If you’re a fan of talent and substance over hype and nonsense, this is your Quaz.
If you’re a fan of passion over ego; of hard work over nonsense; of craftsmanship over ad-libbing—this is your Quaz.
If you’re a fan of rising stars who don’t think of themselves as rising stars, this is your Quaz.
And, lastly, if you’re a fan of the daughters of ex-Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers, well, this is your Quaz.
Margot Bingham kicks ass. That sentence just entered my skull, and it’s true. If you pay even the slightest bit of attention, you’ve seen her work on shows ranging from Boardwalk Empire to The Family to Matador. If you’re a lover of music, her voice and stylings—sultry, smooth, vivid—will blow you away. And if you simply like reading about the rise and accomplishments of genuinely decent humanoids, well, you’re in the right place.
Margot Bingham, you’ve arrived. You’re the 286th Quaz Q&A …
JP: Margot, I’m going to start with a statement that morphs into a question. So people are generally captivated by celebrity and, in particular, movie and TV stars. Well, about, oh, 10 years ago I did a TV Guide story on a show called “Love Monkey.” It starred Tom Cavanagh, Jason Priestly — and the day was soooooo boring. One scene was shot over, oh, a four-hour span. When I finally sat down with Priestly I said, “This seems surprisingly dull.” And he said, “Brother, you have no idea.” Margot, I get the excitement of premiers, bright lights, award shows. But is the creative process of television an interesting and engaging day-to-day experience? Or, sister, do I have no idea?
MARGOT BINGHAM: Ha! What a great way to start this out. So, its funny you mentioned this experience because one day when my parents came to visit me on the Boardwalk Empire set, they couldn’t believe just how many takes I did for one single line. I remember my dad making a comment to my aunt over the phone, just saying how unbelievable it was that we just kept going and going.
For readers to understand from an artistic standpoint, this is essentially what our job is. Yes, the entertainment world can seem quite glamorous, although it’s more political than anything else, but my job as an actor is going into work and no matter how many takes I do of the same line or scene, I have to make it look and feel like it’s the very first time. If I am required to be, say, surprised … you best believe my ass is getting surprised about 50 times in a row. Obviously the viewer only sees me getting surprised just that once, so I need to make each one of those 50 takes count. I guess the long way to answer your question on whether or not the day-to-day is engaging, the answer is, even if it’s not, I have to make it be. Just like any job, on days you’re sick or just don’t feel like going into work, you pull yourself together and do it anyway.
J.P.: To many fans of Boardwalk Empire, you are — before anything else — Daughter Maitland — and the role scored you hugely positive reviews. I’m fascinated how this happened. I mean, soup to nuts, how did you get the gig?
M.B.: I had originally moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. I didn’t finished college. I left about two years in. After moving, my parents gave me one year to get my act together or it was back to school I would go. To be honest, I was looking into recording and audio engineering schools, just in case. I ended up going in for an open-call audition for Rent, as it was the last production before the musical closed. I was number 719 in line and I was far from the last person in line. It wrapped around avenues and blocks and took forever! But I was the only one who made it from the open-call. Pretty incredible.
Eventually, the show closed. Everyone else in the production had an agent, so I thought, being in a show and having some newfound clout, it was time I go and get one myself! I was lucky enough to have signed with a smaller agency just before the show closed, then it was back to being unemployed and hitting up more auditions.
They called me in for Boardwalk as a jazz singer, possibly for a “day player.” What that means is, I play the role whatever it may be, for one day, and then my job for that episode, possibly the season, is finished. I went in to audition nine more times. It went from having me sing the song, which was “St. Louis Blues,” to then reading a small scene, to finally doing both. I met with the producers and casting and knew a lot of the other girls who went in. For casting, it always comes down to the “type” they want, so there were plenty of other beautiful, light-skinned singers there, mostly from the Broadway community with more credits than I had.
