The best Brandon Micheal Hall story is the Brandon Micheal Hall story you probably already know. The one about the skinny, small town kid with the wide, mega-watt smile from Pendleton, South Carolina, who, with a little nudge from a prescient high school drama teacher, auditions his way into the drama department at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities and, well, for lack of a better term, blossoms. Blossoms his way into his craft and onto the stage, and after two years at Govie School, blossoms all the way to Juilliard. Four years out of Juilliard, Brandon Micheal Hall (hereafter referred to, respectfully, as BMH) has already starred in three network series, including the popular God Friended Me, which heads into season two on CBS in September.
So that’s what you may know. Of course, you may not know about the BMH who came to the Governor’s School and “didn’t really leave campus much for two years,” because “I was really tense when I was here. I didn’t want to mess up.”
Or the BMH who was the only student who attended voluntary after-hours classes to work on his writing skills during his high school years. Or you may not know about the BMH who walked into an audition and stood up in front of a well-known director and producer and promptly forgot his first line. And asked to start again. And forgot his second line. And basically blew the auction, but didn’t fret, because as he says, “Failure is just a form of success, because of what you’ve done to even get to the place to be able to fail.” Or there’s the BMH who used to buy t-shirts at the local Goodwill store, which brings us to:
BMH ANECDOTE #1
A Friday morning, circa 2010. BMH walks into the office of the creative writing teacher at the Governor’s School just to say hello. (I can confirm this because I was that teacher.) He’s wearing a worn t-shirt that says, “Paddle harder. I hear banjo music.” The teacher says, “Where’d you get the shirt?” “Goodwill,” he says. Then the teacher asks BMH if he knows what the line about banjo music refers to. “No,” he says. “I just liked the shirt.” At that point the teacher begins to yammer on and on about the novel Deliverance and how the movie based on the book was filmed just up the road, on the Chattooga River. The teacher snags his DVD copy of Deliverance off his shelf. “Since you’re a drama student, you might like this movie. It was big back in the ’70s.” BMH is nice enough to humor the creative writing teacher and politely take the DVD. Cut to: Monday morning. BMH runs into the same office, his eyes wide. “Man,” he says. “You didn’t tell me this movie was so intense. Unbelievable.” Then he begins to count off all of the scenes he liked and why he liked them—the acting or the editing or the camera angles or the stunts. “And that kid with the banjo music?” he says. “That kid was scary.” BMH is wearing the t-shirt again. Which brings us to another little known shirt fact:
BMH Is the Only Guest Artist in History to Buy a Shirt Off a Student’s Back
Spring, circa 2019. BMH returns to the Governor’s School campus to receive the Presidential Alumni Award. He’s wandering through campus and spots a visual arts student wearing a shirt he hand-illustrated with Sharpies and Magic Markers. Normally, the shirt is a plain, pale yellow Oxford-style button-up. In the hands of a visual art student, it becomes a work of art. BMH asks the kid if his shirt is for sale. They haggle a bit. “We agreed on fifteen dollars,” BMH says, “but all I had was a twenty. He didn’t have change. I’m not sure I’m going to see that five again.” He grins. When BMH shows up for an interview with the aforementioned creative writing teacher, he is wearing his fifteen-dollar, hand-tinted shirt. Which brings us to:
Other Governor‘s School Merchandise BMH Would Like to Possess
Mid-interview, circa 2019. BMH is posed a wildly hypothetical question: Suppose your alma mater, the Governor’s School, is being torn down; what would you like to keep for a souvenir? BMH stalls, thinking. He says, “Man, that is a good question.” Then it comes to him. “My first year here, I used to go over to that lobby just outside the big dance studio, and there’s this painting on the wall of a dancer.” (The painting is Young Choreographer by Francois Cloutier.) “He just looks so frustrated, completely down, but he still has his poise, you know? You can tell he’s ready to try again, do it again. I used to look at that painting and say: that’s a testament to every student at this school. And I have to remember to keep trying, keep doing it again and again until I get it right, just like that dancer.” In the spirit of “until I get it right,” we come to:
BMH ANECDOTE #2
Fall, circa 2010. A Governor’s School faculty member initiates an evening program for students who wish to improve their writing skills. (I can confirm this because I was the initiator.) The program is voluntary and open to the entire student body. On the first night of the program, one solitary student shows up: BMH. He strolls in and says he wants to get better with language, with writing it and punctuating it and basically, using it. BMH is given grammar exercises and writing prompts, and he keeps coming back, night after night. These days, the initiator’s heart is warmed by the fact that BMH has discovered he possesses “a real love for language.” He says, “I love sitting down now and writing.” BMH mentions he is working on a screenplay and how much he enjoys crafting dialogue. But what the initiator of the program-that-only-one-student-ever-attended recalls is how BMH knew—at a very young, formative age—where he needed to improve, and how he needed to work until he got it right. He sensed he would need those skills in the future, which leads us to:
BMH 20 years hence
Somewhere, circa 2039. What does BMH see when he is asked to glance up the road two decades, into his imaginary future? (You think you know the answer, right? You think he’s going to talk about Oscars and fame and fortune? Well, you’re wrong.) The first word out of BMH’s mouth when he looks into his future is . . . family. “I would love to have a family by then, married with kids. Happy and stable, with a family.” That should tell you something, that should tell us all something. A young actor in the throes of hard-earned, quasi-astronomical success . . . and his first thought is family? That seems admirable and rare and, well, extremely mature for a 26-year-old. Of course, he has other plans for the years to come. “I’d like to have my own studio, one that’s a different. Not just, like, here are the actors and here are the producers and here are the writers with everybody separated. I want a place where everybody works in accord. A little oasis where all the artists live and work together. You know, like the Governor’s School.” BMH smiles, pleased he has connected some dots between his artistic past and his artistic future, which leads us to:
THE FINAL BMH ANECDOTE
Walking back to Govie School, circa 2019. “I remember when I was younger, turning on the TV and watching Denzel Washington in Training Day. I remember saying, ‘I want to do that, I want to be on that,’ and now I turn on the TV and there I am, ‘God Friended Me, CBS Sunday’, scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It happened so fast. But I dream big. And I’m not afraid to see a dream as a reality in my head. If I can see it and I can make it a reality, I can take the steps to do it, and now I’m living it. I mean, here and there, I’ll have these moments. Like, I’ll be doing a table read, and I’ll sit back and look at who else is around the table and I’ll go, ‘Whoa, wait. I’m here? Yeah, I’m here.’”
But sitting at that table, you can bet he doesn’t get distracted about where he is and who he’s with, because there is a job to do. Because just like that dancer in the painting, BMH is constantly working and working. To make sure he gets it right.