Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Shamyl Brown of ‘The Wire’ Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry
…Because the world is so big and so full of color and we need to see that represented on TV and film. I think a lot of insecurities and issues that people have within themselves — not feeling beautiful enough or not feeling adequate enough is because you’re told that you’re not represented so you don’t count. I think to feel like you’re a part of the world, you need to see yourself on the big screen.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Shamyl Brown. Shamyl Brown is an actress, known for The Wire (2002), The Salon (2005) and Stay Tonight (2018).
Shamyl thank you so much for joining us. Our readers would love to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I kind of grew up all over the place, literally and figuratively. My dad was in the military. We were actually stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina when I was born and then moved to Oceanside, California. I lived in California for about eight years. Lots of good memories here. My mom and my dad separated. She remarried while we were here in California and then we moved to Maryland when I was eight. The move to Maryland is when things kind of got a little tricky
It was kind of tumultuous between her and my stepdad. Finances weren’t the greatest. We were actually homeless during my fifth-grade year and again during my 10th-grade year of high school. In my fifth grade year, we lived in military housing. It was almost like a hotel, like a Quality Inn. Because my stepdad was also in the military, we were able to stay there for a while. We grew up with the lights getting cut off a lot and eviction notices, but again, it was also somewhat balanced with lots of love and hugs, but also a lot of stress. Food wasn’t always plentiful; things like that.
My mom and stepdad separated during my sophomore year. He was a good guy. He tried. I don’t know if he knew what he was in for. Once they separated and I went off to college, there was some stability, but I was still trying to find my way. I ended up getting pregnant my freshman year of college and having my son who’s awesome. He’s 18 now and attending the LA Film School. He wants to be a director and says: “If I get anything big, I have an actress who I live with.”
It has been a journey, but I think it’s definitely been worth it. If I had to do it all again, knowing what I know, I absolutely would.
Can you share with us a story about what brought you to this particular career path as an actress?
I just remember being very small and always saying I wanted to be a singer and when I would tell people that, they would say: “Oh? Well then, sing something for me.” So I would sing, but I didn’t like being put on the spot. I would sing all the time.
I remember during my fifth grade year I had a teacher named Ms. Nelson. She wasn’t a teacher in a traditional sense; she was more like a talent scout-type of teacher for the GATE program (Gifted & Talented) at our school. I sang for her and she said: “I really want to take you to a play. I’m going to ask your mom if it’s okay.” She met with my mom and me in a parking lot and I hopped in her car. The 90’s were a very different time.
We went to see “Annie”. I saw those girls on the stage and thought, “Oh my God! I don’t want to be a singer. I want to do that!”. I started auditioning for local theater. I was working at the Towson Dinner Theater when it was there. I don’t think it’s there anymore. I was doing shows there when I met a good friend, Tyler Zeisloft. I think he’s a radio personality in Maryland right now.
Anyway, we kind of grew up together in the theater. Tyler was two years older than me. His dad told my mom about the Baltimore School for the Arts and he was going to get Tyler to audition for the school. Tyler got in and then, of course, I auditioned two years later. I got in and that’s when I really fell in love with acting. Singing kind of fell to the wayside. Now people ask if I sing and I cringe! I’m like: “No! Don’t ask me to sing!”
As an actress, you probably have some really interesting experiences. Can you share with us one of the most interesting stories that have happened to you since you began?
When I was on set doing “The Wire”, it was my second season. I was between scenes so I wasn’t really doing anything but waiting to go on. One of the PAs (Production Assistant) called me over and asked if I wanted to come to take a look at the equipment. I never had the desire to be behind the scenes, but really appreciated that moment. They showed me all the equipment, the monitors, the cameras, and the lighting. I’m so used to theater production and that sort of scene. It was somewhat of a pivotal moment because I realized there is so much that happens in front of the camera that everyone sees, but there’s even more happening behind it. It made me really appreciate it. I know so many actors who get into directing and producing because I think they have an appreciation for it as well. It is a whole other beast.
Can you share with us a story of a funny mistake that you made and what lesson you learned from it?
I remember working with Idris Elba on ‘The Wire’. He played a love interest of mine for the last two seasons of the show. We were off-camera talking and he started talking with this weird British accent. Of course, all actors think they can do an amazing British accent, especially me. I do a great British accent all the time.
I’m doing it with him and he was like “that’s pretty good.” I said: “No, yours is really good!” And he said, “I would hope so. I’m from London.” I thought he was joking! I started laughing. I literally didn’t believe him until I saw him in another movie. I had only heard him do a fake east coast accent, but it didn’t sound fake.
