Actress Chandra Wilson was born on August 27, 1969, in Houston, Texas. She made her New York stage debut in 1991. She also began to land guest spots on a variety of prime-time television shows. She made her big-screen debut in the 1993 film Philadelphia. In 2005, she landed the breakthrough role she had been waiting for as Dr. Miranda Bailey on the wildly popular ABC prime-time show Grey's Anatomy.
Actress Chandra Danette Wilson was born on August 27, 1969, in Houston, Texas. Her mother, a postal worker, wanted to keep her daughter active, so she enrolled Chandra in a litany of after-school activities that would set the course for her show business career. "Starting at age four, my mom decided that she was not going to have an idle child in the house," Wilson recalls. "So I started taking dance lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then I was in acting classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I was also modeling on Saturdays. And that was my childhood."
By the age of 5, Wilson was performing in musicals with Houston's Theatre Under the Stars company. She attended Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and continued on to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, graduating with a BFA in drama in 1991. For the next four years, from 1991-95, she studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute while at the same time racking up professional theater credits. She made her New York debut in a 1991 production of The Good Times Are Killing Me and won a Theater World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance. Her other early stage credits include off-Broadway productions of Paper Moon: The Musical and Little Shop of Horrors.
Early Acting Career
While she was making a name for herself on the New York stage, Wilson also began to land guest spots on a variety of prime-time television shows. She appeared on The Cosby Show (1989), Law & Order (1992) and CBS' Schoolbreak Special (1992). She made her big-screen debut alongside Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in the highly acclaimed 1993 film Philadelphia. Despite receiving high praise for nearly all of her performances, however, Wilson struggled for many years to gain more prominent roles. For eight years, while she tried to break into major stardom, Wilson worked part-time as a teller at Deutsche Bank in order to make ends meet.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Wilson continued to turn in memorable, if brief, performances on popular TV shows. She appeared on Third Watch (2001), Sex and the City (2002), The Sopranos (2004) and in sporadic episodes of Law And Order: SVU. And while struggling to land recurring roles on television, Wilson managed to attain considerable prominence on the Broadway stage in musicals such as On the Town (1998), Avenue Q(2003) and Caroline, Or Change (2004).
Then, in 2005, 15 years after she made her television debut on The Cosby Show, Wilson finally landed the breakthrough role she had been waiting for as Dr. Miranda Bailey on the wildly popular ABC sitcom Grey's Anatomy. The part of Dr. Bailey, supervisor to the hospital interns, had been written for a petite, Caucasian blonde, but Wilson, a full-figured African-American woman, gave such an impressive audition that the show's producers decided to give her the part. "Besides," she later joked, "I knew the casting director." Wilson earned rave reviews for her performance as the tough-as-nails Dr. Bailey.
Wilson was nominated for four consecutive Emmy Awards (2006-2009) and won four consecutive NAACP Image Awards (2007-2010) for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She also won the 2008 People's Choice Award for Favorite Scene-Stealing Star. In 2009, while still starring on Grey's, Wilson took a brief hiatus from the show to return to Broadway as Mama Morton in a revival of Chicago.
The always-humble Wilson says that the only difference between her acting career now and her acting career a decade ago is that people actually recognize her on the street. "The only difference in my career now is the visibility I have," she insists. "People say I made it now, but I feel like I made it doing summer stock." She is also extraordinarily clear-headed about the fragility of her new-found fame and fortune. Upon finally leaving her job at Deutsche Bank to focus solely on her role in Grey's Anatomy, Wilson was careful not to burn any bridges. She says, "They told me I could come back if acting doesn't work out. I told them, 'Keep my seat warm.'"
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