Riverwood High School graduate Rainy Marie Robertson has earned a full-tuition scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York City.

She plans to pursue acting, with the hope of making a big impact in the industry as an actress and producer.

Rainey Marie Robertson of Sandy Springs earned a full-tuition scholarship from The Julliard School to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

“My biggest thing about being a black actress is that the stories that I want to be a part of, the narratives that I want to see on the big screen, will only happen if I want to contribute to that,” Robertson said. “I want to produce it and write and direct … be behind the scenes as much as in front of the screen.”

Early challenges

Her life presented challenges at an early age. Born and raised in Atlanta, she lived with her mother, the only family that she had here. Her mother worked at a community center but lost that job.

“We struggled financially, dealt with homelessness, dealt with a lot of issues that come with that. And it got really hard,” Robertson said. 

Her mother died of a heart attack a few days before her 16th birthday.

She went to live with her grandmother in Arizona. But no schools were nearby and her grandmother was unable to take her anywhere, Robertson said. 

So Marci Bennafield, the mother of one of her friends, offered to become a foster parent for Robertson and became her legal guardian. That enabled her to complete schooling at Riverwood High. A year later her grandmother died.

“It doesn’t feel so bad, because I’ve been surrounded by a lot of love from my foster family and just from people around me,” she said.

Finding a mentor

Natalie Fikes met Robertson through her legal guardians, the Bennafields. They are the aunt and uncle of her stepdaughter. They met at a gathering for graduation when Robertson got up to perform a monologue. “When she stood up, there was just something about her,” Fikes said. “Because she was this shy, timid, quiet storm that was sitting there, but then when she got up and opened her mouth, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Who is that?’”

Fikes approached her and offered to be her mentor, using her experience as a life coach to help improve her performances. “And ever since that day we have been inseparable,” she said. 

Robertson called Fikes the day before her Juilliard audition, giving Fikes an opportunity to help out again. 

“You have to show you, that’s what’s going to get you into Juilliard,” Fikes offered as advice to Robertson at the time. 

The audition

On the first day in January, approximately 200 people auditioned virtually, with only five making it to the next stage of auditions. That went on for 10 days. Later that month, she was notified she had made it to the final callback weekend.

“It was so incredible. Just being able to be … with people all over the world, all actors, it was really powerful and really inspiring,” Robertson said.

On March 1, her late mother’s birthday, she was officially notified she had been accepted into the program.

Now Robertson is working as a film actress. Before COVID, she portrayed a cheerleader in a coming of age film. She just completed a role in Chicago in a science fiction thriller with students at Northwestern. She played a young woman struggling with grief who gets admitted into an institution that claims that they can cure it.

“This summer I’m trying to book a few more roles before I start school, because we really don’t have time to do any of that at Juilliard … I really am grateful for everything I have been a part of, and I’m excited to see what comes next,” Robertson said.

Looking ahead

In the future, Robertson wants to have a prolific acting career to inspire others and hopes to start her own production company.

“Nothing is going to stop her from accomplishing her goal, nothing. She’s literally experienced the worst of life, and in that time [rose] above every adversity. And that’s not going to change as she grows in maturity, experience and wisdom. She’s just going to become a force to be reckoned with,” Fikes said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.