Brandon Micheal Hall
God Friended Me Meet
Brandon Micheal Hall
It’s not unusual for someone to get a request on social media asking them to accept the sender on their site as a “friend.” What is unusual is for that message-sending friend to be God. Such is the story line of the new television show, God Friended Me, that embarks on a journey with key characters wondering if it’s all just a big hoax; especially the lead, Miles Finer, an outspoken atheist who is the son of a preacher. As episodes continue to unfold, viewers are drawn into the investigation of who this “God” sender is that leads Miles and other cast members down a path of twists and turns that inadvertently helps others in need. Brandon Micheal Hall plays the role of Miles who, according to Hall, share similarities concerning the understanding of faith. Growing up with a mother who is a preacher, Hall took time to share with Risen about his upbringing, his own questioning of faith and why this new role is so important to him.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: You were raised in South Carolina, and I understand that your mom was a preacher. What did your family dynamic and upbringing look like?
Brandon Micheal Hall: I grew up with my mom being a preacher, and having her honestly have to battle her way into the church, especially being in a Southern denomination; they weren’t really accepting of having a woman as a preacher. She barely could even say the announcements, know what I mean? So, I watched my mom take her own opportunities and open them for herself. She started her own church, her own ministry, and has been practicing that for almost ten years. I got to witness that type of resilience and that type of ownership within the church too which definitely impacted my take on acting. With this project [God Friended Me], we want people to feel as if they are having an opportunity to watch someone not convert, but someone open to other religions and other spiritualties and beliefs, to be able to sit down and have a conversation with someone and recognize that everyone has something amazing to bring to the table. That’s what all of the teachings, or the ones that are actually helpful, that’s what they’re about. They’re teaching about hope, they’re teaching about light, they’re teaching about positivity and are uplifting. That’s what I want people to take away, because that’s what my mom preaches at her pulpit.
So yes, I was brought up in the church and I stayed in the church most of the time. We would leave Sunday and we would start at church at 9 a.m. and wind up going to North Carolina and Georgia, and come back home at one in the morning. I had to bring my homework with me and then go to school the next day. So, we stayed in the church on Sundays. Which is so interesting, that we also got the Sunday slot [timeslot for God Friended Me] it kinda comes full circle for me, which is really cool.
RM: Spending so much time in the church growing up, what was your faith like then, and how has it solidified or shifted as you’ve become an adult?
BMH: For me, growing up in the church, it was very challenging. I say that because I have a rebellious spirit. I’m one who likes to question things, I don’t take everything at face value. I would ask my mom and I would ask the preachers, “This means this, a friend does this, or he believes in this, so does that mean this is gonna happen?” No one could ever really give me direct answers. So, for a long time, I started to adapt this kind of idea of this is what it is. Take it for what it is and don’t question it. Don’t have an opinion about it. Just own it and speak it into the truth.
I did that for a long time. I had the reverence, I had the respect, the honor, and I quoted scripture and such. Then I moved to New York. And the world just went, whoa. When I was living in The Heights, my apartment was next to a Jewish synagogue, a Presbyterian church, and then there was a liquor store. It was like, what is happening right here? This is crazy. But what blew my mind is that I would see them all going to their designated churches. They would have their service, loud, playing their music, preaching, and I would see them disperse and they would never really talk to each other. I didn’t understand why. Why is that the case when they’re right next door and the only thing separating them from understanding each other or talking to each other is a wall?
For me, growing up in the church, it was very challenging. I say that because I have a rebellious spirit. I’m one who likes to question things, I don’t take everything at face value.
I think I started questioning again when I moved to New York because it’s such a diverse city, but people are still feeling so disconnected. When I was approached with this God Friended Me opportunity, I sat there and I looked at the script and I was like, “Oh, this is exactly what I need in my life right now. I need to see the world through a perspective that is completely 180 from mine.” My character is an atheist, which is completely 180-degree difference than my own real-life perspective.
What I did to get prepared for the role was for the first month, I stopped praying. I stopped praying over my meals, I stopped praying when I woke up in the morning, I stopped praying before I went to bed… and I tell you, I thought the walls of Jericho were going to come tumbling down. I thought lightning was going to strike me. I was so nervous. And then you know, everything was fine. It was then I started to understand what my grandmother used to tell me all the time, which is, “You can only go so long on Grandmama’s prayers. At some point in time, you have to build your own relationship and have your own understanding of who God is.” So that’s what I’m in the process of doing; taking in the place where my character Miles is because of this tragic thing that happened in his life, and then having my own experience and trying to merge the two. So that’s my evolving right now while working on this role and every day I’m discovering something new.
RM: You mentioned living in New York and that is because you graduated from Julliard in 2015. How did your passion for acting develop? Where did that come from?
BMH: My passion for acting really developed growing up in the church. I watched preachers all the time, and I would watch how they electrified the audience, and how the audience was attentive, and they would go off for a week and then they’d come back and do it all again. I was like, “I want to be in that position. He looks like a mover and a shaker, that looks really cool.”
I’m what they call an introvert-extrovert. I enjoy thinking and taking my time, but I also enjoy getting up and expressing and telling stories; I’ve always been that way. When I went to the South Carolina Governor’s School [for the Arts and Humanities], that just enhanced it for me. It was a group of teachers, and I was around a group of theater students, and for some strange reason, they were all just like me. It was so interesting. When I got to the Gov School, I was surrounded by it [acting]. And not just theater, but music, and creative writing, and visual arts. Everything that makes up the entire theater, I was surrounded by it. And I got the opportunity to take advantage of it.
That’s when it started to spark again, being around so many creative artists who were passionate about what they did and how I found my own way to play into that world, and I found my voice in it. And I’ve been using it ever since.
