The Stunning Transformation Of Danielle Brooks

If you're a fan of "Orange Is the New Black," you likely know Danielle Brooks from her portrayal of the show's popular character Taystee. Or perhaps you have seen her as Sofia in the 2023 revival of "The Color Purple." Besides these two projects, however, Brooks has appeared in numerous others, including critically acclaimed plays, films, and television shows. She's also added a couple of other jobs to her resume over the past several years, including body positivity advocate.

Known for her bubbly yet down to earth personality, Brooks also doesn't appear to have let fame and the lure of celebrity life get to her head. As she said In a 2017 interview with The Daily Beast, "I'm just so grateful. I feel like every five seconds, it's something else that I'm just like, really, me? But then ... why not me?" Whether you have followed Brooks since her rise to celebrity in 2012 or are just coming across her wide variety of work, you'll be amazed by how far she has risen in such a short time.

Danielle Brooks was born and raised in the South

Danielle Brooks is originally from the American South. While Brooks was born in Augusta, Georgia, on September 17, 1989, she was raised in Simpsonville, South Carolina. "I've always known I wanted to be an actress," she told USA Today in 2017. "I didn't know quite how I was going to get there because I come from a small town ... but I was blessed to be living in an area that really focused in on arts education."

On top of her access to studying the arts at a young age, Brooks comes from a religious family, growing up in a Christian household. Her father is a church deacon, while her mother is a church pastor, which also meant Brooks was active in their church, too. In fact, she started singing gospel songs when she was 6 years old. Her first opportunity to sing lead vocals came that same year with the song "I Won't Complain," according to The Daily Beast. 

Her interests in the arts blossomed from her church days, where Brooks was able to attend the prestigious South Carolina Governor's School for Arts and Humanities during her junior and senior years of high school. The Greenville-based high school is considered a full-time residential program where students like Brooks was can finish their state requirements while also immersing themselves in artistic training of their choice. 

She graduated from the Julliard School in 2011

After graduating from the South Carolina Governor's School for Arts and Humanity, Danielle Brooks went on to the prestigious Juilliard School. Here, she obtained a degree in drama from the private four-year performing arts college. The competitive school selected Brooks into Group 40, after she described to The Juilliard Journal how she decided to try out on a whim. 

However, she also seemed to take her acceptance into the school (and her career direction) very seriously. "I learned while I was at Juilliard that this wasn't just me having fun and telling stories — like I had to actually start figuring out how I was going to eat. This needs to be my way of income," she previously told USA Today. "This is also a business, and I can make money doing what I love. So I had to buckle down and get serious about something that I found pure joy in. I somehow managed to figure that out." 

After graduating from Juilliard in 2011, Brooks landed a theater gig and then took a brief break between shows. "It was when I was on that hiatus that my manager booked me the audition to do 'Orange Is the New Black,' and the rest is kind of history after that," she explained to USA Today.

In 2012, Danielle Brooks gained recognition for her role in a popular television series

If you're a fan of Netflix's "Orange is the New Black," chances are this was where you first encountered the talented Danielle Brooks. The hit series was based on a memoir of the same name, and followed the experiences of Piper Chapman, whose past life with a drug dealer led to her sudden imprisonment. It was here that Piper made friends and foes with other inmates, including Tasha Jefferson (better known as Taystee), who was portrayed by Brooks. 

The show ran for seven seasons and has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At first, Brooks was only set to star in a few episodes. However, after impressing the directors, she quickly joined the cast as a series regular. When The Hollywood Reporter asked Brooks about the Taystee's legacy in 2019, she said, "Taystee's power lies in her ability to find the joy within her hardship and to use her street smarts to get what she wants."

The public was also impressed with Brooks in her role as Taystee. A Daily Beast senior editor proclaimed Brooks "the breakout star of the year" due to her talent and portrayal of complex characters. "It's prison, it's not peaches and cream," she explained to the outlet in 2017. "It goes there. It was challenging for me, but at the same time, if I'm not willing to play characters that are flawed, why am I doing this?" 

