Patina Miller Is Booked and Busy—And She’s Just Getting Started
When Patina Miller and I speak, she’s fresh off back-to-back days of filming her Starz hit series Power Book III: Raising Kanan and a “day off” that included an hours-long photo shoot. “I’m tired, but I’m always tired,” the Tony winner says with a laugh over Zoom from her New York City home. “I’ve learned to just roll with it and be happy that I’m having the moment that I’m having.”
In addition to filming the third season of Raising Kanan, that moment includes a recent award-worthy performance as The Witch in the hit Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a Grammy win for the show’s cast album, coming on board for a film adaptation of the stage production, recording her own music, marathon training, and of course, being mom to five-year-old daughter Emerson. Even just reading all that, it’s admittedly hard not to get a little dizzy. “I like being busy,” Miller assures me, adding, “But self-care is super, super important to me, no matter how busy my schedule is.”
That emphasis on self-care struck when Miller, now 38, became a mom. “After I had my baby, I only had two months off before I had to be back in front of a camera. I realized that if I was going to be good for my baby, I had to be good for myself first,” she says. “That postpartum time can be so crazy. Everything is changing about your body and who you are, so I really started to focus on the little things that make me happy. If I’m happy, I can show up in a different way.”
That inner strength has translated to the characters she plays, which have run the gamut from Commander Paylor in The Hunger Games to the starring role in Sister Act on the West End and Broadway. “I come from some really strong women—my grandmother was a force; my mom is a force,” she says. “So being around those types of women for so long, you obviously take that on.” Miller was raised by her grandmother and her mom, a single mother who gave birth to her at age 15. “My mom had me at such a young age, and I lived in a small town. I always knew that I wanted something more for myself, so I really focused, hunkered down, and figured out how I could do it.”
And so Miller moved away from her South Carolina hometown at 15 and went to a performing arts boarding school, later earning a full-ride scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied musical theater. “When you’re a young female trying to make your way in a business like this, you can take many different approaches,” she says. “For me, I didn’t have any other choice but to succeed. That tenacity, grit, drive, and hunger has always been a part of me. So I think it’s safe to say that those roles found me as I was finding my own strength.”
What does self-care look like to you?
Patina Miller: Fitness has always been a huge passion of mine. When you feel good, it does something to your confidence. For me, it’s all about longevity and how I want to be when I’m up in my older years. Self-care is how I’m able to go and do eight shows a week, film a TV show, and a movie. I take it really seriously. I get massages and try to meditate. I have to carve out that little bit of time to be good to myself—it enables me to jump into all of these projects and give them my all.
How do you make time for self-care when you have a small child at home?
In the beginning of the process, I was lucky enough to have a baby nurse, and then my mom moved up here to help me. My mom being here allowed me to take time for myself in that way. These days, my husband and I tag-team. He was very, very helpful during the Broadway run. There were weekends that I didn’t get to spend with the family—I’d see her in the morning and then I’d go run, because I was training for a marathon, and then I’d have two shows and call her in between. I made it work. It was hard, but there’s always a way. It really takes a village.
What was it like being in front of the camera only two months after giving birth?
As physically fit as I was, my snap-back did not happen. What you see on social media…I took the time for my baby and didn’t care what my body looked like. I just wanted to make sure I felt good. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I found my true strength. I started standing up in my choices, really owning my voice, and trusting my instincts. Before that, I felt like I was faking it a little bit, but once I had a child and had something else to live for, I walked into my strength.
Switching gears, what was your relationship like to Into the Woods before starring in the Broadway revival?
When I was in college studying musical theater, I was always drawn to the intricacy of Sondheim. I loved the lyrics so much, but it always seemed like it wasn’t for me. I always felt, Oh, I can’t touch that. I just have to do Dreamgirls. It wasn’t until I met Billy Porter right after I graduated from college that I fell in love with Sondheim. Billy was doing this R&B neo-soul Sondheim revue and hired me to work on the project. I was 20 years old and got to sing Into the Woods. I was so taken by all of the fairy tales and how dark they were.
*__Into the Woods __*was your first time being back on a Broadway stage since 2013, when you won the Tony for Pippin. Did being back on stage feel like riding a bicycle?
Oh, my God, I was so nervous! I left the stage for eight years, came back as a mother and was trying to find my way. I was so scared because it’s like, what if I lost it? What if I can’t do eight shows a week? But when we had our first tech rehearsal, I stepped out onto the stage and I remember thinking, I could do this all day. It’s where I love to play.
I got emotional on the first day that I walked out onto the stage. Prior to that, I had been seeing a lot of shows and being in an audience was still a new thing [due to the pandemic]. But being on the other side of it was a flood of emotions. It’s just so, so, so special. I got chills at our first preview and was so giddy. Thankfully, it was like riding a bicycle. But it was so much more fulfilling, because I’ve lived life and I’m older now. I’m no longer thinking, Oh, God, what if I mess up? For me it’s now about going out, being myself, telling the story, being present, and no matter what happens, enjoying the moment.
