Patina Miller is a chameleon. The Tony Award-winning actor leads the latest installment of the Power franchise Raising Kanan as Raquel Thomas, a single mother juggling raising her family and running a drug business during the 1990s in Jamaica, Queens. Miller is already an industry veteran in many ways, with an established career on Broadway and roles in films like The Hunger Games and the hit television series Madam Secretary. Her latest role as Raquel is one that she says embodies what she looks for in the characters she plays: a multidimensional woman who is allowed to be strong and vulnerable at once; who is written with honesty and dimension rather than being relegated to a trope, as female characters—especially Black female characters—all too often are.
Miller is acutely aware of the way in which television shows and films that center Black stories are often pegged as niche, and she thinks the critical reception of the show reflects this reality. And it’s easy to see why—Power feels every bit the prestige drama, worthy of the same accolades of its peers, which receive more chatter online and in the press. With Miller at the helm, the show offers a nuanced and human portrayal of family, intimacy, and grief that feels singular in many ways, and universal in others. And the depth that Miller brings to Thomas’s character makes it clear that she is poised to become television’s next leading lady.
I want to begin by talking about the start of your career, in theater. What about that training sets you apart from other actors?
I made my Broadway debut in 2011 in Sister Act, the musical. Post-Sister Act, I did Pippin, which led me to the world of TV and film.
Pippin came at such a beautiful time. With [theater director] Diane Paulus, I knew that she was going to make it fun, fresh, and exciting. And I know that, as an actor, she is the type of director that really pushes you; she does edgy things. It made me excited to know that the leading player role, made famous by Ben Vereen, had been switched to a woman. I’m all about female empowerment, and I’m all about switching things up.
Thankfully, it touched a lot of people. We won the Tony award that year. As an actor, I think we all want to do it all. And theater is where I got my start. It’s where I honed my craft. It’s what I love to do. Being in front of an audience like that, night after night, taught me so many valuable lessons. I gained a lot of tools from my theater work. And both mediums are very different from theater. But, at the basis, I knew I could rely on my training.
What was your first impression of Raquel Thomas’s character in Raising Kanan?
I had been familiar with the Power franchise, and I was already a huge fan of Courtney Kemp—what she’s been able to do with the Power series, her writing, the way that she’s able to give all of these characters such distinct, multilayered voices.
The reason the show was such a huge success is really the actors and the way that they were written, with all of the characters that made people react to them. They were relatable; people could identify with them. That, for me, is what drew me in to Power. Because these are everyday people, right? These are situations that people go through. Whether you look like them or not, you find something that you can identify with.
My first reaction to Raquel was, “Okay, not only is she a boss, she’s a female in a man’s world. It’s dark. She’s a mother. She’s a breadwinner for her family. She’s the matriarch, in some ways, to her family. She has this sexuality.”
What were your initial thoughts upon reading the script?
For me, as a person of color, I feel like women on TV in general are one note. For me to be able to read the first 10 pages, and to get a distinct sense of who this character is, was exciting. It wasn’t one note all the way through. And as I continued to read, there were so many colors to this character, which, up until that point, I never witnessed. In all of the auditions that I’ve ever done, I never got to see a Black woman be a boss, be vulnerable, be a mother, be a single Black woman, all of these things, be strong, be sexy.
It reminded me of so many women in my life. It reminded me of my grandmother, my mother, my aunt. No matter if she’s a drug dealer or not, she was so relatable. She’s a business woman. And, given the circumstance, she’s working within a system designed to keep her where she is.
Power is one of the most watched shows on television, but it doesn’t seem like the cultural zeitgeist has really latched onto it the way it has with other prestige dramas. Why do you think that is?
The lack of attention doesn’t add up, in my opinion. The numbers do not lie. So when you have a show that has millions and millions of eyes on it… and okay, sure, it has a big Black following. But if you don’t give it any sort of [press], it says that the show and everyone working on it doesn’t matter.
It’s a family drama. Just like Succession is a family drama, just like The Sopranos—it just so happens to be a family drama with Black people. [By not giving it press,] you’re saying that these voices don't matter.
What kind of impact do you see Power making on the greater industry?
I’m proud of how diverse our show is, Raising Kanan. This is the first time I’ve ever had a writer’s room where someone really looked like me. It’s nice to have creators all around me, where you don’t feel like the only one, and you’re entrusting the voice of your character to someone who doesn’t look like you.
When we talk about diversity in TV and film... the squares went dark this summer, people were putting people of color on committees, and we were talking about it. Different networks were having their diversity talks, and this and that. But you have to think about, “Okay, what are you really doing?”
For me, it’s about being able to be with my daughter, and have these women come up to me and say, “Oh my God, I love this character of Raquel. She’s so me.” I know what that’s like, having women send me DMs, saying that they feel seen.
What sort of character or role would you love to play next?
Obviously, we’re only on the second season of Raq, so I absolutely want to continue to flesh out this character. For the next few years, that’s where I’ll be. But I want to continue to create characters that make an impact like Raquel. I’d love to do something in the film space—I know that they’re going to do a Storm Marvel movie at some point. I think I’d make a great Storm, she is so amazing and so strong. To bring all of the gravitas, and the energy, and the raw experience, to take that into a superhero world, could be really cool and exciting as well.
I just want to do and create stories that are continuing to push the boundaries. And continue to have characters where women can connect to them, and we can do it in an honest and dynamic way.