When you meet 19-year old Courtney Gray automatically you recognize his southern upbringing with a greeting of “yes mam” and a shy grin. But don’t let the timid face fool you. The energetic and ambitious young man is destined for stardom.
In Tyler Perry’s hit TBS sitcom “Meet the Browns” Gray plays Jamal, the lovable best friend of Brianna. Since the opening of Perry’s Atlanta studio in 2008, Gray has been working overtime and auditioning for a role.
“I auditioned three times,” he said. Finally, he received a call. He recalls receiving the call while at the bowling alley. “I picked up the phone and the woman introduced herself and followed with calling from Tyler Perry studios. I was so excited and so was my Mom,” Gray said. “She started crying.”
Gray’s second appearance on the show aired on August 19th.
Although he is on the cusp of a budding television career, he has been encouraged to make time to obtain a quality education at Paine College. “My uncle J.R. Henderson is a graduate of Paine,” Gray says. “He and my God brother Nick Ilugbo sold me and my family on the atmosphere at Paine.” Gray is a freshman Mass Communications major concentrating in Drama.
“Before I even thought of acting as a serious career, I wanted to be a track star,” Gray said. A 2008 graduate of Dutchtown High School, he was the jock playing football and running track. “One day my mom asked me what happens if you get hurt?.” That’s when I found something else I was good at,” he said.
Before making the big step towards college, Gray faced a few detours. “After I started auditioning for television, my mom decided to get me an agent. My agent found information about a play oversees that would be very rewarding,” he said. Soon after getting the information the play feel through. “I was planning to use the money I made for college,” he said. Steadfast in his quest for college funding, Gray tampered with the idea of joining the Marines. “Immediately mom said ‘no’, because she knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.”
Ever since he declared his love for acting, his mother Angela Johnson, has supported him. The self proclaimed “Momma’s boy” credits her for all his success. “My mom supports me and has invested a lot towards my dream,” he says. “She always says she wishes she’d known sooner.” Gray also credits his success to his family, who has always encouraged his gift. “My grandmother Anita Swain, uncle Cornelius Pope and my step-father have really kept me going.” Gray said each of his five siblings is also very supportive.
The Atlanta native is no stranger to acting; he’s been perfecting his craft since age 12. “I fell in love with acting after performing in a puppet show,” he said. I starting acting in front of crowds in 7th grade,” Gray recalls. I’ve always been a class clown and an outspoken child.”
He started doing theater outside of school in the 10th grade. He appeared in seven theater shows including Mid Summers Night Dream, Keeping Up With the Joneses and Breathe to name a few. He has training with various dialects and improvisation. While at Paine, he is looking forward to participating in drama productions under the direction of Dr. Don Cleary.
“I’m looking forward to doing theater here at Paine,” he says. “I want to learn, teach, and have fun.” He hopes to propose a theater production of Jitney by August Wilson.
Gray is already getting acquainted with several extra curricular student activities. He’s currently running for the title of Mr. Freshman and recently joined the Lions Activity Board.
For such a young man he has solid advice for aspiring actors.
“Acting is one of the hardest careers to make it in,” Gray says. “Never give up and always finish what you start.”
Much of his advice he applies to his college studies. “Research is kind of like homework. If you want to make the grade you have to study,” he said.
Top five tips towards a budding acting career:
Establish a look, a certain voice and style. You must be confident and it helps build you up.
Study and research to find out about the play, know the directors, and know everything about everything. It’s good to participate in the drama department. Try writing, studying, watching television, going to auditions. Watch sitcoms, read playwrights. It helps if you break down characters. Having an agent markets you more. Open casting calls for talent agencies. You validate many of the agencies that you see. Watch out for scams. You need an agent for televisions and movies. You must have a support system. Be around people you know will support you, and want to see you succeed and will be in your corner.
Because he’s an easy two-hour drive from Augusta to Atlanta, Gray will continue to be involved in acting. “In the future, I hope to appear in some of Tyler Perry’s plays,” he said. He will also visit home often to reunite with family and teach at Zion Dance Theatre in Stockbridge, Ga.