Has your daughter seen you as The Witch?
My daughter has an absolute attachment to Into the Woods. She was two when she saw me perform it at the Hollywood Bowl, before the show moved to Broadway. I was constantly rehearsing because we had such a limited window so I was always singing “Stay With Me” to her. By the time she got to see the performance, she knew all of the songs. It was her first time seeing me on stage, and she got to wear a frilly dress and sit close to the stage. Afterward, she was like, “Can we go again?,” and would tell all her friends in school about it. She is my number one fan, tied with my husband. At my very last performance, she was three rows back; every time I walked out onto the stage, I saw this tiny hand waving back and forth at me. The show is almost three hours long, and every time I walked out, she was waving. At the very end, I waved back to her. She’ll remember it for the rest of her life.
Did singing “Children Will Listen” affect your own thinking as a parent?
Talk about handbook! [Singing.] “Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell.” Children are always listening to the things you say and how you use your voice. I’m so much aware of that now. Kids repeat everything. If you’re spewing hate, of course they are going to say hateful things. It’s how we as adults have the responsibility for the new generation. They’re watching us to know the way.
What are the biggest differences working in theater versus television?
For me, it’s the community. When you put on a show, there’s something so beautiful about spending all this time together. Not that there’s not camaraderie in film and TV, but everything is just so “go, go, go.” You don’t really have time to live in things. With theater, there’s a way that you can be with your fellow artists on stage, because we’re all in front of all these people together, so you show up a certain way. Looking out into the audience to see how you are affecting people and getting that immediate feedback fuels you.
What do you most admire about your Raising Kanan character, Raquel?
What I admire most is her confidence. Her sensuality, sexuality, and walking into a room filled with men and owning it—that’s what I love about her. And actually, her confidence has helped me. She has the strength to wake up, want to be better, and make her own mark. She is not perfect, and I love that about her. She is so flawed and does things that are questionable, but she’s very human.
Talk to me about her wardrobe.
I love every catsuit that I’ve ever worn on that show. All the Alaïa suits, vintage fashion from Versace and Mugler…it’s so much fun. It’s the ’90s, and Raquel not only is the boss but she gets to dress like one. The stilettos, the chains, the rings, the hoops. They’re so dope.
How does your personal style compared to Raquel’s?
I’m a bit more relaxed. Let’s call it relaxed chic. I’ll do the glam thing when I want to make a statement, but for me, it’s really about being comfortable but fashionable. I love my Jordans, but I also love a good boot. When I’m home, I’m normally in sweats. They might be Rag & Bone cashmere sweats, but they’re sweats nonetheless. [Laughs.]
What was your first big splurge purchase?
When I was in London doing Sister Act, I bought two pairs of black slingback sky-high Louboutins off eBay. I remember staying up all night, waiting until three in the morning, and hit the button to bid. That’s how I got my first pair of red bottoms. I still have them too! I will never, ever sell them or give them away. They remind me of having the guts not to be afraid. It’s something as trivial as a pair of shoes, but I got them with my own money, and it made me feel good.
Do you have any shopping rules?
I used to have this amazing Alexander Wang turtleneck with a cutout back. I had it for four years, and then it broke on me. It was literally my go-to fabulous sweater, but they don’t make it anymore. Now when I buy things, I always buy two or three.
What music are you listening to these days?
Everything from Beyoncé to H.E.R. to Lucky Daye to anything with Harry Styles. I’m really into the mellow stuff, but I love to amp it up too. I would say that Into the Woods was brought to you by Beyoncé’s Renaissance album. It took a minute for me to get into it and figure out what she was doing, but then I really got into it. Jonathan Groff is one of my closest friends, and our love for Beyoncé started our journey together back in 2007. We’re always texting each other about certain Beyoncé songs. I remember texting him about Renaissance. He was the one who told me to give it another listen.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on my own music. Usually around midnight or one in the morning, you can find me trying to make sense of a lyric and recording a voice memo. I am really excited about it.
Performing on stage in front of thousands every night is a scene out of nightmares for most people. So what actually scares you?
Failure scares me, but I think I actually love being scared. I’ve realized that when I’m frightened, I do my best work. Obviously, I’m scared of the unknown and getting older, being presented with mortality, but on the other side of that, I love living in that uncomfortable space. The fear of failing is why I’ve always pushed myself. Every time I got a no, it sucked and was hard, but it gave me motivation and propelled me even more in the direction that I wanted to go.
I have days like everyone else, where I have fears of getting old, fears of not being a good mother, but I’m trying to embrace those fears. We’re all doing the best we can. Having a support system, which includes a therapist, helps me. It’s important not to be afraid to talk to other people—we’re more similar than we are different and are all on our journeys. You’re not always winning out here in real life. It’s what you choose to do when you’re at the bottom.
Caitlin Brody is the entertainment director at Condé Nast.
Originally Appeared on Glamour