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Once Upon A Time & Chicago Med - Interview with Mekia Cox



On 11/2,  I had the privilege of talking with Mekia Cox, who is a fiercely determined and extremely talented woman. It’s easy to see how she's been able to effortlessly translate that ambition onto the silver screen as Princess Tiana and Robin Charles. Beyond acting, Mekia is also an accomplished, performer dancer and producer.


Below is a transcript of the interview where we talked about everything from OUAT to Chicago Med, her accomplishments in music and theater, and what drives her success in the entertainment industry. 

You're currently starring on Once Upon A Time, What was the atmosphere like on set? Was there a feeling of walking into an established show, or did it feel like it something with the new reboot?

Honestly, there were so many new people that are on the show that it feels like the first episode in a way. There's that sort of renewed energy with new people, so there's a lot of excitement from us "the newbies." I think that energy has also transferred over to those that have been here for a while because they have been so super great with us and what's nice is that you get the best of both worlds, because you get brought in on a show that's already been established so they kind of know how things work already. If we ever have any questions about what we do on set, a story, a character backstory or what to expect, we can just feel free to ask them and they'll happily answer.

I guess it's nice for them as well to have new characters to interact with. It's like there's the
comfort there from the fact that they have been doing this for a long time but again, there's this renewed spirit and new energy that comes in and I think that they have enjoyed it as well which is good.

Once Upon A Time is a huge and passionate audience, how has the audience responded to your character?

It's been a super positive energy and I will just throw a thank you out there to all the fans that have been warm and caring and welcoming and loving to my character. I've gotten some really sweet gifts and amazing letters from fans that really... honestly I don't know if they know how much that helps me as an actor and as a person. To know that there are people out there who are happy to have you as a character on a show that they have loved and watched for years now.

During the audition process, did you know you were going to be playing Princess Tiana?

I did not so know. When the audition notice came out it was for Sabine, so I was like, "Ok I'm going in for this Sabine" just no clue who she was. It wasn't until the audition, I think I had actually run through the scene a couple times already, before they even told me that it was for Princess Tiana. So that was actually exciting for me, getting to hear that it was Tiana because she's a princess that I loved the minute I saw her.  I was definitely excited and I think luckily for me, the character Sabine and I are very similar so it wasn't really hard to jump into that role once I discovered that it was Tiana. 

There were very slight changes I made,(when I found out) but not much because when
 I went to have the conversation with Eddy and Adam about what they wanted to do with this character, they informed me that they are taking bits and pieces some actual movie, but then what they do (as the show's creators on Once) is that they put their own spin on it, and make it apart of this Once Upon A Time world. That also allows me to be able to create something a little new with this character and find my own ways of making her my own.

This is the first live adaptation we've seen of Princess Tiana, is there a sense of responsibility with being the first?

Absolutely. So I have a very sort of personal relationship to Disney and Disney Princesses. My very first professional job was dancing as a kid of the kingdom at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando
and it was a huge deal for me, being 7 years old and being up on stage with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and all of these characters that I loved. I did that when I was 7, and again when I was 9.

Then I had heard that when you were 16, you can come back and you can apply for a job as a Disney Princess, and I had always been super excited about getting to see that, but then I realized that there was no Disney Princess for me to be able to come back and play. That was almost sad for me at that time coming to that realization. So when the The Princess and The Frog movie came out in 2009, I was really excited for all the little girls that now had a chance to be able to play this role. I never thought that it was actually going to be me so it was super exciting for me.

But as you say, I did feel sort of this responsibility for her. Anika Noni Rose is someone that I have loved and respected for years now. I saw her when she was in the play Caroline, Or Change and I think she's brilliant and I wanted to be able to bring the strength that she had already brought to the role.  I wanted to make sure that I could bring that as well while also making the role my own and putting my spin on things.

So I do understand that she is an important one, being the first black female Disney Princess, and I feel the weight of that, but it also is pretty exciting for me and gratifying. It makes me happy to know that there are little girls out there who now can someone on screen that they can look up to, and they can see someone who is this very strong female character, but she's also very nurturing and very supportive and loving to those around her.

What's been great about Tiana/Sabine is that she has this sense of duality about her. She can be a Disney Princess that's everything you'd expect with that, but also be a badass rebel leader... 

Exactly, she is really one of the first characters that I play is similar to myself. I've always believed that there is strength in femininity. I feel like be able to see a woman and to be nurturing and to have those maternal instincts that we have there's a lot of strength in that and I think that you can see that with her.

I am less of a tomboy in my own ways, you know, it's not that I plays sports or things like that as a kid, but I love climbing trees and riding bikes. I'm also kind of like a computer nerd and I like video games and things like that, but I'm also very feminine in my ways. I make choices that are feminine
and I think that there is a lot of strength in that, and I like to celebrate it and I think that you can see that duality and that balance.

Balance is something that's very important to me in my life, and I think that's also important for Tiana she has these people that she's leading, and she knows that there is this strength that she has to have but she also just cares and is very loving and she knows, and allows positivity to guide her.

