JSU professor tells students: ‘Google me … witness what I do’

Print More

Actor Yohance Myles

sip-culture-logo-light

 

This story is our weekly ‘Sip of Culture, a partnership between Mississippi Today and The ‘Sip Magazine. For more stories like this or to learn more about The ‘Sip, visit thesipmag.com.

Take advantage of a special 2-for-1 subscription offer and explore a ‘Sip of the South with The ‘Sip’s print edition.


Yohance Myles, born and raised in Birmingham, was bitten by the acting bug in the 5th grade when he saw a performance of Peter Pan. By his senior year of high school, Myles began giving serious consideration to making acting a career and majored in performing arts at Alabama State University in Montgomery.

Myles never stopped pushing himself to pursue his dream, and his numerous roles in both TV and film are proof. He has appeared in 2 Guns with Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton and Edward James Olmos. He was in Fire with Fire starring Bruce Willis and Curtis Jackson (more commonly known as 50 Cent) and he had a recurring role as Clyde on Common Law, a USA Network series, and Ringo on AMC Network’s Into the Badlands. Another recurring role is the character of D’Andre on the OWN Network’s Queen Sugar, produced by Oprah Winfrey.

As an actor, Myles understands that his roles often mimic real life, and it’s an opportunity to make a difference. Nowhere has that been more apparent than on his two most recent projects.

Shots Fired, the Fox network series that premiered in March, showcases a North Carolina town that is turned on its head when a black police officer shoots an unarmed white college student. Myles plays Leon Grant, the father whose son witnessed the shooting. The role is intense, and Myles takes it very seriously.

He also plays defense attorney Willis “Silk” Thompkins in the feature film Created Equal, directed by Bill Duke. Myles’ character is the brains of the firm and the best friend to lead actor Aaron Tveit’s character, Tommy Reilly. The film wrapped earlier this year and is currently touring the film festival circuit, including being an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie addresses the fight for religious and racial equality for a Catholic nun, who wants to become a priest in the Catholic church.

Photo courtesy Yohance Myles

Yohance Myles as Willis “Silk” Thompkins performs a scene in the feature film “Created Equal” with Lauren Helling as Jane Kennedy.

“Yohance is a very serious-minded, very driven young man,” said Tonea Stewart, Myles’ professor and adviser at Alabama State, who now serves as the dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the university.

Although Myles isn’t a Mississippi native, putting down roots here has been fruitful for him. He simply followed the advice of Stewart, a Greenwood native who has an impressive list of television and movie acting credits of her own, including A Time To Kill, Mississippi Burning, The Rosa Parks Story, Walker, Texas Ranger and In the Heat of the Night.

Photo courtesy of Yohance Myles

Actor and JSU professor Yohance Myles

After graduating from ASU, Myles earned his Master of Fine Arts at Louisiana State University. When he graduated in 2009, Myles decided to stick around Baton Rouge, because the film industry in Louisiana was doing so well.

“I thought I could find acting work there,” Myles said. “Instead, there was a major writers’ strike in Los Angeles, and that affected projects everywhere.”

He took a job as a shoe store manager in Baton Rouge, but he began to realize many actors in were taking teaching jobs as either professors or adjunct professors at colleges and universities.

Discouraged and frustrated, Myles called upon Stewart, and she reminded him that he was not only an actor, but an educator as well. Prior to teaching at ASU, Stewart had taught at Jackson State University for 20 years and started the theater program there. She encouraged Myles to apply for a teaching job in the JSU theater department.

Photo courtesy Yohance Myles

JSU professor Yohance Myles teaches his students to pursue their acting dreams.

“I applied in 2010 and got the job,” he said. “I guess you can say I had ties to Mississippi before I ever got here because of my relationship with Tonea.”

Stewart recognized Myles’ potential.

“Yohance is a leader — he can’t be in the presence of anyone and be aware of their issues and not want to help them,” Stewart said. “That’s where his teacher instinct comes in. When he was my student, he assisted me with my summer camps, and he still helps when he can. He loves to instill desire into others.”

Dr. Thomas Calhoun, associate vice president for academic affairs at JSU, said Myles is “one of the most celebrated actors from our theater department in terms of his success with professional acting.”

Calhoun said Myles is not only talented on the screen and on stage, but also in the classroom.

“He is able to get our students motivated and prepared for life beyond the classroom,” Calhoun said.

Myles worked a deal with JSU, which allows him to take leave if he lands a role in a film or television show. That has worked out well for him, because he has stayed busy with acting roles in both mediums.

Yohance Myles as D’Andre in the TV series Queen Sugar on OWN

“I tell people all the time to do research on the people who are teaching you,” Myles said. “I want them to Google me, and look me up on IMDb (Internet Movie Database, an online source of information related to films and TV) and to know that I’m serious about doing the same thing they want to do. I want to make sure the dynamic I have with my students is not only for me to teach them but to allow them to witness what I do as a working actor. That’s the practicality of it — seeing me do what I teach them to do is important.”

Much of the acting work Myles does is in New Orleans, but he often goes to Atlanta or flies to Los Angeles for roles.

“Acting is, in a way, like sports. I have a brother who plays for the Carolina Panthers and, just as in the NFL, I go to the audition and hopefully I’ll make the team,” he said. “But then I have to go back for a second audition and try to make the roster. The whole process has a unique dynamic to it.

“I’ve been fortunate to have recurring roles in a few shows, which is nice,” Myles said. “And being so close to New Orleans has been advantageous. I’m so used to driving back and forth now that it’s become commonplace for me.”

As he takes on more roles, he has become less star-struck but more humbled.

“I’m not going to say that I’m not impressed when I see Denzel Washington or Lou Diamond Phillips, because they are such amazing actors. I guess I’m just amazed by being in the room with such greatness. It’s a joyful and intense feeling, and I realize that I have to actually work to put my talent to use. I have come to realize that I’m not just working with Lou Diamond, but he’s working with me. I am humbled. And I don’t want to mess up. I guess what I’m saying is that you have to convert that youthful exuberance to a more professional approach.”

Myles said it’s a joy to come on set and see everyone, including the crew.

“You really get to know the crew members well and, as an actor, I realize there is no show without them,” he said. “I see some of the same crew members from show to show and it’s nice to see familiar faces when walking on to a new set.”

Photo courtesy of Yohance Myles

Yohance Myles

While he enjoys having his name roll on the credits of a television show or movie, Myles loves to act anywhere he can. He has been cast in productions at Jackson’s New Stage Theater and Fish Tales Theatre, as well as in productions at Jackson State.

When he’s not teaching aspiring actors, Myles spends his time with his family. He has five children, including a 1-year-old and a newborn at his home in Ridgeland. He is married to the former Kimberly Morgan, who was Miss Mississippi in 2007.

“I am a blessed man,” Myles said. “I don’t know that I can be any happier.”