This may sound cliché, but I owe all my success in life to my ambitious mother, the woman who didn’t hesitate to raise me on her own and always pushed me to reach for the stars — even when life made it hard to.
Growing up, I never understood friends who’d say they had to become a doctor or lawyer because their parents said so, or because it was the practical thing to do for financial stability. That was never my reality. My mother always assured me that I could be anything I wanted to be — just as long as it made me happy. Even while juggling the tough responsibilities of being a single parent, she followed her own advice and pursued being a background actor in Hollywood, briefly. All because she envisioned she could and acted on it.
She may not know it, but that determination is the main reason why she’s one of my biggest inspirations.
My mother, Angela McKnight, who hails from our hometown of Baltimore, graduated from Morgan State University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She later became a case worker and medical social worker, amongst other things in the healthcare field. Not exactly the career path you’d predict for an aspiring actor, but she tells me that at 35 years old, almost five years after I was born, she decided that she “wanted 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 I just happened upon,” she says of pursuing acting, adding that she once took up drama classes. “I wanted to try something new. I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life. But with me trying to pursue acting and working as an extra in a lot of films, [as a mom], I didn’t have the flexibility that I needed so I didn’t travel. Around the time that I was doing it, films were coming to town, so I would work on those, or I’d go out and try to get an opportunity to work on them.”
In May 2002, an acting opportunity came to Baltimore — a film which would later become known as Chris Rock’s directorial debut, “Head of State.” And, as my mom has frequently told me throughout my life, I helped her secure it. “I went to a casting call, and the one they had at [Security Square] Mall, I remember going with you,” she explains. “I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took you along. 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 make you stand in this line because I’m trying to do this.’ And just as I was going to walk away, one of the production assistants comes over — because you start to whine — and he tells us to go to the front of the line and get my picture taken.”
Image Source: Angela McKnight
After my mom did so — with me posing right next to her off-camera — she went up to a casting director who told her, “We’ll see you on set.” Fast forward to that summer, she officially worked on her first major motion picture as a background actor. She’d later go on to work as an extra in other films like “Ladder 49,” “The Invasion,” “Shooter,” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” which featured big names like Nicole Kidman, Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig, John Travolta, and Mark Wahlberg, to name a few. She also starred in TV shows like HBO’s “The Wire” and “We Own This City,” as well as Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
Needless to say, my mom has lived a life. One that’s inspired me to live just as fearless and determined as she has. Though she took a long hiatus between 2007 and her most recent acting credits (2013 and 2022) to continue her career in healthcare and, of course, raise me, she says she doesn’t have any regrets about not pursuing acting beyond her handful of background roles.
“I just loved being in the setting, in the atmosphere. I never really got discouraged because it seemed like I would always have an opportunity to get a little part,” she shares. “If I wanted it bad enough, I would’ve gone further with it, but I just didn’t. As a single parent, my primary thing was making sure my kid was taken care of right.”
My mother always dared to dream — and still does — even when her circumstances as a single mom didn’t make space for it. I couldn’t be more proud of the example she’s set for me in my own pursuits, and I’d say she’s equally proud of how they’ve turned out. “Now I’m being interviewed by my daughter, who is a celebrity journalist,” she beams proudly.
Read ahead for more about some of her true Hollywood stories as an extra.