It’s not everyday you meet a person and become immediately mesmerized by their aura, mannerism, and story of triumph. My first encounter with actress, Milauna Jackson, was just that. As she rushed into the ongoing How to be a Working Actress seminar, apologizing for her mere tardiness, you can’t help but notice her radiance. She’s confident, humble and fully aware of whom she is. In an industry where a kiss is worth more than your soul, Milauna stays true to her authentic self by simply living her life on her own terms. “In order for me to be a fully developed individual and to play a well rounded character, I need to have a full life. I have to remember that looking for it externally is never going to get me what I want in any capacity. I have to start from within.”
Do you have a mantra and how important is it to you?
Absolutely! I have it on my refrigerator. It’s not about success. It’s about my perception of myself, you can search the whole universe, looking for someone more deserving of your love and affection than yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere. In the business I’m in a lot of us seek validation. A lot of us seek admiration and love externally, especially as a woman. I found that the women I know who are in this business have always advised me to have a life and have balance. The women I met in this business who are career orientated seek love from this industry, and it will never love them, the way that we love it. It’s just not constructed that way. This was actually given to me by a doctor. It was like a prescription. I didn’t ask for it; he just gave it to me.
Speaking of balance, how do you balance your career and personal life?
I am very private. I just don’t believe that you should share everything with everyone. Right now, social media has helped to involve strangers with every aspect of your life. This, in my opinion, is not the kind of life I want to have. How I deal with that is I don’t divulge information I don’t think is relevant. I’m single, I don’t mind saying that. If I’m dating someone, unless it’s my husband, I don’t need to tell the world I’m dating someone. I don’t need to tell people my desires unless I feel like it will benefit someone. But just to share–that’s what my journal is for. That’s what I share with my friends; the group of people I trust and who trust me. That’s how I think it should be.
You play ADA Renee Atwood in the series How to get Away with Murder. What was it like working along the side of Viola Davis and Shonda Rimes and what did you learn from them? Did they pass on any advice?
I haven’t had the pleasure of really talking to Shonda. Viola, I have because I have scenes with her. The most valuable piece of advice that she gave indirectly and directly was to do the work. Doing the work is the most crucial element to success in my business. That means focusing on the actual craft and work itself. Not necessarily focusing on the parties. I know people think that. People say you have to network; people have to know you, that is true. But I am going by what this woman told me. Viola is at the height of her career. She is a history breaker. Unlike, any other black actress in Hollywood, she’s done something no one else has been able to do at the age of 50. If she is telling me that the award shows and networking parties don’t matter as much as doing the work, then I am going to listen to her more than anybody else. She got that advice from someone and clearly, it worked. The other thing that she said indirectly, which I recognize is the importance of having a family. She puts her family first. Her daughter is on set quite a bit visiting her. I feel like that helps gives you a sense of purpose. You can’t just have your goals set on whatever that one thing is. One thing I found to be synonymous with that and what I do is, what is your ultimate purpose? So, if your ultimate purpose was to win an Oscar or be in a blockbuster film–let’s say that happens. Then what are you living for? What is motivating you at that point? Those are all things that are possible but it can’t be enough to drive you to keep going. Sooner or later you realize there is more to life than just those things. We are multi-dimensional people. When you are an artist, you want to create art that is multi-dimensional. So you have to tap into different aspects of your life. In order to do that you have to be well-rounded.
What is your purpose and where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I would like to be in a position of creation. I have some ideas that I would love to produce. It’s just a matter of finding the appropriate writer to pin that project too. I want to do work that inspires people because that is my way of giving back. I don’t believe you should hoard art. It should be shared and if I’m going to share it, it should impact people’s lives positively. Even if I’m playing a character who is the antagonist, there is still a lesson to be learned in that role.
You mentioned you watched a lot of television growing up to study acting. What television shows were you drawn to?
I love comedies. I would watch British comedy shows. I love Benny Hill, I can’t tell you why. I love Carol Brunette. Obviously, these were all reruns in syndication. I still enjoyed them and studied them. I love Three is a Company, that was one of my favorite shows. John Ritter was an amazing comedic genius. I enjoyed like most people A Different World and The Cosby Show because they were fantastic shows. It’s funny because I was thinking I liked a lot of comedies growing up.
