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The latest offering from the Power Universe tells the origin story of season one villain Kanan Stark, but just minutes into episode one of Power Book III: Raising Kanan, it’s obvious his mother, drug queen pin Raquel “Raq” Thomas, is really at the center of his world.

“She’s a boss, first and foremost,” says Patina Miller who plays the lead role. “She’s a loving mother. She’s very driven. She’s very passionate. She doesn’t take anybody’s shit. She says what she thinks, and she has no fear. She’s ballsy and she has a lot of guts.”

Those same adjectives could describe Miller, a Music Theater grad with a Tony Award on her mantle for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as the lead player in the 2013 revival of Pippin. As young as 12 Miller knew she was meant for one stage or another.

“I grew up in a little town called Pageland, South Carolina, and I would go every summer to this arts boarding school. There were no arts, really in my town. So I found this other outlet in a neighboring town, where I could go and do theater and play instruments during the summer,” she recalls. “When everybody else was sleeping in, enjoying the summer, I was doing arts. And so I did this Broadway musical called Annie and I played Miss Hannigan. After the first performance, I got off stage, and I told my mom, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be an actor.'”

Miller attended a performing arts boarding school during her last two years of high school which laid the foundation for her to receive a full scholarship to Carnegie Mellon. It was at the university that Miller says she was prepared to realize her dream of being an actress. “I was the only one of two Black girls in my class so I started off being the token, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I had some really amazing mentors there.” Those mentors included Billy Porter, Leslie Odom, whom she considers a big brother, and fellow classmates Danielle Brooks and Nicole Behari.

“I’ve had all of these giants, these heavyweights, these wonderful people to be mentors to me, and to help me along the way,” she adds. “I knew what I was working towards because I had all of these people who looked like me who would come back to school and say, ‘Be prepared for this, get ready for this.’ And all I had to do was the work.”

That work led Miller to become one of three finalists for the role of Effie White in the 2006 musical drama Dreamgirls. Though the part ultimately went to Jennifer Hudson, being flown to LA and meeting director Bill Condon “really set the tone for me going forward,” Miller says. “Life works the way it’s supposed to work. It wasn’t my journey. I always say what’s meant for me will be for me. I learned some valuable tools and lessons from [auditioning] and it prepared me for my own journey.”

One year later, Miller landed the lead role of Delores Van Cartier in Sister Act‘s London production after being cast as an understudy during the musical’s run in the United States. It was an opportunity she almost didn’t take.

“I said, ‘That’s not happening. What am I going to do?’ I was living off $25,” Patina admits. Eventually, she had a change of heart and decided to take a chance. “I took that as an opportunity to really say, ‘You know what, this is what I want. This is what I’m going to do.’ And I went off to London, had the best two weeks of my life, and they asked me to do [the role] in London.”

Miller stayed with the production until 2010 and reprised the role on Broadway in 2011. Her ability to seize opportunities and realize her vision is not unlike that of her latest character Raq. “The hustler energy in me as an actor, wanting to be the best that I can be and having this path for myself, Raq has the same thing,” Miller says. “She is hungry, and she knows where she wants to be. And she’s not going to stop until she gets it.”

Check out our full interview with Patina Miller in the video above. Power Book III: Raising Kanan premieres July 18 at 8pm ET/PT on STARZ.

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