Shalita Grant’s Secret Weapon for Character Work? Her Natural Hair.

Shalita Grant self portrait
Courtesy of Shalita Grant

Shalita Grant can do it all. On Search Party, she stole the show as Dory Sief’s ditzy lawyer. Then, the actress stole the hearts of the massively popular Netflix series You’s casting departmentafter watching her performance on the HBO Max cult series, they asked her to play Sherry, a Bay Area mommy blogger whose self-obsession and condescension gets under the skin of Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti).

“One of my boundaries right after I left NCIS was that I have to watch the shows I’m on. No more just taking jobs,” Grant told W on a Zoom call from Mexico while referring to her stint on the police procedural, in which she played special agent Sonja Percy for four seasons.. “Burnout is real and there are a lot of causes to that, but one of them is when you’re working on things you don’t really care about.” Like most of us, Grant was already a fan of You, after binging the first season during a vacation just before the pandemic. While stuck in L.A.—not unlike the show’s antihero Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) the last time we saw him—during lockdown, she binged the second season. “This third season is really putting a strong light on these suburban tropes we’re used to, and it’s buck wild,” the actress said. “It’s a fabulous introduction into the world of Madre Linda, and this serial killer marriage and new parents. But it’s also highlighting issues within marriages and why women stay in them.”

Although the Tony-nominated actress isn’t obsessed with her looks the way her You character might be, another passion of Grant’s happens to be haircare. And after years of hair mistreatment on set, she’s drawing a clear boundary when she gets into the hair and makeup chair. “I was on a show for three years that had decimated my hair, and when I got off that show, it was a horror story,” Grant said. “When you’re doing TV, you’re getting your hair done a lot. In January of 2017, I already had a bald spot in the center of my head from the first year. I sent photos of my hair to my producer to show him what was happening. After six months, there wasn’t much left.”

Below, the actress talks about her journey to becoming the founder of her own hair care line, her natural hair becoming a secret weapon for inhabiting Sherry on You, and the madness that’s in store for season three.

Before you appeared on season three of Search Party, you also started a hair care line and spa called Four Naturals. How did you decide to take the damage that was done to your hair on set of another show, and spin it into something useful for the future?

Any person with textured hair in our industry experiences that kind of negligence because our industry is a reflection of the hair industry. The cosmetology board doesn’t teach textured hair care education. There is a lack of knowledge across the board about textured hair, how to comb it, how to detangle it, how to care for it, high porosity, low porosity. When I got off that show, I was like, I need to solve this problem—that was not the first show I had issues with, and it’s going to be an ongoing thing. How can I heal myself and do my job?

How did it help you do your job?

I’m an actress who prides herself on character work. My hair tells a story, so I would do the most for my auditions. When I get on a show, it’s hard to sustain a lot of those hairstyles. I went through trauma therapy after that show, and went into play therapy, and I was like, I’m going to pretend I am a cosmetic chemist. I started doing all this research online; I wanted to confront a lot of the anti-Blackness that I experienced.

What were some of the other goals you wanted to achieve when concocting the products?

One of those things had to with my curl definition. I wanted to solve growth plateaus, to retain what I was growing. I looked into a lot of hair cultures and asked, what are their practices? What are their ingredients? I also wanted to make sure that everything stayed natural because another anti-Black stereotype is that we need chemicals for our hair. I discovered the use of the henna plant in Indian culture. I watched YouTube videos and read articles from Black women who tried henna and explained why it didn’t work. Then I created the Four Naturals treatment and mud mask. It contains henna and other humectants that bind to the hair strand and fill in all the gaps to give your hair the weight it needs.

Did you have any personal experience with hair expertise before?

My grandma has owned a hair salon since before I was born. My mom was hairstylist. I grew up in the hair salon. I knew what we knew about our hair, which is nothing. But with a little focus, I created something that solved all of my problems. I know for certain that I would not have been able to do that role of Sherry had I not had long, strong, natural hair to give you “There is nothing you can say about me, I’m the queen of this place.”

