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




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

When we communicate for our job interview, the stage and display screen actress is days absent from her grand return to Broadway, for the initially time in just about 10 decades, in Stephen Sondheim’s 3rd revival of Into the Woods. In the well known musical—which dissects the morality and uncertainty of fairy tale classics like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Small Red Driving Hood—she plays The Witch, a function dependent on Rapunzel’s Mother Gothel and formerly designed well known by Vanessa Williams and Bernadette Peters. Even if she is playing a so-named “villain,” Miller asks audiences to resist the wish to promptly judge her character. Most likely it is a reminder that leaning into the discomfort of the mysterious can be releasing, primarily right now. The same is correct for Raquel “Raq” Thomas, the resilient matriarch and drug vendor she performs in STARZ’s Ability Book III: Boosting Kanan.

Miller accepts fright with aplomb, letting it invigorate her work. Her capacity to teeter concerning fearlessness and panic has created her a persuasive entertainer on-display with roles in Madam Secretary, The Many Saints of Newark, and The Starvation Games. It’s also what assisted her gain a Tony for her performance in the 2013 revival of Pippin. To that conclude, she performs into The Witch and Raq’s fallibility knowing very nicely that this kind of nuanced roles still aren’t the norm for non-white feminine actors.

Through a crack from rehearsals, Miller spoke with about returning to Broadway soon after virtually a 10 years, the magnificence and uncertainty of motherhood, Sondheim’s legacy, and embracing initiatives that scare her.

I initially figured out about you by way of Pippin, and you’ve discovered fantastic success in Tv and movie, but what drew your attention to the theater initial?

The theater has usually been a holy room for me. My training is in the theater, in which I realized to be the artist I am. Owning my commence in Sister Act [on Broadway and the West End] and then Pippin, I’ve always enjoyed producing a display and the camaraderie in the neighborhood. You do the job with artists on a piece, rehearse it, and eventually set it up for persons to come in fellowship and see your perform.

There are many matters that I’ve acquired by getting in the theater, regardless of whether it’s instincts or getting with an viewers or the listening part of it. It has created me a much better actor in the Tv and movie realm, and you by no means want to stop finding out. You are undertaking a thing that’s a holy knowledge and viewers responses, and it is so unique simply because the audience tomorrow will be very distinctive.

patina miller

Courtesy Patina Miller

How has that informed the tasks you just take on?

I like using prospects, and even early in my profession, I often desired to do issues that frightened me. If I wasn’t frightened, I realized that it wasn’t the ideal issue for me. I consider to see how I can hook up my lifetime to the materials. The collaborative procedure of theater necessitates so a great deal of you. It is not just memorizing strains. You’re hypersensitive to anything even though getting targeted on telling the story, and that’s exciting. Jumping into Whoopi Goldberg’s sneakers in Sister Act was a major deal, then tackling the Leading Player [in Pippin] from a woman’s point of look at. It worried and psyched me, and that was something I essential.

Who can forget the Pippin trapeze exactly where you had been 20 toes in the air!

Sure! Now I’m possessing that minute yet again. I really feel so lucky.

What scares you about Into the Woods?

Sondheim is, to me, the very best composer and lyricist, and we’re also chatting about some rigorous subjects. When you just take on this very-regarded material, very first with Bernadette Peters, then with Vanessa Williams, and now the New York City Center Encores edition [which is where this revival took off before heading to Broadway], and consider the present-day weather, it’ll contact much more folks. Acquiring the obligation to guarantee you get the concept throughout the way Stephen meant whilst undertaking this interpretation scares me.

You performed The Witch in 2019 at the Hollywood Bowl. How is your method to the character in conversation with Sondheim’s legacy?

When I graduated from college or university, my mentor Billy Porter employed me for Being Alive, a Sondheim revue present infused with Neo Soul and R&B. Sondheim is another person you want to dwell up to. 1 of the superb factors about his content and why it lives on is that it can be interpreted time and time once more. To have met him at 21 and have him be proud of the operate we’d performed and to then now be in this spot just will make me want to do a excellent job.

The Witch and Raq are the two moms longing for anything and dealing with enormous grief in their own approaches. How do you work on these two exhibits and then go property to your spouse and children and protect you from the psychological pounds the people can go away at the rear of?

It is really hard mainly because Raq is a heavyweight and so total, so I just try to find pleasure the place I can and inside the character. I know what it is like as a mom and want to shield my little one a lot more than something in this earth. It lets me to fully grasp both of those of these characters’ headspace but doesn’t send me down a dark route. I like to set every thing I’m experience in my lifetime, all of the trauma, into my performance due to the fact I can permit go when the clearly show is accomplished so that I don’t choose it house.

patina miller power book iii raising kanan
Miller in Electricity Reserve III: Raising Kanan

Cara HoweSTARZ

Raq is a protector at her main but usually goes in violent instructions. Has your stance on her altered now that a next time of Boosting Kanan has granted you a fuller scope of her character growth?

My stance remains the exact. Raq is calculating but impulsive when it will come to her little one. You see this woman in a man’s earth not standing down but also attempting to mother a 15-year-previous boy who thinks he is familiar with everything. He places himself in this placement to impact her function, and all the things receives thrown out of whack, and she cannot just aim on the price tag. She has to target on her son, which is the most important point at the stop of the working day. I just have an understanding of her, nevertheless questionable her actions might be. Though there are violent times, it is wonderful to see an formidable woman in all her glory and lousy things as well. It tends to make her a properly-rounded specific who’s intensely flawed and human, and which is really hard to appear by.

How can the theatrical industry make items simpler for operating mothers?

My God! We do eight shows a week, and we have two-exhibit days 2 times a week. Not everyone can deal with it all, so uplift moms and give them resources, no matter if that’s childcare or obtaining an individual there to assist when factors drop aside, to be far better performers and be superb moms at the identical time.

Do you have a story or anecdote that encapsulates what the theater neighborhood indicates to you?

So quite a few people had been represented at this year’s Tony Awards! To seem close to the room and see the entire world mirrored there and see all of us celebrating our appreciate for the theater and looking at myself mirrored on the phase was extraordinary. To have Ariana DeBose host, who did a fantastic work talking out [DeBose discussed race, the LGBTQ+ community, and the understudies and swings who keep shows running in the face of COVID]! I have in no way witnessed that in this place. I was triumph over with emotion since you want everyone to belong they achieved that this 12 months. I hope we retain transferring ahead right after the earlier two years. It designed me so psyched to be again in this group!

Into the Woods is participating in a limited engagement at Broadway’s St James Theatre. Year 2 of Electricity Ebook III: Elevating Kanan premieres on Aug. 14 at 9 p.m.

This job interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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