Even before she started popping up all over television when she was
barely in her teens, Megalyn Echikunwoke had lived a fascinating,
As a child, Echikunwoke (the name means ďleader of menĒ) grew up on a
remote Indian Reservation Ė despite the fact that neither of her parents
were Native American. Her father was Nigerian, her mother an American
of European descent. In fact her grandfather is a Nigerian tribal chief
Ė making her technically royalty Ė but there is nothing haughty about
this talented young actress.
Echikunwoke was only fourteen when she was plucked from obscurity to
play a lead role in the mini-series The Creature Ė based on a
novel by Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws. This led to an
escalating series of high-profile roles, playing the daughter of the
President in the first season of 24, Hydeís long-lost half-sister
in That 70s Show and the daughter in the Holly Robinson-Peete
sitcom Like Family. However, she really opened eyes with two
seasons as Isabelle Tyler Ė the all-powerful evil being on the
cult-favorite sci-fi series The 4400.
She barely had time to catch her breath after the end of that series
before she was tapped as the new coroner on the popular cop series
CSI: Miami Ė a role which was recently upgraded from recurring to a
series regular. She is also in two upcoming films which are working the
festival circuit, Who Do You Love? And Fix.
Recently, Megalyn was nice enough to give us a call to discuss her
career and her life.
You grew up on a
Navajo reservation even though neither of your parents was Native
American. That must have been an interesting way to grow up. How did
that come about and what was that like?
It was a very interesting way to grow up Ė interesting in the best
possible way. My mom is a nurse. She worked for the Indian
Health Service. She also always had an affinity for Native American
culture as well. She got this opportunity to go to work on a
reservation. We were only ever supposed to stay for like two years or
something like that. Then, she liked it so much and it ended up being
such a safe and great place to be, [so] we just stayed.
did you know that you wanted to act?
You know, I think it definitely started at a very young age. Probably
started when anything Iíd hear, anything I would watch, I would mimic.
I started being a mimic and I was always very dramatic. Anytime I heard
someone with an accent I would instantly try to emulate it. I think it
started with a kind of sensibility for the performing arts. I just
always kind of had it without knowing that I wanted to be an actor or
that I would be. As I got older, I just always did it. When I was on
the reservation, because it was so remote I didnít really have an outlet
for it. The schools, we had basic things but we didnít have any extra Ė
like we didnít have a dance studio and we didnít have a big theater
department or anything like that. I never really had an outlet
there until I was in band class. We did have a music department and
I was thinking I donít want to be boredÖ
because there really isnít a lot to do so far from everything.
(chuckles) I grew up not having been to a mall until I was like
ten. The mall is like five hours away. The movie theater is like three
hours away. So there wasnít a whole lot to do (laughs) except
for enjoy nature and read or something. I saw a poster for this arts
academy at my band class and so I applied. I went and did a theater
workshop here in California Ė at Idlewild Arts Academy. While I was
there I got selected to do a monologue. I did a little musical theater
thingÖ the performance you do at the end of the workshop. The person
who is still my manager today was in the audience watching and was
interested in me. He pursued me and I started auditioning by videotape
and then eventually got a job.
You mentioned band
class and musical theater. I was reading you are also a singer. Is
that something that you are pursuing professionally as well, or has the
acting sort of taken over?
Well, the acting has taken over in a way, just because unless you have
all the resources at your fingertips, itís kind of hard to wage war on
more than a few fronts at one time. (chuckles) Itís so funny,
Iím only just now barely starting to think: oh, maybe I am kind of
emerging Ė coming into my adult self Ė (laughs) even though Iím
well past the child cutoff. Iím not eighteen anymore. Now that Iím
sort of older and getting a handle on my acting, I really would love to
really start putting more energy into my music. I love to sing. Iíve
always done it. It makes me really happy, so Iíd definitely like to
early years while you were still living in Arizona, you would audition
via videotape and only come up to LA for important interviews. When did
it become obvious to you and your family that you needed to be in LA?
It was pretty shortly after I did my first job. My manager [said] for
practical reasons Ė I was working and I was making money and I was
flying back and forth. And my mom was ready for a change in her career
and everything. So we just did it. We all just moved.
first job Ė was that the miniseries of
Peter Benchleyís The
How did you get that
job and what was it like as such a young actress working on a major
Oh my God, it was a dream come true. Mind you, I had no comparison. I
had never lived in the big city, so when I got the job, I didnít know
what it meant, really. I didnít really know what it meant to be an
actor. Living in LA. I didnít know anything. I was just like, okay,
Iím just going with the flow. Iím not going to question it.
