Inspirational Women In Hollywood: Why & How The Wire Star Michelle Paress Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry
… Growing up the only artists I had to look up to were Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera. That’s it. There were no other Puerto Rican actresses working. There were no movies or television shows about me or my family anywhere. I had to look outside for my inspiration. Representation and diversity matter so much. It’s important for young people to be able to see themselves not just in film and television, but in any field they choose to pursue. Representation and diversity builds courage and self confidence in young people. It inspires them. Representation and diversity builds pride and community. Everyone has something to say and something to give. The world is diverse. Film and television need to start reflecting that and not in a stereotypical way. Regardless of who you are or where you come from we are all human beings living and experiencing the human condition.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michelle Paress
Michelle Hernandez Paress is a Puerto Rican American actress, singer, and dancer born and raised in New York City. Her mother is Afro-Puerto Rican. Her father was of Taino/Arawak Indigenous and European descent. She began performing at the age of eight singing and tap dancing in various community theaters and talent shows throughout New York City. She attended Julia Richman High School and majored in drama in the Talent Unlimited program, where she performed lead, and supporting roles in musicals and contemporary and classical plays. After graduating, Michelle continued her acting and dance studies at Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, HB Studios, The Acting Studio, Larry Moss Studios, Upright Citizens Brigade and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. Michelle has appeared on stage at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, in NYC and The Kennedy Center, in Washington DC. Her television and film credits include Lotto Land, Turnipseed, Hawthorne on TNT, and the role of reporter Alma Gutierrez in the critically acclaimed HBO drama series The Wire.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Michelle ! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I’m a native New Yorker. Nuyorican. Born in the lower east side and raised in Queens. My mom was a single working parent so I spent a lot of my young years having to be independent. I spent most of my summers at sleepaway camp in upstate NY or at my cousin’s house in Washington Heights. My Uncle would pile all of us into his station wagon and take us on the weekends to Rockland State Park to swim, play, and be in nature. I loved being outside and rode my skateboard and my bike as much as possible. My mother would always take me to the movies or to the beach. I still love going to both. I was artistic from an early age. My mother tells me as a little girl I would do a lot of impressions of people on television making everyone laugh or I would break into song and dance for people on the street.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Going to the movies has always been a huge passion of mine ever since I was a child. The movies were my escape and where I went to dream. If I had to point out a moment when I knew acting was definitely going to be the career choice for me it would have to be when I saw Star Wars for the first time. It had all the elements of a great film. Everything we care about. Fantasy, adventure, conflict, the battle between good and evil, a wise teacher, a hero’s journey, loss, redemption, overcoming the odds, romance, victory. Not to mention one of the greatest heroines of movie history. It made me feel so much on so many levels and it inspired me to be the artist I am today.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One thing that comes to mind is when I decided I was going to go to an arts high school. I went to my guidance counselor at the time and she was very negative about the idea. She advised me not to audition, because those high schools were very hard to get into and she didn’t think I could do it. I ignored everything she said and told her I was applying to as many as I could. My first audition was for the best performing arts high school in the city and I bombed. I wasn’t prepared and I had no idea how to perform a monologue. I felt really embarrassed about it and it hurt so bad. I could have quit, but I was determined. I learned a lot from that experience. It helped me to prepare for my second audition with Talent Unlimited, number two in the city at the time. I auditioned for an amazing man and teacher. The first of many great teachers I have been blessed to study with and he accepted me into the program right on the spot. It was a lesson to never listen to the naysayers. Always believe in yourself, don’t give up and follow your heart.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say all of my family and friends who have supported me throughout the years. My teachers that I have learned so much from and my fellow actors and artists who have inspired me.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Being an artist can be very challenging and very rewarding. Failure and rejection are all about perspective. If you look at failure and rejection as lessons and as redirections instead of losses, they become opportunities for growth and insight. Part of being an artist is becoming comfortable with the unknown. Believe in your highest dream and vision. Follow your heart and know the Universe put that dream in your heart because you were meant to have it. Focus on creating and living your best life now. Take classes. Exercise. Eat good food. Drink good drinks. Read. Watch movies. Go to the theater. Go to concerts. Sing. Go out dancing. Explore visual art and photography. Travel. Fall in love. Have those babies.. Or not. Get married.. Or not. Have positive adventures. Laugh. Surround yourself with people you truly love and who truly love you. Say yes often to experience something new and exciting. Believe in yourself. Be kind to yourself and others. All of these things will help to feed, nourish, and grow your creativity and the artist in you. Most of all, don’t give up.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I would say just my dream and my vision. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I love working with other actors and artists. Being an actor is about connecting, inspiring and making people feel on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. I love that. I love what I do. I would like to see more women of color in front of and behind the camera. More women of color writers, directors, producers and showrunners. More authentic stories about us.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Right now I’m creating a television show. I’m in the process of writing the pilot. I’m also adapting a screenplay for a film and producing a documentary about the dangers of societal beauty standards that my daughter is writing and directing. I definitely see myself being a creator and producer of the content I want to see more of on the big and small screen. I’m an actor, singer and dancer. That will always be a part of my professional and artistic life.