What sort of challenges does Tiana face in the fantasy world?

What can I say... I think that there's a there's a path that maybe you wouldn't expect that she originated from and I think there is a moment where she realizes she realizes what's important. In that moment, that's what makes her who she is and that's what leads her become the leader of this resistance and there's just things that she starts to learn along the way, which is something I think that happens to all of us. There are poignant moments in our lives especially when we're younger that sort of form the rest of our lives, and I think we get to see a little bit of that and it's awesome.

Some of the fans have been speculating on the relationship between Tiana and Hook 2.0, is there anything there?

I think as of right now, you can kind of see in fairy tale land that Tiana is not exactly focused on that. So if if there is anything there, I think she's a little oblivious to it because she her mind is so focused on leading the resistance.

I've really enjoyed watching Sabine and Jacinda's relationship in Hyperion Heights, how has it been cultivating this girl power relationship?

It's been really nice because Dania and I have a lot of fun on set, and in week two or something Dania said "How did how did they know that we would be so good together?"  We never had a chemistry test or anything, but but we got on set and we just meshed well, which is really kind of nice. I just
liked how real their relationship and friendship is, and how each of them can kind of tell them about themselves and it's kind of respected, which is what we do as friends, So it's nice to see that on screen.

I have been lucky to have some really good relationships in my life. I've been friends who are basically like sisters, and I think that that is the same dynamic between Sabine and Jacinda. They're they're almost more than friends, they're basically family.

Going back to episode 7x03 with Tiana and Cinderella on the motorcycle, there was a lot of elements going on there with these big poufy ballgowns and a motorcycle, was that a hard scene to film?

That was my very first scene in fairy tale land, and there's a lot of elements that you got to deal with that you don't think about. There's your heels that are digging into the earth, there's poufy dresses, and you're walking on like the ground which has grease and things that you don't always see. There are so many mosquitoes. I don't how many mosquitoes there were that night, and you're trying to do the scene and clearly, you can't just smack your face in the middle of the scene and you're trying to do as best you can, with four or five mosquitoes just chilling on your eyelashes. Then you have to hop on this motorcycle. Luckily, we have some wonderful amazing stunt doubles that come in for us and they'll actually  ride on the motorcycles and do all that fancy stuff.  But there is a lot that the audience probably doesn't know, that we have to sort of deal in times like that. But we've got a really fun cast and you make jokes about it and you realize that you are living your dream so so it ends up being okay.

We've kind of touched on it a little bit, but what traits do you admire about Tiana/Sabine?

I think they're very goal-driven people. There's that entrepreneurial spirit that Sabine has with trying to live her dream of one day owning a restaurant, or being this chef and doing what she's passionate about. I can relate to that because I am lucky enough to be able to do something that I'm really passionate about, and have been passionate about since I was a kid. I think that there's this quiet confidence and quiet strength that I kind of admire about her.  I think that leads those around her and is felt by those that are part of this rebellion. Because they want to do led by her. It's not it's not like they've been forced to, they believe in her and it's someone that they want to follow.

On a Disney related question, if you were to visit Disneyworld, what would be your favorite thing to visit or do?

Big Thunder Mountain is one of my favorites. Anytime I go back there, I immediately become that 7 year old girl again so I have fun with any with whatever I'm doing. I went to Disneyland a year and a half ago, two years, but I need another trip. it's I haven't gone Disneyland cause I've been in LA for the last ten years, but it's been almost 15 years... it's been a while since I've been to Disneyworld, I've got to get back to Orlando and go there. Maybe that'll be my next trip.

Robin's story in season 2 was some of the most harrowing portrayals of a neurological disease I've seen on television and it's something that's been thrilling and emotional to watch. How did you prepare for those emotionally gravitating scenes?

There's a book called Brain on Fire that I ended up reading, and she was basically going through a lot of the same things that my character was going through. It was quite emotional. There were days where I was physically tired after doing certain scenes. There was that one scene where I was on the balcony, it was cold that night, and I had to be out on the balcony, basically in my underwear and a shirt and it was cold, but by the end  I was really hot. I think my body just didn't know that I'm you know shooting a theme for a show on TV. My body thinks this is really going on, and you know it gets into fight or flight mode and it can it can be really exhausting.

But for me as an actor, it is also fun, it's something that you can dig your teeth into which I think we as actors we always want. I really enjoyed working with that cast and being able to play that role and being able to go so deeply into a character and explore all of these different flaws that she didn't even think was possible to have. For me as an actor, I had a really good time with that role.

So from the press release this week, we know that Robin is returning to the show this season. What has been her head space between the season 2 finale and when we catch up with her in season 3?

What begins to unfold in these next few episodes is that you see how hard it is for some ones that has gone through something like that and to come back to a normal life, or at least try to come back to a normal life cause it's not like you're just immediately better, there are some things that are still happening with her that she is warned about. But because you've never dealt with this before, you don't so you know what's going on. You don't understand what's going on inside this body that you thought you knew, that you've lived with for 30-something years and the all of a sudden is doing all this crazy stuff that you'd never imagine you could be physically capable of doing.

