Outer Banks owes much of its runaway success to timing. The Netflix action-adventure drama, frequently billed as a sort of The O.C. meets The Goonies, hit the streaming behemoth just as the reality of the pandemic’s longevity had finally settled in for most of America. As we surveyed our new confinement—the four walls in which we brushed our teeth, read and re-read the same text messages, and attempted oddly aspirational new hobbies—we turned our attention to the ludicrous surreality of Outer Banks. A vacation fever dream at heart, OBX whisked us to the shores of North Carolina, where surfing, suntans, and a Romeo-and-Juliet-styled summer fling awaited. Well, that and $400 million in gold.
You can see the appeal.
But what made Outer Banks transcendent had nothing to do with timing. Above all, the series is beloved for its cast: Chase Stokes (John B), Madelyn Cline (Sarah Cameron), Madison Bailey (Kiara), Rudy Pankow (JJ), and Jonathan Daviss (Pope) make up the Pogues, the small-fish, (mostly) working-class underdogs who would quite literally take a bullet for one another. As much in real life as on-screen, they embody a languid, easy symbiosis, the kind of friendship you envy as much as appreciate. Stokes and Cline fell in love on set, going official with their relationship after the first season landed. The group seems to keep in weekly, if not daily, communication, trading barbs and pranks like long-separated siblings.
You can see why it might be terrifying to butt into that kind of love.
But Carlacia Grant, the 30-year-old new addition to Outer Banks season 2, is not easily intimidated. She first met the Pogue crew over a Zoom chemistry read, during which Grant says their synergy was immediately self-evident; there was no way this was not their Cleo, the street-smart Nassau teen who’d guide Stokes’s John B and Cline’s Sarah to safety. The irony, of course, was that the casting directors almost skipped right over her. When Grant sent in her audition tape, it went unanswered for months as the crew endured repeated recastings and calls for auditions. So Grant’s agent, convinced the actress was a perfect fit, resubmitted her tape. You already know what happened next.
“Me being of Caribbean descent, I really understood [this role],” Grant says. “I knew that I could pull off the accent very, very well. I sent the tape, and I watched it and I just kept watching. I was like, ‘This is good.’ The person who taped me, my friend: ‘Yeah, you got this.’ I don’t know. It was just a feeling that I was just like, ‘This one feels right.’”
That hypothesis was confirmed when she was flown out to South Carolina under strict COVID-19 protocols. Placed under a 72-hour hold in her hotel room, she wasn’t allowed to leave until she’d completed quarantine. Her birthday came and went. When the hours finally crawled past, she crept down onto set for a wardrobe fitting, when Daviss sauntered by. Grant wasn’t scheduled to film that day—she was meant to come and go without interruption. But as Daviss insisted, “Come hang out with us,” she ended up spending the rest of the day with the Pogues, laughing at their best scene-stealing quips and jiving with the escapist energy that makes Outer Banks—while undoubtedly ridiculous—so infectious. Even in season 2, the series retains the creative trope cocktail that made the first such a hit: fugitive lovers, sun, salt, sand, and sex. Explosions, gunshots, car chases, kisses. Gold.
Outer Banks isn’t a show you’re meant to take seriously, and yet for many fans it’s the show to which they’re most devoted. Perhaps that’s thanks to the commitment of the actors themselves: Grant felt she owed something sincere to Cleo, a 17-year-old orphaned in Nassau at around 10 or 11. Showrunner Jonas Pate told Grant that Cleo was named after Queen Cleopatra, which Grant took as a cue to study up on Egyptian history. “She’s smarter, faster, better than everyone else, but she’s smart enough to not show it,” Grant says.
She made Cleo playlists filled with “groovy Caribbean” beats from Rapsody, Popcaan, and Rihanna. “I do a lot of my character development on the treadmill and during my cardio. Because I absolutely hate cardio,” she laughs.