In 2015, Danielle Brooks starred in a renowned musical

"Orange Is the New Black" ran from 2013 to 2019 and was arguably the opportunity that launched Danielle Brooks' mainstream career. Amid her ongoing portrayal of fan favorite Taystee, Brooks also went back to her theater roots. This included a Broadway revival of the acclaimed play "The Color Purple," which is based on Alice Walker's award-winning novel of the same name. Brooks starred as Sofia in the beloved musical, which opened in December 2015. Other big names in the production included Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson, and Isaiah Johnson. The play ran for just over a year, but there were a whopping 450 performances in addition to 33 previews, according to Playbill.

"[Being Sofia] taught me that all I need is inside of me," Brooks told Harper's Bazaar in 2023 when she reflected on her Broadway experience. "Sofia is resilient and strong, but I feel that now that has just multiplied inside of me. ... I'm just very grateful to now be owning my power. And I thank Sofia for that." On top of playing this role (which Oprah Winfrey played in Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation), Brooks also won a Grammy Award along with the rest of the cast for best musical theater album. On top of this, Brooks also received an individual Tony nomination. Interestingly enough, she would receive another big nomination for portraying Sofia years later — and in a different medium.

Danielle Brooks started modeling and advocating for body positivity

In 2016, Danielle Brooks added modeling to her portfolio. This included work for plus-sized brands like Lane Bryant (in 2016) and Universal Standard (in 2017). Brooks was also part of Lane Bryant's 2017 "I'm No Angel" campaign, a direct take on Victoria's Secret's infamous Angels. In a commercial that aired that year, Brooks declared, "Dare to be sexy!" She also made waves with her Universal Standard collaboration, for which she created three items she would want her own closet. "I'm so grateful that women are clinging to these three looks that I designed," she told Teen Vogue. "They really did come from things that I wanted to have in my closet. ... And to see them come to life and see women wear them and make them their own is one of the coolest feelings: an unexpected feeling that I never thought would come."

Brooks also admitted she had a lot on her plate while juggling the Lane Bryant deal with her blossoming acting career. "I think that's what I learned a lot of last year – the only way to get through some of that success is to go through hard times — failing, and being okay with failing, and being okay with falling down," she told USA Today in 2017. "Sometimes I think that when we take that risk, we actually know more than we think, we're actually better than we think, and we're actually more capable than we believe." 

She welcomed her first child in 2019

In July 2019, Danielle Brooks announced she was going to be a mom. "I'm happily pregnant!" she said in an Instagram post at the time (via Us Weekly). "When one chapter ends, another begins. ... 5 months in!" Brooks gave birth to a baby girl named Freeya on November 16. Brooks and Freeya's father, Dennis Gelin, largely kept their relationship out of the spotlight at the time, though Brooks shared the good news about their daughter's arrival. 

In a 2021 interview with Parents, Brooks gave an intimate look into her thoughts about bringing a baby into the world. While the interview is no longer available online, "Today" reported Brooks as saying at the time, "It was hard to have a child in the first place, because I knew that my child was going to be brought up in this very hateful, racist, sexist world." Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd also heightened her fears at the time. However, now that she's had Freeya, Brooks has changed her outlook. "Now I feel hopeful because I know how I'm going to raise my child," she explained. "There's one better human being in this world. It's work on the parents' part to show our kids love. I pray I raise my daughter to be street smart and be able to tackle the world and not be defeated by it. Motherhood has been good. It feels good on me."

Danielle Brooks married Dennis Gelin in 2022

Danielle Brooks started off 2022 by marrying her longtime boyfriend, Dennis Gelin, in January of that year. The couple got engaged shortly after the birth of their daughter, Freeya, but they had been dating since 2017. In fact, Brooks met Gelin through a mutual friend during a game night she had at her house. Brooks described how she and Gelin hit it off, and that his kindness and manners stood out to her when he was the only one who offered to take out the trash after the party. "I was so taken aback because there had been at least 10 guys in the room, and no one had thought enough to ask such a thoughtful question," Brooks told Vogue in 2022. "I perked up and said 'Why yes, thank you.' And then we proceeded to talk. He kept complimenting me on my dimples and how beautiful I was. I was drawn in by his smile and beautiful rich skin."

