was probably one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made,” says Hawkins.
In addition to a handful of guest-starring roles, the actor is now pulling full-time duty as Officer Kevin Atwater, his biggest role to date, on NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” Upon learning he had landed the part, Hawkins says he thanked God and couldn’t wait to tell his family. “I felt like we did this and I knew this would be an opportunity that would change our lives, not just mine.”
As the only cast member originally from the Chicago area, Hawkins says his character is a lot like him. Both are from Harvey, a south suburb of Chicago, and grew up with limited resources. Atwater’s decision to become a cop stemmed from his motivation to protect his little sister and brothers after losing their parents to the prison system.
And while cops aren’t always respected, Hawkins and his castmates portray the kinds of cops they all can look up to.
“Being from Chicago forces everything to resonate,” he says. “Most of our stories hit home enough for me to pull powerful personal references.”
The actor promises nothing less than excellence when the show returns for its fourth season in September. Excited about the stories they’re telling, Hawkins also loves the camaraderie among his castmates. After all, he has always drawn inspiration from those around him. Actors like Eamonn Walker, Jason Beghe, Jon Seda, and Elias Koteas are amazing examples of the type of talent he’s surrounded by daily. “I’m blessed to be able to work with the dopest veterans in the game,” says Hawkins.
While the show is his number-one priority right now, Hawkins knows he will continue to tell great stories and portray great characters as he moves forward in his career. “I hope that no matter what I do, my work inspires good vibes somewhere,” he says. “I have a vision of a pretty fun career.”
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For a girl who didn’t set out to be a performer, actress Shalita Grant has achieved significant success on stage and on screen. During her sophomore year of high school, the Virginia native moved to Baltimore and auditioned for the local arts school. “I was too old and too late to audition, but the head of the program at the Baltimore School for the Arts gave me a shot,” says Grant.
From there she was encouraged to audition for The Juilliard School in New York City, unaware of the school’s prestigious reputation. Accepted on a scholarship, the future actress’ life was about to change. “It wasn’t until after the first week there that I realized what had just happened to me, or rather, what I had accomplished,” she says.
After that, Grant landed her first agent and manager, and booked her first job performing Shakespeare in the Park. Her big break came when she appeared in the Tony Award-winning Broadway play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” In 2013, she was nominated for her first Tony Award for her role as Cassandra, the psychic cleaning woman.
Once she wrapped up her run on stage, the actress took a leap of faith and left New York City for Los Angeles to forge a career in television.
Judging from her role on the hit CBS show “NCIS: New Orleans,” the decision to move was the right one. Joining the popular franchise in a recurring role, both the character and Grant caught on with viewers and the powers that be. So when the show returned for its second season, Grant was promoted to a series regular.
“I found out the news my last day on set and I wasn’t sure if it was really happening, but I was over the moon that they really wanted me on the show,” says the actress.
In her role as Special Agent Sonja Percy, Grant has been able to put her strength and fitness to use since her very first episode. Her character is smart, tough, sassy, and bold, which sometimes gets her in trouble. “Part of her learning curve is being a member of a team and asking for permission rather than apologizing,” she says.
Grant loves the fact that not only are she and Percy already so much alike, but the writers and show-runner also appreciate it when she brings more of herself, her sense of humor, and the slang she uses to her character.
Early in 2016, Grant also starred in the first season of the PBS Civil War miniseries “Mercy Street.” Portraying an escaped slave who was brutally taken advantage of pushed the actress to places she hasn’t been artistically since she was at Juilliard.
“It meant a lot to me to tell her story, especially because the resilience of black women is not often portrayed in such a compassionate light,” Grant says. “It’s always a privilege to tell a three-dimensional story.”
Along with acting, Grant is passionate about fitness and living a healthy lifestyle. Not only is it beneficial for her body, but focusing on strength training also allows for less use of a stunt double. “There’s so much more I can do without one, and it’s so empowering,” she says.
Though Grant is focusing on her television career right now, she keeps up with NYC theater and has no doubt she’ll return to the stage one day. “It’s where I got my start,” she says.
As for the future, Grant is concentrating on being a better version of herself. “I am most passionate about my happiness,” she says.
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