Alimi Ballard and Michelle Bradley
Today on Theatre Corner, we catch up with actor Alimi Ballard (Queen of the South, Numb3rs) and opera singer Michelle Bradley. Ballard discusses his past roles, introduction to acting, and
discovering the key players in his life. Bradley speaks on her experiences training abroad and her role as “Aida” in her U.S. debut.
by UC San Diego.
announcer: And by the Westgate Hotel,
La Jolla Alcohol Research Incorporated,
and viewers like you.
Michael Taylor: Hi, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
I'm your host, Michael Taylor.
As a lifelong theatre enthusiast and a board member for one of
the top theatres in the country, I've seen firsthand the positive
effects that diversity and inclusion can have on the stage
and the theatre seats.
This interview series was created as a way to share my
passion for theatre and promote diverse voices throughout the
national theatre scene.
We sit down with some of the top professionals in the
entertainment industry to discuss training, careers,
advice for young actors, and how to make theatre matter
to more people.
Today, I had the chance to sit down with actor Alimi Ballard
and opera singer Michelle Bradley, two amazing yet
Alimi Ballard is best known for his roles in "Queen of the
South," "Queen Sugar, "CSI," and "Numbers."
We met in Le Fontainebleau at The Westgate Hotel to discuss
his past roles, introduction to acting, and his inspiring
message to the next generation.
So, silence your cellphones, folks, you're entering
female: Have you changed your mind?
And once we do this, there's no going back.
The reason we're all in this game,
we all got blood on our hands.
You killed Bobby.
I took Birdie.
Michael: Brother, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
Alimi Ballard: Thank you for having me, Michael,
Michael: You are so doggone welcome to be here.
I say that because we've been chasing you down for two years,
and you've been busy, and so thank you so much for taking out
time to come down from LA actually--
Alimi: Yeah, I drove on in.
Michael: Let's jump in here.
What I'd like to do is name a particular TV program
that you've been in, you played a character,
and I'll name the year.
'Cause you've been--you're over a couple of decades.
Michael: And just-- Alimi: Proudly.
Michael: And then--and then you comment on each show.
You know, maybe what was going on with you at that time, where
you were in your career at that particular time,
something like that.
So, let's start off with 1993.
The character you played was Frankie in a daytime soap
Alimi: Frankie Hubbard, the son of Angie and Jesse of
daytime lore, played by Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams.
And I got that job August of 1996, my first true on camera
series regular, but you were called in daytime
a contract player.
So, you're tied to a contract, ABC.
And it was my first entry into being a real professional actor,
the whole audition process.
And I got a chance to work alongside one of the greatest
actors I've ever seen, you know, lace up her boots in Debbi
You know her from "Eve's Bayou," she played Aunt Mozelle.
And she is just as stunning in person as you would imagine.
Michael: So, we're going to move up to 1997, and now we're
talking about a character, Matthew Deveaux, and Arsenio's
Alimi: Yeah, another ABC show, but this is my first
You know, like as a series regular on a primetime
television show, Wednesday nights, 9 o'clock, ABC, starring
Arsenio Hall, Vivica Fox.
I played Vivica Fox's younger brother.
I was in the big leagues, but what it gave to me was
I didn't know there'd be a lot of rocky years after that.
But the knowing that you have what it takes for a young person
and you're--you know, when you're really starting out in
the endeavor, that first blush of success is just to get into
It may be--you know, the journey might get rocky after that, but
you can do it.
Even if you don't see light for a while after this, you got it.
You know, 'cause you'll need to pull out, you're like, "I made
it one time, I got that one job."
You know what I mean?
And so, but I didn't have to wait--you know, that long
journey didn't come for a while.
After that show, I did "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" with a show
that really, you know, changed, you know, I guess my--where you
sit in an industry 'cause it's one of the shows that's
It's like people remember that show.
Melissa Joan Hart, I played the Quiz Master.
And it's one of those things that when people come up to me
now, it can be in London, wherever you are, like, "Excuse
And I can tell by the age demographic, I'm like, "I know
what she's going to say."
"Are you the Quiz Master?"
I'm like, "Yeah, child, I'm the Quiz Master."
It's like having a sweet thing that you share with people.
Michael: That's beautiful. Alimi: Yeah.