I started researching this actor that I was working with, Idris Elba. I didn’t realize who I was even dealing with. He was legit from London and had a very strong accent that he tucked away when we were working. It was pretty cool. But again, I was just 19 years old. I wasn’t really aware of the size of this project I was working on. I was enjoying it. I was definitely appreciative, that all those people went on to just do amazing things.
You’ve been blessed with success in a career that can be very challenging. Do you have any words of advice for people who might want to embark on a similar career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure? What do you say to somebody who’s interested, but feels intimidated by the seemingly slim chances of success?
Stick with it. Stick with it and stay consistent. Because you ultimately have control. There are people who are super successful in their careers, and not just actors — architects, teachers, doctors… These people put the time in. They invest money into what they believe they’re going to be really great at. Acting is no different so even when you’re hearing the “no’s”; even when life gets in the way, please just stay consistent and stick with it.
I took an 11-year hiatus from acting to raise my oldest son. We moved out here to LA when his dad and I divorced. I was left to deal with life. The thing that was so important to me was making sure my son had stability, structure, safety, and felt secure.
I decided to put my acting on the back burner. I don’t regret it, especially because when I look at him, I could pat myself on the back. That was worth it, but I also know if I had stuck with it and continued with the momentum that I had when I first arrived in L.A., regardless of the no’s, regardless of the disappointments, I would definitely be in a different place right now in my career. But getting back into it, thank God there were people who knew me. I was able to get signed again very quickly. I just know if I had continued with it, it would have definitely paid off.
You have really impressive work. ‘The Wire’ is one of the most popular shows of all time. Where do you see yourself heading from here? What exciting projects are you working on now, or what do you look forward to in the future?
Right now, I’m rebuilding my own career. LA is very different now. The industry is very different now. There aren’t as many in-person auditions, especially since the pandemic. There are a lot more self-recorded auditions. I decided to reacclimate myself and get back into acting classes. I went on the hunt for representation and I got that. I’ve got a great manager and agent. I have two younger kids. They’re gorgeous, five and seven. They’re very much interested in doing what mommy does. We are all with the same manager and the same agent. I’m really trying to rebuild and get back into it. I’ve done a couple of independent projects, things that kind of wet my toes. I’m very optimistic about 2022. I usually don’t go into the new year with the thought of: “Oh, this is my year!” But, there’s something telling me 2022 has some big things coming and I’m all for it.
So much of our writing talks about the importance of diversity and this may be obvious, but it’s important to articulate it. Can you share three reasons with our readers, why it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television, and how do you think that can affect our culture and affect youth growing up today?
I can’t think of anything but good reasons. Because the world is so big and so full of color and we need to see that represented on TV and film. I think a lot of insecurities and issues that people have within themselves — not feeling beautiful enough or not feeling adequate enough is because you’re told that you’re not represented so you don’t count. I think to feel like you’re a part of the world, you need to see yourself on the big screen.
But, it doesn’t even have to be on the screen because you have people like Ava DuVernay who are not in front of the camera. You’ve got all of these different women, men, people of color, people of different religious backgrounds, people with different ethnicities who are really making a name for themselves. M. Night Shyamalan is another example of someone who’s really representing their culture in a big way.
Just the representation and feeling like you count. You have a voice and you are being heard. It’s not all a vanilla story of the world. There are so many flavors! In America alone, there are so many different points of view that people can relate to. It’s amazing to see these stories and really have a broader perspective of people.
When you travel and you kind of get a sense of the world around you. It makes your life a little different here at home. You see how the other side lives, and it’s not good or bad. It is just different. Some people can’t do that. They can’t go out and travel the world, but that’s where the beauty of our industry comes in. It’s like we bring the world to people in their homes or the theater. If you can’t get out there and see how people are living in Poland or Asia or Africa, then there’s plenty to see on TV. If we are not properly sharing those stories then what we are doing, we’re just telling the same story over and over again. That’s where creativity comes in.
And finally, it’s just fun. If you’re telling the same story over and over again and you’re watching the same point of view being portrayed… Humans are fickle. We need stimulation. I think for our brains to develop properly, we need to get it all.I don’t know when the world is going to end, but I believe one of the main goals of humanity is to soak up as much as we can from as many as we can while simultaneously GIVING as much as we can in hopes of becoming the best that we can before it is all over.