How else did you use your hair to tap into this character?

Sherry has an internet persona called “Heart-shaped mistakes.” She’s a woman who is “vulnerable” with her humanity. She just happens to have a really gorgeous family. [Laughs.] Because I’m wearing my natural hair, it’s still playing into that, but it’s also playing into the politics of pretty—and as an actress, but also as a Black woman, it was really powerful for me to go into the hair trailer and hand them my products and give the instructions. A white woman straightened my hair, curled my hair. She added a couple extensions here and there for a few scenes. But at the end of that six months, I left with more hair on my head than I had when I got there. That was a healing experience.

It’s wild that, as you pointed out, there’s not enough education about textured hair for cosmetologists and people in the hair union. As the actress, you shouldn’t have to do the teaching, but sometimes you just do.

Cicely Tyson was on The View a few years ago, and Sherri Shepherd asked her how she’d seen things change in her career. She said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I hadn’t gotten to Hollywood yet, I was still in theater. At the time, I was like, really? I was used to the ‘90s, when there were so many great Black shows that I grew up with. But she was absolutely right. You speak to so many Black actors or Black people in this industry, and everybody has a similar story. This is the moment where things have to change. It’s not just about diversity because you can have a diverse cast while everyone’s experiencing anti-Blackness.

What’s the best tip or trick you’ve picked up on set regarding protecting your hair?

The Four Naturals treatment has made my hair bulletproof. They used to use a flat iron on my hair and blend it into a wig. My hair has medium to low density and high porosity, so that means it could just snap off after so much heat. But now I have henna around my strands, to fill in the gaps in the pores of my hair cuticles.

What’s your nighttime hair routine?

I always wrap it. I always use a bonnet. My manager is a white lady, and she was like, why do you get such a bad rap for using bonnets? I put a whole thong on my head to wrap it up! [Laughs.]

What sort of facial treatments do you use?

I have a whole regimen. The latest one that I built in there is the derma-planing facial. I use carbon cleanser, alcohol, then derma-plane the whole face. Then I hit what I call the cleanser zone. I do glycolic acid, salicylic acid. Then I throw on the exfoliator, which is usually Cetaphil. Then I steam—just put a bowl of water in the microwave for two minutes, cover your face with a towel, and that’s your steamer. After drying, I use a chemical peel or microdermabrasion. I use The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution “blood facial.” Then I use ice to close my pores, serum, and moisturizer. I just put on a couple of episodes of something, and self-love my way to some baby skin.

What’s your ideal spa day?

I’m going to keep it one hundo—I’ve been all over the world and had facial treatments, and honestly, it’s super uncomfortable being in those spaces. The silver lining for me with this pandemic is embracing how much I love being home with my dogs and my lady. I don’t go anywhere! I even learned how to do my nails at home. Also, my girl hooks my nails up because [XFC fighter Jessica Aguilar] is a former MMA world champion, but she’s also an artist.

What’s the one skincare rule by which you abide?

Serums have changed my skincare game. I used to clean my face, throw on some acne stuff, and moisturize. Now, especially after age 30, I have to keep it tight with some extra steps. The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid and niacinamide serum creates a beautiful layer, and once I moisturize, I get compliments on my skin. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was become an old lady. When I got my first couple of pimples, I was so proud. I was growing! I was aging! But my skin was really bad with acne. So now, in my thirties, to get compliments on my skin is great.

Do you have a beauty icon?

I get inspired by people, but I'm not someone that picks one person. I’m not someone that picks one philosophy! But I’ll say that Angela Bassett is aging gloriously. If I could aspire to anything, it would be to age as gracefully as she does.

What’s the best piece of beauty advice you’ve ever received?

I don't know where I got this from, but I just started really investing in my natural beauty. I had a couple of people that told me I wore too much makeup. [Laughs.] I got off that and really invested in my natural skin, no false nails, natural hair.

What's your favorite form of self care?

There are many! I need a lot. I love socks and comfy clothes with a nice movie and a treatment of some sort—hair or face.