Michael: Now, we're going to move to 1998,
a character named Bobby Rhue.
Now, this is a movie called "Deep Impact."
"Deep Impact," strangely enough, was also produced by DreamWorks
that produced the Arsenio.
And it was my first big, you know, Hollywood movie, and I was
And what I loved about that is I was nervous.
I was nervous and I fumbled my lines, and it was noticeable
that this kid was in, you know, big shoes, uncomfortable.
And that's going to happen to you too.
Michael: Right, right.
It's just going to happen.
Alimi: That's going to happen to you too.
You're going to be great, they're going to think you're
awesome, and then you're going to be in an environment where
you're like--you're going to feel unsure.
You're reaching for the stars, and you're not going to have all
the tools to be phenomenal, to be so great.
You know, and having the courage to not be completely
discouraged, to be like, "Okay, that one did--that went okay.
I did so so.
I just I crushed--I fell down that day."
But to have the courage 'cause you know you were okay, before
you did good.
You can get back up. That's what I got from that.
Michael: You got up and you got up in a big way.
'Cause next came the character David Sinclair.
This is already about 2010, you got up in like 149 episodes kind
of way, this brother talking about getting back up.
And so, I'm talking about the series "Numbers."
All right now.
Alimi: Now, that's like--you know, that's really, you
know--that's bringing you from a young man to a real full grown
adult, you know?
'Cause I did "Deep Impact" '98.
You know, "Numbers" starts, we shot the pilot of "Numbers"
So, there was a stretch of time.
Some months you got money, some months you don't,
you know what I mean?
Unemployment, you know, for six--yeah, listen.
Michael: Got to do what you got to do.
Alimi: Do what you got to do. You wanted all the--
with no work, that's not going to happen for you, baby.
You're going to have to learn how to grind, how to pray, how
to cry, how to work your hardest.
And so, you'll have those lean years.
And right after, you know, "Sabrina" and "Dark Angel" were
some good lean years, where you have to--you find out, you know,
if you have the ability to believe in yourself with a
defeat in front of you.
You know, it's easy to have, you know, passion and vigor and
faith when everything's gone well, but anybody can do that.
Get smacked in the face.
That'll kick you down a flight of stairs, who can get back up?
This is--this is the difference.
So you know, I did "Numbers," and that changed my life.
I was able to really start a family.
I got married two years before, but I was able to feel confident
to have children and feel I could support them, and,
you know, to really step into my manhood.
Michael: Then we slingshot forward to right now.
Right now, you're in "Queen of the South."
Alimi: Yeah, man. Michael: Marcel Dumas.
Michael: And one thing I should mention, you did a few
roles as the good guy in terms of being law enforcement.
Alimi: Well, after "Numbers," I did "CSI" for three seasons.
I got a chance to work with Ted Danson.
Michael: So, here we are contrasting it.
Now, you're getting to be the bad guy.
Michael: Did you find yourself uncomfortably
Alimi: Oh my God, no listen, here's what's funny.
Can I tell you, be honest with your viewers, man?
The first job that really felt different was "Queen Sugar"
And that came before "Queen of the South."
And I got a chance to play an epidemiologist, a doctor, a
lover, a guy with no guns, none of that kind of training, in
love with this woman.
And then "Queen of the South" comes along, and now it's time
for gangster, like complete Marcel Dumas.
You know, a guy who was pretty much like--he reminds me of
Bumpy Johnson--Brown, you know?
He runs New Orleans.
New Orleans is his.
And Theresa Mendoza, the queen of the south, her operation
moves to New Orleans.
New Orleans, they're going to try to tell my guy, you know,
how it's going to go.
And Marcel is, you know, a complete other kind of animal.
Michael: Let's go back because one thing about you,
your foundation is theatre.
Michael: And that started in the Bronx.
Alimi: 1989, a friend of the family came and approached me
and my mom were at a festival in Harlem.
He said, "Hey, what are you doing this summer?"
I was like, "Nothing, hanging out, up to no good."
He's like, "You know, you should come to this theatre company,
this creative arts center in New York in the Bronx where I'm from
called Mind Builders Creative Arts Center."
And I was like, "Why would I do that?"
Said, "We're doing a play.
They have a little group called the Positive Youth Troop, PYT.
They're teaching young people like yourself
to sing, dance, act."
