Patina Miller on ‘Into the Woods,’ ‘Elevating Kanan,’ and Mothers in Theater

Patina Miller on ‘Into the Woods,’ ‘Elevating Kanan,’ and Mothers in Theater

Tony winner Patina Miller is terrified, and that is simply how she likes it.

After we communicate for our interview, the stage and display actress is days away from her grand return to Broadway, for the primary time in virtually 10 years, in Stephen Sondheim’s third revival of Into the Woods. Within the well-known musical—which dissects the morality and uncertainty of fairy story classics like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Purple Using Hood—she performs The Witch, a job primarily based on Rapunzel’s Mom Gothel and beforehand made well-known by Vanessa Williams and Bernadette Peters. Even when she is enjoying a so-called “villain,” Miller asks audiences to withstand the need to instantly choose her character. Maybe it’s a reminder that leaning into the discomfort of the unknown will be liberating, particularly proper now. The identical is true for Raquel “Raq” Thomas, the resilient matriarch and drug vendor she performs in STARZ’s Energy E book III: Elevating Kanan.

Miller accepts fright with aplomb, letting it invigorate her work. Her potential to teeter between fearlessness and worry has made her a compelling entertainer on-screen with roles in Madam Secretary, The Many Saints of Newark, and The Starvation Video games. It’s additionally what helped her win a Tony for her efficiency within the 2013 revival of Pippin. To that finish, she performs into The Witch and Raq’s fallibility realizing very properly that such nuanced roles nonetheless aren’t the norm for non-white feminine actors.

Throughout a break from rehearsals, Miller spoke with about returning to Broadway after almost a decade, the wonder and uncertainty of motherhood, Sondheim’s legacy, and embracing initiatives that scare her.

I first discovered about you thru Pippin, and also you’ve discovered nice success in TV and movie, however what drew your consideration to the theater first?

The theater has all the time been a holy area for me. My coaching is within the theater, the place I discovered to be the artist I’m. Having my begin in Sister Act [on Broadway and the West End] after which Pippin, I’ve all the time loved making a present and the camaraderie in the neighborhood. You’re employed with artists on a chunk, rehearse it, and eventually put it up for individuals to return in fellowship and see your work.

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There are numerous issues that I’ve discovered by being within the theater, whether or not it’s instincts or being with an viewers or the listening facet of it. It has made me a greater actor within the TV and movie realm, and also you by no means need to cease studying. You’re doing one thing that’s a holy expertise and viewers suggestions, and it’s so particular as a result of the viewers tomorrow shall be very totally different.

patina miller

Courtesy Patina Miller

How has that knowledgeable the initiatives you tackle?

I really like taking possibilities, and even early in my profession, I all the time needed to do issues that scared me. If I wasn’t scared, I knew that it wasn’t the appropriate factor for me. I attempt to see how I can join my life to the fabric. The collaborative technique of theater requires a lot of you. It’s not simply memorizing traces. You’re hypersensitive to every thing whereas being targeted on telling the story, and that is thrilling. Leaping into Whoopi Goldberg’s sneakers in Sister Act was an enormous deal, then tackling the Main Participant [in Pippin] from a girl’s perspective. It scared and excited me, and that was one thing I wanted.

Who can overlook the Pippin trapeze the place you have been 20 ft within the air!

Sure! Now I’m having that second once more. I really feel so fortunate.

What scares you about Into the Woods?

Sondheim is, to me, the perfect composer and lyricist, and we’re additionally speaking about some intense matters. Once you tackle this highly-regarded materials, first with Bernadette Peters, then with Vanessa Williams, and now the New York Metropolis Middle Encores model [which is where this revival took off before heading to Broadway], and think about the present local weather, it’ll contact extra individuals. Having the accountability to make sure you get the message throughout the best way Stephen meant whereas doing this interpretation scares me.

You performed The Witch in 2019 on the Hollywood Bowl. How is your strategy to the character in dialog with Sondheim’s legacy?

After I graduated from faculty, my mentor Billy Porter employed me for Being Alive, a Sondheim revue present infused with Neo Soul and R&B. Sondheim is somebody you need to stay as much as. One of many superb issues about his materials and why it lives on is that it may be interpreted time and time once more. To have met him at 21 and have him be happy with the work we’d executed and to then now be on this place simply makes me need to do a superb job.

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The Witch and Raq are each moms eager for one thing and coping with immense grief in their very own methods. How do you’re employed on these two reveals after which go house to your loved ones and shield your self from the emotional weight the characters can go away behind?

It’s laborious as a result of Raq is a heavyweight and so full, so I simply attempt to discover pleasure the place I can and inside the character. I do know what it is like as a mom and need to shield my little one greater than something on this world. It permits me to grasp each of those characters’ headspace however doesn’t ship me down a darkish path. I wish to put every thing I’m feeling in my life, all the trauma, into my efficiency as a result of I can let go when the present is completed in order that I don’t take it house.

patina miller power book iii raising kanan

Miller in Energy E book III: Elevating Kanan

Cara HoweSTARZ

Raq is a protector at her core however usually goes in violent instructions. Has your stance on her modified now {that a} second season of Elevating Kanan has granted you a fuller scope of her character improvement?

My stance stays the identical. Raq is calculating however impulsive in the case of her little one. You see this girl in a person’s world not standing down but in addition attempting to mom a 15-year-old boy who thinks he is aware of every thing. He places himself on this place to affect her work, and every thing will get thrown out of whack, and she will be able to’t simply concentrate on the value. She has to concentrate on her son, which is crucial factor on the finish of the day. I simply perceive her, nonetheless questionable her actions could also be. Whereas there are violent moments, it’s beautiful to see an formidable girl in all her glory and dangerous issues too. It makes her a well-rounded particular person who’s closely flawed and human, and that’s laborious to return by.

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How can the theatrical business make issues simpler for working moms?

My God! We do eight reveals every week, and we have now two-show days twice every week. Not everyone can deal with all of it, so uplift moms and provides them sources, whether or not that’s childcare or having somebody there to assist when issues disintegrate, to be higher performers and be implausible moms on the identical time.

Do you could have a narrative or anecdote that encapsulates what the theater group means to you?

So many individuals have been represented at this yr’s Tony Awards! To go searching the room and see the world mirrored there and see all of us celebrating our love for the theater and seeing myself mirrored on the stage was extraordinary. To have Ariana DeBose host, who did a implausible job talking out [DeBose discussed race, the LGBTQ+ community, and the understudies and swings who keep shows running in the face of COVID]! I’ve by no means witnessed that on this area. I used to be overcome with emotion since you need everybody to belong; they achieved that this yr. I hope we maintain shifting ahead after the previous two years. It made me so excited to be again on this group!

Into the Woods is enjoying a restricted engagement at Broadway’s St James Theatre. Season 2 of Energy E book III: Elevating Kanan premieres on Aug. 14 at 9 p.m.

This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.

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