Empire's Newest Cast Member Bre-Z Is Just Being Herself

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Music.
When Freda Gatz was a baby, she cried whenever a breeze blew on her face. The only way to keep her peaceful was to close all the windows and make sure she was away from things like air conditioning. So, her grandmother nicknamed her Bre-Z, a nod to her aversion to so much as the gentlest wind. "Even to this day, as a grown-up, I always got on a jacket," she said during a recent phone chat. "I always got on a hoodie or a hat because I hate breezes. I love being warm and toasty." Now 28, she still answers to the same childhood nickname, the one that has even followed her onto the set of the second season of Empire, in which she plays an aspiring rapper called, yes, Bre-Z.

The Philadelphia native may be a newcomer to acting, but she's already made a name for herself on the music scene. A few years ago, Bre-Z began writing songs with Dr. Dre, The Game, and Jennifer Lopez. That made her a natural fit for Empire, which features many of its cast members performing.

She was such a natural, in fact, that a friend suggested she try out for Fox's hit series about a family of music moguls. So, she went to L.A., showed up at the audition, and was given a script. "I get in there and I’m reading, but the basis of the artist was about the girl having this love for music, and that was where I connected," she recalled. "I can’t really tell you that I walk around reading scripts and walk into auditions all day, because that’s not what I do. This is my first time." She chalks up winning the role to a combination of her background in music and strong connection to the character. "I really was just being myself. And, the more I get into this character, we are one and the same. It’s just easy."

Bre-Z appears as the daughter of an imprisoned gangster played by Chris Rock. Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) encounters her visiting her pops and says he's going to sign her to his record label. So...does he? Bre-Z played coy, saying only this about her character: "I think she’s someone the world will enjoy. I’ve never seen a character played in this light before. I think it’ll definitely be intriguing for those who can relate and those who may have been curious.” Curious about what? She won't say.

So, back to that scene in last night's premiere. If you thought it was jarring to see Rock as a hardened thug, try acting against him. “It was comedy in itself just to sit and watch him be serious," she shared. "He’s always been the funny guy. Watching him and literally sitting directly across from him, it was like, Damn, this dude is hilarious and he ain’t even trying. Know what I’m saying?" She admitted she struggled not to crack up on camera. "We kept laughing and laughing, because I’m a person that laughs all the damn time. He’s somebody I really enjoy watching, so to be working with him is just a crazy career moment."

Bre-Z's on-set, star-struck moments pretty much began and ended with Rock, she said, because the main cast makes her feel like she's just as important as they are. "It’s not like big fish, little fish, when we’re on set," she said. "It’s a very playful environment, a very comfortable one. It’s like when you’re in school and you walk into a lunchroom, you just need to figure out what table you’re gonna sit at. I’m sitting at the table with the cool kids right now.”

She has high praise for her female co-stars, Taraji P. Henson and Gabourey Sidibe, both Oscar nominees. "We’ve all walked the same path at some point in our lives, so for me to be fairly younger than them, they’re just giving me the game as they know it," she explained. "I appreciate the wisdom and definitely respect that."

To Bre-Z, her big break on Empire involves a bigger force than good timing. "God custom-fit this part for me," she said. "I couldn’t be more thankful. I’m very happy. I have no complaints. I have to get up at 5 in the morning, and I’m used to getting up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and I ain’t even complaining. I love getting up at 5 now.”

She looks forward to future opportunities where she can blend acting and music. She has her sights set on collaborating with Justin Bieber, Kanye, and Jay Z. But, for now, she's happy to have the opportunity to quite literally be herself on TV. "I don’t consider it die-hard acting because I’m just being myself, which comes across extremely well, because nobody [can play me] better than I can.”

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