I was like, "Again, why would I want to do that?"
You know, no desire to--"They're paying $30 a week."
I was like, "I don't know if we can do inflation on that."
You know, I was like, "$30 a week?"
And on that, I show up and I run into an organization and a
program and a philosophy of empowerment through the arts
that changes my life.
And this Mind Builders Creative Arts Center is still there,
I think 40 years now.
And their commitment to young people, you know, and enhancing
their life, there's numerous studies about how the arts, you
know, increases brain activity, good for social ills,
it is 1000% correct.
You know, a lot of my friends, me and my friends, they changed
They gave me a purpose, a focus, and a way to channel all this
energy you have as a young person.
Michael: And you give back now because you do speaking.
I mean, you're-- Alimi: I do youth empowerment.
Alimi: I learned that from Mind Builders Creative Arts
Center, theatre as empowerment.
You know, we would do these plays when I was a teenager in
group homes, in detention centers, in libraries, in
You know, performing for young people just like us.
I was underprivileged, so like you're performing plays about
the social ills that you were actually experiencing.
And so, my first entry into the arts was that it can empower.
It can entertain, but it can empower, it can inspire.
It can ask the hard questions.
Maybe not give you answers, but it can propose, formulize the
questions that you're feeling in your heart.
And from that, I speak at schools, you know?
I was able to go back and 20 years after my high school
graduation, my black studies teacher from high school, he
asked me to come back to his current school
and speak to his class.
And I did that a couple years back, man, it was tremendous,
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alimi: You know, he's the same teacher who he used to
drive me to my acting lessons at Mind Builders after school is
how--you start to realize all the key players in your life,
like a play, that he must've looked at me like, "I'm looking
at this young kid.
He doesn't have transportation from after school to get to this
Mind Builders place.
He seems to love it."
It's the things that are going over my head, my--so he's
like--and I forgot that--he reminded me, "You know, I used
to drive you to that Mind Builder's place."
And you have faint memories.
This is out of his way, I'm not his child.
He doesn't owe me anything.
You know, it's not like cell phones, he's texting my mom,
"Hey, I'm driving your kid."
He's taking a bunch of us to the other side of the Bronx after
school, we're hanging out after school, up to what?
And these little--these acts of kindness informed me about how
to be as a human.
Michael: Television, theatre, movies,
but you also do voiceover.
And I understand you're an avid comic book collector, and so you
had an opportunity to do voiceover as character Falcon.
Michael: In Marvel's superhero squad.
Tell me about that.
Alimi: That happened at looking for preschools
for my daughter.
I ran into a man Eric Rollman, who was the vice president of
animation for Marvel Animation at the time.
And you know, was looking at schools for your kids, and he
was like, "Hey."
Nice exchange, gave me his card.
I was like, "Dude, your card says Marvel on it."
He says, "Yeah, man, I'm the VP."
I was like, "Eric, I've been collecting comics
since I was nine."
He's like, "No way."
And then we started chatting, he's like, "Yo man, we got a new
show coming up.
You know, maybe you want to come in and get, you know, an
audition for it."
I was like, "Marvel?" I'm like, "Yeah."
I was doing "Numbers" at the time.
Yeah, I'm already--I got a show, I'm working, you know?
But I'm like anything Marvel related, you know?
And I was able--lucky enough to get the job playing the voice of
Falcon of Marvel superhero squad.
I met my hero, Stan Lee.
And then I met him again right before his passing at the
20-year anniversary Comic Con, Stan Lee's Comic Con.
And he signed the very first X-Men I brought, X-Men 172.
And he was--I got a picture, I put it on my Instagram.
But this is a person, him and Kirby, you know, their
Kirby created Black Panther, he created T'Challa,
he created Wakanda.
These are people who understood the power of imagery and art to,
you know, have a positive impact on society, you know?
If you have a voice, if you have something that you think that
should be out there in the airways, you know, create it,
You know, that business plan, go write it.
That podcast, start it.
That app, go build it.
That book, go write it.
That company, go incorporate it.
That clothing line, go sew it, get it, do it.
Michael: You know, that's what I'm saying, opportunity
don't come, you create opportunity.
Alimi: Yes, yes.
You know what they say, if your ship doesn't come in,
swim out to it.