(laughs) It ended up being, to this day one of my best location
experiences. It was kind of like a fairytale because I was like
fourteen years old, living on a reservation, had never been in a limo.
I donít know if Iíd ever even seen one. This limo comes to pick me up
in the little doctorís compound where we lived Ė it comes in,
itís like this big thing and everyoneís like, ďWhat!?Ē I drive to
Phoenix and I take a first class flight to St. Lucia. (laughs)
I spent two months in the Caribbean and then I go to Canada and spend a
month there. It was really pretty dreamy. I had never really traveled,
The first time I
remember seeing you Ė and many people would Ė was on
24 when you played the daughter of the fictional first
black President. At the time, that storyline seemed so daring, now
several years later, it has really happened. How cool is that?
Itís so cool. Oh, my God, Iím still pinching myself. Every day, Iíll
see a new photo and Iíll take a moment and say: okay, we did that.
As one of very few
people in the world who has even close to any of the same kind of
First Daughter experience as
Obama's daughters Ė do you
have any advice for them?
Oh, wow. Well first of all Iím envious. (laughs) Iím so
envious I can barelyÖ it makes me want to spit, Iím so envious. No, Iím
not really envious. I just hope that they will learn from their mother
and maintain their humility, but also stay curious and proactive about
their lives and take responsibility for the position that they have.
Really keep the legacy going. Change the world with their father. Heís
the first black President. Heís got three amazing black women around
him. Thatís pretty powerful. Weíre in store for several generations of
powerful black women in this country, which is something that is long
of your major recurring roles have been in dramas, but as a guest star
you have done comedies like
The Steve Harvey
Show, What I Like About You and That 70s Show. Do you enjoy
comedy? Is that something youíd like to try more?
Absolutely. I love comedy. I love, love, love, love comedy. I also
did a TV show Ė a WB series for a year called Like Family with
Holly Peete. I had done a lot of guest star stuff and recurring stuff
and then I did that for a whole year. I really learned a lot about
comedy and sitcoms. Itís really like a whole other medium. Thereís a
whole other technique to it. I find it just as gratifying. Itís
actually a lot more like theater than anything else. Itís just as
gratifying as doing drama. I would love to do more theater. If
I was lucky enough to get on a great show Ė like 30 Rock or
The Office or something like that Ė that would be dreamy.
Iíve been catching up
The 4400 lately,
so Iíve been trying not to ask any questions that might get you mad at
me or anything.
Whatís it like to
play the personification of limitless, powerful evil?
Oh itís always way more fun to play a villain than it is to play
the good guy. It was a treat, because I had only ever been allowed
to play someoneís daughter or someoneís
sweet youngÖ you know, always the straight man. I got to be the villain
in that. Always more interesting, I think.
Your last name means
ďleader of men.Ē Did that make the role of Isabelle seem kind of a
natural for you?
Oh, yeah! Oh yeah. You know, I throw that around on dates and things
like that as well, to remind peopleÖ. (laughs) No, itís kind of
a fun thing.
In your second season
of the show, when Isabelle lost her powers, you got to show the more
human, insecure side of the character. Was it fun to explore that level
Yeah, it was fun to take that character on that arc Ė from utter,
reckless abandon and malevolence to kind of finding herself and becoming
a human being and caring about people.
The 4400 and now
CSI: Miami, you have come on board a show which is established
for a while. Is it difficult getting the hang of it when you are the
new person in a cast which has been together for a while?
Yes, definitely. It definitely takes a second. With CSI, Iím
still sort of getting the hang of it. Itís such a
demanding role in terms of the subject matter that Iím dealing withÖ the
medical jargon and stuff like that. That takes a second to get the hang
of. But it really depends on the cast and the production environment.
Iíve been lucky enough to work with really great casts. Everyone is
really welcoming. David Caruso is really supportive and welcoming as
Caruso is such a good actor, but his character is always so serious and
dour. You hear those stories of the problems he had early on in his
career with his co-stars in
NYPD Blue, but Iíve only heard good things from
castmates on the new show. What is he like to work with?
Oh heís great. He definitely knows exactly what heís doing, exactly
what he wants. Itís his show. Heís very instrumental in creating the
tone of the show. Itís kind of like his deal.
