Michael Michele On Joining Lee Daniels’ Star & Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar

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Michael Michele On Joining Lee Daniels’ Star & Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar
Posted by Wilson Morales

October 25, 2017

Best known for her role as Cleo Finch on NBC’s medical drama ER and Det. Rene Sheppard on NBC’s police procedural Homicide: Life on the Street, actress Michael Michele is back on TV on two different shows, on two different channels, but on the same night – Wednesdays at 9pm and 10pm.

On Fox, she’s a series regular this season on Lee Daniels’ musical drama series, Star, where she plays Ayanna Floyd, described as a modern day black Alexis Carrington. She’s the new president of the girls’ record label, and money is the bottom line for her. She knows the music business is changing and is driven to do whatever it takes to make her label relevant.

On OWN’s Queen Sugar, she and Roger Guenveur Smith have recurring roles as Darla’s (Bianca Lawson) estranged parents who come in Louisiana to visit their daughter as she prepares to marry Ralph-Angel.

Michele also had roles on New York Undercover, Blue Bloods and The Following and recurred on Gossip Girl. On film, she played Selina, girlfriend to gangster Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) in the cult favorite New Jack City, and also played Veronica Porsche Ali, one of Muhammed Ali’s wives in the Will Smith-starred film Ali.

Blackfilm.com caught up with Michele as she spoke about being in both series.

How would you describe Ayanna on Star?

Michael Michele: Ayanna Floyd owns and runs the record label and Luke James is one of my artists. I love it. It might be one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played. I’m so excited.

Having had more TV experience than some of your co-stars, what is the difference in television from when you were on Homicide and ER to now?

MM: There’s never enough time in the day to talk about it, but coming back into TV I was saying earlier that in some ways, it’s more creative. Working with Lee Daniels was one the reasons I wanted to come back to serialized television. I’ve done your standard procedurals. When I did Homicide: Life on the Street, that was considered edgy at the time. It was why I worked so hard to be on it. Then I moved into a more formulaic television series, which was ER. My point of reference of what was edgy and modern was Homicide: Life on the Street; but then you come into Lee Daniels’ world and what’s on television now with the advent of cable television and that sort of thing, there are no boundaries.

People who didn’t look at television before, creatively as performers, are now coming to television because the boundaries have widen a great deal. It was pretty linear over the years. If you had signed on to series, not only were you looking at 21 episodes a season, you were committed to years. I would sign a seven year contract and unless you begged and pleaded to get out of it, you were locked in. Now, because there are so many people coming from different areas of the business, you may do 10 or 13 episodes a year so that people can go off and do other things.

Can you about how being vocal as an artist has been carefully looked at considering the climate we have through social media? From Trump to Colin Kaepernick, the views anyone expresses can work for or against them in their careers. 

MM: Let’s talk about the importance of art and culture in our society. When countries, nations, cities, states and towns throughout the world have had conflict very often times, and especially places that are more oppressed than the United States of America, sometimes the only voice is art. Right now, especially the times that we are living in, people can put their art before people and speaks to subjects, speak to tolerance and intolerance, speak to equality and inequality, and can put a mirror before people so that you have the opportunity to sit in front of the television and understand what is happening in our world. Television is the most powerful medium. It’s how we elect our officials. They get on television and show us who they are and who they wants us to be. Not everyone feels this way, and no offense to people who don’t.

For me personally, every choice that I have made in my career, there’s a politic behind it. How I choose my roles and what I choose to do and how I choose to do it speaks very specific to my beliefs and my politics without a doubt. There is no separation between my art and who I am. It’s one and the same, even if the characters are different. There’s a scene on the show where we discuss the Black Lives Matter movement.

Can you talk about Queen Sugar and how that came about for you?

MM: Here in lies the same thing that makes the industry frustrating at times makes it also fascinating. This role on Queen Sugar was completely unexpected. I received a call that Ava DuVernay was interested in writing a role for me. You want to talk about politics. I am a huge Ava DuVernay fan. I can’t say it enough. To me, she is representative of what it means to stand for who you are and let the chips fall where they may. There was a period where a few people would question how forward thinking she was and honest she was in her politics and her business. When they called me, I was like, “I don’t know what it is. I don’t care what it is. I’m doing it.”

She then called me and just said, “I always had you in mind for this part. I didn’t know if we would get to this part, but I always knew if we brought a mother in for Bianca Lawson, you would be the mother I had in mind.” I didn’t have a script. I didn’t care to see a script. I was like, “Where do I need to be? If I need to be in New Orleans, I’ll be in New Orleans.” That’s how it was. I had a conversation with her on the phone and she couldn’t get a word in edgewise because I just kept talking. She inspires me in terms of my politics and my art.

Queen Sugar, Wednesdays, 10/9c, OWN

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