The Endgame's Ryan Michelle Bathé: "Why Radical Self Acceptance Can Change The World"

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

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…If I could use my influence for anything, it would be to create and hold space for people. To reach out, and have every single person experience what radical love and acceptance of themselves would feel like, and show them how to start extending that love to the people around them, even if they started small. If we could all just start by loving ourselves in such a dramatic way, and extending that to others…

I had the distinct pleasure to interview Ryan Michelle Bathé. Ryan is an actress and producer, known for The Endgame, All Rise, Boston Legal (2004) and This Is Us (2016).

Ryan, thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Let’s start from the beginning. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and I am very proud of where I come from. My favorite memory from my early years was spending time on the Mississippi River, as it is such a beautiful place and an amazing sight to see.

My mother was an actress, singer, and an overall incredible performer, and due to this, a family decision was made when I was very young that she was going to move to New York to pursue her career. When she made that transition, I moved in with my Grandmother, and during my formative years, my time was split between St. Louis and New York. When I was 9, I moved to Stamford, Connecticut and it was at this point, life began to stabilize.

When it came time for college, I decided to attend Stanford University because while I had visited California, I had never lived there and felt as though it would be a welcome change for me. While at Stanford, I rediscovered my love of acting. I always had a desire to act, but due to my mother being in the business, she didn’t necessarily discourage me from wanting to pursue that same career path, but she wasn’t exactly encouraging it either. Because of this, I didn’t attend things like dance classes or activities that revolved around performing while I was younger, but during high school, I was involved in choir and theater. As I got older, I had to go out and be proactive to find these types of opportunities for performing on my own. Looking back on it now, I’m glad my Mom set up that drive in me to be successful yet also resourceful in finding ways of creating my path.

So, I went to Stanford University where I ended up meeting not only my future husband, Sterling but also a wonderful professor named Harry Elam. He was such an amazing black professor and a director who opened up a whole new world for me in terms of theater and academics which allowed me to have a foothold in acting. While there, one of my classes was a 200 level drama class, and a group of my classmates were students who had attended NYU the previous year. This class consisted of recreating what a conservatory would be and I realized how much I loved the content. The next thing I know, I applied for NYU and the rest is history.

Wow, that’s fantastic. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

So this isn’t my favorite story, but I think it’s interesting and a good one for people to hear and understand how the industry works. It was pilot season, and what most people don’t realize is during the time, the days are very frenzied and it’s a very “everybody get a job while you can” mentality. I like to make the analogy of working on a pilot as “imagine you’re swimming around in the ocean. Some days you’re the chum, other days you’re the shark.” Sometimes, it just comes down to the day during this time of year, and you never know what each day will bring.

One pilot season, there were two shows that I auditioned for and one of them was called M.I.L.F and Cookies. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were producers on the show and it was going to be on the CW Network. I knew that both Will and Jada were going to be there as well watching auditions and I just remember going in for it and being so nervous.

During that same time, I had another opportunity to test for a different show as well, but I’m drawing a blank on the name. I walk in and see Sean Hayes, who I absolutely adore. Every night during that pilot season, as a part of my preparation, I would watch an episode of Will and Grace simply for the comedy and the inspiration. Due to this, Sean was a very big part of my process in readying myself for the auditions.

So long story short, the pilot season comes around and I end up being able to test for both shows. And I cannot tell you the world of difference between Jada and Sean, but even with their differences, they are both on the same level of pedestals for me. Jada had me shaking in my boots! When I was around her, all I could think was, “I’ll never be as cool as her, I’m just a goofball!”

Then, you have Sean and I’m thinking to myself “there is no way I’ll ever be as goofy or fabulous as him!” But I somehow managed to stay grounded during the audition for Sean as well. I ended up testing for both pilots at the same time and place since both shows were going to be on the CW network.

So I’m sitting there, and next thing I know, Jada walks in and there’s just an energy about her. It’s almost like she has her own soundtrack playing as she comes in. She’s in her thigh-high boots that are studded and I just remember thinking to myself “just one of those boots is probably about the same price as my worth at this point in my career.”

After she walked in, Sean Hayes comes in as well and it felt as though he was surrounded by bubbles and butterflies and I just kept thinking to myself that I would never obtain that level of awe.

I go into the audition for Sean and my shoe comes off! Right in the middle of the audition of course, and to this day, I still have no idea how that even happened. Once I was done, I channeled that same energy from Will and Grace, bent over, picked up my shoe, and limped off and made it a part of my audition.

Sean Hayes then stood up, clapped, and gave me a hug. It was such an incredible moment for me. One of those moments where you think to yourself “I could die right now, and it would be completely ok.”

