Up and coming actress, yoga teacher and avid mental health advocate Michelle Nunez is keeping busier than ever as as ‘Zane’ in BET’s “Ruthless”. Directed by Tyler Perry, the series is a spinoff of the hit series “The Oval”, where she plays “the most intricate character” she’s co-created. When she’s not gracing the camera, Nunez spends her time in different yoga lineages – she’s a trained 500 hour yoga instructor and ties it all up with mental health advocacy which undoubtedly go hand in hand. “My struggles with mental health started super young but when I was introduced to yoga, I began what has now become a long journey through getting to know myself in the deepest ways through meditation and continuous contemplation,” she tells us in an exclusive interview.
A self-proclaimed “army brat”, Nunez was born and raised in Army bases throughout the world, prepping her for the touring her acting gigs require. We sat down with the up-and-coming actress to discuss her new role, her recent coming-out as pansexual, and the different hats she’s been wearing lately: from music producer, DJ and yoga teacher. Read the full interview below.
Tell us about your current role as ‘Zane’ in BET’s “Ruthless”?
Ahhh, Zane! The most intricate character I have had the incredible honor of co-creating. She is vulnerable, brave, loyal, innocent, and scared. Zane loves her family (friends turned family) on the compound more than anything – perhaps even more than herself in moments. She’s never had a real family and that’s what she went looking for when she joined the Rakudushis cult. When prepping for the role, I collaborated with our awesome producer, Mark Swinton, who allowed me to create Zane’s backstory so that I could begin to fully understand her and bring her world to life.
I wrote up a page that described my life as Zane up to the first page of dialogue I have in season one part two. She’s the baby of the group, by far the youngest of the main cult members, and the newest. She’s been searching for a family all her life. That’s why she cares so much about everyone on the compound, even to a fault sometimes as you’ll see throughout the episodes of season one part two. Zane is slowly realizing that things aren’t always what they seem and sometimes. We only see the things that we want to. She’s changing in a huge way, which is necessary for her growth and survival. I’m stoked the first three episodes are being dropped on November 26th because there is a huge shift that happens for a good chunk of the characters, Zane included, all within those episodes.
We understand you grew up as a self-described “army brat” living all over the country and parts of Europe – how did you end up getting into acting?
Yes! Both my mom and pops were in the military serving in the United States Army for a pretty long time. I was born on the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen Texas (but don’t remember much of it because we moved so often), my younger sister was born on the Hanau (Germany) Army base, and my older sister was born in Manhattan (my mom joined the military shortly after she was born). My mom received her American citizenship in New York City and most of my family is in New York so when my mom got stationed in Korea for a short period, instead of attempting to uproot her entire life, my older sister and I went to live with family in the city. When my mom got back, she got out of the Army to take care of us while my stepdad stayed in and the travels continued. We moved as far as Germany and as close as Washington State (a bit south of Seattle) and I have most of my childhood memories in those two places. After moving around a bit more, my pops retired in Florida which is where I now call home.
My mom has always been into theater and the arts and pushed me to get into it at a young age, but I vividly remember running out of a casting crying because I didn’t want to do it! I guess I just wasn’t ready at such a young age. I officially got into acting after soul searching for about a year (about two and a half years ago). I hiked to the top of a mountain near Boulder, Colorado, and it was there when I realized that I had to let go of fear and what I thought was impossible. As Aubrey Hepburn said, “Nothing is impossible. The word itself said I’m possible.”
I got back to Florida and joined a few local acting studios where I would go on to study for the rest of my time in the sunshine state. I auditioned for every possible play and film that I could and started getting flown out to places like Atlanta and Colorado to film shorts and was cast in my first play where I worked alongside some of the best actors I have ever met. My journey through acting began with getting myself on as many sets as possible to learn as much as I could. A few months before I moved to LA I got cast (via my Instagram) in an awesome feature where just about everyone was from LA (some were from NYC) and I knew that California was my next move. I worked on two more films for the 48 Hour Film Project in both Orlando (where I won the best actress and we won the best film among a huge amount of other awards) and Tampa (where I starred in, co- wrote, co-directed, and produced for the first time) before moving. After two years in the Florida acting scene, Spirit/God guided me to meet an incredible human being who helped me move out west way sooner than I had ever anticipated, and I am grateful. I believe in perfect timing in this time and space reality we live in.
How have your travels/background informed your work as an actress?
