When she was cast to appear in the video for the Beyoncé song "Best Thing I Never Had," Shalonda Johnson said she was a tad nervous.
She would be acting alongside one of pop music's biggest stars. Johnson braced herself for a big dose of diva attitude.
Thankfully, it never came.
"I was surprised she was so nice," said Johnson, a 29-year-old Hampton native and Bethel High School graduate who is now pursuing an acting career in New York City. "Whatever somebody may say about Beyoncé, they are just hatin' on her. She has a beautiful spirit."
Beyoncé showed concern for the comfort and well being of the other actors, Johnson said. She let children on the set come close to gaze at her gown and touch her hair.
"I thought 'Wow, this superstar is down to earth.' That was the most fascinating thing to me."
In the video for the 2011 hit, Beyoncé is portrayed as a bride on her wedding day. Johnson appears a few minutes into the clip. She plays a wedding guest dancing at the reception. Nearby on the dance floor, Beyoncé shakes and grooves joyfully.
If Johnson gets her way, there will be many more close encounters with stars in her future.
Johnson has been living in Brooklyn for two years. She's been aggressively pursuing acting jobs wherever she finds them — in plays outside the city limits or gigs doing commercials around town.
She's been gaining momentum, too. Johnson's face and personality have been used in national spots for Dr. Miracle's hair care products, 5-Hour Energy drink, Gerber baby food and the discount chain Five Below, according to her official bio.
"I'm always looking forward to doing bigger and better things," Johnson said. "Commercials are not hard at all, if you love what you do. Yes, it is long hours, but to be able to do what you love during those long hours does not seem like work at all."
Currently, she's acting in a revival production of the play "This is Why I Whisper" in White Plains, N.Y. The play touches on themes of mental illness. "It's something that's not talked about much in the African-American community," Johnson said. "The story really touched me and I really wanted to take on this play."
Johnson caught the acting bug at age 16 when her mother entered her in a national model and talent search. She made a splash at the event and was asked to keep coming back. That encouraged her to take roles in school plays.
She started to study nursing at Radford University, but couldn't shake the urge to act. She eventually transferred to Temple University, where she earned a theater degree.
Her mother, Frances Johnson, admits she was concerned when her daughter decided to move to New York.
"In the beginning, I did worry about her," said Frances Johnson, who works for the Virginia Department of Transportation in Hampton. "But she showed me she was very careful in choosing her whereabouts and friends. Then, I was more relaxed. She showed she was responsible. We had to let go."
Johnson's brother Cliff, who now works as a teacher in Blacksburg, said he was thrilled to spot his sister in the Beyoncé music video last year.
"When I saw it, I knew her work was paying off," he said.
"When you hear people say, 'I'm an actor, I'm an entertainer,' you kind of brush that off," he said. "Everybody wants to do that, do commercials, be in a movie. But you've got to start somewhere. I think she's going through that beginning struggle right now. But she don't give up. It takes time. It's slowly but surely paying off for her."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun