Grace Gibson’s double duty as student, actress

Grace Gibson at the “Black Nativity” premiere in New York.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Grace Gibson at the “Black Nativity” premiere in New York.

It’s been a whirlwind week for 22-year-old Grace Gibson, the Berklee College of Music student who costars with Oscar-winners Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Jennifer Hudson in the Nov. 27 holiday release, “Black Nativity.”

Gibson, daughter of “Eve’s Bayou” actress Lynn Whitfield, was in New York City for the red-carpet premiere of the film on Monday. Then she was in Washington, D.C., for a TV taping on Tuesday. On Wednesday it was more travel.

Meanwhile, the up-and-coming star has to think about her schoolwork. Gibson, who plays the pregnant Maria in “Black Nativity” (which was directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also made “Eve’s Bayou”), is still enrolled in Berklee as a “professional music” major with a philosophy minor. She’s taking 14 credits this semester, despite being on the road for the release of her first major motion picture.


She checked in from one of her Amtrak trips to talk about the “Black Nativity” experience and about her academic priorities.

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Q. How crazy is this schedule right now?

A. It’s been pretty crazy, I can handle crazier, I’m never opposed to that. It’s been fun, it’s definitely been a journey.

Q. Was Monday your first big, red-carpet experience?

A. I’ve gone to other premieres, but they weren’t mine . . . so I never got that glammed for it. It was kind of like my debut, so it was really fun.


Q. Tell me about that dress.

A: It was Marc Bouwer; we actually found it totally last minute. I’ve been looking forever to no avail. And on Friday it was the last dress I tried on and it actually had some pretty big shoulder pads, so we had to take those out.

Q. I know that this required leaving school for a little bit, right?

A. Yes, it’s a back and forth. I really try to take care of my responsibilities on both ends.

Q. Tell me about the process of getting this role.


A. The auditioning process was about two years. I was involved in the pitch film that they used to [sell] the film to Fox. So that was really fun. We just shot that in like three hours. It was really cool to see it blossom from the beginning.

‘Sting came when we were singing . . . live on set. And the director came up to me . . . and said, “Oh yeah, by the way, Sting is sitting in the director’s chair right now so don’t mess up.” I was like “Oh my God, oh my God.” ’ — Grace Gibson, on the making of the movie “Black Nativity”

Q. What are some of the classes you’re enrolled in?

A. I’m still enrolled in the core credits, so I’m taking European music history, conducting, . . . mostly classical music composition classes. I’m really interested in film scoring so I’m taking some film scoring classes.

Q. You have a big ensemble song with Jennifer Hudson [and Jacob Latimore and Luke James]. It’s quite a number. What was it like to rehearse and film with her?

A. We were rehearsing with the choir director; they had a full 40-person choir. They were rehearsing since November and when we came in for rehearsals, it was January. We just rehearsed the song like how you would normally, and then Jennifer came in and rehearsed it a few times and we recorded. Then when we were finally getting to film that scene, we had to film it in the middle of the night because we were doing it on location in Harlem. We recorded vocals as well on the set, live vocals. So she was singing just full-out at 2 a.m. in the middle of 10-degree weather and with pure perfection. It was crazy, it was a special experience.

Q. Anybody in this film who made you a bit star struck?

A. Of course. Like, all of them. They all put me in awe. The person that really kind of left me at a loss for words wasn’t actually in the film. He just came to visit the set because his wife, Trudie Styler, was the producer. Sting came when we were singing the “Silent Night” song live on set. And the director came up to me and was giving me my notes and said, “Oh yeah, by the way, Sting is sitting in the director’s chair right now so don’t mess up.” I was like “Oh my God, oh my God.” I didn’t know if I should call him Sir Sting. I was like, “Are you a knight or something?” He was so sweet and welcoming; he was a really cool guy.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at