So I think she's dealing with that, as well as trying to figure out what life is going to do the right now with it herself with Connor, with her father and it's really it's gonna be hard for her so I am i do think that she's very lucky and she has a good support system.

How challenging has it been switching hats between Robin and Tiana?

It was definitely challenging with the flying back and forth constantly. Initially when you start, you're so super excited about it that you're almost running on adrenaline, but then after a while it does start to get to you a little bit.

But I honestly can't complain because usually I'm doing what I love and I get to do it on two separate shows that I love, with casts that I love, that really is kind of the game. Though yes, it can be hard, and scheduling can be hard, and you know you're waking up at all these crazy odd hours but it is still my passion and I'm ready for it. Doing all these things at once is challenging as an actor yes, but it also can make you grow, and learn more about yourself and your characters. So of course you can use that whenever you're exhausted.

Besides being an accomplished actress, you also sing, dance, do musical theater and own your own production company. What's it like juggling all those things in you career?

I don't know. Sometimes I look back on stuff that I've done and I'm like "how did I do that?" I'm not really sure. I guess because it is a passion of mine, I think that you just do it because you know that this is it. Yes it can be stressful and tiring at times, but it is still what you love to do and because you love to do it, you just do it without really thinking about it and without saying thinks like "God, this is a thing that I have to do that I really don't want to do today" you just do it and then all of a sudden you're done and I you can't believe it it got done.


I do feel the passion fuels you really, and that's the way that you get them done. It's such a special thing to be able to say that you have something like that where it doesn't matter the sort of cost in a way, that you know you're doing what you love. and that's like a simple. special thing to have and it's very rare. I don't think I realized how rare it was until I got a little older in life. But in my mind when I was growing up I'm like "Everyone growing up and they get to do what they love to do" but I realized that that's not it's not as true as I was thinking it was at that time. Now that I've gotten older I've realize how precious this thing that I have is, and I and do not take it for granted.

You worked with Michael Jackson on the This Is It tour. What was it like working with such a heavyweight in the music industry?

That was a very specific dream of mine that I had it as a child. It was about three months of work, that we ended up doing, but the whole three months was just so incredibly surreal for me. I felt like I was on a high that I wasn't going to come down from for four to three months.

I'll tell you this, the first time that he came I think everyone's been there about a week or so getting ready and learning choreography, and one day he walked in, it was the first time he had come to rehearse. He walked in without telling anyone, and he just walked to the door to say hello to us, and I he moved like there was wind blowing off of his face, in his hair and his jacket and I felt like there was a glow coming from him. He just got up and walked away, and we just sat there stunned and Stacy and Travis the choreographers died laughing, they were like "We're gonna let you guys have that moment for a second we'll give you a second to collect yourselves before we go back into learning choreography."

After that he was just a joy to work with and he was very kind. We would do a prayer circle in the morning with him, and he was exactly what you believed him to be and what was also really nice is that there was something special about it. I think because we were all so happy to be there and and Michael has this sort of childlike spirit to him that I think permeated though all of us and it felt like we were a little kids again getting to fulfill our dreams so it was a really sort of magical time for me.

Is there anyone else you'd love to work with or any sort of production or show you'd like to work on produce on?

I'd love be in Hamilton! I mean after coming out of school, I ended up touring for a few years with Fame: The Musical and Smokey Joe's Cafe and because I had studied musical theater in school, I just always assumed I would be going to New York.I accidentally sort of fell into LA and it was one of those things where I thought I was just visiting for a week, which turned into a month, which turned into years now that I've been in LA.

I absolutely have not had the opportunity to go back to New York and really pursue Broadway in the way that I would like to. So just Broadway in general is a check on my bucket list because I do miss it. That's what I grew up doing, I grew up singing and dancing and I haven't been able to do that in a way that I always assumed I would have. That's something that I would really like to get back to at some point in time in my life feel rather than later.

In terms of people that I'd like to work with, Audra McDonald is someone I've loved since I was a kid so just to be on stage with her would be a an incredible dream of mine. I eventually would like to get into maybe doing some more films. I haven't really done much in terms of like action films and of course there's all these comic books and superhero characters out there, so those would be fun to delve into as well.

I've checked off very specific dreams on my bucket list so if I get any more that would be amazing and I'd be very happy and thankful.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have a production company called 42 Seven Productions and we put on shows at rhe W. We have shows both in LA and New York, and occasionally in Chicago and London. But if you are out in LA, and it's either a Thursday or a Sunday night, and you have nothing to do come out to the W. You will have a fun time, there food and drinks and wonderful entertainment that I'm sure you will love. So if you're either in LA or in New York, New York is every other Sunday for Broadway at the W and Mondays are Live In The Living Room. They're fun shows and people tend to really have a good time.


Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8|7c on ABC.
Chicago Med returns Tuesday 21st November at 

10|9c on NBC

For more information on 42 Seven Production's upcoming shows, visit 
http://www.42sevenproductions.com/










 
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