“You’ve come a long way.” That’s what I told actress Yaya DaCosta after revealing that I’d recently watched an old Law & Order: SVU episode from 2009 with her featured as a prostitute struggling to get her life together. She laughed in response, but it’s true. The Harlem native is light-years ahead of her days as a free-spirited up-and-coming model on America’s Next Top Model. She’s done soap operas, been on Broadway, covered major magazines, been in films like Lee Daniels’ The Butler and The Kids Are All Right, and even starred as Whitney Houston in the Lifetime biopic, Whitney.
DaCosta is currently starring as April Sexton on the hit NBC show Chicago Med, which returns for Season 2 tomorrow (9/8c). We caught up with the beautiful actress about her work on that program, and learned quite a bit about her. So, here are seven things we discovered (that don’t have to do with the marriage that was–or wasn’t) about DaCosta during our chat.
She loves playing nurse April Sexton:
“She is a young woman with a lot of ambition. She is focused. I really loved her drive, her integrity, her compassion, her sweetness,” DaCosta said. The actress also noted that her appreciation for Dick Wolf (who helped her nab that small role as a prostitute I told you about on SVU) made it a no-brainer role for her. “I grew up watching his shows, so I was just honored that he and everyone on his team wanted me to be a part of this new project. This is the third Chicago project, now there’s four. They really gave me no reason to not do it. There were other things I could have possibly done, and pilot season is always a gamble. But to me, this was the only option.”
She lives in Chicago for the show and loves it:
“I’m just really, really happy to be living here in Chicago, working with some of the most amazing people,” DaCosta said. When comparing working on a movie or having small roles on shows, the actress said being the star of a TV series is completely different. “For the first time, I feel settled. I feel like for the first time, I have a home. I love Chicago. We film 10 out of 12 months of the year here. We are establishing roots and connections here. It’s a wonderful city. I couldn’t be happier.”
She’s lost hair dealing with Hollywood hairstylists:
“It’s definitely refreshing,” DaCosta said about wearing a naturally curly style to play Sexton. “I’m always open as an actor to experimenting, and I’ve done a lot of that. I’ve gone blond for a job. I’ve had my hair pressed every day for a job which caused breakage. We have an amazing team in the hair and makeup department who care about the health of our tresses. I can just close my eyes at 5 a.m. if I’m tired and let them do their thing. I don’t have to worry about someone accidentally leaving a hot iron on too long and that whole section of hair sticking to it and coming out — that’s happened. All kinds of horror stories. I just feel so blessed to be with such a talented and knowledgeable crew.”
She would do a biopic again, but under different circumstances:
“Playing a person who lived and breathed who people knew is one of the most daunting tasks an actor can take on because you have a lot less room for creativity. You want to honor the person’s memory, and you have a lot of people to answer to — strangers, just as much as family members,” DaCosta said about her experience playing Whitney Houston.
“There are certain characters who have very specific qualities. To emulate those can be very difficult. I would definitely do it again in the future, but I would need to sit with the character for a lot longer than the last opportunity. It was amazing, especially given the time and resources we had. Angela [Bassett] did an amazing job and everybody was great. But if I did it again in the future, I would definitely want more time.”
Motherhood changed her completely:
“Before having a child, I was very active in my work. I was pretty secure in my young womanhood,” DaCosta said. “In the experience of having him, it gave me so much strength and insight into who I really am. It gave me the ability to see that I had a lot of growing up to do. It happened very quickly, and obviously we’re always growing until we leave the planet. But I was blessed with a very intense growth through a period of accelerated learning. It’s the biggest gift, and I’m so, so grateful.”
One of her favorite books is by Dr. Seuss:
“Oh the Places You’ll Go,” DaCosta said. “It’s amazing! At any age, you finish that book and you just feel motivated. It’s so beautifully written. I loved it as a kid and it’s refreshing. I still have a copy now that, of course, I read to my little one.
She has a favorite Harlemmite:
After passing on my recommendation of Diddy or Mase, DaCosta said, “Tupac. Hands down, up and down, all around.” He was born in East Harlem in 1971.