INTERVIEW: Ciera Payton, on She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix + New Tyler Perry Studios’ series, The Oval, on BET

Photographed by Alex Stone

Ciera Payton is a multi-faceted actress, writer, social activist, and entrepreneur. She can be seen in the second season of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, available for streaming on Netflix as well as the new Tyler Perry series, The Oval, on BET. Get to know more on how she got the role for Jameelah on She’s Gotta Have It, working with Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, and the positive message she wants to share with her fans. Did you know she also took a poetry class with Maya Angelou? We didn’t, but love that she did! Read on to find out more about her mantra, her upcoming roles, and her nonprofit, Michael’s Daughter.

GLITTER: Did you always want to be an actress?

CIERA: Yes! Definitely! I feel like acting was something that was always inside of me. I enjoyed being on stage at a young age, and thankfully, my family held space for me to stay involved in acting and arts programs.

GLITTER: What can you tell us about the new Tyler Perry series, The Oval, on BET? Who do you play?

CIERA: I play Lilly Winthrop. She’s a fashion designer who designs for the First Lady and many celebrities. She’s also married to the Chief of Staff. She makes one mistake that derails her whole life and she has to find her way out of it, even if it means giving up everything that she has worked so hard for. So with that, I can tell you for sure that this show will keep audiences on the edge of their seats! Lots of drama, action, and scandal.

GLITTER: What can you tell us about the second season of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix without giving anything away?

CIERA: In season two, all the characters are taking an introspective look into who they are, and also thinking about their future. It’s such a beautiful show to watch, and I think everyone will see pieces of themselves in each of the characters.

GLITTER: How did you get the role of Jameelah? How are you alike or unlike Jameelah?

CIERA: I was asked to self-tape for the role of Jameelah. It was a really cool experience because the tape needed to be done within a few hours so I had very little time to prepare. I couldn’t remember all the lines so I just improved some of the scenes and just decided to be myself (as cliché as it sounds). She and I are so much alike. I know what it’s like being the only one of my type in spaces that don’t hold spaces for someone like me. So that isolation and striving to do your best is something I am all too familiar with and so is Jameelah. I personally think I have a little more fight in me than Jameelah, when it comes to standing my ground on something I believe in. But she can’t fully stand up for herself like I would. She is totally an ally of and believes in Nola Darling, but I believe she had too much at risk to combat her bosses for Nola’s work. So I get it!

GLITTER: Have you been able to work directly with both Spike Lee, and his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, who is also an executive producer on the show?

CIERA: Yes. Spike directed all the episodes and Mrs. Lee was on site every day having her husband’s back and overseeing production. It was awesome to see them work with each other and to also work with them both.

GLITTER: Is it true that you met Maya Angelou? What was that experience like?

CIERA: Yes it’s true! I was a student of hers at Wake Forest University. I took her poetry class. I initially met her at her home in Winston-Salem, NC. I was invited to attend a private party she was hosting. At one point she was sitting all alone and the chancellor of my college nudged me to go speak with her. So I did. We sat and talked for what felt like hours. Before the party ended, I told her I wanted to take her poetry class at Wake Forest. At first, she told me she doesn’t allow auditing or students not enrolled at Wake Forest to take her classes, but I put up a fight (hence my previous answer) and told her how much I desired to take her course and promised her to do my best. Next thing I know, she had her assistant give me a number and email to send my info to so that I may enroll. It was such an incredible moment in my life. And so, I took her course and learned sooo much from her and from that moment of in my life.

GLITTER: What is something fans may not know about you?

CIERA: I’m a homebody and I find it really important for me to always keep my life/lifestyle chill and stress-free. Sometimes I think in this age of technology and city living, we’re all so accustomed to go go, go, go! I used to be that way but now I value quietness and tranquility more than anything. I love riding horses, going to the beach, and taking my nature walks. Those are the things that rock my world!

GLITTER: What can you tell us about Michael’s Daughter?

CIERA: Michael’s Daughter is a non-profit foundation that I created which provides arts-based programs and scholarships to youth and families impacted by having a loved one incarcerated. It’s very dear to me because growing up, my father had some challenges and was in and out of jail and prison. As I grew up, I realized how our society not only treats persons with substance abuse issues but also how children are treated and viewed. There’s a statistic that says, “Children of incarcerated parents are 75% more likely to end up in prison as well.” I beat those odds because of arts programs and arts education. It’s a miracle I’m where I am today, and I believe that getting involved in arts and creatively expressing myself at a young age aided in me getting to where I am today. And so with Michael’s Daughter, I wanted to have a place that catered to young people and families experiencing some of what I experienced growing and make a space where they can be creatively expressive and hopefully choose art as a healthier coping mechanism to those challenges. I also want to provide scholarships to youth wishing to attend college and emergency funds for those families who may need to buy their kids things such as shoes, or school supplies, but are limited to one income due to the other parent being incarcerated. This is the goal for my non-profit, and I’m thankful to have been helped out thus far by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural affairs. They fund my annual summer program, and it’s a wonderful collaboration.

To read Ciera’s full interview, download our Glitter app on iTunes now, jammed packed with over 30 celebrity interviews!