Hard Work. Humility. Balance.: The Inner Workings of Michelle Lukes
Words + Interview By Krystal Luster
Award winner, food lover, Christmas enthusiast, nomad. These are just some ways to describe Michelle Lukes In this interview she sheds light on her versatile acting career, Hollywood controversy, the time she stepped into another reality and much more.
What was your upbringing like?
I had a very nomadic upbringing as my father was in the Army. We only really settled when I was 16 and by then I was already out of the family home. Years later I bought a flat in South East London and that became home until I moved to the United States.
Can you tell us about the Newton Blick Award that you won in 2007? You also won the Maverick Award last year, correct?
I trained at the Bristol Old Vic, a British institution. Fellow alumni includes Daniel Day Lewis, Jeremy Irons, Naomi Harris and Laura Carmichael (who was in my year). On graduating, the Newton Blick Award is presented to the actor or actress who shows the most versatility.
The Maverick Award is presented at the Action on Film International Film Festival to an individual who has made a significant contribution in their field. I received the award for my body of work as an actress.
What would you say is the biggest difference between stage acting and acting on television? Is there one you prefer over the other? Why?
There are so may differences between acting for stage and screen and I love both. However, theater is possibly the most rewarding from a creative perspective. There is more time, you get the luxury of rehearsal and ultimately you have the most control over your performance. In television, I’ve seen performances that weren’t there on the day miraculously transform in the edit suite. This can work out in your favor or not.
In the BBC soap opera, Doctors (2009-2011), you played Lisa Torres. Was it difficult adjusting to the ups and downs of this character’s story?
Lisa Torres was a gift of a role. Although I was a relatively experienced actress at the time, I hadn’t done much television at all. The days were fast and the storylines were epic. I fondly refer to my time on the show as my “baptism of fire”. I really learned a lot on that job and thankfully my co-stars (and crew) were incredibly forgiving! In terms of the material, I approached each storyline with enthusiasm and gusto knowing that I was just going to give everything my best shot. Actors can go a whole career without getting the chance to play a role with such emotional diversity and I knew that.
Tell us about Cinemax’s “Strike Back” (2011-2015).
“Strike Back” launched Cinemax’s original programming in 2011 and ran for four dynamite seasons. It’s an action show starring Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester and I played series regular Julia Richmond alongside the boys for the entire run. Richmond started out as the Chief Communications Officer, which essentially means being desk bound but acting as the eyes and ears of the field operatives. However, by the end of season one she was wielding an M4 in “The Crib” and by season two she was out with boys kicking ass. When the show ended it was so sorely missed that HBO/Cinemax have recently rebooted the franchise with a new team.
Was this the original character that you auditioned for?
Julia is the role I originally auditioned for but the character transformed with me over the years into something quite different from what was originally intended. I’m incredibly lucky to have been part of a collaborative team who trusted me enough to take the lead.
Tell us about “The Lost Legion” (2017) and your character in the film?
“The Lost Legion” was a trip. I made the movie in Prague whilst on hiatus from filming Strike Back, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. At this point I’d been playing Richmond for several years and jumped at the chance to take on a different role. I expected it to be a kooky little movie that no one saw but it turned out to be much more visible than anyone had anticipated. Think “The Room” but on a smaller scale. It’s set in Ancient Rome and I play the villain which was a welcome change to the work I was doing for Cinemax. I really had a lot of fun with it!
You have lent your vocal talents to Microsoft’s “Halo 5: Guardians” (2015), Sony’s Playstation 4’s “Masquerada: Songs and Shadows” (2016), and Google’s Daydream, a virtual reality platform for their game “Fire Escape” (2017). Have you played any of these video games?
I’m actually not a gamer at all. In fact, I can barely send an email so I’m completely bewildered by the sophisticated technology that surrounds these games. I did try a couple of VR goggles (are they even called that?!) last year and that rocked my world! I had no idea what I was doing but found myself mesmerized by the detail. VR really does transport you to a different time and place.
What do your musical talents consist of?
My musical talents are modest and have become more so over time. Like everything, if you don’t practice you get rusty! I am naturally musical though and played the cello and the piano growing up. I also sing. The first half of my career was spent in London’s West End (England’s Broadway) doing musical theater, so it was always more than just a hobby.
Which musical did you enjoy acting in the most?
I loved my time as a singer/dancer. There really is nothing that comes close to the exhilaration of nailing complex choreography whilst singing with a live orchestra to thousands of people staring back at you. CATS was my first job and an amazing experience. The choreography is still some of the most challenging out there and well, you get to pretend to be a cat. I’m also obsessed with Bob Fosse so working with Ann Reinking on Chicago and Fosse was life changing.
What are your thoughts on the sexual assault allegations spreading in Hollywood?
This is an incredibly sensitive subject and one that I feel fiercely about. I’m not referring to sexual assault within the confines of Hollywood, I’m talking about sexual assault period. I feel incredibly sad that until recently, women felt powerless to ask for help because we as a community first ask, “Do you think she’s telling the truth?” This is not ok and I firmly believe that “facilitators” should be held equally accountable for these atrocities. Yes, there will always be a few who “cry wolf” but this is not the majority. We should absolutely be working together to foster a safe and supportive space for victims of abuse to find solace without fear of being condemned.
If you had 3 wishes, excluding being able to wish for more wishes, what would you wish for?
This one is a tough one. I would wish for more time. There are so many things I want to do in this life and the quickening of time has put an end to certain possibilities. Extra time would also give me more days, minutes and even seconds to spend with the people I love. My second wish would be to travel more. These experiences feed my soul and I’m feeling starved. My final wish would be contentment. We’re so conditioned to be constantly seeking what’s next instead of being at peace with where we are and what we have. It’s exhausting.
Tell us somewhere you would love to travel to if you could drop everything and go.
There are so many places on my bucket list but up there at the top is riding the Trans-Siberian Express. I’d start in Moscow, travel through Mongolia and end up in China. A friend of mine did it and stayed with local families along the way. That’s the way to do it.
Do you enjoy the attention that comes with fame?
Unfortunately, when you’re in the public eye you have to take the good with the bad. For the most part, I’ve had really positive experiences with people, but it’s always the cruel few who leave the biggest mark. I’ve endured some serious trolling on social media over the years and it’s hard not to let it upset you even if the “grown up” in you knows it’s just plain silly.
What is your favorite home-cooked meal? Are you the cook in the family?
I LOVE my food and although I’m a pretty decent cook it always tastes better when someone else has made it, right?! My mum is Chinese and her soy sauce chicken is pretty bomb, but you also can’t beat an English roast dinner. My specialty at the moment is Moussaka.
What project are you most excited about for 2018?
I have several features in pre-production for 2018 but there’s one particular script that was written for me and I play the title role. This is a first for me and I look forward to the challenge that comes with this responsibility.
Contact Michelle Lukes on Twitter + IG @shellylukes.
Photo By Jean Marie Biele