Interview with actress Michaela Boutros-Ghali
Interview by Dlisah Lapidus
How did you bring your acting to TikTok?
To be honest, I kind of resented social media for a long time. I would go through phases where I would delete Instagram, which everyone does, but I really wasn't like a social media person at all. I was never one to whip out my camera on, literally any occasion. And because of that, I told myself that I wouldn't get on social media andI use it as a platform to share my art. But then COVID hit. I spent the first four months of quarantine, just crying every day. I was literally doing nothing, just reading Shakespeare plays, because that's what brought me comfort. But then in September I had two separate conversations with two of my best friends who've known me since I was a child. I was telling them that I really didn’t want to get on social media, but, I was seeing a lot of people getting representation through these platforms. And representation is the goal; that's how I get in the room and that’s how I have a career. So during these conversations, my friends said, “Well why don't you just start throwing shit at the wall on social media. You don't need to be precious about it but it will give you something to do, force you to stay creative. And don't have any expectations, but who knows?” The more that I thought about it, the more I realized that this might just be the way that the industry is moving. And this is how talent is discovered now. And if you're not on board with it, there's a possibility that you will get left behind, which is super scary. So you might as well get on board with it and show people what you got. And at the same time, I shouldn't, you know, resent it or shit on it, because it's given me so many opportunities. When I took away the stigma, I could look at it and see that it is a tool I'm using to further my career.
That realization made me come out of my quarantine bubble and try to do something for myself.
I was like, alright, fuck it, I'll do it. I'll make a TikTok.
How did you develop the characters in your TikTok series?
I did a couple videos before I started doing Sky and Alexa. That idea started with me asking myself, what's the most LA thing? What's the most New York thing? And then when they actually started becoming people, it turned into, what's the most sky thing to say? What's the most Alexa thing to say? And what's great is that it’s not only relatable to people from LA and New York because they turned into two best friends who are just opposite from one another. Whatever one does, I always just make sure the other one has the exact opposite opinion.
Alexa is a New York hustler all the way, pragmatic, rational, doesn't have time for anyone, is always running late, and doesn't take any BS. And then Sky is a free spirit, she just goes with the flow. She is airy and floaty and just constantly needs a green juice. Both of them just want the best for people at the end of the day, they just have different ways of getting there. The girls really started as completely stereotypical, and I think that they've grown into actual human beings, which has been awesome to watch. I think people were just able to see themselves in the characters, which is so cool for me. The best thing is hearing people say, “I'm such an Alexa and my best friend is such a Sky.” Because it doesn't matter where you're from these, these girls are relatable to everyone, and to all relationships; they're just two best friends who are opposites and who keep each other grounded. At the end of the day, either of these girls could exist anywhere.
Do you feel that these characters are an extension of yourself in any way?
These are the two personalities that exist in my brain constantly. 100% these two girls literally live inside me, both of them, and it just depends where I am, what mood I'm in, and what type of day I'm having, but they both are versions of me.
When I first made them up I thought, what can I comment on? What can I make fun of? I can make fun of La because I grew up here and I know it intimately. I can make fun of New York, I just spent the last six years there and I also know it intimately. It is bizarre how New York requires you to kick certain qualities that you have into gear in order to keep up with the city. And when I come back home to LA I'm a completely different human being because the qualities that I kicked into gear in New York are no longer required of me. I can sit back and relax, drink my green juice and go to Pilates at 10:30. And when I thought about that, I thought, “Oh, my God, I'm not special. I know that other people can relate to this.” But I didn’t start it thinking I was going to turn it into a series. I just thought it would be funny to compare the differences between ordering breakfast in New York and ordering breakfast in LA. And then when people related to that, I decided to take it to the next step. I happened to name them in the first episode, because they were ordering food, so I was like, great, I've named them, I've established who they are as people, I'm just gonna keep it going.
How have you learned from your work on these platforms?
What's great is that I'm writing the series. Before this, when I was in school, I was so focused on acting and I honestly wasn't writing at all. And then when I started writing these sketches for TikTok, it has really helped me understand the process, even something as simple as a beginning, middle and an end. So if I can do it for one minute I could do it for 30 minutes. Who would have thought that TikTok would have given me that confidence to be able to write. Writing was never something that I actually considered for myself, but I always had it in the back of my head. It was never a focused passion the way acting is, but now it has totally become that.
What is the hardest part of working as an artist on social media?
The way that social media works is that, in order to grow on that app, you are constantly required to churn out material. But you're not necessarily feeling creative every day. Obviously that's not how it works. It's not a nine to five job. So when you take a week off, because you feel like you have no ideas left, you see it in the numbers. The algorithm literally could not give two shits about your mental health. So yeah, so now I'm just figuring out how to deal with that. What's amazing is that I've been able to create an income for myself, but it's also super scary to have your income dependent on your creativity, which I'm sure every single creative person can relate to.
How do you feel about the relationship between truth and lying on social media?
The TikToks that I make are not me, they are characters. So I love that the people who have decided to follow me, have followed the characters, not me personally.
It gets into kind of Muddy Waters on Instagram. Because I have combined my life as Michaela with videos of the girls, Sky and Alexa. But I feel like on tik tok, it is so clear that people follow Sky and Alexa and their story. They are almost following the characters as if it's a TV show, which is incredible. That does make me feel like there's some protective barrier. What makes Instagram a difficult platform is that there's no way to tell the whole truth. And sometimes you feel like you're lying only because there's no way to tell the whole truth about your life on social media. Which is a weird thing to navigate because I want to show the best parts of my life and I want to be an honest person. So there are parts of me that want to show the not so great aspects of my life, but what the hell does that do for anyone at the end of the day? I feel like no one wants to see that. But I love this whole shift that's happening where everyone just dumps all the like dumb photos that we have. I love that social media is heading in that direction.
How have you felt conflicted by your portrayal of yourself on social media?
One of my friends who’s a photographer took editorial photos for my pages recently. So I was looking at these pictures, and in one I am smiling, in another I'm more serious and boss ass, and then another I look more cutesy. I was giving off different versions of myself. I had a moment where I looked at them and I thought, I have actually no idea which one is me. And I don't know which one I want to give out to the world. And does the one that I give out to the world have to be who I actually am or can those be two different people? So that is something I struggle with every day. Social media definitely makes me feel that there is little possibility for change because once you put something out, it is there forever. But what lessens my fears of this is knowing that I have made characters, so it's not totally me. And I know that I’m actually putting out stuff that I’m proud of.