Junior actress Michaela Murphy was a star in Avatar: The Last Airbender
Everyone’s favorite earthbender walks this campus
Even before Michaela Murphy came to campus, people were talking about her.
Under her stage name Jessie Flower, she voiced the main character Toph on our favorite childhood TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Now ten years after she first landed that role, you can see her center stage or behind the scenes in one of Yale’s theaters, dancing with Groove Dance Company and singing with Out of the Blue.
The Tab sat down with junior Michaela Murphy to discuss her acting career, plans for the future and her purple hair.
How did you get into acting and theater?
Well one of my friends was in a commercial when I was five, and I told my mom I wanted to do that too. She put me in the play Oliver to make sure I really liked performing, and I loved it. I then got some headshots done and auditioned for a few agencies. I started with Barbie and Green Bean cellphone commercials, and then got into voice acting around the age of eight. I looked really awkward because I chopped off my hair and my teeth started falling out, so my agent suggested voice acting so I didn’t have to be on screen.
How old were you when you got the role of Toph?
I was around 12. I had previously done a voice on the show for one episode when I was 11, and then they called me back for Toph later because they liked my energy. And I continued until my freshman year [in high school].
Were you a fan of the show before you landed the role?
I actually didn’t even know it existed. I didn’t watch TV growing up cause we just didn’t have cable. We had a few stations for nearby, but no Disney or anything like that. So I didn’t know it existed until I was on it. And then I started watching it a little later on, but I still haven’t seen the show from start to finish.
Have you had any crazy fan moments? Any creepy ones?
Some of the fan letters can be interesting, but they’re very separated and don’t get too personal. The only big interactions I’ve had have been at anime conventions, and the most exciting one was when I went to New York Comic Con last fall. One of the rooms held 750 people, and it was full for a panel I was on with couple of the creators, and artists, and fan-based web designer people.
It was really cool because a lot of them came because they knew I was going to be there. There were tons of questions, and the fans knew more about the show and its details than I did. I was just like “wow this is so cool”, but also thought tat I need to study more because I’m lagging. Clearly. But it was pretty cool, nothing has been too scary about it.
What was your favorite voice acting role?
As far as experiences, probably [Toph] because it was the longest thing I worked on. Probably the most fun voice to do was Chacha from The Emperor’s New School. She was Patch’s little daughter with the pigtails sticking out. I had to make my voice super high for that, and she was just really energetic and fun.
How at Yale did you get involved in the theater scene?
I actually didn’t right away. I was an assistant stage manager for a show in the fall of 2014, but I didn’t perform until the freshman show in the spring. I don’t know why but I thought I should take a year to figure things out, and then get involved in theater. I think I thought I’d have my life more in order, but obviously that didn’t happen. It was silly. I just kind of signed up for it in the spring and did it. . It was really accessible online through the Yale Drama Coalition. I just signed up for things and showed up. I just have to do theater and the things that I can do.
What has been your favorite show at Yale?
Rocky Horror, hands down. That’s easy. The costumes, the insanity, the sexuality. It was amazing.
Who did you play?
I was just one of the phantoms. Oh my gosh, I gave my character the name Victoria Vulvaley. We all had to come up with our own individual character names, it was very fun. I was so happy because the phantoms got to dance the most anyway. I was very happy.
You said you’re an assistant producer for a show right now? Can you tell me about it?
Yup, It’s called Mr. Burns. It’s a very strange, strange play. It’s about a bunch of people who are stuck together after a natural disaster, and they decide to re-enact episodes from The Simpsons. It’s wonky. That’s it. That’s the plot of the whole thing. They work through splitting up characters and work through the episodes. It’s kind of random, and I thought it would be fun to be a part of. Assistant producers don’t have to be too involved until the week before tech, so starting next week I’ll be a lot more involved.
Is that a Yalie play?
No, it was written a couple years ago. I think it opened in London then moved its way over here. That was another cool thing about London [where I spent the summer]: I got to see a lot of great shows that will soon make their ways to the US.
What was your favorite?
There were so many! There was one called “Motherfucker with a Hat”. It was really great. It was set in New York and very real. The great thing I keep learning about theater is none of it is really new. There’s just a new perspective, and that’s always refreshing. That takes a lot of pressure off me because I’m writing a musical right now and I was thinking “AHHH it has to be original”. But it really doesn’t. There’s only so many things to talk about, so writing is just choosing which aspects to talk about. It’s nice to toy with that as I go through the process of writing.
So is this the first musical you’ve written?
Oh yes. It’s the first serious thing I’m going to complete. I’ve written snippets of stories or opening scenes, but I’ve never followed through on the whole thing. I’m crunching down and committing now because it’s my senior project. Hopefully it will turn out well. I’m a little nervous, but I think it’ll turn out great.
What’s it about?
Good question. I’m trying to figure out a good two-sentence synopsis for it, and I haven’t quite gotten there. I’m working on musically fusing Indian Bollywood with folk. It’s a typical love story but with a different perspective: how culture can influence the kind of mixed relations and race relationship, and if one world is more important than the other because of its cultural history.
You said you’re going to also be in a play in February?
I’m doing someone else’s senior project. It’s called Hello Again, and it’s all about sex. It’s great, it’s a musical, and one of the new members in my a cappella group [Out of the Blue] is in it, and we have a scene together so it’s going to be really fun.
OK, we have to talk about your hair. When did you first dye it?
October break in the fall of 2014. Almost been a year. I went straight to purple from virgin brown.
You had pink hair for a bit, right?
Well I dyed it very, very blonde for a role I had last year where I had to be a southern belle. Another show I was in wanted my hair purple the next week so blonde was the only normal hair color to have before going purple. There was a wig, but it went sideways so we just colored my hair. Since it was so bright the purple just faded over the summer and turned into a really nice shade of pink.
Why did you dye your hair?
Well I had always wanted to do something crazy with my hair. There’s never really a good time to dye your hair one whole color that’s not a natural shade, but I figured college was probably the safest time to do it. But all of that is a coating: I had just broken up with my summer boyfriend and it was time for a change. I thought, “This seems like a good idea to do now”. It’s not a tattoo, it’s not a piercing, and it’s nothing harmful. I feel like hair is the most malleable thing—it’ll grow back, especially when you’re young.
After Yale, where do you see yourself?
I think I’m going to pack up everything and go to New York to start auditions. I’m probably going to be a waitress, not just because of the stereotype, but because I actually want to be. I’ve never been one, and I think it would be fun. I love Wicked, so that’s going to be what I attack first.
I’m going to try to get into the dance ensemble because a lot of the time they pull from their ensemble to fill in leads over the years as people cycle through. So that’ll be the goal. If not that, something dance-based. I don’t know, audition, have fun, enjoy my 20s a little bit, roll around, explore the city.