When T’Nia Miller first told her mother that she was dating a woman, she explained to her mother that she was not there to see her have sex with men, so this was no different. “It’s just that I have very good friends and beauty in my life,” he remembers saying. “That was it. We never had more conversation than that. If I had a problem, it was hers, not mine. She knew it. She is a very cultured and educated woman. For her, accepting it was easy.”
The East London-born actress tells me this story over the phone while walking her dog (she forgot about the interview and her seven-month-old Pomeranian, Dilhi, needed her daily steps) because she participates in the #YoungerMe , an initiative of the LGBTQ + youth organization Just Like Us, which asks how inclusive LGBTQ + education would have helped queer older people when they were in school.
“With my ‘coming out story,’ my family was very supportive,” she continues, “but there are a lot of kids who aren’t. I know as a black actor what it meant to see people like me on screen, and I think that’s exactly the same when it comes to sexuality and how we identify. This is why Just Like Us is so important. It helps forge those intergenerational connections. “
Miller says she had “no exposure, no knowledge, nothing” of LGBTQ + issues growing up. “I had never seen a queer person on television and didn’t know any queer person until I got to college. I used to travel from the East End to go to college in Notting Hill and that’s where I met my first queer family, so to speak; people who were a little different from the social circle I was used to mixing with. OMG, it was refreshing. “
In fact, he kept his sexuality hidden until he was 20 years old. “I have Jamaican heritage. I love reggae music and I used to listen to a lot of bashment as a child, ”she says. “That scene, at the time, didn’t support her being queer. Although those views were not present in my family, in society in general there was a shame involved in it, so I denied it and rejected it. “In the end, she ended up marrying a man and having children,” but when she started to be a Idiot I realized: I have two kids, I’m a little older and I don’t give a shit about social pressure, so I’m going to start dating women. It really was that simple.
Miller has never been one of the mainstream. While she followed a fairly traditional route of studying theater in college and earning a place at Guildford School of Acting, she came to college in her 20s divorced, with two children and a mortgage. He also refused to succumb to the tactics used by the institution to divide its students so they can turn them into actors. “You go to drama school and you think these people are gods,” says Miller. “You feel very lucky to be there and you believe these people. You are young and impressionable. Yes, he had two children, but he was under 23 years old. It was a baby who had babies. The difference is that I wasn’t going to cry and break down because, hell, I had already lived. That shit wasn’t going to affect me and that was a point of contention. “
She recalls a horrible experience with a staff member on her first day, who told her that she was lucky to be there, as there were no good black actors in the industry. “Of course, we got into a swing. It wasn’t an argument, per se, but the moment I went, damn it, I’m back here … ”, he says. “You are in an institution that does not recognize you and minimizes your experiences.”
Do you feel that it was a personal prejudice of the teachers or of the institution itself that was racist? “I don’t think there is a difference. The institution is not hiring the right people. Institutions are made up of people and policy makers. Obviously, there were personal prejudices among the teachers, but there were also some beautiful teachers. It’s about the texts and what is studied, and the parts you are in, if there is a part for you because you have a darker tone. It’s up to the teachers planning the lessons to think about these things. “
Fortunately, he says this is not something he has encountered in his professional life. After finishing drama school, he graduated for small roles on shows like The Bill and Holby City, finding meatier roles in Channel 4’s Dubplate Drama, an interactive series about a teenage grime MC, and later on the groundbreaking queer film Stud Life, which was directed and written by Campbell X. In the latter, Miller played JJ, a black male-based lesbian who works as a wedding photographer. “Campbell X made us do this method acting thing,” he says of the role. “For three weeks we had rehearsals, so I signed up [my chest], packed up and walked in that body. Sometimes I was mistaken for a young black man and I came to understand my son better. “
However, Miller was careful to avoid being pigeonholed in the “queer actor” box, just as she was about to take on any role that perpetuated a derogatory narrative about blacks. “You always have a choice,” she says. “I think that’s really important, otherwise I would have done so many things and my career would look very different. But when I first signed with my agent, I said, ‘I’m not ready to play the stereotype of the council farm prostitute, single parent.’ I’m a single mother, but I wasn’t ready for those roles. “
Miller has played police officers in his career, although “it’s weird because I don’t like the police,” he says. Do you feel different about those roles now after the Black Lives Matter protests this year? “I look at them the same way. It was a role and I liked the role. Do I believe in the establishment as it is? No I do not. I like the police? Not particularly. But if the script and character are good and there is integrity to the story, then yes, I would reprise those roles. “
In previous interviews, he has said that he has played characters that felt “bleached” – “just look at my CV; you can see them there, “he says, but even then,” it’s about what you, as an actor, bring to the role. ” When you work with someone like Russell T Davies, with whom Miller has collaborated twice, most recently in the dystopian drama Years & Years, you don’t have those issues. “He listens, he’s patient, and he’s fun,” says Miller of Davies. “He takes the time and dedicates himself to the people. Also, we talk about people who use their white privilege forever; he is an amazing example of that. It’s about having conversations with producers and writers. Working with Russell, I was able to do that. “
Her most recent role, as Hannah Grose on the Netflix horror series The Haunting of Bly Manor, also provided an opportunity to tell a queer story that did not focus on the coming-out narratives, which Miller is bored of. “We had that lesbian love story and it was a fact,” she says. “I think we are seeing it more in programming and I like that. That is where you should go. What I will say is that we need more and more people with different abilities and different races. “
Miller is aware that casting directors and agents have “tough conversations” about inclusion, though she remains cautious about how change comes about. “If the answer is to just stick a bunch of black people on the screen, then that’s not doing the job, in my opinion. It has to be behind the camera and in front of the camera. It’s not just blacks too. Don’t think you’ve met your diversity quota simply by putting a black person in one of those roles. There are a lot of people to consider and until that happens, we still won’t. “
The pandemic hasn’t helped, of course, and Miller says it has been difficult to assess whether any of the advancements being discussed have actually been implemented. “I think it’s a longer journey,” he says. “Not much, but I think it will take a while to find out.”
However, 2020 has not been a failure. As for his career, Miller has just returned from Spain, where he has been filming the series La Fortuna by Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar, which also stars Stanley Tucci and Clarke Peters, star of The Wire. And Miller believes that without the pandemic, the spotlight on this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests would not have been so bright.
“There has been a global movement for social justice, which has never happened,” he says. “That is the beauty of this year. Also, I was able to spend three months in the sun. That was brilliant. “
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.