Like be unstoppable.
Michael: Real talk. Alimi: Real talk.
If your ship don't come in, boy, girl, swim out to it.
Do not be denied. Do not.
Michael: Powerful. Alimi: Yes.
You know, my favorite quote of all time is Nelson Mandela, you
know, "It always seems impossible until it's done."
It always seems impossible until it's done.
Michael: Right, right, right.
Alimi: From that--from that gentleman, from that human,
you're like, "Yeah.
Yeah, I get it, I dig it, you know?
I dig it."
Michael: Next, I spoke to the extremely talented soprano
Mrs. Bradley has performed all over the world and just made her
US debut at the San Diego opera in the role of Aida.
We had a chance to talk about her training, influences,
and her role in one of Verdi's most famous operas.
Michael: Thank you so much for coming to "Theatre Corner."
Michelle Bradley: Thank you for having me.
Michael: Thanks, I know you got a busy schedule, and we
appreciate you taking time to come see a brother.
Michelle: Thank you, I'm happy to.
So, I understand you come from Houston, Texas.
So, how does a young lady from Houston, Texas find herself
performing all over the world in opera?
Michelle: I don't know myself.
It was faith and just a lot of help from people
that believed in me.
I must be honest, I'm originally from Versailles, Kentucky, but I
spent six years in Houston.
I sung in the Houston Grand Opera Chorus, and I just had a
lot of big, life changing experience while I lived in
My teacher that's very close to me, Lois Alba, was there.
And I studied with her for my time that I was in Houston, so
she's a huge reason why I'm able to sing in this role and get out
here and do this.
She made me believe in myself and showed me the steps, every
step to take in order to get here.
Michael: You've performed a good bit abroad.
Do you notice a difference performing abroad as
opposed to United States?
Are you accepted in a different way, or is it all the same?
Michelle: You know, I don't see it as a--I know like even
Leontyne, she had to go to Europe first and
then come back to America.
She did "Porgy and Bess" in Berlin, she did a lot of things
before even making it back to the Met.
A lot of African-American singers had to do that.
Myself, I didn't see it as a reason because of the color of
my skin, I saw it as a reason that there are so many more
opera houses in Europe, and they're smaller, and therefore I
can get my bearings on how to handle myself in performances
and work with different conductors.
I was able to get more experience there than I was
I've spent the last year and a half in Europe, though.
This is actually my US debut coming to San Diego
and singing "Aida."
This is the first opera house that I've worked in or had a
principle role in the United States, so this is a big
opportunity for me.
But everywhere I go, I just see the same welcome and people so
appreciative of operatic music.
And it just makes me love my job even more that there are people
that still care about this art form that's considered old or
for, you know, older people.
You know, and you don't listen to that.
Michael: Right, there you go. So, tell me about Michelle.
Michelle: I'm from a little town called Versailles,
My parents were members of our church choir.
Shout out to Polk Memorial Baptist Church,
I had to say it. I just had to--I'm being funny.
But singing just was always a big part of my life.
I cannot remember a part of my life where music wasn't there.
It was just part of me.
My parents, they worked really, really hard to support me
and my three brothers.
And I think the stress from work, they would come home
and relieve that stress by singing church hymns.
And you know, my dad loved the Temptations, my mama loved the
Supremes, so it was either James Cleveland, or Motown, or Aretha
Franklin, or the Clark sisters.
I mean, just it's either church or Motown, it was the only two
things we had.
Michael: You actually taught singing yourself.
Michelle: Yes, in--when I was living in Houston, Texas, I
worked as a school teacher in charter schools around Houston.
And I would teach preschool all the way up to middle school, I'd
give private piano lessons, private voice lessons, and then
I would also teach classes.
And you know, just do my best to instill a love of music.
And some of my students I still keep in touch with through
Instagram or Facebook.
And they'll be like, "Mrs. Bradley, I'm taking trumpet
lessons now, or I'm still singing,
or I'm still playing piano," you know?
I just wanted them to have the same excitement I did.
They don't have to go and make a life out of it like I have,
but just to have it, though.
Even if they want to be a lawyer or engineer, I think just having
music in the background is really important.
You know, it's so influential to your mood and your mindset.
And I must say, especially students of color because if I
must be honest, I feel like there are times when we are
overlooked by certain people, you know?