RM: On the show, your character keeps saying that there is no God to others, but deep down it’s like he really knows differently because he’s experienced just enough evidence to counter that belief. When in your own life have you experienced something that’s just unexplainable?
BMH: Two weeks before I went to the Governor’s School, I was walking home with my friends and my cousin. We were walking home and we got stopped by a cop. Supposedly there’s this law in Anderson [South Carolina] that you can’t walk in front of public areas after a certain time. Anyway, we get stopped. Yeah, it was crazy town. We get stopped and he [the officer] lets us go, and then another cop stops us, but this time this cop wasn’t that nice, he had a dog and all this other stuff, and we were being called very slanderous names. It escalated very, very quickly. And I was literally right across the street from my house. When he phoned in the other officer that had stopped us earlier, the officer said, “Okay, just let them go, I know who these kids are, they’re fine, let them walk home.” I walk home and the cop follows me all the way to my house. I get upstairs, I look out the window, and he’s backing out of the driveway, and he drives off.
So, the next year, I’m at the South Carolina Governor’s School, and I get the opportunity to play a real-life character, Reverend Nelson Johnson. In 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, there was a massacre that happened, and it was versus these, what would you call, revolutionary leaders for the workers’ union versus the KKK [white supremacy group]. And these workers’ unions, they got shot at and all these things happened. Lo and behold, we got the opportunity to tell their story, and I got to meet the Reverend Nelson Johnson who told me the same incident about walking home had happened to him when he was sixteen before he went away to college. And I’ll never forget him saying that.
It’s those moments right there, that always reminds you why you do what you do. Because it’s these stories that people have to hear, and these are the stories that people have to understand. And I was able to tell his story, years later after his incident that he survived. That’s where I found a moment where my faith had fluctuated, because I got to find my ground in this again, after he told me his story. I’ll never forget that.
RM: The concept of the show is fantastic and we definitely need more programming that promotes kindness, serving, putting others above self and creating space for the conversation of faith. Speak to the themes in God Friended Me.
BMH: With God Friended Me, the show is trying to give you a sliver of light, a sliver of hope. That’s our main objective, there is so much stuff that is going on in the world, there is so much turmoil, so much hatred, and so much negativity that is being pushed out. This is something that you can actually watch with your kids and have a conversation, day to day to day. It’s like going to church. It’s exactly what I said I wanted to do, what that preacher was doing, I’m able to give that to a community of people that tunes in every Sunday. We’re trying to bring something where the family can come together, other than just watching the news, and watch something that’s positive, and it’s going to uplift and bring some type of light to a family. If we reach at least one family, I think we’ve done our job.
We’re trying to bring something where the family can come together, other than just watching the news, and watch something that’s positive, and it’s going to uplift and bring some type of light to a family.
RM: In the show, Miles has a podcast and he is thrilled at the idea of getting it on a national platform, but he learns that comes at a price. How have you been able to navigate your career while keeping personal integrity?
BMH: I think you have got to keep your friends and family around you; people that keep you grounded. For a long time I didn’t really understand what that means, but the more that you work and the more that you’re surrounded by people that become your “yes” men, the people that become your pat-on-the-back-good-jobbers, the more you realize you need those people that say, “Hey, you know, you kinda did bad on this.” You know what I mean? You have to get those people that will be real enough to tell you, “Forget about the rest of the stuff, are you really actually being one hundred percent honest?” And I have people in my life that keep me honest. So that’s what keeps me grounded. I enjoy the fact that there’s promotions and stuff like that out, but for me, I didn’t go to school for it, I didn’t go to school to be a celebrity, I don’t know what that means. I know what it looks like. But I don’t know the game that comes with it. I went to school to be an artist, so I’m going to be one of those. Just honest, as much as possible.
And also, laughing at yourself. That’s the best. Laughing at yourself and maintaining a sense of humor is the biggest thing to keep you grounded; because if you can watch yourself and still have a sense of play behind it, everything else falls around it.
RM: From watching the show, doing research and even just our conversation now, it seems like there are a lot of similarities between you Brandon, and your character Miles. It almost seems like the role was written for you. Did the writers purposely try to draw on aspects of your life, or do you have the freedom to inform your character and adapt him as you navigate through these episodes? Where do you see the lines blur?
BMH: Oh absolutely. Brian and Stephen, the creators on the show, they basically just had the idea first, and then they wound up getting a script a couple weeks later. But they are the type of writers that want to be as authentic as possible. They sat down and had a conversation with me, and the others and just talked to us. During the pilot, we hung out ninety-eight percent of the time off-set. We all just hung out and did karaoke. The next episode has karaoke in it. This past episode I played the piano because in the pilot, there was a piano in the corner, and I just started playing it on set, so they wrote it in. They’re playing directly to all of our strengths, which I think that’s just smart. It’s smart and it’s easier for them because they know that we’re going to drop into those characters so much quicker than if we’re trying to create some type of idea of who these characters are.
RM: And lastly, I don’t want to ignore how much social media actually plays within the show. It’s funny and it’s smart, and I like how it’s incorporated through story but then also visually, to introduce characters into Miles’ world. It seems like you use social media to actually connect with your fans and respond to them, rather than just put posts out. So how do you view the platform?
BMH: When I was working with Yvette Nicole Brown on The Mayor, she is so heavily into Twitter and social media, I asked, “How do you navigate this, what do you do? How do you make sure that your content is exactly what you want to do,” She said, “It’s all about where you try to lead your audience.” For me, I’m a personal type of person. I don’t like the idea of having a separation of celebrity and whoever the other guy is. And I think that comes from living in New York, and riding the train. Everyone’s the same. I don’t mind taking out the time to respond because if I had DM’d [direct messaged] Denzel Washington, I would hope he’d do the same thing for me [and answer my comment]. It just makes you feel good to know that that separation isn’t there.