Since the shows were on the same network, I was picked to be on M.I.L.F and Cookies. I was the only person who was hired at that point, but due to a creative dispute between Jada and the network, the entire pilot evaporated.

In just one week, I got a hug from Sean Hayes, was hired for the pilot, then lost the opportunity. It felt like the industry in a nutshell. You can have your highest of highs, then it can all come crashing down all in an instant.

Can you share a story about a humorous mistake you made and the lesson you learned from that?

Funny you should ask because something recently happened to me regarding song lyrics. One of the songs I was singing was “I Got Five On It” by Luniz. I was singing it one day and my husband stops me and said “Uhh, those aren’t the lyrics. Why would you even think those are the lyrics?”

In my head, I heard “I’ve got five on it, let’s go hop on a sack” but I guess the actual lyrics are “let’s go half on a sack” and I’ve been over here singing it wrong the entire time. Mind you, this song came out in ’95 and I just learned a few weeks ago that I’ve been singing it wrong for years now!

Living in California, I just thought ‘hop on a sack’ was some sort of slang for wanting to play hacky sack because it’s so popular here. So my husband is just watching me the whole time and finally says “Honey, it’s half on a sack. As in they’re going to buy weed and are going to go in on half on the price of the sack.”

I had no idea! I’ve never smoked, so obviously, I didn’t know the lingo. This entire time this great song which I thought was about hacky sack was very clearly about weed. I don’t know what I learned from that experience other than to give more credence to people who smoke weed and to listen more carefully to what they say because it might be an important topic such as economics and splitting the cost to make items more obtainable.

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Ryan, 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 mostly focused on Endgame since we are still in production of the first season. It’s such a complicated show and a lot of work that it keeps you on your toes. It’s been a great experience for me to be a part of it all, to have an opportunity to be in so many scenes, and learn how all the components work together on such a big show.

This role has been such a joy and having experienced that, I want the same feeling for my projects going forward. I would like to have a certain level of commitment to not only the story, but the production of the show as well and allow myself to be vital to the story in a real way.

In the next couple of projects that I’m looking at, I would like to work on roles that change my focus, are more intricate, and require me to become a better actor when I’m done, than where I was when I started.

Do you have five nuggets of advice that you wish someone told you when you first began your career as an actress?

  1. The first piece of advice I received was to be kind to others. While this is a great tidbit, I do also wish someone would have told me to be kind to myself as well. I have spent a lot of time in my career being unkind to myself, and once I stopped to think about it, being kind to yourself matters regardless of your profession. It doesn’t matter if you’re a street sweeper or an Olympic figure skater, at the end of the day, remember to be kind to yourself, just as much as you are kind to others.
  2. The second piece of advice would be, and I just heard Tom Hanks say this during a roundtable, “Just wait. If you think this is the worst it’s going to be, that you’re never going to work or get picked for a job, just wait.” For example, say you think you’re at the height of your career, but you have no idea. You never truly know what is coming for you in life, and looking back at it now, I wish that I would have lived in the moment more, and would have been more present. Whatever hardship you are going through at the time, it will pass whenever that time is right. I always thought that being in the moment meant handling the stress at that moment, but I’ve learned what it truly means is not to take the ups and downs quite so seriously and to take everything with a grain of salt.
  3. Third, it’s all going to be ok. Whatever you are going through, I promise, it’s going to be ok. No matter how badly you think you messed up, it’s likely not true or as bad as you think. And even if it is? It will still all be ok in the end.
  4. Fourth, I say to surround yourself with people that you love, who love you in return and cleave to them. That was a piece of advice I received while attending NYU, and it has always stuck with me. Find your people, and never let them go. They will become both your greatest treasure and resources. They will end up being there in so many ways, big and small, sometimes in ways that you will never see.
  5. Finally, this piece of advice came from my Grandmother, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes, you just have to laugh to get through something difficult, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using humor to get through the day. If you’re not funny, then find some funny friends. Laughter can help in so many situations.

As you know, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Oh wow, I feel like I’m a beauty pageant contestant! “I would like world peace.” (Laughs)

You know, there is someone on Instagram that I follow and they recently posted about how they were fighting for the rights of trans and non-binary people. They mentioned how they have changed their focus to radical love and acceptance and I think that if I could use my influence for anything, it would be to create and hold space for people. To reach out, and have every single person experience what radical love and acceptance of themselves would feel like, and show them how to start extending that love to the people around them, even if they started small. If we could all just start by loving ourselves in such a dramatic way, and extending that to others, that would be a movement I would love to start.

That’s beautiful, Ryan. Thank you so much for your time and these fantastic stories. I wish you continued success in the future.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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