Actually itís nice
working with him, because heís so assured. He knows exactly what heís
doing. Where heís going. Why. What. It makes things move a
lot quicker. Heís also a part of the behind the scenes as well.
You are essentially
taking the place of Khandi Alexanderís character. Is it sort of
intimidating to replace such a well-liked actress?
Yes. That is another thing that can take a little while to kind of get
over, because also you have to answer to the fans. When youíre
replacing someone, itís like youíre just setting yourself up for
inevitable scrutiny and judgment from the fans. That happens and thatís
to be expected. But Iím a different character, so there is that. I
think it will take a while, probably, for the fans to warm up to me
In the few episodes
Iíve seen of your work on
CSI, so far they
havenít given all that much background on Tara beyond her work. Are you
looking forward to exploring some more of the levels of her life? Maybe
that will open people up to her more.
I think thatís the idea. Itís just taking a second to incorporate me
and also Iím not a CSI, which makes it a little bit more difficult to
incorporate me and my backstory. But, yes, I am looking forward to
that. I think that theyíve got some interesting things in store for my
character. Thatís probably part of the problem, it just takes a while
to get that going.
Have you talked with
the producers to work out Taraís backstory and some of the things that
may be coming down the line for her?
Yeah, weíve talked about it a little bit. Iíve heard some things. I
think actually this next episode I might have some interesting things
going on. Theyíve assured me that there is going to be some juicy stuff
coming up, so Iím excited.
is an ideal storyline youíd love to see Tara in?
It would be interesting Ė because I spend so much time in autopsies in
my office Ė to be caught in the crossfire in
some way. Maybe become a victim. Not die, obviously (laughs)
but maybe be caught up in one of the crimes in some way. It would be
kind of interesting. Not in a bad way, but in a good way.
Iíve always thought
Miami is by far the most beautifully and evocatively shot series on
TV Ė particularly when you watch in HDTV.
Even more so than the
CSIs, I feel the city is an integral part of the story. I know much
of the series is filmed in LA, but have you gotten to go to Miami to do
any exteriors down there well? How do you feel really filming the real
city adds to the vibe of the show?
I agree with you that the show is really beautiful and really sexy. The
saturated, rich oranges and everyone looks beautiful and tan.
(laughs) So thereís that. I havenít been to Miami, ever before.
Iím hoping that Iíll get to go. I donít know if Iíll get to go this
season, but if they keep me around then next season for sure. Iím going
to demand it. (chuckles) It really adds to the show,
because if you think about it, any major American city, the city is
always a huge part. It plays a character in the story of your life. We
live in LA and LA is almost like a friend, the city. Youíve got your
certain parts and your certain restaurants and the different
landscapes. Youíve got the ocean, the mountains and the weather. Itís
an important part of anyoneís life. I love that. I donít know any
other show that incorporates the city so well.
You also have a movie
coming up. What can you tell me about that?
well I actually did
that last year. Speaking of incorporating a city into the
movie, that is another movie that is sort of a road movie and it
really takes you all over LA. LA definitely plays a character in the
movie. It was shot a while back. We went to Slamdance and weíve done
some other festivals. Itís doing well still. I donít know that it has
distribution yet. I donít know if viewers will get to see it in the
near future, but eventually Iím hoping it will come out and people will
get to see it. It was a really, really interesting, really fresh and
unique take on narrative storytelling.
Are there any
misconceptions youíd like to clear up?
Well, I think if I were to say anything I would say, I donít know that
it is a misconception about me, but just in general, I think that itís
easy to judge someone based on the work that theyíve done. Sort of put
them in a box and say, ďOh, well sheís just pretty.Ē Or ďsheís just
thisÖĒ Itís not true. I think the business is what it is. You
sometimes donít always have a choice in the way you are portrayed. Itís
not always as clear cut as it seems.
how would you like for people to look at your career?
You mean based on what Iíve done so far?
So far, or plans or
dreams you have of your future workÖ
Well, ideally I think my journey and my job and my passion, where
eventually Iíd like to master... I think the beauty of this art form Ė
cinema and theater and music, all the fine arts Ė the beauty of them is
the stories that you tell and the experiences that you can allow other
people to have through you that they may never experience on their own.
Itís really a storytellerís medium. At the end of the day, I would hope
that people would view my body of work as a place of refuge. A
sanctuary, whatever it is that I can offer you through the stories that
I can tell. I would hope that I will become a great storyteller and
effect people and move people with my work.
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