A frequent guest-star on TV series such as The Closer, Californication, Graceland, and Bad Teacher, Payton became known for her one-woman show, Michael's Daughter, which she presented to sold out audiences.
She was born in Mississippi but grew up in New Orleans and identifies most with the third ward. Upon moving to New Orleans East to live with her mother, she joined her school's drama troupe. She later auditioned for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before heading to North Carolina School of the Arts for their high school drama program.
She was featured in a New York Times write-up for her role in the Negro Ensemble Company's production of Savannah Black and Blue. The write-up allowed her the opportunity to audition for Showtime's Shameless.
She was raised in multiple neighborhoods in New Orleans, where she lived with her drug-addicted father and grandmother. Her grandmother died of cancer and her father was incarcerated when Ciera was in the 8th grade. She has an older brother.
Her acting break came after she was cast in the Steven Seagal movie Flight of Fury.