Acting chose me: 'Snowfall' star Michael Hyatt talks about her journey from Broadway to television
Micahel Hyatt spoke with Meaww about her time on Broadway and how 'The Wire' was the job that put her on the map professionally
From 'The Wire' to 'Snowfall', Michael Hyatt has shown the world how a strong woman can get into the shoes of any character and make her appealing to the world. However, it wasn't something that Michael had envisioned herself doing. Speaking to Meaww, Michael revealed that the first time she stepped on stage in front of a large audience was when she did her first Broadway show 'Ragtime'. Michael calls it an 'accident' and says that she didn't know it was the first step towards a successful career in acting.
With the desire to explore 'something new', Michael wasn't too keen on stepping into Broadway. However, fate had some other plans for her as the audition for the show came up and without knowing what may come, Micahel went ahead with the audition. When she got the part, there was no looking back. Thinking of it as something meant to happen, she gave it all.
"It was really a beautiful experience and every actor has a dream to be on Broadway and it was a check on the list and it was a perfect show to be part of because there was a section about the African experience in America which I so enjoyed," she said. "The storytelling of the history of our country., it was a magical time I had a chance to learn from a lot of Broadway actors, watch their dynamic work and I am proud of that brief moment in my life."
Despite having experience on stage, Michael believes that there are some differences when one acts on stage and in front of the camera. "The only difference for me between theater and screen is the camera work. The blocking, meaning, knowing where to go when you have to go without looking obvious. I have been theatrically trained my whole life, in my undergraduate and graduate. I mean, even before college, it was always about the theatre. When I made that transition to the camera, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I got my first job, my first television gig, and I realized that I didn’t know something as simple as hitting my mark," she said.
"I had no idea about how to walk from point A to point B, talk to somebody, but land in a very specific state because the camera can move only a certain amount and you need to keep it in that frame so that they can film you and get the shot that they want. I had no idea about the technical aspects of acting of the camera because in theatre you don’t need to know this thing," she continued.
However, one thing that is common between the two is how one chooses to represent their character. "But apart from that, in my experience, it is just about the honesty in that moment and be honest in the action between the people in the scene and that doesn’t change, whether you are doing theatre or show and I guess there are some people who feel that when you are on the stage, your gestures are more dramatic, or bigger because you have to play at the back of the room.
"I don’t really pay attention to all of that I think if you are honest in your work, I the stories that you are telling, the truth that you are speaking, then all of them will fall in the right place," she said.
While Michael has done various roles in her career, acting was never her number one choice. While growing up she wanted to be a child psychologist but soon found her interest in moving towards acting. "I believe that acting was not a choice. It was a calling. My father was an actor in Jamaica and he did some work here and my mother is a director. So, I was surrounded by art my whole life. Aside from all that, I believe it is who I was asked to be in this life. It wasn’t something I chose to do it, it was something that chose me," she said.
For a long time, Michael ran away from the power that came with being an artist. However, she was forced to come face to face with its beauty due to an assignment she was given when she was in her 10th grade.
"I remember that in my English class in my 10th grade we were given three books to read: The Odyssey, Macbeth and Iliad and over the summer I read the Odyssey and Iliad and I was taken by the story. Just so dramatic and we were given a test and I remember that I got an A-plus on that and I remember that the classmate sitting beside me came up to me and said ‘whatever, you must have cheated because you don’t get A’s," she recalled.
She continued, "But I was like, I didn’t cheat! But there was something about this work and the story that it just drew me towards it and it was effortless for me to absorb it and surrender myself to it. But I didn’t think about the grade because it was so easy to answer and even now, I don’t think about the grade but at that time I was just so excited and I didn’t even know what was happening to my brain but I had identified my future without even knowing."
Out of the roles that she has portrayed, one role that she cannot forget is that of Brianna Barksdale on 'The Wire'. "I will say that the job that put me on the map professionally was ‘The Wire’. I have to give that show the credit. I was very young when I got the job. Maybe, a year out of college. At that time, I had no idea what being on the show was all about. I didn’t know what I was doing but then there I was, playing the role of somebody’s mother and I think I was 26 years old. But that experience taught me a great deal about my skills as an actor, my ability and the power that I had," she said.
"I was really learning on my feet. I had no understanding of what I was capable of and this was the first time that I had actually seen what I was capable of and it was just coming out of me and I had no idea. So, the Wire was the first but then along the way, there have been other experiences."
At the same time, Michael believes that every role and every experience open a new door for her to learn something new. "The work that I am able to do on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and by work I mean, the opportunity that I get on camera is magnificent. I never gave myself much thought for my voice because I had no interest in entering into musical theatre and then again, the art chose me and I didn’t choose it," she said. "
Meanwhile, the work that I am currently doing on Snowfall is having the opportunity to work with John Singleton, a legend. Every job has come with all these stuff and every job has come with an opportunity to work with some really profound people or profound material or just learn something more about myself that I didn’t know before. I have been doing this now for 20 years and it feels that each kind is a tremendous learning experience that I am so grateful for."
While Michael has had a chance to portray a pool full of different characters, she said that she loves to show different sides of a woman. "I have had the privilege of portraying strong women and I feel my energy speaks to that because every woman has their strength. When I had the opportunity to tell the story of a brave woman from any walk of life and the beauty of my career has been to represent the woman from all the perfect walks of life," she said.
"I go from playing detective to a lawyer to, to doctor to working-class women and I am so proud of that because not everybody can say that they have had the opportunity. I am very proud of being able to portray the character of an African woman who speaks their voice and demand to be heard. I don't think I can pick one character over the other right now but I feel that the women and just their dynamic that I am able to project gives me great pride and that’s the kind of women that I can relate to."
When it comes to choosing which character to portray, Michael only thinks about one thing and that is - what hasn't she done before. "When I am looking for a character, I keep thinking what is next? What do I want to do next? I think about ‘Where have I not gone?’ I think about who do I want to talk to? What do I want to achieve? When I look at a role I think to myself, ‘Is this women saying something? Does she have a subject? Is she making a difference in the lives that she encounters?' Those are the things that move me," she said.
"I am not interested in doing the stock characters. I need a character that has depth, every woman has depth but there are times when a certain script is written and there is not enough depth in this individual and the story that she has to tell. And if there isn’t, I am not interested in it. I want people to look at the work that I do and see themselves. I make sure that the stories I tell or choose to tell come from a very truthful place that people will see and identify themselves with and connect with it universally. That is what I am looking for."
Even though Michael assisted director Spike Lee during her grad school, she has a very clear mind of not entering the world of direction. She believes she is best at acting and that is what she will do. However, another thing that interests her apart from acting is being part of making documentaries.
"I do have a deep curiosity for them," she said. "I like the idea of exposing the truth in its most natural form. Finding people who don’t have a voice, giving them a voice and allowing them to tell their story and how their moment of truth is in front of others. To me, documentaries do that. I am honored to be a fly on the wall for a moment that is being unveiled and capturing it and then sharing it. And then watching their life transform because of that story being told. That gives me energy."
Michael is currently working on 'Snowfall' and 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'. Even though she does not have plans to head back to Broadway any time soon, she says she is always open to the opportunity. She promises that we will soon get to see a documentary on which she has been working for a long time. Until then, we always have her portraying the roles of Cissy Saint and Dr. Noelle Akopian.