How Patina Miller Trained for Her New Badass Role Despite a 'Rough Go' with COVID-19
After a long battle with coronavirus, the Tony-winning actress shares exactly how she recovered her mind and body for her role in the new Starz drama Power Book III: Raising Kanan.
Patina Miller's career took off in 2011 when she made her Broadway debut as Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act — a role that not only earned her a Tony Award nomination but also showed her the importance of prioritizing her physical health. "As I took the stage, I quickly realized that it takes a lot of stamina to be in a lead role," she tells Shape. "Performing nearly every day, eight times a week, is not easy. The vocals were very demanding, too. I knew I wanted to invest in my body as much as I was investing in my overall performance."
So, she did just that, working with a trainer for the first time and hitting the gym four times a week — on top of doing shows and rehearsals, of course. "That was the only way I was going do the job that I so desperately wanted to do with greatness," says Miller, who's maintained that mentality for every role she's prepared for — be it Leading Player in Pippin (for which, BTW, she won a Tony Award) or Commander Paylor in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — since. And her latest project playing Raquel (Raq) Thomas in the Starz drama Power Book III: Raising Kanan, which started July 18, is no exception.
Power tells the story of James St. Patrick, an intelligent and unforgiving drug dealer who goes by "Ghost" on the DL. The series also follows Patrick's best-friend-turned-foe, Kanan Stark, portrayed by 50 Cent. Power Book III: Raising Kanan is the prequel to the original Power series and gives fans a glimpse into Kanan's upbringing in the 90s, focusing on his relationship with his fierce and compelling mother Raq, played by Miller.
"Raq is a complete boss," shares Miller. "She is the sole provider for her family, she is always on the go, and you know, she is the queenpin." For this role, Miller wanted to curate her training to represent Raq in all her badassery.
"She's a female in a man's world. So she takes pride in her appearance — from her strong physique, down to her make-up and hair," explains the 36-year-old actress. "Everything with Raq is deliberate and well thought out. So I wanted to train in a certain style to attain a look that reflects strength and power. Raq wants to dominate and she's going to dominate on every level — and her looks go hand-in-hand with that."
In preparation for the show, she began amping up her cardio and strength training. But then, in March 2020, she got COVID-19. "I had a really rough go with it," says Miller, who's also a mom of one. It wasn't until June 2020 — "after practically being on bed rest for three months" — did she return to working out with her personal trainer, Patrick McGrath, from reformer Pilates studio SLT. "We were doing Zoom workouts and started with some easy Pilates with the goal of building up to strength training, but I really struggled to build up the stamina," shares Miller.
"For me, one of the long-term effects of COVID was that I struggled with my heart rate," she explains. "It would spike for no reason. I was also tingling all over, had brain fog, and was constantly out of breath. I was so nervous that I was starting this new role in October and I could barely function."
But through Pilates and strength training, Miller began feeling more like herself. Then in August, she decided to take things up a notch after finding dance cardio. "I heard about it through a friend and was instantly intrigued," she shares. "I started working with Beth J Nicely from The Limit Fit in August. I figured the choreography might help with my memory and the HIIT aspect of the classes might rev up my lungs and help my breathing."
Her first session was one of the hardest workouts she's ever done. "It hurt so bad, and I was so scared but I wanted to push through," she shares. "My body has never failed me, so I started doing the classes three times a week for an hour each session, and I built my stamina to where I felt fully recovered by October." (Related: How Battling COVID-19 Helped One Woman Rediscover the Healing Power of Fitness)
Today, Miller is back to training six times a week with both McGrath and Nicely. "I do dance HIIT training and toning with Beth, and I train privately with Patrick, who has me doing more functional movements and resistance training," she says.
At the end of the day, her goal "is to look and feel the best that I can," she shares. Not just for her job, but for her long-term health. "I'm trying to take care of my body preventatively," she says. "I want to be able to do the things that I'm doing now up until I'm 70 or 80 years old. I realized early on that having a fitness routine and being in tune with your body helps things along the way."
Aside from her physical health, Miller is a big believer and promotor of self-care, too. "Mental health therapy is one of the most important parts of my self-care routine," says the actress. "It's a non-negotiable for me, which is why I go once a week."
"I honestly developed an even greater appreciation for both fitness and therapy in the aftermath of COVID," adds Miller. "While exercise helped me feel better physically, my recovery wouldn't be complete without working through the mental toll my sickness, and quarantine, in general, took on me." (See: The Potential Mental Health Effects of COVID-19 You Need to Know About)
Miller has been very open about her wellness practices on social media and hopes that she'll inspire others to put their health first, especially other Black women. "Representation matters. Not only on stage and on the screen but in the wellness space, too," she says. "Having visibility in all fields is what levels the playing field and inspires the next generation to be great."
In a continued effort to focus on her mental health, the actress has also developed a soft spot for CBD, which she says really helped her when she struggled with anxious thoughts and depression during COVID. "Not only was I a long hauler, but my declining mental health really caused me to struggle with my sleep," she shares. (Related: How and Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Messing with Your Sleep)
"Along with therapy, I wanted to find alternative methods to help me and that's when I came across B Great [CBD products]," she says. "It's a female-run business, which I appreciated since there aren't many women in the CBD industry — and I always want to arm myself with products that I believe in and also love empowering women."
Miller found that the brand's Relax Shots (Buy It, $72, bgreat.com) did wonders to help her catch some Zs. "They really mellowed and calmed me down, tasted yummy, and got me through," the actress shares. "I still use them today and have them stacked in my refrigerator." (Related: I Tried 4 CBD Products for Sleep and Here's What Happened)
Finally, Miller swears by infrared sauna therapy. "People get tired of me posting about it on Instagram, but I'm obsessed," she says. Infrared sauna therapy offers a laundry list of health benefits, including increased energy, improved circulation, and pain relief. "Since I work out so much, infrared sauna therapy is really great for my inflammation and the color therapy is good for my mood as well," says Miller. "I sit in there for about an hour a day and just sweat read through my lines and take that time to center myself and recover."
In fact, Miller loves it so much that she now has a Clearlight Sanctuary Infrared Sauna (Buy It, $5,599, thehomeoutdoors.com) in her home. "I couldn't resist," she says. "Carving out some me-time, whether that's 10 minutes or an hour, is so essential for us working women and moms to continue doing what we love, and do it well. I hope I can inspire more women to see the value in that."