Phillip Andre Botello & Margo Hall
We sit down with Juilliard graduate Philip Andre Botello and Award-Winning Actor, Director & Playwright Margo Hall. Botello speaks on his talents as an actor, as well as the challenges he faced as a mixed race performer and the difficulties it produced in finding his place. Hall joins us in discussing authenticity onscreen and committing to a character.
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announcer: And by Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce,
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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 theaters 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 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.
Michael: Today I talk to the person assigned as artistic
director of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre: Margo Hall.
You will hear her response to receiving a $100,000 fellowship,
how she overcame hurdles of being a black woman
in the industry, and how she uses
motherhood to tap into emotions for roles.
So, silence your cell phones, folks.
You're entering "Theatre Corner."
female: You really couldn't find an apartment?
The whole damn city got a "For Rent" sign on it.
male: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
If so, what is the nature of your crime?
female: Well, whose fault is that?
female: Well, I just assumed you'd only be here for a little
bit and eventually you and Val--
male: Mom, Mom.
female: She came by a couple days ago.
male: We are not together right now.
female: Okay. male: 'Kay.
female: Okay. male: Okay.
female: Well, Jimmy and all my drums are in guestroom A now.
male: Yeah, I saw that.
female: Cleared the rest of Chenay's stuff off her old bed
and you can have that room for a bit, but that is not your room.
That is my guestroom B.
Michael: Margo Hall, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
It's so nice to be in the same space with you and to finally
say congratulations face to face for being assigned the artistic
director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.
So what is that like?
Margo Hall: Oh wow, first let me just say thank you so much
for inviting me to the "Theatre Corner" and it's been such a
pleasure watching you over the years and everything
that you've developed and so I'm finally here
and it's just really great to be here.
Ah, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. It is a joy.
It is a true joy to finally plant my feet in a different
space and now, as opposed to being on the stage,
I am producing what's on the stage.
And to take that step at this point in my career, I think it's
just what was meant for me, the next step.
And they had asked me, time and time before, if I wanted to take
that on and I wasn't ready yet, you know?
I had a huge freelance career over the years and I was running
here and doing that and I just said,
"I'm not ready to settle down."
'Cause once you take that on, that's a big responsibility,
especially a theatre named Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.
So when I finally made that decision,
I was ready, I was truly ready.
Michael: So you've mentioned, you know,
your dedication to, you know, theatre and arts in
Northern California for upwards of--
Margo: Thirty years. Michael: Three decades.
And so you were finally recognized for
that with the Kenneth Rainin Fellowship.
Tell me about this--I mean, this is huge.
Margo: It's huge, yeah.
It was a--it was a surprise so you are nominated within your
community to apply for the fellowship.
So when they called me, I was, like,
"$100,000 unrestricted funds?"
Michael: Unrestricted is the key.
Margo: Unrestricted. So I was, like, "Wow."
Okay, so then I called all the people
I know who could help me write.
It was, like, "We've gotta get this together."
Mainly, my two sisters.
And the beauty of the fellowship is it is for
being an anchor artist in my community.
And for me, I was being recognized
for dedicating myself to the Bay Area.
A lot of my friends have gone on
and they're in television and Hollywood.
I mean, I do a little of that.
We'll get into that, but I kind of
dedicated myself to that community.
I teach at UC Berkeley and at
a community college, Chabot College.
I've been at Chabot for 20 years.
Been at UC Berkeley about eight years.
And I just dedicated myself to my mentees in the community,
working at all of the local theaters
as a director, actor, and playwright.
And so, someone recognized that and they said,
"We want to applaud you for that."
And it made me really have to sit down
and say, "I'm worth it."
Michael: Right, because you are.
And that was a bit more than an applause.
I think that was a standing ovation, $100,000.
Margo: Yes, yes.
Michael: So what is it like to be an actor from Detroit, to
play a role in a theatre piece about Detroit,
and I'm talking about "Skeleton Crew."
And this is a piece written by a playwright from Detroit.
I mean, you had to just be--
Margo: Oh, I had been waiting to do that play.