Their wedding took place in Miami at the Alfred DuPont Building. According to People, the couple also included their 2-year-old daughter, who was a flower girl during the ceremony. Since then, the couple has continued to try to keep their relationship away from media attention. However, Brooks has also been known to post sweet messages about Gelin on social media from time to time.

Danielle Brooks' career shifted to more mainstream projects

In addition to her acting, singing, and modeling career, Danielle Brooks has continued to focus on other mainstream projects. These have included a combination of television, film, and theatre productions, which has ultimately proved the spectrum of talent Brooks brings to her career.

For example, Brooks starred in "Peacemaker," a series that aired on HBO Max in early 2022. The single-season show was part of the DC Universe and also starred John Cena as the Peacemaker and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Brooks played Leota Adebayo, a role which she told Variety in 2022 was written for her by creator James Gunn after he saw her work on "Orange Is the New Black." "He was a fan," she told the publication in 2022. "And he wrote this part with me in mind. I was really excited because first of all, I just had a child. Working was very important, because now we have a new mouth to feed. But also we had just come into the pandemic, and it's like, when will I work again — especially after having a kid."

Aside from "Peacemaker," Brooks also starred in "Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia," which was released in the same month, as well as a Broadway revival of "The Piano Lesson" alongside Samuel L. Jackson in September 2022.  Between all of these projects and recently getting married, 2022 was a busy year for Brooks!

In 2023, Danielle Brooks starred in a remake of a critically acclaimed film

In 2023, a remake of "The Color Purple" came back to the big screen nearly 40 years after Steven Spielberg's version. Here, Danielle Brooks had another opportunity to play Sofia. While she previously played Sofia on Broadway, she now reprised the role Oprah Winfrey originally played in the 1985 film. In fact, both Spielberg and Winfrey helped co-produce the 2023 remake, which came out on Christmas Day. Brooks also talked about how both her past acting experiences and ancestry undoubtedly helped her get ready for playing Sofia in 2023. "Even if I didn't realize it, I'm sure there were parts of [Taystee's] pain that I bring into this as well," Brooks told "Today" in December of that year. "It was really the ancestors that were there with me. You know, sharing their stories, whispering them in my ear that reminded me, or helped me, to find that moment."

Not only did Brooks reprise the role of Sofia, but her performance was nominated for several awards, including an Oscar and Golden Globe. Still, Brooks has remained grounded despite all the critical acclaim. "I've done personal work on myself to understand that I am truly worthy of these things that are coming my way," she told Variety in 2023. "And not only that I'm worthy, but that most of it ain't got nothing to do with me. It has to do with the growth of someone else, and their journey."

In 2024, she started work on a film adaptation of a popular video game

In 2024, we learned that Danielle Brooks was working on a different type of project. This time, it was an upcoming film adaptation of the sandbox video game "Minecraft." While the popular game is perhaps best known for its building and blocks, there are also some interesting creatures throughout the different worlds (not to mention the "villagers"). On top of that, "Minecraft" is the world's bestselling game, according to Deadline, with more than 300 million games sold.

Chances are that a good chunk of those 300 million-plus purchasers of the "Minecraft" video game may check out the live-action film adaptation. Not a lot has been released about the characters or plot, but we do know that Brooks is playing a character named Dawn. "Minecraft" also features Jason Momoa, Jack Black, and Kate McKinnon, and its estimated release date is sometime in 2025. 

Earlier this year, Brooks did an interview with Variety, in which she confessed she hadn't played "Minecraft" before landing the role in the live-action film. "I don't know how to play the game but I know the world and the movie is pretty magical," she told the publication in February 2024. "It's so lifelike. I don't know how much I can share, but I do know fans will not be disappointed with the world they've created."