Life After 'Compton': Rhyon Brown Details The Next Chapter In Expanding Her Brand
Rhyon Brown discusses how she will keep the momentum going after starring in Lifetime's 'Surviving Compton.'
Rhyon Nicole Brown is no stranger to the Hollywood industry. The multi-talented actress, singer-songwriter, and screenwriter has survived 20 years of making it with an extensive resume of recurring roles on shows like Lincoln Heights and That's So Raven. But as of late, her name has made headlines and flooded newsfeeds for a new accomplishment: Surviving Compton.
The actress recently starred in the Lifetime TV movie, Surviving Compton, a biopic about R&B singer and the original First Lady of Death Row Records, Michel'le. The biopic served as the untold side of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's 2015 feature film, Straight Outta Compton, and as the film's lead, Rhyon was tasked with mastering Michel'le's distinctly high-pitched voice and reenacting the singer's abusive relationships with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. And according to Twitter and the thousands of fans who tuned into the network on Oct. 15, Rhyon earned five stars for her spot-on portrayal.
The buzz surrounding her performance has dimmed since the movie aired, but just as Michel'le learned only after she parted ways from both of her toxic relationships, there is definitely life after Compton. Now, Rhyon is embarking on a new, rather ambitious journey with her music, releasing an album entitled Pretty Girl along with a short film. And this time, instead of telling someone else's story, Rhyon is telling her own. "As an actor, I feel like I’m the canvas, and I am the way of getting some one’s message out to the world," Rhyon says over the phone. "As a musician and a singer-songwriter, it’s now my story that’s being told from my perspective.
VIBE spoke with the 24-year-old about tackling Michel'le's story as well as her plans for her career moving forward.
VIBE: Your portrayal of Michel’le’s abusive relationships came across as authentic and genuine. It’s Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, and your performance was probably very helpful for women in similar situations. But how was it impactful for you?
It was hard because it’s one thing to hear about domestic violence and see people’s interviews and talk about it, but it’s another thing to actually have to embody it. There were certain scenes where after the scene was over, I was still crying, just because it hit me. This is not only Michel’le’s reality, but it’s the reality of a lot of women out there. That is something they have to go through everyday. And to look at Michel’le and say wow, there’s this beautiful person that went through all of this and doesn’t have malice in her heart, it’s really inspirational. My main goal for this film was to be so raw with the performance that other women who go through it could relate and know that they didn’t have to be in that abusive situation and that it didn’t have to define their entire life.
You’ve probably seen the controversy surrounding the film. Did you have any reservations about joining the cast?
My only reservations came with how I was going to portray the role. I had to go to lengths that I’ve never had to go before. Some of the scenes, I was completely nude on set, so that was new for me. But as far as the things that Dr. Dre had to say about the movie, not so much. They had their opportunity to tell their story in Straight Outta Compton. So I think it’s only right that Michel’le has her opportunity to tell her story. I think everybody should get to tell their story, and I was just here to help Michel’le tell hers.
Have you seen the reactions to your performance and the movie in general?
Yeah I have. I’m so grateful to how people received it so well. And like I said, with this film, I had to go lengths that I never had to go in my acting career before. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so this was a big step for me. I’m honored there are so many people out there that appreciate my craft because with my craft, all I want to do is inspire people. And to know that’s what happened, I’m over the moon still.
You mentioned that you had to go to new lengths in this film. How else do you think you’ve matured in you career from your early days until now?
I feel like I have a better understanding of the industry as a whole now. Acting has always been a passion of mine and something I fell in love with when I was four years old. But now, it’s not just a love of mine; it’s something I’m also a student of. I was on a show called Lincoln Heights for four years, and that’s really where I grew up just because I was around the same people for four years. It allowed me to build relationships with different directors, the executive producers [and] other actors I was able to take on as mentors. There were writers that let me sit in on their writing rooms. At that point, I realized I didn’t only want to be in front of the camera, but I also wanted to be behind. So Lincoln Heights got cancelled the year before it was time for me to go to college. I went to USC film school because I knew I wanted to be behind the camera. So I studied directing, producing, and writing. Being able to dissect a film and actors’ work, I feel like as an actress, I can communicate better with the people that I’m working with on set and with my audience because I know what touches people in different ways. I know my way around a camera now, and I think that’s so important when you’re in this industry. When you have a greater understanding for everybody’s job, it makes you be able to rise to a different level.
