Backstage (Zoom) visit: ‘Chicago Fire’ star Miranda Rae Mayo meets Sophie, from Scotland
Regular readers of The Munro Review know how proud Miranda Rae Mayo is of the time she spent in the Junior Company at Good Company Players.
I’ve featured the “Chicago Fire” star, who has played firefighter Stella Kidd on the NBC series for four seasons, several times on the site when she returns to Fresno for Junior Company fundraisers. Most recently, she was a headliner in the all-virtual “Friday Night Live” cabaret. For that event, I asked if she’d be willing to meet one of my readers — a contest winner — in what you might call the Zoom version of a backstage visit. In an example of the cultural reach of American television, the winner was a charming, 18-year-old “Chicago Fire” fan named Sophie Stephen, who lives on the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. (Yes, The Munro Review can easily hop the pond.) I sent Zoom links all around, and the three of us — me, Mayo and Sophie– met up for a wonderful virtual chat. Here’s the full cut:
VIDEO: A ‘Chicago Fire’-side chat
For those who don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here are some of the highlights:
The “Chicago Fire” cast is close.
Case in point: Before hopping on the Zoom call, Mayo had just gotten off the phone with David Eigenberg, who plays Lt. Christopher Herrmann on the show.
“I miss everyone,” Mayo said. “We all love each other so much. I don’t know how it happened — it doesn’t always happen on shows or working environments, but, yeah, they’re lifelong family members of mine.”
It’s weird not to be filming the show.
The reason, of course, is because of the pandemic, which has pretty much shut down most network and streaming productions. “This is the first time in four years for me that I didn’t spend my birthday with them, that we aren’t all together starting in July,” Mayo said.
She’s putting her forced downtime to good use, however. Mayo recently drove from Chicago to California to visit friends and family, and now she’s hanging in Oakland working on her musical career.
Sophie has a question.
To enter the “Miranda giveaway,” I asked readers to pose a question they’d like to her. Here was Sophie’s:
What is your No. 1 piece of advice for people who are uncomfortable with the way they look?
Related story: FOR MIRANDA RAE MAYO AND MICHAEL J. WILLETT, THEY’LL ALWAYS BE JUNIORS
Before we dive into Mayo’s answer, let me preface it by saying that she is a thinker. And a feeler. I suspect that in a past life she was a professional philosopher. She is one of those people who thinks a lot about the moment, about living in the present, about the way she connects to the world and those around her.
That’s such a great question, Sophie. It’s something that I feel like I relate to — I think we all can relate to. Specifically women, people who identify as LGBTQ, all of us, people of color, everybody — that’s something we all identify with. I identify with all those things.
I had a realization when I was auditioning for shows in L.A. It was really hard to not take things personally about the way that I looked when I wouldn’t get a job. Putting together projects is like cooking. Sometimes your particular ingredient isn’t going to be right for that dish. If I’m making lasagna, I will not use chocolate. Chocolate is an amazing ingredient — beautiful, brilliant. There are people who are addicted to chocolate. But if I”m making lasagna, I’m not going to use chocolate. I think applying that to myself has helped me, even in relationships, in recognizing that maybe my ingredient doesn’t go well with this particular ingredient, but that doesn’t make me any less delicious.
You grew up with Instagram and Facebook. I think we as a society have forgotten that the world and the Earth are two different things. We get really caught up in maintaining our social status in the world and not being present with the Earth, with our breath, with our bodies, just as they are, loving everything I am, just the fact that I exist. You think about it — how many millions of years that it took for the Earth to be in the condition right now so you could be born exactly the way that you are? Screw Instagram.
There’s no one like you. I’m glad you asked this question because it’s soul food for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen, and people ask you for advice, and then you start talking, and you’re like, whew, I needed to hear this! This is actually for me, too. So thank you.
I’m making music right now in Oakland, and so many times in the process, I think, this doesn’t sound like Rihanna, so it’s obviously garbage. What if I allowed myself just to exist as I am? What if the more that I love and appreciate myself, the more I can be a gift to my community, my society?
