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On a sweltering New York City afternoon, Gracie McGraw is vibing in her apartment with her beloved brown-and-white Standard Poodle, Baz, who is curled up in a chic red velvet chair next to her. Baz’s long limbs don’t fully fit in the chair, and he sets his chin down on the armrest, gazing at McGraw with love and only occasional (but incredibly effective) side eye.
Although she got her start in TV with a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s series If Loving You Is Wrong, she made the move from LA to New York a few years ago to immerse herself in theater. The 26-year-old is a die-hard musical theater fan with absolutely killer pipes and her sights set on The Great White Way. In fact, she’s already made it. In November, she will play a lead role, alongside SIX’s Taylor Iman Jones, in industry presentations for a new musical, The Death of Desert Rose, about a queer vigilante named “Desert Rose” Ramsey.
Any musical theater kid will tell you that when you’re having success on the Broadway stage, it helps to have supportive parents at home. McGraw’s just happen to be country royalty Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and she gushes when she talks about them. She says that, despite being some of the most famous country musicians in the world, they always modeled kindness and empathy in their work and personal lives.
Plus, they made a point to be present; they never missed family dinner with her and her sisters, Maggie and Audrey. While she’s learned so much from seeing her parents shine in the music industry for decades, she wants to forge her own path. And that’s exactly what she’s been doing in New York. She’s performed in the Broadway Sings concert series and this past summer she had her own solo showcase, where she busted out her stunning rendition of Aida’s “I Know the Truth” in a dazzling pink cape-dress of which Patti LuPone would certainly approve.
Although life in New York is constantly in motion, stability is something McGraw always craves. She grew up going on tour with her parents, and after moving from Los Angeles a few years ago, she wanted to establish a true home in the city. Her constant companion, Baz, who’s been in her life since he was six weeks old, gives her that security only family can provide.
The sassy and spunky Baz will be five years old next February and has gotten her through relationships, moves, and medical issues. McGraw talked to The Wildest about meeting Baz for the first time, his cinematic namesake, and the importance of routine and consistency.
What’s the story of you and Baz?
I was driving back to Nashville from Los Angeles, and as I was driving out of the city, I saw this man walking this dog, and I was like, “What kind of dog is it?” So, I rolled down the window and he was like, “It’s a Standard Parti Poodle.” On my way home, I was looking up Standard Parti Poodles, and there was a litter that was just 15 minutes from my house in Nashville.
They had two brown-and-white males left. And that’s what I wanted. I went and saw Baz and just started bawling. I couldn’t console myself. I was holding him just bawling, and he’s given me that side eye ever since he was a puppy. Then, when he was about six or seven months old, my dad drove [us to Los Angeles] because he didn’t want me to do it by myself at that point. And now, Baz loves a road trip, and that’s the only way I travel now when I bring him somewhere.
How has Baz adjusted to the city since you moved here?
He loves the city. I mean, any chance for him to just bop around and have people look at him. He loves to swim, and when we go to my parents’ house, he’ll just run straight into their pool. I would bring him to the beach when we lived in LA. I haven’t brought him to the beach here, but he loves going to the dog park, hanging out with his friends, and going on walks and stuff.
So, he had never seen snow?
When we first moved here it snowed and he had never seen snow before. So, I woke up super early, and we went for a walk and went to the park and he ran around in the snow for hours, and I had little boots on him. And then he pulled the boots off. Then he ran around without boots.
When we were walking home from the park, he started crying and jumped into my arms, and I carried him five blocks like a toddler. He had his arms around my shoulders and arms around my waist, and he was being so dramatic. He’s drama dot com.
What was the inspiration behind Baz’s name?
I wanted to originally name him Basil and then the week that I got him, I was watching Moulin Rouge and I was like, I like Baz. That’s such a good name for him. Technically, it’s like Baz Luhrmann, but also I don’t want to tell people that I named my child after Baz Luhrmann. I went to the BAFTAs in February, and I was with someone who had previously worked with him, so they said “hi” to one another, and I introduced myself. And then, I was like, “This is so weird but my dog’s name is Baz.” I feel like at first he wasn’t really into it, but then when I said he was a Poodle, he was like, “Oh, I’m nothing if not a Poodle.”
Why did you decide it was the right time to get Baz?
I really just wanted something to take care of. And I didn’t realize it until more recently, but I wasn’t really taking care of myself mentally and physically, and having something else to deal with, I think, helped me take off the pressure of not doing well for myself and get my shit together. We moved to LA a year before the pandemic started, so having him during the pandemic was a good thing for me. It gave me something to focus on, and I wasn’t alone the whole time.
I actually relished in the time of being by myself, but Stephen Sondheim said it best: “But alone is alone, not alive.” I really wanted to have a companion. I always say that he has separation anxiety, which is pretty normal for Poodles, but also that he’s just so obsessed with me. My sister always makes fun of me and she goes, “I think it’s the other way around. I think that you have separation anxiety. You are obsessed with him.” And I was like, “Probably.”
What do you feel like you’ve learned from Baz?
It helps you be aware of things that you aren’t aware of normally. This is such a weird example, but he used to eat a lot of underwear. I think it was retaliation for me being at work, not really knowing what to do. But I just remember sometimes if I was asleep, I just would wake up from instinct, and he’d be throwing up or something. And I think it taught me to really trust my instincts more because a lot of the time you’re told not to, especially being an actor.
With your busy schedule, how does he keep you in a routine?
Being able to have something that is always there and you have to take responsibility for...it’s also helped me keep my shit clean, keep my stuff together. I have really bad ADHD and in turn, anxiety and depression. I recently got on medication again for ADHD, and all the stuff that I’ve been teaching myself the past few years — having the dog and needing to be clean and organized and putting stuff in its place — has really kept me steady.
I think having something to have here and feel like home is really important to me because I grew up [going] with my parents on tour all the time…I never really felt like my home was my home. So, having him wherever I am makes me feel really grounded.
How do you feel like he’s helped in terms of your mental health?
The idea that sometimes you have to deal with other things before you can deal with your own stuff has been really prevalent for me because I pushed what I needed or what I was feeling down. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I didn’t want to let other people down.
At first when I got [Baz], I was really freaked out that I was going to be a shitty dog parent. You don’t realize how much energy they have. But having something that is consistent has really helped with mental health stuff for me. And also not feeling like I have to prove anything to anyone. It’s really allowed me to do that and also go out in nature more, which is really important, I think.
I’ve been single for a while, and I am alone all the time. But I like it. And I have a great support system in terms of friends, and my family’s amazing. But there’s nothing better than being gone for a few hours and opening the door, and this dog’s tail just hitting things off the wall because they’re so excited. It’s brought so much joy and so many friendships along the way, and I really am grateful for that.
Photography: Tayler Smith
Styling: Emma Zack
Hair: Rebekah Calo
Makeup: Tiffany Leigh Patton
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Kerensa Cadenas is a writer based in New York. She’s previously worked at The Cut, Thrillist, Cosmopolitan, and Complex. Her work has been featured in Vulture, GQ, Vanity Fair, and others.