It was one of the best experiences ever because
Dominique Morisseau's words just
fall out of my mouth, they fit perfectly.
And I just knew--that was my aunt, my mother, my sisters.
I mean, that character, my--most of my family worked
in the car--you know, they were workers.
They--I had two aunts who were foremen
for Chrysler so it was just my life.
It was my world. It was my language.
And I loved that play, I loved every time I got to
step on that stage and speak those words.
Faye, ah, I miss her.
And it was something different, you know?
And sometimes, people see me as kind of the, you know,
very hard actress or kind of glamorous kind,
and I got to, like, throw my hair in a ponytail.
I was, like, "No, we've come in Detroit up in here."
I was smoking cigarettes and--
Michael: Put on some boots. Margo: That's right.
Had my boots on. Oh, man, that character.
Oh, yeah, it was fantastic.
Michael: I've been trying to fight the excitement 'cause
I--now we're gonna get to Pixar, the film "Soul,"
where you were the voice of Melba.
Now, that had to be exciting.
Margo: Oh, that was so much fun.
Melba is so cute and it was so cute to see what she looked like
and I was, like, "Yes, that's the voice I--that's what I
pictured when I made Melba's little voice."
It was so much fun because, you know, I have so much going on
and it was a breath of fresh air to do something different.
I've worked a few times with Pixar in other projects, but
nothing as large as the movie "Soul."
And I knew the movie was gonna be spectacular, but even when I
auditioned for it, I didn't know Jamie Foxx was in it and
Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett.
I had no idea, right? I was like, "Oh, this is cute."
You know, Pixar is 15 minutes from my house.
"Let me run in and do this right quick."
And then I didn't even know the guy who was directing me was the
writer who wrote "Inside Out" and "Up,"
and I was like, "Okay, how you doin'," right?
And then somebody was like, "You know so-and-so?"
Like, "Oh, well, hey, good."
And then it was very special to share that.
I think it came out at Christmastime
or a--for the holiday.
One of those holidays, and my son was with me, so I was
like, you know, sometimes, I'll surprise my friends and they'll
say--I'll say, "Have you seen the movie, 'Soul'?"
And they're like, "Oh, I love that film."
And I was like, "Oh, yeah, I was Melba."
"You were little Melba?" So that's always fun.
Michael: There's another film, "Blindspotting," which actually
evolved into a TV series that you're on.
And you played Nancy.
Margo: Yes, I played Nancy. I say, Daveed Diggs's mom.
Yeah, so the film came about because I've known Daveed Diggs
and Rafael Casal for many, many years.
I founded a theatre company called Campo Santo
about over 25 years ago, maybe.
And Daveed used to work with us and so I've played
Daveed's mother, sister, cousin, and so
that's how we got to know each other.
And we've just been friends for a long time,
and he and Rafael kept saying, "We're gonna write
this movie and we're gonna be movers.
We're gonna be movers."
And I was like, "Okay, sounds good, let me know."
And then they did it, and they were like, "No, it's happening."
And I've just been so proud of them.
It was so much fun. We were in Oakland.
It was just such a tribute to Oakland
and the wonderful people and the culture of Oakland.
And so we did that and then, next thing I knew,
they were like, "So now it's gonna be a TV show,
and you're gonna be Nancy again."
And I was like, "Okay, let me know."
And then that happened. It is a fantastic show.
It is so beautifully made and done, it's so artistic.
If anyone has not seen it, you have to see it
and I'm not just saying it because I'm in it,
but it's so fresh and new.
They have employed dancers from Oakland
that are throughout the piece.
There's spoken word and rap, that's what they do.
And so, every show has some
spoken word and just so inventive.
Michael: And knowing how close you guys are,
and watching this, I'm thinking that there's
a good bit of improv throughout this--
Margo: Yeah, yeah, I get a little nervous, though, 'cause
you know, I'm not as seasoned as some of these other actors and
they'll just go off and they're so funny
'cause it's a funny show, right?
Dealing with some deep issues, but it's funny.
And they'll just start improv-ing and then I'm like,
"Oh God, they're gonna ask me to do something."
So I'll say something and
they'll be like, "Okay, never mind."
