Leading with an Open Heart: An Interview with LeRoy S. Graham III

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas

LeRoy S. Graham III was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up, he first got into the arts through dance and musical theater in school. He studied theater and psychology at City College of New York, and after graduating, explored acting outside of life as a student. He started auditioning for graduate acting programs at 25 and was accepted into A.C.T.’s MFA Program when he was 27.

“I felt like I knew what I wanted to go in and pursue that time,” he says. The thought of moving to San Francisco away from family was daunting at first, but he was drawn to A.C.T.’s training. “There’s the focus on developing the artist as a whole,” Graham says. “From the callback weekend I felt at home. I felt this could be the place for me for the next three years.”

LeRoy S. Graham III. Photo by Deborah Lopez.

What has your experience in the MFA Program been like?
One of the biggest things that I’ve gained from being at A.C.T is developing my voice and being able to advocate for myself. I still sit back and listen, but if something bothers me, I’ll definitely speak up about it. I’m always looking to do what’s right, how to get the institution to be more inclusive with the community.

I’m a very giving person and want to give so much of myself. I’ve realized that I did come to this place to gain an education. I now have a balance of being able to give but also keep some things for myself.

What’s your favorite part of the Program?
Sky Fest. Sky Fest is about creating the things that you really want to do. My first year, third-year student Kadeem Ali Harris got a bunch of the Black male students together for a project called Black Masculinities. That was pivotal for me within the Program, because I got a bunch of brothers, you know? We created something that we’re still talking about mounting after we’ve all graduated.

My second year I did John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Playing Lenny was a challenging but heartfelt experience. And then this year I was in By the Way, Meet Vera Stark with one of my classmates I’d never acted with. Sky Fest creates opportunities where you get to call the shots.

Eddie Ewell (A.C.T. MFA 2020) and LeRoy S. Graham III in A.C.T.'s MFA production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (2019). Photo by Alessandra Mello.

Who inspires you?
My mom. She had me when she was 22 years old. She had to navigate feeding me, feeding herself, finding apartments, keeping a job. She sacrificed a lot to make sure that I had. That’s inspiring. I do what I do because I want to, but if and when I do reach the heights that I want to reach, my mom is definitely going to reap the benefits.

What is your dream role?
Somebody who seems very put together but is really complex. I want to talk about mental health. I want to play a character that is dealing with trying to navigate what daily life is like, but has this big internal battle.

Do you have a personal artistic mission statement?
Success is not given, but earned. And it should be done in your own way. In any form of creative outlet, specifically within acting, if you do it with a passionate heart, then it’s a success. In anything artistic, I always want to lead with an open heart and open arms. I hope to embrace those who speak my language. And even those who don’t—if you can just nod in recognition, then I’ve done my job.

Check out A.C.T.’s MFA Program Class of 2020 here.

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