How did Sophie react?
After all, it’s a bit overwhelming to be talking to an American TV star and on the receiving end of some pretty deep stuff about looks, the superficiality of humans and one’s place in the cosmos. “That was very helpful,” Sophie said, gratefully, just a bit overwhelmed.
More advice: This, too, shall pass.
Mayo talked about one trick she uses when she’s feeling in the middle of turmoil or feeling low self-esteem: She reminds herself there will come a time when she is not in that space. It’s a technique that could apply to many of us today.
“I think that as an 18-year old in a world going through a pandemic, going through a social awakening about racial injustice, there is so much fear in the atmosphere,” Mayo told Sophie. “It is going to manifest in your mind in so different ways — ‘I’m afraid I’m not pretty enough, I’m afraid that I’m not good enough.’ That’s also the collective energy affecting your individual body. It doesn’t necessarily mean those thoughts are true — it means that we’re all living in a time when there’s a lot of fear.”
More about Miranda: Singing is in her genes.
Sophie asked Mayo if she always wanted to be an actress.
“My dad is a jazz singer,” Mayo said. “There are pictures of me at 6, 7 years old dressing up, pretending I’m a rock star singing on the stage. I think I wanted to be a singer first. And then, in the Junior Company, I discovered musical theater, and I learned that storytelling can be fun, too.”
After graduating from Roosevelt High School of the Performing Arts, Mayo went to L.A.
“Initially I wanted to do music first,” she said. “Then I met my manager, and she said, ‘Well, I mostly represent actors.’ And that was how that happened.”
What’s ahead: Who knows?
Mayo just turned 30.
“I’m super curious,” she said. “Twenty to 30 was crazy. A lot of transformation, a lot of goals reached. I’m really curious to see what happens from 30 to 40.”
More about Sophie: She’s an artist!
Photography is her big thing. (When you watch the video, you can see her photos covering her bedroom wall.) She also likes music: She started off with the fiddle and trumpet, and then settled down with the saxophone. Here are some of her photos:
Closing thoughts: Favorite part of playing Stella Kidd?
For her final question, that’s what Sophie wanted to know.
True to thoughtful form, Mayo pondered for a bit and then asked, almost sheepishly, if she could give three reasons:
• The cast and crew. “I would play any role on that show because of who I get to interact with.”
• The fire part. “I love playing a firefighter. I love that I get to — in a very cathartic, psychoanalytical way — I get to play out my hero fantasies. There’s a part of me that wants to be the hero, that wants to be the savior. I don’t think that’s very healthy in my day-to day-life, but it’s really dope to be able to play that role.”
• The character. “I love that the writers allow her to be this multidimensional woman. She is fierce and masculine and still very sexy. You see her in a relationship with a man where she feels like a woman. I really like that. They allow her to be strong, and vulnerable, and funny. I really love all the different dimensions.”
Finally, two farewells: one to Sophie; and one to the Junior Company.
Mayo’s adieu to Sophie was heartfelt.
“Sophie, for whatever it’s worth, your energy is so beautiful. I really believe you have so much to offer the world. You are gorgeous inside and out. I hope that via the interwebs I can see your art. I just encourage you to keep creating. I’m so grateful you did the contest, and that we’re here in this moment. You were such a channel of wisdom for me.”
And to her beloved Junior Company:
“I love you all so much. I’m so proud to be a former Junior. You all are such inspiring, innovative, young people. The fact that you did this virtual cabaret for the community, initially didn’t even want it to be a fundraising event, I think speaks volumes to the beauty in your heart and the character in all of you.”
She also thanked the parents and to everyone who keeps the Junior Company Foundation going.
“It changed my life,” Mayo said. “I know it’s changing the lives of the kids involved. I’m excited for whatever you create next.”
This is just wonderful, Donald! Fun and light and informative and oh so heartening for the future of entertainment. The video is delightful and as always you did a masterful job of capturing the essence! And how cool to be international!! Thank you for keeping us all informed of the great things that are going on!