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Actress Michael Hyatt on her Journey to Self-Worth and Success
“I think I remember this space,” Michael Hyatt says. She is on stage at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre at the Edna Manley College in Kingston. She recalls one of her earliest encounters with this arts, as a participant in a summer school programme. This time however, she has assumed the role of lecturer as she dives into an inspiring talk about art, aspiration and self acceptance.
Hyatt, a respected Hollywood actress with credits that extend from Law and Order, to Criminal Minds to The West Wing, Night Crawler and currently True Detective and Ray Donovan has roots firmly planted in Jamaica.
The talk resulted from her desire to give back to her home country, so she carved time from her vacation to share her experiences with members of Jamaica’s film and theatre communities. It was a morning that provided insight into the working in Hollywood as well as her personal growth over her extensive career.
Hyatt recalls watching her father, the late Charles Hyatt on stage, but more importantly, she recalls being awed by what unfolded on the stage.
“I remember sitting in the audience in absolute awe at what was happening on stage,” Hyatt says, speaking of viewing the pantomime Johnny Reggae. She explains that with both parents in the art world, she was exposed to the arts from an early age and even though she didn’t know it at the time, this exposure was fueling her art. Even so, she thought she was heading for a career in child psychology.
Yet even acting kept pulling her, even while the power of performance scared her, resulting in a constant push and pull.
“It was the thing I ran to,” Hyatt explained. “It was the thing my spirit called to, but it scared me.”
Yet fate would not be thwarted and Hyatt began studying performance at Howard University. However, when she learnt that a performance company she wanted to work with recruited from New York she abandoned school and moved to that city to pursue her dreams.
While in New York she worked odd jobs and hustled the theatre circuit to build her credibility. Hyatt also applied to the Juilliard School and though she received several call backs, she was finally rejected because of her weight.
“I was devastated,” Hyatt revealed. Yet it was not the end.
Some time later she earned an opportunity to be a production assistant on a Spike Lee film and eventually become an extra, which not only meant paid work, but an opportunity to build the hours necessary to join the Actors Guild. She also applied to NYU, inspired by a moment of romantic competitiveness, and was accepted into the programme, though she first had to complete a Bachelors.
Hyatt’s disappointment with Juilliard was not the only time that her physical appearance would be an issue. She explains that when she first got a manager she was told that she needed to lose weight, cut her locks, remove her mole and close the gap between her teeth. She held out for two years but since then have made peace with some of these demands, deciding that the work is more important.
During these early years she would appear on Law and Order, and later earn a recurring role on The Wire, before reaching as far as she could and still be based in New York. So she moved to Los Angeles, the bedrock of film and television. Hyatt explained that she had expected to have to start the hustle all over again, however her manager landed her an audition for The West Wing.
Hyatt explained that she assumed she would not get the part and so, went into the process without any pressure. The result was that she delivered a performance that earned her the role.
Unfortunately, she was not yet prepared for success, and her experience provides a telling experience.
“I didn’t know how to receive all of this. All of this wealth or all of this attention.” Hyatt explained. “I was always about the hustle but I didn’t know about embracing the beauty of getting it. I didn’t know how to embrace something larger.”
Hyatt’s experience reveals the importance of self-worth. She explained that she was so consumed with the idea of not being worthy of the role she ended up sabotaging it.
“I didn’t see myself as worthy,” Hyatt revealed. “I spent so much time being afraid, being unworthy, diminishing myself that after my 5 to 6 episode arc they decided not to continue that storyline.”
And though having credits from The West Wing was an important asset, after the writers’ strike of 2007 all work stopped coming her way and she was without work for 7 years, which left her financially decimated.
Hyatt explained that she came to view this as the universe’s answer to her actions.
“When you diminish yourself enough the universe finally says, ok, you want to be mediocre. Here,” Hyatt says with a wry smile.
This period of want, allowed her to come to terms with herself.
“I had to come to terms with the demons within myself and heal them,” Hyatt said.
“What matters is your willingness to embrace your truth,” Hyatt advised. “If you’re willing to be brave, if you’re willing to say yes, even when it doesn’t make logical sense, if you choose it, it will work. As an artist, you just say yes and a way will come.”
She explained that she now accepts fear as a part of the process but has realized that truth and acceptance are more important.
“When I get to something that is scary, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be,” Hyatt said.
The talk took place on Saturday, July 25, 2015.