As you know, ‘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?
For me it was the realism and truth telling of the show. The writing allowed you to see every character as a human being experiencing the human condition. As we all do regardless of whatever it is we do for a living or whatever label society places on us. The typical and false black and white scenario of “good guy vs bad guy” narrative was thrown out the window. Real life is about the many shades of gray we experience on the day to day. The Wire put a blaring spotlight on just that and on the very broken, corrupt and racist systems of government, law enforcement, education, housing and socio economic realities of America.
What lessons do you think our society today can take from The Wire?
Our systems as they are set up now are not sustainable for anyone. If your neighbor is living without and is suffering you will be too. If the environment is suffering you will be too. We are all connected. What affects one affects us all.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Growing up the only artists I had to look up to were Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera. That’s it. There were no other Puerto Rican actresses working. There were no movies or television shows about me or my family anywhere. I had to look outside for my inspiration. Representation and diversity matter so much. It’s important for young people to be able to see themselves not just in film and television, but in any field they choose to pursue. Representation and diversity builds courage and self confidence in young people. It inspires them. Representation and diversity builds pride and community. Everyone has something to say and something to give. The world is diverse. Film and television need to start reflecting that and not in a stereotypical way. Regardless of who you are or where you come from we are all human beings living and experiencing the human condition.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Vulnerability is a Superpower. Never be afraid to be who you really are and say how you really feel. Being an artist is about being authentic.
- Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Live for yourself and follow your heart, vision and inner dream.
- Try to remain as present as possible in your everyday life. Nothing lasts forever. This business requires a lot of patience and faith. Stop living in the future. Live in the now and enjoy the journey.
- Make decisions based on love, truth and joy. Never fear.
- Life is not short. Life is long. It’s ok and never too late to change your mind. It’s ok and never too late to start over. This life is yours to live. Follow your intuition and your inner truth. You don’t need anyone’s permission to live the life you’ve always imagined.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I have a morning routine of journaling, affirmations, gratitude, and prayer. I love to swim. It’s my moving meditation and keeps me peaceful, clear and balanced. I do yoga and pilates. I try to practice at least 3–5 times a week. I’m a dancer and dancing keeps me flexible and strong. When it comes to beauty I like to keep it as natural as possible. I drink a lot of water and raw coconut water everyday. I eat whatever I want, but I try to keep it healthy. Lots of organic, non-gmo protein, fruits, and vegetables. I sleep. Sleep is so important for a healthy and youthful body. They call it beauty sleep for a reason. I wear spf 50 on my face, neck and decollete everyday. I use this great unscented mineral sunscreen from Pipette. I see my dermatologist in New York City for facials and microneedling whenever I’m there. I use clean beauty products when it comes to skincare. I’m a big fan of clean beauty brands like Marie Veronique, January Labs, Juice Beauty and Tata Harper.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The dismantling and destruction of the Hydra that is the patriarchy. It is at the root of everything that ails humanity and the environment.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Oh my goodness. There are so many people on that list! I would have to say right now, considering where I am and where I hope to go as a woman and as an artist it would have to be Reese Witherspoon. Reese is such a powerful and positive example of how you can be a successful mom, entrepreneur, producer and artist all at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. She really inspires me.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Instagram @michelleparessofficial
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
It was my pleasure. Thank you so much!
Inspirational Women In Hollywood: Why & How The Wire Star Michelle Paress Is Helping To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.