I Run This is a weekly interview series that highlights Black women and femmes who do dope shit in entertainment and culture while creating visibility, access and empowerment for those who look like them. Read my Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins interview here.
Simone Missick’s rise has been amazing to watch.
Many fans fell in love with the Detroit-born actor, who started her acting journey as a theater arts minor at Howard University, as Misty Knight in “The Defenders.” She reprised the role in “Iron Fist” and in the series famous for breaking Netflix in 2016, “Luke Cage.” Missick proved then to be a force.
Currently, she’s in the third season of her first leading television role on “All Rise.” In the show, she stars as Lola Carmichael, the hopeful judge dedicated to making the justice system more equitable while still living a messy, often chaotic and complicated life. As she takes the bench to rule on decisions around police brutality, sexual violence and immigration, one of the most compelling things about the show is that it allows its lead to be human.
“I love playing smart and capable women who excel at what they do professionally, but I think a lot of times, we expect for those characters not to be flawed,” Missick said. “We expect for their mistakes and their missteps to be ones that we’re OK with, because we might have made them. That is the gift of Lola in a lot of ways.”
Despite a loyal fanbase, CBS canceled the legal drama in May 2021 after plenty of drama behind the scenes. Missick said she was disappointed about the news, but chalked it up to the nature of the game. But after a petition and support from Oprah Winfrey herself — who happened to be on a vision board Missick made years ago — the show found a new home on OWN in September 2021. And that came with a new title for Missick: executive producer. She called the alignment “kismet.”
“I’m thankful for the cancellation, because I wouldn’t have been able to become an executive producer,” the 40-year-old actor said. “I wouldn’t have been able to work with OWN. I wouldn’t have been able to say that Oprah Winfrey is my boss. We see our favorite shows get canceled. We see things not come back. We see them not give those characters or storylines their full due, but it’s called show business. That business part of it is very, very, very impactful to the art that we get to make.”
Missick breaks down “All Rise,” her new role as executive producer and the perfect, yet unexpected timing of her journey in TV and film.
You’ve been able to really level up and take “All Rise” to another level. Not only with it finding a new home on OWN, but you’re also an executive producer. How does it feel this season, especially, given the journey that you’ve been on with this show?
It feels as if it’s truly my show. There is something to being the lead of a show. People say it’s your show, but it’s certainly quite an ensemble. I have an amazing group of actors that I get to work with for these past three seasons. But being in this new executive producer role allows me to take care of them in a way that feels right. It allows me to have a real say in some of the things, some of the storylines and some of the ways in which we approach the season. Also, give whatever I can in terms of insight for directors and actors that we end up working with. It just makes it truly feel like a complete creative process.
A lot of times as actors, we get scripts. I’m not saying that this is this show, but you go, now, why are they doing this? You don’t know the end goal. You don’t know the arc that they have for the story or for your character. For this, I have a fuller picture in order to try to help the show just succeed in a way that I believe that we all have that hope for it to do. Especially on OWN and with that network being a very woman-centered, a very Black woman-centered network. To be able to walk in that door as an executive producer, alongside Dee Harris-Lawrence, who is our showrunner, feels like we are being very intentional for that OWN audience, while still making sure that the “All Rise” audience that fell in love with us on CBS is taken care of as well. That they’re getting the storylines that they want, because I’ve been there and she’s been there since the very beginning. It just feels so right. It feels like, short of having walked in the door as an executive producer, this is the best way to go about it.
What were some of the differences with “All Rise” being on CBS versus OWN? What boundaries have you been able to push and topics have you been able to explore now that you weren’t able to before?
I don’t necessarily think it was a matter of not being able to explore a topic. Our second episode was about ICE. We confronted, head-on, police brutality. We confronted the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter and everything that was happening in our country in 2020. From COVID to inequities within the health care system. It’s not that I don’t think that we were able to explore those topics on CBS. I just feel there is a freedom in the way that we explore them on OWN.
The way that we are able to talk about a woman being a stripper and then show her at work [on OWN]. And have it just be a part of telling the story, because that is a real profession that deserves to have that story highlighted. We can talk about sexual assault and consent and the blurred lines that exist and share what those text message exchanges are between the two parties in a way that’s very real and honest. That’s the freedom of cable TV, so that is the part that is a little jarring for some of our fans. I know for certain that having the ability to use more colorful language and for our characters to have a little less clothes on is surprising, but thankfully they’re all along for the ride.
You said it feels like it’s your show. Did it just begin feeling like that in this season? Or did you feel like that while you all were at CBS?
In terms of the show feeling more like my show, when you have a real voice, you automatically have an ownership of something. The first two seasons, my opinions were certainly held. I shared them. They were listened to, but I didn’t know all of the ins and outs. I wasn’t asked to be in on casting. I wasn’t asked to look at the edits and the cuts and make sure that we were all telling the story in a real way, in an exceptional way, which I think that we really do from our music to our costumes, to our hair and makeup department.
I feel like our show, we are just operating at the highest level. I feel people are very happy to go to work. Thus, they are giving their best. I just get to see the way that it’s made. To add in whatever little spice that I can.
We’re getting ready to start Episode 19, which is being directed by Nijla Mumin, who I worked on my first feature film that I produced. I wasn’t the only producer. She was obviously the writer and director and producer of that film. But her film that we did together, “Jinn” …
I love “Jinn” so much.
Thank you so much. So do I. The journey that film took and where she was able to take it. The awards that it won and the recognition that it received. That was the first project that I got to produce on. This time around, for me to be able to say, we need to work with this amazing director. For her to be available to direct our second-to-last episode ... that’s the epitome of what producing on this show feels like.
Knowing that I get to bring in people that I’ve worked with, or people whose work I’ve admired. And say, see if this schedule works out, see if they can join us this season.