It makes me think of the Tower of Babel. We were all trying to build the tower to heaven and God sent us scattering. It’s almost like: Okay, how do we get back to us? How do we find commonality in the midst of all the obvious differences? Love, GOD! I just think it’s a beautiful thing when we can all come together as humans giving & receiving the love & respect that we ALL need & deserve. Just make that the common goal right now. We (humans) tend to focus on a very small radius. But change your perspective. Go higher & look down. What do you see? We can accomplish so much good together.
As we mentioned before, ‘The Wire’ is one of the most popular television shows of all time. It’s similar to ‘The Sopranos’. What was it that really captured people’s attention about the show? And then more importantly, what lessons do you think our society today can take from the show?
I think it’s because the show did such a great job at telling these characters’ stories in a way that you didn’t have to be from Baltimore, or a cop or detective, or a drug dealer to see the humans in these real life situations trying to win, or at the very least trying to survive. And as you’re watching, you begin to relate to these characters, on both sides. You’re seeing their stories unfold and you start to question what you might do in that scenario or how you might handle a particular issue. You begin to see yourself or people you know in these characters that are being so authentically portrayed. And then you realize everyone in the show has a goal they’re trying to reach and the human in you just wants everyone to succeed. It’s like the people who root for the bad guy because they empathize with the need to attain their ultimate goal. Sometimes the route to get there isn’t the prettiest, but you just want them to get there! The viewer can relate & feel genuine compassion when something is going good or bad for any one of these characters. It is a very realistic and relatable depiction. And that’s the beauty of GOOD storytelling. You don’t have to be a part of that world, but if told properly, no matter the story, you will be by the time it’s over. I think the lesson in that alone is compassion and understanding.
‘The Wire’ did such a good job doing that and bringing that to life. Being in Baltimore, going to the School for the Arts, I wasn’t around that particular scene. I didn’t live that kind of life, but it is set here where I’m living, where I’m schooling. I would definitely see these guys and I could look at them with softer eyes now. It’s a struggle. I’m not saying they’re doing right, but I get it. Who knows how I would respond in that situation?
You are a person of great influence. As an actress, you have a lot of influence and inspiration. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea could trigger.
To be honest, I think my movement would be following God. I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe God exists, or your God is different from mine. But you always hear that love is the key. It’s all about the love movement. I feel like that’s such a big. It’s not a new thing, but you hear it so much “we need more love, love is love”. But what is love? God is love. And without God, how do you love properly? I feel like people have it kind of misconstrued. It’s an interesting perspective when people are like: “Oh, we just all need to love each other.” They’re coming from a very human point of view when they say that. Be compassionate and love your neighbor, but where does that really all come from?
When you look at it in more of a God sense — not being God, of course, but when you look at it in the way He looks at things, it’s deeper. It’s almost like an unconditional kind of love that most of us can’t comprehend unless you have kids.
So I think if I could push for any movement, it’s just, find God. Find God in people; find God in yourself in all your actions and all your interactions. It’s bigger than humans. It’s bigger than us. It’s like when I watch my kids and they’re loving each other, being so compassionate with each other, sharing and taking care of each other, I think: This is how God feels when he sees us doing right by each other.
Or when I see them fighting and being disrespectful I think: “Oh my gosh! This must be what He feels when we’re at war and when we’re judging or when it’s all the things that are happening in the news that are being brought to light.” I don’t think people are really looking at it in that sense. Hopefully, we get there through watching these stories and seeing different perspectives. I think at the end of humanity, we’ll all finally get it. Hopefully!
Yitzi: Hopefully before…
We’re very blessed, very fortunate that prominent leaders and producers and filmmakers read our column. Is there a person in the world you would like to have lunch with or meet because we could tag them, and there’s a good chance that person could read this article.
Oh my goodness. I’ll be honest… Probably Oprah and I say Oprah because I just want to give Oprah a hug. I feel like she probably gives the best hugs, but also I think we would have such a great conversation. She has her ‘Super Soul Sundays’ and when I watch her interviews with these people on spirituality and life, I think that would just be the best lunch ever. I’d probably just bring a little weekend bag and ask if I could stay for a while. Soak up as much as I can. She is very inspirational. My mom was into journalism all through high school and even interned at The Baltimore Sun and had the opportunity to meet Oprah during that time. This was during the early 80’s. It was such a moment for my mom. I remember hearing her talk about that. That would kind of seal it for both of us. If I could have a little lunch, some deep conversation, and a mimosa with Oprah, I feel like that would be something special for me (and my mom)
Yitzi: Okay. Sounds great. I hope it happens.
Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Shamyl Brown of ‘The Wire’ Is Helping To Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.