Joy Bryant has lived a Cinderella story several times over: After growing up on welfare, the overachieving student earned a full-ride scholarship to Yale, became a successful model and was chosen by Denzel Washington to star in 2002’s Antwone Fisher. Now she’s playing 50 Cent’s girlfriend in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Here are five things you gotta know about the single, 31-year-old actress.
1. She could relate to her Get Rich character.
The movie was filmed on Bryant’s old Bronx, N.Y., stamping grounds. “The scene where you first see me in the movie as an adult was shot in the actual neighborhood that I lived in, grew up in and walked the streets everyday,” she says. During filming, Bryant was surrounded by familiar faces. “My cousins came and kept me company on the set to make sure I was cool, and I had a lot of friends from junior high who came and hung out. That was really great.”
2. She marches – er, dances – to her own beat.
Bryant made her acting debut in MTV’s 2001 special Carmen: A Hip-Hopera and has studied dance since she was 3. “When I was younger I was one of the few girls in the neighborhood who could break dance,” she says. “That’s kind of my local, ghetto-celebrity claim to fame. But I definitely didn’t have any aspirations to be a rapper or anything. I wanted to be a deejay more than anything, but none of the guys would let me on the turntable, so that was short-lived.”
3. She relies on her smarts, not her looks.
As a kid, Bryant never thought of herself as pretty. “I was such a nerd,” she says. “I read encyclopedias all day and watched TV. My grandmother, who raised me, (emphasized) the importance of education. For me it was about being self-sufficient and using my brain.”
That approach came in handy even when she was modeling: “People were treating me like they treat most models – like, ‘Shut up and put on that stupid dress.’ ” When she let it slip that she’d gone to Yale, “they actually were like, ‘Oh. Interesting. Okay. We can’t really pull one over on you. Can you please put on that dress?’ ”
4. She wasn’t shy about filming her steamy scene with Fitty.
“Having been a model and dressed in lingerie in front of a room of strangers, you’ve got to get over (your inhibitions) really quick,” she says. “I was more worried about him, in a way, (but) he seemed pretty cool.” Even though she and Fitty were a rumored item – which Bryant denies – no sparks flew when they shot their scene: “When you do love scenes, they’re so technical. I don’t care if you’re attracted to the person or if it’s someone you’ve always admired or thought was really hot – it’s so not sexy.”
5. She’s got an inner Scrooge.
Don’t expect to see Bryant wearing a Santa hat when the holidays roll around. “I’m kind of a ‘bah, humbug’ (person),” she says. “I hate Christmas, really. I don’t really give presents away or expect any. I’ll give cookies and books. My aunt makes really awesome cookies, so I’ll give cookie packages. All that gift stuff is for the kids, and actually, when I have them, they might not get presents: ‘You’ll get a college education and you’ll like it!’ “