Fortunately, I ended up getting the role. I received my first script and it was a small intro, a tiny sassy scene with Michael K. Williams, and then the practice song in the background of the club. I truly thought it would all end there, but two seasons later with a series wrap, there I was … still standing. I never could have imagined my journey with that show lasting as long as it did. Waiting weekly on the next episode, I thought for sure I’d be the next to be whacked off! But I was one of the very few who survived (spoiler alert). My storyline never existed before I got there. Now, being friends with the writers and producers, they never saw me comin’ …
J.P.: I’m going to ask something sorta odd. Do you know if a film sucks or kicks ass while you’re taping? Let’s use “Barbershop: The Next Cut” as an example. I truly enjoyed the film. But as you’re working, do you have any remote idea? Is there a terror in seeing the final product?
M.B.: Of course there’s a terror in seeing the final product. At least for me there is. I always want to see it alone before the premiere. In case my performance sucked, I want to be the first to know I sucked. It’s like owning up to the joke before others can laugh at you. Barbershop was my first comedy. Every joke that someone made, there’s not a live audience to laugh as we move along, so there’s no real way to test it. Being one of the only non-comedians in the cast, I was constantly wondering or questioning if our jokes would land, but then I reminded myself that comedy is one of the most truthful emotions we can portray. If you try to make a joke without speaking from a place of truth, the joke won’t stick. Comedy is honest and dramatic. Worrying about the outcome and not living in what we were trying to create would only hurt myself. So just like every project, you have to go into it not worrying about the outcome. As far as watching the final product, you have to remember the amazing experience you had working on it and the new family you’ve created because of it.
J.P.: You’re from Pittsburgh, and your father is Craig Bingham, who spent half a decade playing linebacker for the Steelers. He’s Jamaican and black, your mom, Lynne, is white and Jewish. Which is all sorts of interesting. I know your dad retired before you were born, but what did you learn from him about spotlight, fame, performing? And, along those lines, what did you get from your mother?
M.B.: Unfortunately, I missed my dad playing by a few years. He actually stopped playing the year my brother, Cori, was born. He is three years older than I am, so my dad was pretty far removed as a player by that point. I did, however, grow up with a lot of “uncles” who were former teammates of my father. Growing up around Franco Harris and Craig Woofley was pretty normal for me. Only now do I truly appreciate the support system our family had. My dad constantly jokes that my career has surpassed his. I don’t think it has anything to do with who got further with fame. The two most important lessons I’ve learned, which both of my parents always tried to instill, was for me to always stay grounded and to read everything I sign.
My family has been known to put me in check a few times if I start getting too big for my britches. Plus, I’m from Pittsburgh. It’s a blue-collar town with a hustler mentality. I’m also lucky enough to have not had my career take off until now. I think if I were younger and grew up with this lifestyle, it would be more difficult to connect with reality.
As far as reading everything I sign, my dad and his teammates learned first hand how badly you can get yourself into trouble with a contract if you don’t read it through carefully. Without realizing, you can sign your fortunes and rights away purely by lack of knowledge. My mom and dad never wanted me to get stuck. They always pushed me to learn as much as possible … and then learn more. I ended up switching my major in school to entertainment and sports Management and took a course on contractual agreements. I’m very grateful that my parents enforced knowledge above all else.
J.P.: I’m gonna follow up with something. My nephews are bi-racial and the absolute lights of my heart. The older one is 16. Recently we posed for a photo at a wedding and he SnapChatted it with the caption, “White family problems.” I was genuinely hurt, but then I thought about what surely must be the adolescent complications and confusions that came with being bi-racial. So, Margot, what are the complications and confusions?
M.B.: Woof. I could talk to you about this all week. I grew up in a predominantly white community. I was one of four black kids in my middle school and high school combined. My brother shared the other half of that ratio. There were definitely moments where I tried to either style my hair or change my clothes in the efforts to blend in with the other girls. When I entered high school, I switched to a performing arts school outside of the suburbs and into the city. It was a totally opposite experience. I may have been the only mixed freshman. Black girls didn’t get me. White girls didn’t get me. It was a very helpless feeling, knowing that neither side offered me the opportunity to fit in. Only as I’ve gotten older have I finally removed the burden of needing the approval of someone else.
While it’s difficult being a minority anywhere, the challenge of being so as a teenager can present daunting experiences. Adolescence is harrrrrrd. We’ve all been there … but we suppress it, because it wasn’t always the most pleasant of memories for anyone of us. Fitting in as an adult is difficult enough, but these kids in today’s culture now have to deal with added layers, such as cyber bullying, etc.