No, no, so we do, we kind of riff a little, of course.
Of course, yeah, it's such a talented crew and cast.
Michael: And then you're also on a piece
on Netflix, "All Day and a Night."
A little bit more serious?
Margo: Oh yeah, it is a really intense show dealing
with, actually, similar to "Blindspotting,"
about incarceration, you know?
And I had--I, basically, kind of opened the movie
and in that particular film, my daughter has been killed
by the person who is in court and he's being, you know,
tried for murder and I get to speak on her behalf.
So it's a really powerful moment at the opening of this film,
and it was a, you know, it was a challenge
because that kind of stuff you have to just be ready.
You have to be ready.
I mean, it's different from theatre.
Theatre, you have four weeks to rehearse and develop your
character and find your motivation.
And you walk in on the set and they go, "Okay, are you ready?
Okay, go. He killed your daughter, go."
And you know, the first line, I think,
was "I hope you rot in hell."
And you've gotta embody that line
and it needs to come from your toes.
Michael: You really are able to strike incredible
authenticity with your characters, and that's about, to
me, it seems like you need to be able to get the actor out of the
way so that the character can be--
Margo: Can come through, yeah.
Michael: You know, what are your--what is, kind of,
your approach to that?
'Cause you can strike that.
Margo: Yeah, yeah, I just--I think I know how
important it is to tell somebody's story.
And you can't play with that, you know?
If you commit to doing something, you have to go there.
You have to go deep, you have to do your research.
You have to make sure that you are telling their story and that
requires you, like you say, to get out of the way.
And also, to be able to embody someone fully, not just "I'm a
mother who's upset," but this is a mother who has lost her child.
I have a child, all I have to do is think
about my child, and it's-- there's no acting.
And so, tapping into that is--it's something you need.
It's something you need to do,
and I teach workshops on stuff like that.
How do you find your authentic self?
It's so important when you're an artist to know who you are.
Michael: Phillip Andre Botello shares with us his
passion for the arts and how his access to formalized training
contributes to his expert technique.
In this conversation, we learn about his mixed heritage and how
his teachers let him know early on that being a person of color
meant he must work harder than his white peers.
Kennith: I'm Kennith. What's your name?
Kennith: I'm glad you chose karate, Casey.
It's an excellent martial art
and will likely change your life.
Would you like to go first?
Casey: Maybe you should go first.
Sensei: Not in the day class.
Kennith: I'm sorry, Sensei. I forgot where I was.
Kennith: It was an accident.
Sensei: You all right?
Michael: Welcome to "Theatre Corner," brother.
So exciting to have you here.
You know, we're based in San Diego,
but actually you're from San Diego.
Phillip Andre Botello: I spent a lot of my informative
A lot of my training started here in some really
great places, so I'm a San Diego kid.
Michael: All right, I'm glad you mentioned training
because your training has been sort of exact, you know.
You've got the premier training track.
Tell us about that 'cause it actually
started back in high school perhaps?
Phillip: Yes, it started back in high school.
I attended what's called COSA,
or the Coronado School of the Arts in Coronado.
It's an arts program and I was fortunate enough to get in.
I have to thank my mom who--she is a teacher
herself and she champions teachers.
She saw that I had a certain need
and I was yearning for something.
And she gave me access to this place and, you know, I don't
want to quote other people but, you know, Jay-Z, he always says
what's the difference between, like, him and Bill Gates?
And it's access, you know, if he had access to a computer
when he was a kid, he might be doing something else.
So I really appreciate my mom and my stepfather because they
saw that I had this need for something and instead of, like
some parents, they might say, "No, no, no, you've gotta stay
in this school and do what you're supposed to," my mom
said, "It seems like you're kind of leaning in a certain way so
why don't I make something available for
you to have and then see what happens?"
And I just ate it up.
Michael: You went to Juilliard from there?
Phillip: Yeah, you know, at the time you learn more about it
and it's, like, very low acceptance rate.
I think at the time it was, like, a 1%.
Now it's, like, 2% or 3%, but it's--
Michael: Ooh, it's, like, 2%.
