Exclusive Interview: Memphis Star Montego Glover Does it All
Montego Glover is having the time of her life playing the role of Felicia Farrell in the Broadway musical MEMPHIS. But that’s not all she’s doing. The actress has a long resume that includes television work, (“The Good Wife, Law & Order, Guiding Light), radio, commercials and voiceover work, most recognizably the Charmin bear Bath Tissue commercials. (Who knew?!?) Madame Noire spoke with the busy actress about her many jobs, the motto she lives by and that interesting name.
Where does your name come from, is there a story behind that?
Yeah, there is a story, my name is Jamaican. I’m named after Montego Bay in Jamaica. The story goes I was about two days from being born and my parents weren’t quite agreeing on a name and my mother saw a painting of Montego Bay that she thought was so beautiful and she said that’s it, that’s my daughter’s name.
So have you traveled there?
I did. It’s very interesting to visit a place you’re named after.
What influenced you to pursue entertainment?
When I was twelve years old, I became a student at a charter school that specialized in art, math and science. I got into acting class and responded so strongly that it occurred to me at twelve, that what I really wanted to do when I grew up was be an actor.
What was your first role or part?
I think it was probably a scene in class but my first play was Beauty and the Beast at school. I was a member of the ensemble so I played many small parts, it was very exciting.
Were you ever nervous?
No! I don’t remember that kind of nervous feeling. Any kind of energy behind it was always excited energy. I was just so thrilled to be telling these stories and getting chances to create even at a young age in that way. There was never nervousness, real excitement though, anticipatory excitement.
You’ve done a lot of different work, not only have you been in Memphis, you’ve done television and you do a lot of voiceover work. Do you prepare any differently? How do you transition from role to role?
The preparation, frankly is the same, the delivery of that preparation is what is vastly different and other than that it’s just a matter of being as committed to whatever the characterization is. I’m as committed to the copy that I get for McDonalds as I am to a script that I get for a Shakespearean play. It’s just that the Shakespeare requires a much more three dimensional delivery in real time, whereas the voiceover requires very finely laid approach to every single word and syllable because that’s all you have, you only have one element to work with.
What advice would you give to upcoming actors or entertainers as far as diversifying their skill set?
In terms of diversifying skills I would say, get your education, go to school for the things you want to do and get a set of skills that you can build on. They will be very necessary and are the difference between being able to work in one area for a finite amount of time and being able to work in many areas indefinitely. That’s longevity in your profession. In addition to education listen, listen, listen, always watch and listen, less talking and more listening and watching. You learn a lot that way. More than most ways
How has listening helped you in your career?
It means that the focus is not on you and your wants and needs but on what the piece is, what the storytelling is. With actors, it’s less about the actor and more about what the story is. So listening gives you the skill of taking attention off yourself and putting it on the thing or on the story that most deserves it. In my very first acting classes and when I first started studying, in this program, which was about four years long, the first year or two you did not have speaking roles, you only had non-speaking roles and you spent many, many hours observing other actors, who were more advanced being coached. All you did was non-speaking work and watching and listening. It forces you to really pay attention to the work, the work at hand. And that skill serves you in your profession and it serves you in your life, which of course feeds the success of your profession. Very important. It’s a very good skill.
After all that preparation, what would you say is your breakout role?
I would have to say the role I’m playing now in Memphis. But for different reasons, I feel like there are certain roles that you do that give you a chance to show what you’ve learned in the last year or what you’ve learned in the last six months or what you’ve learned since college or something like that. But, for me to date, the role I’m playing in Memphis is giving me an opportunity to exercise every single skill I’ve ever learned in my tenure as an actress, so for me it’s the break because it’s the thing to date that lets me fire with every skill set I have, every time I do it.
Tell us a little bit about Felicia.
Felicia is a combination of things that make up what we call a meaty role. She’s enough like me, she’s enough not like me. Working in theater is very specific and relentless for your schedule. 8 performances in 6 days is a lot of work. And a musical is different from just about any other art form because it requires that you be a fierce actor, a fierce singer, and a fierce musician and you have to be all three of those things at the same time. So I like Felicia Farrell because she allows me to show my athleticism, physically, she allows me to vocally perform and show my malleability. And I like her acting arc because she is a woman that I think all women relate to and she is a complete woman.
Do you think minority support of theater is an issue?
I don’t. I don’t think that minorities elect not to support the arts. But I do think that people, no matter who they are, want to see themselves reflected in that art; and if they don’t, then it’s less likely that they will have interest. Not to say that what I say is absolute but it does play a role. It is a factor. And the beauty of art is there are so many unbelievably creative ways to reflect our communities in art. There’s no one way to do that. That’s the exciting part.
What is the message or theme of Memphis?
Never, ever let anyone tell you that what you know and feel to be right and true in your heart and in your spirit is not true. In other words in the last line of our play, ‘Don’t let anyone steal your rock and roll.’ If you know that something is true and right in your heart, no one can tell you otherwise and don’t allow them to.
Have you ever used that message in your personal or professional life?
Absolutely. You know being an actress is exciting work and I think acting is noble work and I don’t think it’s work that everybody wants to do or should do, frankly because the rigor of it can be a lot but when you know that you love being an actor. There’s nothing else you want to do or frankly can do because nothing lets you live as fully as acting does. If that’s the thing that is your rock and roll. I use it all the time. Day after day, you audition for things that you think are wonderful, great context for you and sometimes you don’t get them that doesn’t mean you should stop being an actor. You still should pursue, it just means that that project wasn’t the one for you. But the fire’s still there and it has to be.