I’m sure that picture hurt your feelings, but I can guarantee that your nephew is just trying to navigate through his youth. I’m also sure that if he knew of the weight of his words, he would’ve thought twice about saying them. As he gets older, I’m confident he’ll be able to compartmentalize his feelings and not poke fun at the expense of others. Wanting to be accepted by your peers is always challenging. Trying to do so as a kid of any color adds a whole new layer.
J.P.: Is fame appealing? What I mean is, I’ve known people who chase a career in Major League Baseball because they love the game but have no interest in the attention. I know others who desperately want to sign autographs and score free meals. What about you?
M.B.: I think people choose certain paths for many reasons. Entertainment was always my calling. Acting, singing and dancing were things I’ve always loved and gave me the ultimate sense of fulfillment, but with this career comes other responsibilities. I think fame, past a certain point in your career, is inevitable. But manners maketh the man. I never had any desire to be famous. I have even less now as I get older and try to understand the world and my industry. Free meals are cool, changing a person’s day because you sign an autograph is pretty incredible. But I’d personally like to make a mark with my fame in other ways. There are organizations I’d like to showcase. There are groups I’d like to finance. Kids I’d like to see get a better education. I would like to share the platform I fought to achieve with things that fulfill me inside instead of the lights and cameras. Superficial things fade, love never does.
J.P.: In 2013 you are credited as playing “Uniform #2” in the TV series, “Golden Boy.” This isn’t a question, so much as a request. Can you tell me everything you recall from the experience. And what did you do with the 12 Emmys?
M.B.: Lol, you’re crazy. Well … I actually remember a lot from that day! It was cold as shit. I had to wear a horrible cop suit. Just a side note, women having to wear cop uniforms on TV or film is never sexy. I had a tiny little room for my trailer. It was post 9/11 and the episode was about the World Trade Center going down. It was surreal. We filmed it in Brooklyn with a beautiful skyline of the city. Me, and Uniform #1, had to look over at the city skyline as if we were seeing the towers getting hit for the first time, but the wild thing was that nothing was there. No towers, so the camera operator gave us our eye line so we would both be looking in the same direction. Pretty wild.
J.P.: When did you know performing was for you? Like, not when did you first have a performance? When did you have that magical lightening bolt appear?
M.B.: When I was 12, I had vocal surgery. It was my voice teacher at the time who told my mom to bring me in to get checked. I guess it wasn’t normal for a 12-year old girl to be singing tenor bass in the choir and crushing Toni Braxton songs. I ended up having two cysts on my vocal chords, which were hindering my ability to have any sort of range in my voice. I always just sounded low and raspy. So when they were doing the surgery, they made us aware that there was a chance I’d never be able to sing again and my voice would be different forever. It was either that, or eventually, I wouldn’t have much of a voice at all. So we took the chance and I was mute for a few months post-surgery.
I had to learn how to speak again before I could learn how to sing again. I remember going back to my voice school for the vocal recital. It was still way too early for me to be singing, but I wanted to go so badly. My song was “In My Own Little Corner,” from Cinderella. I remember getting up on stage, the piano starting, opening my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I tried again, and nothing. I ran off stage and locked myself in the bathroom until everyone from the recital had left. I was so embarrassed, but when I walked out, I knew I had to make the choice to improve or quit. I walked out and chose to fight.
J.P.: Maybe an odd question, but is it at all intimidating to work with superstar veterans of the trade? You’re with Joan Allen in “The Family”; you were with Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire,” Ice Cube in Barbershop. Etc … etc. Do you see yourself as 100-percent equal peer in those circumstances? Is there any, “Holy shit! Calm down!” going through your head? If not now, in the past?
M.B.: Jeff, that “holy shit” moment is every, day. Joan Allen, whoa. What an incredible actress and I get to go head-to-head with her?! I remember going to see Room, and then thinking, “Heh, tomorrow I get to go to work and tell this woman, face to face, my thoughts on the movie and her performance!” It’s still pretty surreal, but in the scene work, I’m not myself … I’m not Margot. I have to be truthful to the character I’m playing and leave those nerves in the dressing room. If I bring my fan-girl baggage to set, it’ll affect my performance. So instead, I try to stay in the moment and learn bits and pieces from these greats. I’ve been lucky enough to build up quite the catalogue.