What is your perspective on the state of television and the rise of reality television?
The state of television is really good. We are afforded an opportunity that when I was coming up–when most people were coming up–there were 4 major networks and that was it. Then you had Non-network cable shows that weren’t doing original programming, now they are. Now, we also have streaming services. So you’re talking about all aspects of entertainment that need original content. You need original content; you need people to put in that original content. You have more roles, you have more opportunity, and you have more people of color. We are now getting opportunities we didn’t have five years ago. So it’s changing, can it become more diverse? I think what can become more diverse is the behind the scenes aspect: the creators, the writers, the directors, producers, the executives–that’s where the diversity needs to come in. The diversity needs to be amongst the people who are hiring people because that’s where you get the authentic voice. That’s where you get a better sense of the culture ,as oppose to recycling these ideas that seem to archaic or stereotypic to a specific culture. If we had more diversity in terms of behind the scenes. I think we will be in a much better place.
Are there any roles you are opposed to taking?
Anything that comprises my moral fiber. Also, if there is some type of disrespect or abuse that is involved in the project, via the director or my costar.
If you had the opportunity to go back and remake your favorite movie or television show, what movie or show would that be, and what character would you portray?
The Best Man is one of my favorite romantic comedies. I would love to be able to be around the cast with some of my comedic flair. In terms of TV shows, Blackish is a TV show I would love to be on.
In an interview with The Breakfast Club, Wood Harris said, “he would suggest to aspiring artist to go to college, learn their craft, and make connections”. How do you think attending Howard University impacted your career and do you feel it is necessary for an aspiring actor to go to college?
I absolutely agree with anybody who is promoting the path of educating yourself in an industry where education is crucial. I went to Howard University. I didn’t officially get classically trained but I did get trained, and that’s what I feel like Wood Harris is saying. If you are doing something and you want to be proficient in it, why wouldn’t you want to learn as much as you can? Even though, I did not obtain my degree I still needed to educate myself. I needed to learn how to present myself in front of the camera, in front of an audience, character development, scene study, code reading, and voice projection. Unless you want a short stint of a career I would advise anybody to educate themselves.
You have such a radiant and lovable personality. How do you stay true to who you are?
It’s not easy. I try to focus on doing everything I can to remind myself of who I am, as opposed to people’s perception of me and trying to live up to that. Long story short, that’s the key. I try to expose myself to things that remind of who I am when nobody is watching. I don’t go out to a lot of parties. I try not to do things that are industry related. I involve myself in extracurricular activities. I try to live my life as a regular person.
In the acting world, how important is sisterhood and empowering one another?
It’s extremely important. Support is what keeps you going and you need it in something that’s completely isolating and competitive. If you can’t get that from your sisters, then from whom can you get it?
At one point you were released from a well-known talent agency. Looking back at that experience, what did you learn and how did it shape your career today?
The state that I was in was very much a state of uncertainty about my place in my field. It came to a point where I didn’t know what to do. I had never been without an agency since I’d been living in Los Angeles. So, when that happened I didn’t give up but I felt like I had come to a fork in the road. It had to happen very soon or I was going to back to college and finish then figure something else out. What kept me going is within three months I booked a very large pilot. It taught me that within this business nothing is personal. Everything is about the bottom dollar. Every industry is in the market of business to profit. If they don’t profit they don’t survive.
What advice would you give to a person who feels they’ve reached rock bottom?
My mom always says this, “If you give in, don’t give up, and if you give up, don’t give in.” Which basically means rock bottom is going to feel like the end of the road, but it’s only the end of the road if you make it that. Hitting rock bottom for me was getting dropped from every agency and management that I had. I didn’t know where to go. My agent said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I said you can give me a referral. I truly believe if you establish really good relationships, have a great work ethic, and you have a little bit of tenacity, someone will want to help you because they don’t want to see you give up. That’s what happened to me.
What is the best advice you can give a woman looking to pursue a career in acting?
The first step is to find what keeps you going. If it’s not strong enough, you won’t keep going. Also, surround yourself with like-minded people.
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