Michelle Gayle Talks Acting and Taking Risks: “If Someone Says ‘No’, I Don’t Accept It”
Michelle Gayle, who portrays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child London production, is just as versatile (and crazy smart) as the character she’s playing. Gayle recently sat down with the Guardian to talk about her role in Cursed Child, what it was like to be the only Black kid at stage school, and why she never takes no for an answer. Prepare to be inspired.
Gayle started her acting career at a young age. The now BRIT-nominated singer, reality TV star, novelist, and scriptwriter was only eight when she was sent to the Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, West London after her school recognized her talents. Making a way for herself wasn’t easy, though. Being the only Black person in her class, she was regularly left all alone in the classroom while her peers were away auditioning.
They would say, ‘All the white girls aged between eight and 10 go down and audition. I was the only black person in my class, so I’d be left in the classroom. I knew from a very young age that I’d always have fewer auditions, and this lack of opportunity was physicalised – no one needed to tell me. I knew I’d be sitting in the classroom a lot if I only waited for acting jobs.
There were also the pressures of school to deal with. The acting industry itself is pretty brutal, and attending stage school is no different.
It was hard and brilliant in equal measure. It’s hard because you do get judged on the stage and your headteacher does tell you ‘That wasn’t good enough.’
Gayle admits that the pressure got to some of her classmates but says that it made her stronger and is the reason she has been able to make it in the industry so far.
It made me really tough. If someone says ‘no’, I don’t accept it, and that’s been built in me from school. For me, a ‘no’ is just a delay – it’s a ‘not yet’. I truly believe that’s how I’ve been able to sustain earning money in this industry – not because I’m more talented than the other people in my class. It’s my bounce-backability.
Gayle is also a risk-taker and allows herself to be led by her passions. She knows that nothing comes easily and goes after what she wants regardless of the obstacles. That’s probably the reason why she’s so versatile. It’s this tenacity that led her to leave the prime-time soap opera EastEnders to start a career in singing.
I knew that I was taking a risk because my record company told me not to do it. They said absolutely don’t leave ‘EastEnders’ because this might not work out. I never regretted it – it was the right thing to do.
When it comes to diversity in the entertainment industry, Gayle says that theater is way ahead of television. She expressed her gratefulness to Noma Dumezweni (who also portrayed Hermione Granger when Cursed Child first started showing in London in 2016) for how she handled the criticism after being cast as Hermione. Many people were upset at the prospect of a Black Hermione, but Dumezweni stood her ground and embodied the role perfectly despite all the criticism.
I owe her a lot of gratitude – I’m standing on her shoulders. She got through that [time] with incredible grace and proved she was there on merit because she’s a bloody good actress, but she had to take a big hit online to do that. When someone of the quality of Noma steps up, no one’s got anything more to say and then the conversation’s dead. It’s a shame that you have to be brilliant to end that conversation, but there are enough brilliant black actors out there.
Gayle is definitely only just getting started, and we love having her onstage as Hermione. We can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.