My mother tells her Hollywood stories for Mother’s Day
It might sound cliche, but I owe all my success in life to my ambitious mother, the woman who didn’t hesitate to raise me alone and always pushed me to reach for the stars – even when life made it difficult for me.
Growing up, I never understood friends who said they needed to be a doctor or a lawyer because their parents said so, or because it was convenient for financial stability. That was never my reality. My mother always assured me that I could be anything I wanted to be – as long as it made me happy. Though she was coping with the tough responsibilities of being a single mother, she followed her own advice and briefly worked as a supporting actress in Hollywood. All because she imagined it and acted accordingly.
She may not know it, but that determination is the main reason why she is one of my biggest inspirations.
My mother, Angela McKnight, from our hometown of Baltimore, graduated from Morgan State University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Later she was a clerk and medical social worker, including in the health sector. Not exactly the career path you’d predict for an aspiring actress, but she tells me that at age 35, almost five years after I was born, she decided “to try something different.”
“I wanted to try something new. I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life.”
“It was something that happened to me,” she says of her acting career, adding that she once took acting classes. “I wanted to try something new. I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life. But when I tried to dedicate myself to acting and to work as an extra in many films, [as a mom]I didn’t have the flexibility I needed so I didn’t travel. Movies were coming to town around the time I was doing this, so I worked on them, or I went out and tried to get an opportunity to work on them.
In May 2002, an acting opportunity arose in Baltimore in a film that would later become known as Chris Rock’s directorial debut, Head of State. And as my mother has told me throughout my life, I helped her secure it. “I was at a casting and the one they were at [Security Square] Mall, I remember going with you,” she explains. “I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took you.” And when we got there, the line was out the door; it was so long I thought, “You know what, there’s no way I can get you to stand in line because I’m trying to.” And just as I was about to leave, one of the production assistants comes over — because you start whining — and demands us to go to the front of the line and have my picture taken.
Image Credit: Angela McKnight
After my mother did this – I posed right next to her off-camera – she went to a casting director who told her, “See you on set.” That summer she officially worked as a supporting actress on her first major feature film. She later worked as an extra in other films such as Ladder 49, The Invasion, Shooter and Live Free or Die Hard, which starred big names like Nicole Kidman, Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig, John Travolta and Mark Wahlberg, to name a few. She has also starred in television shows such as HBO’s “The Wire” and “We Own This City,” as well as Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
Needless to say, my mother lived a life. One that inspired me to live as fearlessly and purposefully as they did. Though she took a long hiatus between 2007 and her final acting stints (2013 and 2022) to pursue her career in healthcare and of course raise myself, she says she has no regrets about not pursuing acting beyond her few years in background roles.
“I just enjoyed being in the environment and the atmosphere. I never really got discouraged because it seemed like there was always a chance I could get a small role,” she says. “If I really wanted to, I would have gone further, but I just didn’t do it. As a single parent, the most important thing for me was to make sure my child was properly cared for.”
My mother always dared to dream—and still does—even when her circumstances as a single mother didn’t allow for it. I couldn’t be prouder of the example she has set for me in my own endeavors and I would say she is just as proud of the result. “Now I’m being interviewed by my daughter, who is a prominent journalist,” she beams proudly.
Read on to learn about some of her true Hollywood stories as an extra.