“Go To The Theatre As Much As Possible And Read Plays!” 5 Insider Tips With Skye P. Marshall Of Black Lightning
“Theatre is the boot camp of acting. The stage is a whole other level of discipline that will build a strong and everlasting foundation for your career. I wish I played more on the stage. Performing on Broadway is a major goal of mine.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Skye P. Marshall, US Air Force Veteran and actress from The Mentalist, Shameless, Grey’s Anatomy, Major Crimes, and more! She’s currently starring in the new hit DC Comics TV series, Black Lightning on The CW. Airing Tuesday nights at 9/8c.
What is your “backstory”?
During my childhood and teenage years, I was obsessed with performing arts, but I was conditioned to believe that performing arts was just a hobby. I was born in Chicago, IL. After my freshman year of college at Hampton University, I decided I wasn’t going to be one of those 20-something year olds with thousands of dollars of student debt, so I enlisted in the US Air Force. My intentions for joining the armed forces was to pay for college. I served pre and post 9/11. After I was honorably discharged, I attended Northeastern Illinois University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, with honors. Fresh out of college, I was hired at a pharmaceutical marketing firm in New York City. After two years of working in the corporate world, I realized a cubicle was my idea of hell. I then had to get real with myself regarding what I wanted to do with my life. What was my purpose? What were my passions? Acting was the answer. So i hopped in my car, drove from NYC to LA, found an apartment, and lived off of unemployment for two years while building the foundation of my new career. Today, I am a proud working actor with over 30 credits in TV and Film. I’ve been blessed to work all over the US and abroad. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in this lifetime. It never feels like a job!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/directing/performing career?
When I first started acting in LA, I was an extra on CSI:NY for a year. I worked in the laboratory on the show, so as an “employee” I was able to book 3–5 days a week of work on set. To me, this was a paid internship. I made these index cards of people I wanted to work with. One side had their photo and the other side had their hometown and work history. I would quiz myself because I never wanted to miss an opportunity to say hello. One day while working on CSI:NY, we were shooting 2 episodes at the same time and the crew was split. I was curious to see who was directing the other episode I wasn’t working on, and to my surprise it was one of my index cards!! It was director/producer Anthony Hemingway! I loved his work on True Blood. When we broke for lunch, I ripped my CSI lab coat off, pulled my hair down, gave it a good shake, applied my lipstick, and strolled over to Anthony Hemingway who was eating alone. He had no idea I was an extra. I said, “Heyyyy” with such confidence, I’m pretty sure I convinced him we’ve met before, lol. Nope! When lunch was over, it was like a Cinderella moment. Lab coat, glasses and ponytail back on. A few years later, I booked a recurring speaking role on Shameless. Who was at the producer session? Anthony Hemingway! And today, we’re friends.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most exciting project I am working on now is the new DC Comics superhero TV series, Black Lightning that premiered January 16, 2018 on The CW! I’ve never been more excited to be a part of a cast & crew. I show up to set on my off days, just to sit and watch the other actors and director work. I never stop learning. I’ve always wanted to be on a superhero show. To see my name next to DC Comics and WB is a dream come true! Black Lightning is network television’s first black superhero and TV’s first black lesbian superhero, Thunder. What I love most about the show is how authentically and unapologetically “Black” it is. Our creator and showrunner Salim Akil, along with our entire writing team understands our voice and our community. We deal with real world problems in a supernatural world. On the show, I play Ms. Kara Fowdy, and she is a combo of powerful women I look up to…from Viola Davis to Michelle Obama.
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
In 2016, I was blessed to be apart of a Lionsgate feature film called Misconduct, starring alongside Al Pacino and Sir Anthony Hopkins in New Orleans. The evening before we began production, I snuck into Al Pacino and Josh Duhamel’s rehearsal. I just HAD to see what Pacino’s process was like. After the rehearsal, Pacino invited everyone to dinner, including me…I almost died! While at dinner, I sat next to him. He’s a great storyteller, and tells us how he almost got fired from The Godfather film. He says, “I mean, I was nervous, it’s Marlon Brando! You have any idea what that was like for me?” I said, “Ummmm, yes. I most certainly do Al!”…we laughed. Working with Pacino and Hopkins was a mind blowing experience. They shared priceless words of wisdom with me, we took photos and funny videos together between takes. Their warm spirits and openness made for a very fun Master Class that I will never forget.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am most inspired by Harriet Tubman and her contributions to this country, and my people. Harriet was a fighter. A winner. She was laser beam focused on her goals. She was a woman with sharp animal instincts. She had gumption! She motivated the masses then, and now. This is the woman i aim to be daily. A quote from Harriet Tubman that keeps me hungry is:
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in Hollywood?