Phillip: Yeah, but it was tough and it was one of
those kind of places where I learned
about it, but even if I mentioned it to someone like,
they'll say, "What are you thinking about after Coronado?"
I'd say, "Well, I think about Juilliard."
They're like, "Oh, don't even try."
And they would say, "Hey, I don't know you, but--" and, you
know, they'd always preface it with, like,
"They only take the cream of the crop, or they only--"
So I was like, "Oh, well, now I have to go."
Michael: And you never know 'til you put it out there and try.
That's the other important lesson.
But you were there--you were accepted
and you're there training.
But you're there training as a person of color.
Tell me about that experience in that context.
Phillip: I know things have changed now, but when I--so,
being as a young kid, I thought that me being--'cause I'm mixed.
You know, my father is from--
he's Mexican, he's from Michoacán.
And my mom's African American, and together they made me.
But I thought that I would have more of a chance and I learned
at that time, when I was applying, from some--
my teachers who were also colored, they said,
"Hey, actually, it's gonna be harder."
The acting program, they only accept 20 people,
so out of all these, they only accept 20.
That's the freshman class.
And most of those people, at that time, were Caucasian and
there was maybe one Hispanic or one African American,
so my teacher was trying to let me know,
like, it's gonna be harder for you.
She was like, "When you get in that room, in the audition room,
on that day, you're gonna be competing with everyone,
but if there's anyone that kind of
looks like you, you gotta beat them out."
And I remember--and I know, isn't that so--it's such
a bad thing but I remember being in the audition room and seeing
everybody and I'm like, "Okay, these guys are my competition,
but also if there's anybody that looks like me," and there were
some people, and I'm like, "All right, so," you know, 'cause
they weren't gonna accept both of us and,
unfortunately, I think there was, like, on my day,
in my block, there was, like, 100.
There were some people of color.
I didn't see any of those people in the actual program.
Now, when I got in the program, there were other, you know,
which was good, but it wasn't enough and I know that program
has since changed 'cause people like Anthony Mackie who, when I
went to this school, he showed me around.
He really fought for, like, getting August Wilson
in these plays, people of color, to do Hispanic,
so it's changed a lot and the classrooms reflect that.
So I think what coming and I was just kind of like on the
cusp of that when they were starting to get a little more,
little more hip, little more cool.
But that's a great question.
Michael: And what I'm hearing and understanding is that,
brother, you were the competition.
Michael: So you phrase it how you wanna phrase it,
and I'll let you know what's really--what's up.
That's starting your foundation of stage.
And then you, obviously, transitioned to film.
You've done tons of film.
So where does--where does the stage--I know,
you know, maybe that's nostalgic for you now.
You've done so much film, but what do you think it is,
you know, the difference between stage
and film, and what's your preference?
What's the different experience like for you?
Phillip: Me being immersed in theatre
and getting this theatre foundation was everything.
It's so demanding.
When you're doing things like, you know, plays like August
Wilson and Shakespeare, it takes everything and their kind of
model at that school is, like, if you can do the classics, then
you can do anything 'cause it really stretches your powers as
an actor and you see what you can do.
The difference between stage and film?
The mechanics to both are the same because, at the end of the
day, you're trying to be truthful, and it applies both.
And the difference is you might have an audience and there's 100
seats and you might project and then the camera's
just right in front of your face.
I'm gonna quote somebody else who says it perfectly.
He says, "Doing theatre is like doing surgery with a scalpel.
You have to be so precise.
But doing film is like doing surgery with a laser
because it's picking up your thoughts."
And actually, I found that if--doing Shakespeare on film,
much more easier than doing it on stage 'cause, you know, it's
always like a dialog with the person that, you know.
Michael: Well, there's the opportunity
to cut and start all over.
I mean, you're on the spot on stage.
I mean, you've gotta be spot on.
Phillip: You've got to be spot on and it's--you're in the
moment, on the day, and if you mess up, you mess up.
So you get a good foundation
about being prepared, showing up ready.
So I think that's really helped me in my film work
because I don't need a lot of takes.
Like, I'm ready to go.
