Captured by photographer Amber McKee amidst the sanctity of Elysian Park, the 15-year-old actor takes to the camera like a King takes to his throne. Such regal references won't be unfamiliar to Michael, as he launches his new clothing line Crown Me, on a mission to "Reclaim Your Royalty". Speaking to Michael, it appears much of his wisdom was inherited from his mother, an actor herself, by royal descent; instilling those fundamental foundations which have allowed Michael's creative flair to flourish. Be it film, fashion, or music, Michael is on a conquest to stamp his name into the hall of fame.
Growing up on the westside of Chicago, portraying the role of 'Jake Taylor' in Showtime's gritty coming-of-age Chicago-based drama may seem like a familiar path at times, but it's clear that Michael may learn a thing or two about himself from his character's differences. As Michael prepares to move states in the not-so-distant future, you may be able to take the boy out of Chicago, but you can never take Chicago out of the boy. Styled by Darryl Anderson, there is no jacket too large, no stage too wide nor an industry too unconquerable for this young talent. Although he may not be the quickest to open up, the wait is worth the wealth of this young man's promising career; and it's only just the beginning.
Catch up on 'The Chi' finale on Showtime which is now out.
Who is Michael?
Michael is a kid from the west side of Chicago with a dream of making it out. He's been through high poverty and struggled, so he just had the dream of making it and making his family proud. He just wants to provide for his family to give them a better life.
You're currently portraying Jake Taylor in the series The Chi. What do Michael and Jake have in common?
What Jake and I have in common is that we both have a loving heart. Once we get to know you and we have a relationship with you it's hard to let that go. His bonds and relationships mean a lot to him - despite what Jake did to his friend in season four - but we both love hard on the people we love.
We're halfway through season four. How has Jake developed during this season?
I feel like he's going through emotions more than developing. For real, he goes through relationships, emotions, friendship, more emotions, through a situation with his brother, and more emotions on top of that; he’s going through a lot.
Would you call yourself an emotional person?
It depends. I can get emotional when it comes to certain things, but as far as me being emotional in general - showing my emotions all the time - I don't like to.
Do you feel that actually playing a character who has all these emotions has helped you interact more with your own emotions?
Yeah, I do. Playing a character with a lot of emotions challenges me to bring out my emotions so I can portray his emotions on screen, so it's definitely helped me here.
How was your experience filming during the pandemic?
Well, you know, this is something new. It was weird but we worked through it, it was a small process, a fast process but we got it done.
How have you kept yourself happy during the pandemic?
Well, really, the pandemic was nothing new. Before the pandemic, I was already staying in the house a lot, but when the pandemic hit I was like, 'what have I been doing? I should have been going outside'. During the pandemic we were in the midst of moving into our new house so when we got to the new house we had to unpack, I really had that to occupy me. I've been doing a lot of home workouts, I got myself a brand new PC and monitor so I’ve been on that a lot and then I've been doing a lot of auditioning too.
Can you tell us a bit about your audition process for The Chi, how did you prepare for it?
Well, my mum was an actress. So when we got this role, she was like, "We need to do some scene study!". So she sat me down on the couch and we watched The Wire, the season with all the kids, and we studied it together. We literally sat there for hours watching it, episode after episode, we even went back and re-watched some episodes. She really wanted me to make sure I was ready and I got this.
What sort of guidance did your mum give you before you stepped into acting?
She gave me a lot of free guidance. She's been in this game for a very, very long time. This is something she always wanted to do since she was a little girl so she gave me a lot of great tips. She's really been there to guide me the whole way and she hasn't told me anything wrong yet. I'm really grateful for my mum.
So your mum wanted to become an actor when she was a little girl; when did you decide you wanted to peruse a career in acting?
It was kind of almost around the same ages, I was eight or nine. But it really didn't happen professionally until I want to say like 10/11, that's when I really started doing auditions.
You recently starred in NBC’s actioned-drama series Chicago Fires. What did you enjoy most about this role?
I enjoyed that role because it was different from Jake and it's always good to switch it up to show a director you can do other roles. Also, the cast that was on set were all really cool, they welcomed me with open arms.
What kind of role would you love to portray in the future?
I really, really want to do action movies. You know, action, slow-motion explosions behind me and stuff like that!
What's the most difficult thing about being an actor?
Right now, probably trying to do it in the middle of school. I just entered high school and high school is a different ball game especially from the school I was going to. I was going to a private school at the time and it was really hard trying to maintain both because they really didn't understand what I was going through. I don't mean to say they weren’t trying to understand, but it was really hard for them to cope with my schedule.
What's one thing most people don’t know about you?
Sometimes when people first meet me, they think I might come off as rude, that I don't like them, or that I don't want to talk to them because I'm not so talkative at that point. That's not it. For me, when I first meet you, I have to study you and I have to analyse you before I get real cool with you and I'm all smiles and stuff, you know? So it's like, no, I don't want nobody taking it the wrong way, it’s nothing personal, that's just how I am. I just have to get to know you first.
Let’s talk about your music career. You're also known by the name MIKEY, is that a nickname?
Yeah that's the nickname that the family calls me and only my family calls that.
You released your debut single ‘Drip’ in 2019. Can we expect any new music from you soon?
Yeah! We've definitely been talking about getting me back in the studio but we don't know when yet though. It's most likely going to be soon because we just wrapped season four of The Chi. You can expect some soon.
Who are your biggest creative inspirations?
Music-wise, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, King Von, G Herbo, Polo G. I mainly listen to Chicago artists. On the acting side, I look up to Vin Diesel because, like I said, I want to do an action movie and I love him in the Fast and Furious movies. I really also want to do a comedy movie, so I like Mike Epps, Kevin Hart, you know, people like that. Ice Cube too, I would like to work with him. I look up to a lot of people.
You've spent most of your life in Chicago. Do you see yourself staying or moving away in the future?
Yeah, we actually talked about this, this is actually our last year in Chicago. We don't know where yet but it's either between Atlanta or LA. Right now, Atlanta's got the upper hand. We want to come to LA but it's just so expensive.
You've already achieved so much in such a short space of time. What's the dream?
I love acting and I love music, so it doesn't matter what it is. I told you my dream is to do better for my family and give my family a better life. So whether it's acting, music, both, or whatever, I ain't got a problem with it as long as I'm doing what I got to do to make it happen.
What are your goals for the rest of 2021?
Really my main goal this year was getting my clothing line off the ground. I've really been focusing on that so I've kind of accomplished that goal. Our clothing line is @crownme.clothing on Instagram.
What can you tell us about your clothing line?
We didn't take inspiration from other clothing lines because we want it to be our own, you know? Regarding the name, Crown Me, me and my mum sat down and we thought about it and she was like, "Crown". She explained the meaning behind it. She said, "Crown Me, give me my Crown, I deserve my Crown". I was like yeah, I like that, 'Crown Me - Reclaim Your Royalty'.