I think having depth is such an important part of an actor’s journey. When you look into the eyes of any great actor, you can see and feel their story from the years of what they have gone through. I think about stories like Jim Carey who would drive to the top of a hill and imagine himself working for the best studios in town and Tyler Perry (boss man) who was homeless and sleeping in his car before he was the first African American man to own his own major film production studio. And it’s no different for me. As an actor, I pull from the ecstatic moments, the sad moments, the moments of growth, and the moments of being authentically human (that’s what acting is after all) to create the characters that I am blessed with the opportunity to co-create.
You wear many hats, also working as a Yoga instructor, music producer, and DJ, tell us about your other pursuits and how you manage to balance all your various endeavors?
I am trained in so many different yoga lineages I won’t even list them all, and I have recently gifted a scholarship from my yoga school to attend another training, so your girl will be back in the yoga classroom soon. Through yoga, I began my meditation practice, which is a huge part of my mental health and life. I am a total advocate for creating space, daily or close to it, to sit with yourself. I have so many CDs from when I use to create my mixes and share them with my friends. I’d give them out as gifts. I also use to travel and write for music festivals and events, one of which took me as far as Belgium for Tomorrowland. I traveled to California, Michigan, Atlanta, Louisiana, and beyond sharing write-ups and reviews on my music blog as well. I also created an event in Orlando where I gathered some of the best local DJs and producers, I knew to raise funds for kids in need in South Florida. So, long story short, music has always been in my blood, and a major part of my existence. When I was just a wee little girl, I use to save my money to go to Jonas Brothers concerts (I’m talking third-row vibes). That’s all I’ll say about that phase.
When I moved to LA, I got submerged into the music scene pretty quickly and attended a five-day retreat called Shakti Sound (ran by awesome humans) where I learned the ins and outs of Ableton (the music production software I work with). I was hooked and began studying for a music production certification at Beat Lab Academy (super shout out to my Beat Lab Familia). Right now, I make beats and music for fun and love collaborating with my friends on tunes as well. The best thing I can say about balance is that it’s good to have the main thing. As Lebron James and countless others have said “keep the main thing the main thing.” But it’s so important to have other things that you care about and keep you creative. Creativity is our connection to the source.
You came out as Pansexual recently? Can you share a bit about what that means to you?
Truthfully, and my closest friends and older sister have known this about me for a while, I’ve always been this way. I felt called to share it online for National Coming Out Day this year but it’s not the day I ‘came out.’ It’s always been a knowing. I’ve done my fair share of research on topics like relationships and sexuality, from open partnerships to pansexuality – I’ve kept nothing off the table in my search for creating my own life beyond societal standards. For me, it’s always been about the connection I have with the person, regardless of gender or non and pansexuality seems to encompass that feeling the best. It seems we as a society have always been forced into boxes regarding our sexuality, gender, political views, nationality, ethnicity – but I am just me. Beyond the labels, beyond what the world has told me to be all of my life. I’s all so constricting, restrictive, and controlling. We are rewriting what the social norms of today are and I think it’s so important to be vocal about how we feel. I can’t identify as a fully heterosexual sexual being because I’m not. And I think parts of this notion pour into other areas of my life. I’ve always felt wrong boxing myself in with labels created by others (I’d even say identifying as pansexual is a box I’d rather not be in). I am me and you are you, without the labels, and at our deepest, we are collectively human beings roaming and exploring this earth with the purpose of growth and evolution.
I understand you are a mental health advocate, as well as an animal and environmental activist – what sort of activism do you do around these issues? Are there any charities you specifically support or recent activations you would like to share?
My struggles with mental health started super young but when I was introduced to yoga (and I’m talking authentic, eastern-based, the Bhagavad Gita is one of my favorite books type yoga vibe), I began what has now become a long journey through getting to know myself in the deepest ways through meditation and continuous contemplation. I’ve also been a vegetarian/vegan for almost seven years (though I know and love the benefits that come with eating meat, it just doesn’t seem to sit well in my stomach anymore and I take that as a sign for me not to eat it), so the idea of supporting the animals of our plant, the future generations that will inhabit this planet, and our responsibility as beings on this earth to care of Pachamama (known as earth mother in indigenous cultures) comes naturally for me. Big news, I recently moved into a new apartment here in LA where I can have a cat! So, I’m stoked to start fostering some kitties hopefully soon. All in all, I think my biggest duty as an activist for mental and environmental health is by living it myself. My roommates and I have two different recycling bins, we compost everything, and all the products we use are in favor of the planet. I think once you make the conscious decision that it’s up to you to “be the change you wish to see”, that’s where the best and most powerful activism comes from.
What can we look forward to from you? Any other projects in the works?
Film-wise, next year is filled with a lot of projects coming your way and I am stoked. Music- wise, some pretty cool collaborations are in order. Stay tuned!