The same thing happened with Neema Barnette, who I’ve worked with on “Luke Cage.” Dee and I were like, we would really love to work with her. She was able to do two episodes with us this season. Another director, Lionel Coleman, who was a fan of the show, was singing the show’s praises, while working on another project with someone that I knew. That person said, “Hey, you should really check this guy out. He’s a really lovely director.” I sent his name along. He met with our producing director, Michael Robin. Lionel came on and did an amazing job.
We have had just a beautiful array of male and female directors of color. To be able to have our fellow crew members — from Wilson [Bethel], who’s a fellow lead on the show, to Martina Lee, who works in our editing department, to D’Antonio Alvarez, who is the head of our post product department — to have them direct episodes, it feels like I’m a part of watching people’s careers continue to level up and take it to the next level.
Lola Carmichael’s story is so relevant: a Black judge, who isn’t afraid to rock the boat to make the system more equitable, but also doesn’t have it all together and is very human and messy at times. Especially in the age of Ketanji Brown Jackson, I’m wondering, what does it mean to you to play this role for three seasons?
I love playing strong characters. I love playing smart and capable women who excel at what they do professionally. But I think, a lot of times, we expect for those characters not to be flawed. We expect for their mistakes and their missteps to be ones that we’re OK with, because we might have made them. That is the gift of Lola in a lot of ways. That the decisions that she makes from the bench are ones that, if I were a judge, would stand behind. I would hope that if I ever had to be in front of a judge, someone would be as thoughtful and creative. See that the human being in front of them in the way that Lola prides herself in doing.
We know that our justice system is inequitable towards Black people or people of color and poor people and women in ways that other white American citizens don’t have that same experience. Wealthy Americans don’t have that experience. That’s the beauty of Lola. To be able to offer hope to people who watch legal shows, where primarily it’s the unfairness of a system that is highlighted. The show is hopeful in that way, which I love. Yet, because we are tackling these very real and present and current issues, we are able to highlight some of the challenges. That I’m sure judges and lawyers, who are Black and brown and especially women in this country, face.
I can only imagine what Ketanji Brown Jackson has had to overcome professionally in order to ascend to this highest honor. What she will continue to have to face. I think that it is a wonderful thing for men and women and children to see her in this office. To see that she has achieved this level of greatness. And then to also turn on the television and see that trajectory started somewhere. That it started in a character perhaps similar to Lola, so you can say that this is real. This is possible.
Sometimes, we think that making television can feel like it’s in a vacuum and it’s just entertainment. But I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve gotten messages from people who say, now I want to be a judge. Or, now I want to be a lawyer. Or, I’m going to stay in law school. Or, this is helping me get through undergrad. Because I know that this is my trajectory. This has helped me discover that maybe this is what I want to do. Or, I go to work every day as a lawyer and a judge. Thank you for this show. It just feels like it’s necessary. In a time where every time you turn on your computer or your phone and you read a news article, it’s another way in which justice is being ripped from the hands of everyday citizens.
I think that’s why, especially when it got canceled from CBS, it got that gut reaction from fans. In a similar way that, when Netflix canceled “Luke Cage,” it was shocking. Going from “Luke Cage” being canceled to “All Rise” being canceled, where was your head before OWN picked it up? Where was your spirit?
I believe God for the ultimate good in every situation. I don’t think I could be an actor, if I didn’t have that faith, because less than 1% of actors make a living as actors, solely. I recognize the huge blessings that I have in my life. Not only to be on a show like “Luke Cage,” for that to be my first real opportunity and real exposure to the industry. For that show to be as successful and as loved as it was, to then go to “Altered Carbon,” which was another show that was loved and had such a cult following.
CBS had been around decades. With “All Rise,” I was the first Black woman to lead a show on that network. I can’t write it better than that. For it to be canceled, I just thought the same thing I thought with “Luke Cage,” which was, OK, God, what’s next? Where are you leading me? I would never have imagined that it was going to be to OWN. That I was then going to become an executive producer. It is literally the epitome of when one door closes, another one opens. That’s the way that I approach my career, because nothing lasts forever.
I have to believe that around the corner is something better. It might not be for my career at all times. It might be for life. Maybe I need to step back and spend more time with my family or travel more, get my health in order. Or start writing and producing my own things. I can’t hold on to what I currently have without knowing that I have to be available and open to what might come next. I would never have written that this is the way Oprah would’ve been manifested from my vision board that I made three years ago. I wouldn’t. She’s been on there. I didn’t know that this was how it was going to come together.
I’m just thankful in this moment to be wrapping up the end of this season of filming it. To be really proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve given the fans. I think that we are far exceeding their expectations in a lot of ways with this new partnership. I’m thankful for it.
You’ve talked about how the timeline you mentally set for yourself in this career didn’t line up to what was actually happening. What’s been your biggest takeaway when it comes to trusting your own process, even when it isn’t always how you envisioned?
I am so thankful for the way that it lined up. I couldn’t have written better than this. I couldn’t have. Certainly when I moved to LA, I was 23 years old. I thought, in five years I’m going to be successful, super successful, like crazy. That didn’t happen. I’m so thankful for it. Who knows where I would’ve been, if that would’ve happened. Who knows what missteps and mistakes I would’ve taken personally, let alone in my career. When it doesn’t line up the way you envision, that’s not always a bad thing.
I certainly remember seeing billboards with my face on it. People sending me those photos from buses and from Times Square. There was an “All Rise” billboard. If it had all worked out when I was 28, it wouldn’t have happened. That would not have been. I couldn’t have written it any better. I’m super, super happy with the way that my life is lining up.
The mid-season finale of “All Rise” airs on OWN on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.