And it's all from that training, 'cause sometimes younger actors
are, like, "What advice can you give me about preparation?"
And I always say, "You can do as the actor whatever you want to
prepare, long as it, one, it doesn't hurt anybody on the crew
and, two, it doesn't eat up time.
So if I'm waiting for you to prepare on the day, like, right
before a scene, I'm like--some people okay with that but it
eats up time, so just do your work," and you learn all that
from the theatre preparation and that background.
You gotta show up prepared.
You have to be off book, you have to know.
So it's helped me out 'cause a lot of--that's why I get rehired
is people, like, "He'll be ready."
Michael: You started in a film called "The 11th Order,"
and where you play a Marine, and this is a true story.
So, you know, I'm a Marine Corps veteran,
so that particular film really grabbed me.
Tell me about that.
Phillip: So, it's about these two actual Marines who
sacrificed their life for their whole team.
It's a great--it's a wonderful cast.
I was so thrilled and--because it felt authentic and that's
what I told him, you know, when I auditioned and I sent my tape
in, I said, "Hey, I don't know if you know anything about the
Marines or being in the Army, but it feels real,"
and the director was, you know, a Marine.
But it was a great experience.
We were at this film festival and it was a very, you know, a
lot of the population--it was a military town
and we screened this film and it was silent.
And then it got a standing ovation for,
I don't know, 15 minutes or something.
People were just clapping and they had tears in their eyes.
And the host was actually--he served as well.
And we were on stage and he started
the questions and he stopped.
He just started weeping.
He was like, "I'm sorry, it really affected me."
And you see something like that and you're like,
"Okay, well, this is not--it's bigger than me."
Michael: And so, in that film, you save the lives
of your unit, but tell me about how theatre
and acting actually saved your life.
Phillip: I didn't know this until about
maybe three months ago.
But I had just gotten into this program, Coronado School of
the Arts, and I lived in La Mesa so I didn't go to the current
school anymore, but I still had friends that were going to this
program and they didn't see me because, you know,
I'd get out of school, like, 7 p.m.
and then I'd come home and I'd be tired.
So my friend one day, he was just really, really hounding me
and saying, "Listen, you've changed.
You know, you think you're this fancy pants.
Just hang out with us once." And I said, "Okay."
So, we went down to the corner in La Mesa and,
you know, meanwhile I'm new in this program.
Only person of color, really, and I'd just got into this play
called "The Good Doctor," and I was trying to tell him, like,
"I've got so many lines and I need to be off book
by tomorrow," and blah, blah, blah.
So he's--he doesn't--he didn't care.
So, we're waiting and he said,
"Our other friend's gonna join us."
So I'm on the corner of La Mesa and, for whatever reason,
I just--I said, "You know what?
I have to go." And I left.
And the next day I showed up and I was off book.
Now, me and that friend, we fell out for years.
I hadn't--after that day, I didn't talk to him.
We reconnected maybe about a year ago.
Three months ago, he said--he said, "Phillip,
I never told you this, but you know, when you got
in that program, we could all see a change.
You just got focused, but do you remember that day
I asked you to hang out on the corner?"
And I said, "Yeah," and he said, "Ten minutes after you left, our
other friend came, I got in the car with that guy."
They went, like, two blocks, got stopped by the police
and it turns out that car was stolen.
And not only was it stolen,
there was, like, stuff in the trunk.
My friend didn't know but he said that's
the first night he went to Juvenile Hall.
And he said, "If you would have just--would have been there with
us, that would have been your first night in Juvenile."
So when I'm saying that theatre saved my life
and it kept me out of trouble, it literally did.
And I just learned this information three months ago.
Michael: Incredible. Phillip: Yeah.
Michael: But good, you're here. Phillip: Yeah, I'm here.
Yeah, and all because of this play, "The Good Doctor," that I
was in that I needed to have my lines down, yeah.
Michael: If you don't know, now you know.
This work is not for the faint at heart.
It takes hard work, dedication, and a respect for the craft.
Two extraordinary conversations today.
That concludes another episode of "Theatre Corner,"
and we'll see you next time.
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