You’re also involved in music. Would you say that you’re an actress before a singer, or vice versa?
I don’t know if I’d say one before the other. Acting is what I’ve been doing for the longest, but I think that my talent in acting has definitely made me a stronger singer because when I sing, it’s not just the words. It’s more than the perfect note; it’s the perfect emotion. People have asked me which I prefer, but they both service two completely different things for me. As an actor, I feel like I’m the canvas and I am the way of getting some one’s message out to the world and it’s my job to get people to empathize with other people. As a musician and a singer-songwriter, it’s now my story that’s being told from my perspective.
So the creative processes for acting and singing are probably different then, right?
They are a little different, but they’re very similar. My art is my baby, so they’re very personal. I prepare them in very personal ways. I have to peel back the layers of what it is I’m going through. When I’m playing a different character, like with Michel’le for instance, I didn’t want to take it from a third party point of view. I didn’t want to judge her in a negative way, nor did I want to feel sorry for her. I still prepare in a very personal way, though. I had to find as many similarities between Michel’le and I to play the role. Even though I’ve never been through anything like domestic violence, I found a lot of similarities there. That’s really what I do with my music; I try to find as many similarities between me and my audience. So when they hear my music, my goal is for them to feel like, ‘man, I’m not the only person that goes through this,’ or, ‘I love that song because I’ve had that experience.’ My album in particular—I took a break from acting for four years when I went to college—and [my album] kind of fills in what that period of growth as a person was like when I was in college. Regardless of if people go to college or not, everybody in their lifetime has that period of time where they do a lot of growing and figuring out who they are. That may happen when you’re 15, it may happen when you’re 18 or it may happen when you’re 50, but I think that everyone will be able to relate.
Speaking of an album, is that what's next for you in terms of focus?
It is. I have a single called “California.” It’s coming out along with a video on [Oct] 28th. I studied film and television production, so my visuals are really important to me. Then my album comes out at the top of the year and a short film that goes along with [that]. The album is titled Pretty Girl, and I’m trying to pull back the layers. The theme of it would definitely be personal growth and development. You can’t judge a book by a cover. Throughout my life, everybody thinks that she’s had it easy. She’s been acting and singing her whole life, but people don’t know the different sacrifices and inner turmoils I’ve had to deal with. So with the album, it’s my way of connecting to people in general, but a lot of women who have gone through those type of things. I would say as far as sound is concerned, it is somewhere between R&B and pop. But I study a lot of soul singers, so there’s a really soulful aspect to it.
What do you want people to take a way from this piece of work?
I want people to understand that they, for one, have a voice, however that may be. Whether it’s through communication or whatever business they jump into, they [have to] find their voice. And if they don’t find that voice, then they’re missing their purpose in life. Also [for people] to find your purpose because that’s where you will find your true happiness.
So the idea of doing an album along with a short film is very current and interesting, but super ambitious, especially for a newer artist. How do you think a film will heighten the experience for this album?
For me, in my career, I want to take what being an entertainer means back to the days of Frank Sinatra, Dean Crosby and Ginger Rogers, where being an entertainer meant you acted and all of those things. That was such an important element for me. So it was like, what is it I can do to make people see me as that well-rounded entertainer all in one? And because I had gone to film school, I decided that I would write a film that allowed people to see me in all those respects. Like I said, it chronicles my experience throughout college, so there’s a lot of different emotions. There’s parties, there’s great times. There’s heartbreak, dealing with personal insecurities, and finding where it is I want to take my life. It was a challenge for me because it was like how can I take all these songs and make it into not only a story, but connect it. I want people to see I studied my craft and see I truly am an entertainer.