On the treadmill, she’d cook up backstories that she’d later use to diary in Cleo’s voice. In the first few episodes of season 2, it’s revealed that Cleo grew up on the streets, her father having left her before her grandmother died. But little else about Cleo’s origin story is shared with the audience. So Grant took off on her own, crafting scenes with Cleo’s grandmother where the wise woman would instruct, “I’m not going to be here much longer, but I want you to be what I know that you can be, and you can’t give up. Sometimes it’s going to get tough, but you have to keep pushing forward. You’re a fighter,‘’ Grant says.
“It’s that spirit of an island person,” she explains. “Being from the West Indies is having that pride, the pride of the people. The pride of yourself.”
Although of Caribbean descent, Grant was born in New Haven, CT, where she performed her first acting role at age 13. (At summer camp, no less. She played Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island.) Her family later moved to south Florida, where she attended commercial castings in Miami, convinced from her preteen years that acting was the ultimate goal—the only career that fit her gregarious personality. She tried attending college but dropped out to move to New York City for acting gigs, only to find that Manhattan was a breeding ground for Broadway types more than Hollywood starlets. She roamed then, from New York to Atlanta, then to New Orleans, before finally settling in Los Angeles.
Watching Grant in Outer Banks, any skepticism over her commitment to an acting career fades. She’s certainly one of the most sophisticated actors on the show, astute but playful, wielding a knife like it’s an extension of her arm. Although she’s appeared in other programs, such as Greenleaf and the Roots remake, this is Grant’s first time as a series regular, and you can tell she feels she’s won the Netflix lottery with a debut like Outer Banks.
When she flew to Barbados to film the season 2 scenes set in the Bahamas, she had so much fun that it was a challenge to maintain Cleo’s cool, practiced calm. The water was warm, she says, and the beaches brilliantly white. During her action scenes, she got to sprint, waggle her knife, and dive headfirst into the ocean. She laughed with Cline between every take. If this was work, she never wanted it to end.
But her time in Barbados also gave her a first glimpse of the world Stokes, Cline, Daviss, Bailey and Pankow had inhabited for the last year. Outer Banks fans are notoriously insatiable. When she woke at three in the morning to film a scene set at night, she discovered they had camped outside the front and back of her hotel, eager for a glimpse of the stars.
“The fan base is just so intense,” Grant says. “Even to get the response Cleo was getting before the show came out…Yeah, it’s a really, really, really big job.”
So to prepare for the fame that’s already encroaching, she’s spent the weeks leading up to season 2’s release relishing her final days of relative anonymity. Soon enough, fans will stop her on the street, ask for her autograph, snap a selfie. So she’s been people-watching, attending fairs and riding Ferris wheels, taking frequent trips to the beach in California, and FaceTiming her co-stars to gather advice.
“There’s going to be—I’ve witnessed it. I’ve witnessed, if we’re all together, sometimes it becomes pandemonium,” she says. So is she nervous? “I think I’m ready, but it’s also something you can’t be ready for.”
Then, as if reconsidering, she shrugs. “I think I’ll do fine.”
She’s too focused on what’s already on the horizon to worry much about the pandemonium of the present. In season 3—if the show gets renewed, which seems likely—she wants a love story for Cleo: “I’m really interested in seeing this whole Cleo and Pope thing happen, if it does happen,” she hints. She also wants flashbacks to Cleo’s past: “I would love to see more of Cleo’s backstory. I, personally, really want to see more of her, more of where she came from. And I want her to be more badass, definitely more badass.”
Asked if she thinks the Nassau girl will enjoy Pogue life in the States, she says, “I think she’s going to have a few hiccups. I think not being able to carry a knife on her waist might be [a struggle].” But given JJ’s attachment to the gun at his hip, she might not have such a hard time after all. Even a year after the show’s meteoric rise, Outer Banks is just as fun, just as wild, because it’s fueled by the same thing that made the first season a phenomenon: a charismatic ensemble. Lucky for her, Grant fits right in.
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