J.P.: You have an absolutely killer voice, so I’m gonna be weird with this. After Whitney Houston died in 2012, a well-regarded music critic lambasted her for throwing away her gift with cigarettes, drugs, etc. He called her selfish, in that she gave us this magical sound but failed to care for if. Fair? Unfair? Why?
M.B.: Both fair and unfair—here’s why. It’s unfair because the people who were obsessed with her demanded to be so “in the know” of her life. Her lack of privacy can be largely attributed to her drug use. Fans can typically feel like they are owed every ounce of insight from celebrities. They can feel like that level of access is deserving. Whitney, G_d bless her … she struggled with the fame, so she tried to escape it in the only way she could without quitting something she loved so deeply.
It’s fair because someone in her camp should’ve fought harder for her. If she were able to focus solely on herself, her family and her craft, maybe she would still be here with us. But when so many people take a piece of you, how much is left for you to survive with?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARGOT BINGHAM:
• Would you rather slice off your left arm with a rusty butcher’s knife or devote yourself to eating a pound of bacon a week for the rest of your life?: Definitely slice my arm off. I can probably heal better than bacon constantly clogging up my arteries!
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Walter Abercombie, Nick Cannon, Martha Stewart, cucumbers, Denver, Laura Linney, “Remains of the Day,” Ethel Kennedy, Vanity Fair, Kristaps Porzingis, MacBook Pro: Walter Abercrombie (my dad’s old roommate), Martha Stewart, Laura Linney, MacBook Pro, Vanity Fair, Ethel Kennedy, “The Remains of the Day,” Denver, cucumbers, Nick Cannon, Kristaps Porzingis.
• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million a year to be her personal acting coach. You have to move to Las Vegas, work 360 days a year, shave off all your hair and change your middle name to RoseDawson. You in?: Count. Me. In! First off, love me some Celine. What a babe, inside and out. Secondly, hair grows back, plus I’ve always wanted to shave it all off! And third? I would learn so much more than what I could teach her if I were to be by her side for one full year. She’s a machine, never stops. Plus, I could save up AND feed a small country, with this newfound friendship, and have her back that same … poor … country. BOOM! World problems solved. Thanks Celine.
• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: I dig it! And now I’m hungry.
• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: “Keep Going.” I know this one is so short and obvious, but on the tough days when you don’t know if you have anything left to give or to fight for, you have to trust that you’re meant for something greater. But you can’t get there unless you keep going, keep fighting, keep pushing. Greatness wasn’t meant for the lazy. That’s why it remains so great.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I try NOT to think about that! But in one particular case, it was hard to avoid. There were severe choppy skies. A young girl, mid-20s, was sitting next to me. The whole flight, not one peep. Then we started to dip, pretty badly, and every time we did, she’d let out a little yell. And then an, “Oh my gd!” Then a “Jesus Gd!” And then began to start crying. At this point, I kinda had to ask her if she was okay, as I was praying in my own seat but totally trying to look like the cool, seasoned flyer. I calmed her down and we came out fine, thankfully. But as I was calming her, I couldn’t help but think that I was full of shit.
• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. I wore a Halloween costume because I couldn’t find a dress or a corset to duplicate Drew Barrymore’s princess moment in Never Been Kissed; 2. My date was close to 30. I took my brother’s friend because no one asked me and I didn’t want to go Hans solo. Looking back, he was a good friend to agree to that; 3. I went to a bar instead of the high school after=party.
• The people at my gym never clean off the StairMaster after sweating all over it. Give me a creative idea how to get revenge: Ohhhhh I hate to be a lame, but I’m such a pushover. I’d just clean it off myself. If you give them your sweaty towel, then it affects everyone. And if you sweat all over the water fountain? Same thing. That’s a tricky one.
• One question you would ask Bubby Brister were he here right now: My dad said he was a pretty wild guy! There may have been a few experiences that flew under the radar. So, I would ask him to tell me his craziest story. I may be there all month.