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Tamarah Murley on the Challenges of a Catholic Actor

, | August 17, 2021 | By

Hollywood has changed a lot in the last few decades, and actors even in mainstream projects are asked to deal with provocative or dark or adult subject matter. For performers of faith, navigating all this can be quite a challenge -- and sometimes it can disrupt a career.

Born in San Diego, California, but raised largely on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, actress Tamarah Murley was bitten by the acting bug early. Eventually, she made her way to the showbiz mecca of Los Angeles.

In 2013, Murley was cast in the role of the "Thin Woman" in FX's anthology series American Horror Story.

"Things started to happen for me and more regularly after I worked on American Horror Story," says Murley. "It was a big deal, because it was probably my first thing outside of the whole indie scene.

"I remember just being floored and excited about things opening up. The flip side to that ... I remember telling my acting coach, 'I'm booking a lot, but it's not the kind of roles I want to play.' It just opened the wrong doors."

In 2015, Murley appeared in the Hulu comedy series Casual, about cohabiting siblings, directed by Jason Reitman. Variety described it as "close to pay-TV territory in terms of language and sex."

In 2017, Murley then appeared in an episode of the ABC anthology series American Crime, created by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and starring Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton and W. Earl Brown, among many others.

For actors, working with a particular producer, company, network or casting director, or in a particular genre, can bring you into a kind of unofficial repertory company. The connections may not be obvious to viewers looking at a body of work, but they are to the industry.

This can have its advantages, in funneling job opportunities your way. But, depending on what circle you wind up in, they may not be the opportunities you're looking for.

Says Murley, "Once you're on one of his shows, they will continually call you. So, every show after, I auditioned again for the next season of that. Then the tape from that, it leads to the next film.

"I probably had four or five bookings after that, but it was still all the dark, depressed roles."

It's hard for an actor, once work starts coming in, to say no to anything.

"I've been pursuing this for 20 years," Murley recalls. "You'd go to class every week, and you'd go to workshops, and you go to auditions. You're just trying to get your break. My focus was more on working than on what I'd be working on.

"The twist is that the break broke me, so then I took a year off. Now, I've just been playing and discerning if this is what God wants me to do. I don't know.

"What's my niche? Earlier it would be comedy, and then it turned into the sad mom, the crying mom, the depressed mom. So, now, I don't know."

Murley recently relocated herself and her family to Atlanta, which has a thriving and growing entertainment industry, but it's with a new focus.

"I've pretty much committed to staying close to my values," she says. "I've had that conversation with my agent in L.A. and then again with this one in Atlanta.

"I just let them know that I'm not really interested in working in horror films or anything dark. I've been there, and I've done that.

"It'll be whatever it is. If it means that I don't work as much, then that's just the way it is. I'm prayerful that something will come along, and I find my new circle."

As for her advice to young Catholics entering acting, Murley says, "I would say to choose wisely. It's hard to say that, because I know from experience that you don't have a lot of say-so. It's hard to get an agent, and then it's so hard to get an audition. It's a really hard business.

"I learned the hard way. It's so odd, because, had I not worked on those things, I might not have had that change or that conversion.

"Now, and I'm in my 50s, I would tell them just to stay true to their values and their faith. You can use your talents to do good things."

Many Catholics feel they should go into the darker roles and tougher projects as a kind of evangelization. Murley isn't so sure anymore.

"I have this conversation a lot with my Catholic circle. They're really supportive, and they said, 'Tamarah, you should not think that way. You should be the light. You should go work on those projects and bring light to them.' I was like, 'I don't know if I want that responsibility.'

"I want to say yes to whatever God has planned for me, but I don't feel like that's the way to do it. I'm not trying to be timid, but I just feel like there's a holier way.

"I haven't discerned that yet. I don't know what is next for me."

But, sometimes, the light shines through.

Murley recalls a moment on the set of American Crime, shooting a scene with Felicity Huffman.

"I remember calling on the Holy Spirit to be with me," she says. "We did the scene and all the shots. Then we were going back to our trailers.

"Mine was in one direction, and the leads and the stars were in another direction. I was just minding my own business and walking to my trailer, and I felt this tug on my elbow.

"I turned around, and it was Felicity Huffman, so she had come pretty much tracking me down. She said, 'I just wanted you to know what an awesome job you did.'

"I said, 'That' very nice of you. You don't have to say that.' She said, 'I know I don't, so the fact that I'm saying it means I mean it.' I'm like, 'OK! Yes, ma'am.'

"When I get these little pats on the back from God, or these God winks, and I honestly feel if I just keep in this direction, I'll come back."


Image: Courtesy Tamarah Murley

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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