You must maintain patience, persistence and passion for this industry. There is no formula or a 10-Step Program to success in showbiz. Just put in the work, obtain a solid network of friends and associates whom you’re genuine with and not opportunistic. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s extra work or a lead in a film, always show up powerfully. Smile and say thank you. When people feel that you’re in this till the end, they will keep an eye on you. But you must do the work! There’s no point of having an opportunity to audition for a powerful director or producer and you drop the ball because you weren’t prepared. Always be a student. Read and watch everything. Cry if you must. Never give up. If you have talent, you WILL get your turn.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m always reading and replying to messages I receive on social media from people who need/want advice. I love connecting with people who are goal oriented and not afraid to reach out. I also started a 2nd Facebook page (also called Skye P. Marshall) where I post motivational and inspirational messages to my followers. Not about showbiz, but more focused on how to navigate through this crazy thing called LIFE. Last year, I traveled to West Africa and visited Senegal, Mali and Ghana where I volunteered at an elementary school for two weeks teaching English, Arts and Math. It was such a magical experience that i encourage everyone to do. Volunteer your time! In the near future, I want to travel the country, speaking at high schools and colleges to inspire young adults of color to obtain passports and see the world!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Get a Life! It was hard for me to stay optimistic while I was tray passing hors d’oeuvres at events every weekend. I had to learn how to enjoy that part of the journey as well. As soon as I did, I started connecting with guests at these private events that I never would’ve been invited to. At a WB event, I met a director who I made laugh all night. He booked me in a CBS pilot less than a year later and I didnt have an agent or manager.
Go to the theatre as much as possible and read plays! Theatre is the boot camp of acting. The stage is a whole other level of discipline that will build a strong and everlasting foundation for your career. I wish I played more on the stage. Performing on Broadway is a major goal of mine.
Fall in love with yourself. Having confidence when you walk into a room leaves a lasting impression. To build that confidence, i had to stop relying on approval from the creative team to determine if I was good or not. I woke up every morning and loved my reflection. I cut all of my hair off and still felt sexy. I traveled abroad alone to get to know me. The more i fell in love with Skye, the more opportunities manifested. Because my deserving feelings were at an all time high.
Stop saying you’re “Fearless”. No one is without fear. It’s an emotion we are all born with. Suppressing it will interfere with your growth. Instead of ignoring fear or trying to get rid of it as fast as possible…learn how to use it. Acknowledge the fear and allow it to breath life into your performance.
Create a healthy relationship with money. I didn’t realize until I hit bottom financially, that i had subconsciously created this fear of money because of a traumatic experience my family went through regarding finances when I was young. I had to do the work and find out what was mentally blocking my cash flow. I was in the state of taking responsibility for everything in my life. I learned what’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) from a book called Tapping Into Wealth by Margaret M. Lynch. It changed my income and my life. Now i can’t stop the checks from coming!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would love to have brunch with Viola Davis. We’ve never formally met, although I did bum-rush her once backstage at the Jimmy Kimmel show while wearing a hat that said “Work B*tch” on it, begging her for a photo that she said yes to (probably because I frightened her). Viola is my BFF in my head. She’s my mentor in my heart. Back when I was working corporate in NYC (before acting) I was walking to the train after a 13 hour shit shift of work. I noticed a road was blocked off by tape and a Production Assistant. I asked the PA, “What are you guys filming?” He said, “A movie called Eat, Pray, Love.” I was curious to see the actors involved. Out walks this beautiful black actress and Julia Roberts. I asked the now annoyed PA, “Who is that woman? I know her face.” He says, “That’s Viola Davis…now can you please back up?” I stood there and watched her work for almost 4 hours. I was mesmerized by her. That was the night I officially decided I was going to quit my job and be an actress. Fast forward to 2015, I was filming an episode of an Ed Burns and Steven Spielberg show called Public Morals in NYC. While waiting between takes, I spotted a young black girl next to our PA staring at me. In that moment, I realized, my dream had come true and I was now on the other side of the tape and PA, being admired by a curious young Me. I burst into tears. Viola continues to blow me away today with her contributions on and off screen. She inspires me in so many ways and I would just love to know her.