And I would love to be able to instill especially in young
women of color that there is nothing wrong with you.
And that you can do exactly what I'm doing, or you can go be
Michelle Obama if you want to.
I just want all my students, no matter what color they are, to
know how special they are.
Michael: Let's talk about "Aida," this role.
And how does singing "Aida" compare to other Verdi roles?
Michelle: Well, I must say Verdi, he requires all of you.
Now, that's the one thing that's similar in all his roles.
You are a lyric soprano, you're a color auteur, you sing
extremely high notes, you sing extremely low notes.
But I wouldn't have it any other way, though, because I know that
I've given everything for the audience and myself.
And I have very high standards when it comes to my own singing,
so he really challenges that, and I love that about him.
And he's good to me too, paying my bills.
Michael: That's your stuff.
I hear that.
Michelle: The only thing I could say with Aida is that that
is the role where I'm most myself.
And I think what I see in her, whenever I play her, I see a
quiet regalness about her.
You know, she's a princess, an Ethiopian princess.
She's taken into slavery in Egypt.
And yet somehow, still being a slave and having to do some very
humble things and humiliating things, she's still able
to keep her dignity.
And I like to think of myself as a woman
that has a quiet strength.
Michael: One of the greatest Aidas in opera history
was Leontyne Price.
What do you admire about her technique?
Michelle: Oh my gosh, y'all got more time?
First of all, it's just the beauty of it,
the beauty of her voice.
I remember when I first heard her, I was 17, I had just
started college at Kentucky State University
in Frankfort, Kentucky.
My first teacher was Andrew W. Smith.
He's the one that told me that--taught me about opera.
I didn't know what opera was.
And he gave me her "Prima Donna" album, and he never got that
album back from me.
I'm sorry, Mr. Smith, I could not give that album back.
She had all of her great arias from d'amor sull'ali rosee
from "Il Trovatore" and depuis le jour.
And I just--I just fell in love with the sound.
And for me, she symbolized where my voice belonged.
I just fell in love with opera because of her.
I fell in love with her confidence.
I'm reading her biography right now by Hugh Lee Lyons,
and just how confident she is.
You know, she just gets out there and sings it.
She even said herself that she loves the sound
of her own voice.
And I think to be in this career, you have to love the
sound of your own voice.
She's not arrogant.
It's a difference between arrogance and confidence.
Being confident, you love yourself, but you're also
lifting other people up while you love yourself.
Being arrogant means you got to step on everybody
to feel good about yourself.
She don't do that.
She gives that love through her singing,
that's how I want to be.
You know, I want to lift people up when I sing.
Michael: I understand the San Diego Opera is going to do a
special performance and there's going to be like something like
3,000 school children in there.
What does that mean to you?
'Cause there are going to be young girls of color
in this audience.
And you're basically going to represent possibilities to them.
You know, what would you say to a young girl of color that may
have an interest in embarking on the same type of career?
Michelle: I would tell them please do it.
We need more of just people of color in this field, that to let
everyone know it's not something that's closed off.
Music is for everybody.
Opera, RnB, country, whatever it is.
I like country music, by the way, I mean, music, it should
not have a color.
I mean, nothing should, but especially music though.
It's too unifying.
I see it as a privilege that young girls
would look at me that way.
And if anything, I would just want them to know to first and
foremost to love themselves.
And that whatever they want to do in life, it is very much more
than possible, more than possible.
Michael: I had an amazing time sitting down with these two
And what an incredible quote from Nelson Mandela,
"It always seems impossible until it's done."
Thank you for tuning in, I'm Michael Taylor, and we'll see
you on the next episode of "Theatre Corner."
female announcer: Support for this program comes from the KPBS
Explore Local Content Fund, supporting new ideas and
programs for San Diego.
announcer: Watch the full interviews and more at
More Episodes (8)
Backstage: The Old Globe's HamletApril 15, 2021
Backstage: The Old Globe's GrinchDecember 10, 2020
Sheldon Epps and Phylicia RashadSeptember 11, 2020
Wendy Raquel Robinson and Ro BoddieSeptember 04, 2020
DB Woodside and Kelly McCrearyAugust 28, 2020
Mark Christopher Lawrence and L. Peter CallenderAugust 21, 2020