Antoine McKay has been around the Chicago film block a time or two. Most recently, Antoine began filming ‘ South side,’ a new Comedy Central TV show here about a family-owned business in the Englewood neighborhood. You may also notice Antoine from Chicago’s hit series, “Empire,” and Amazon’s “Patriot.”
But Antoine is more than just an actor. He’s a father who opened a theater in Rogers Park, McKay Arts, whose mission is to educate and entertain while creating an inclusive, diverse, and respectful environment and a lasting impression of hope and joy.
And his most recent credential added to his resume, Antoine is now an on-camera instructor here at Vagabond School of the Arts! Artistic Director, Michael McCracken, sat down with Antoine to discuss navigating Chicago’s theater and film scene, his thoughts on creating your own content and how his travels and working on set have informed him as an actor.
Michael: How do you navigate the scene in Chicago?
Antoine: My brother is an actor in New York. Something he told me when I first decided to start acting here in Chicago, was to do one thing every day that is going to make you a better actor or advance your career in any way.
For me, it’s a myriad of things and it’s not just going to auditions or going to a shoot.
Are you getting enough rest?
Are you eating well?
Are you taking downtime to experience life so that you have something to bring to acting?
That is what has stuck with me when I started my career in Chicago.
Michael: What is your favorite part about being a Chicago actor?
Antoine: There is no community like Chicago’s community. While we are out here competing against each other, and it is a very competitive pool of actors here, we are still very supportive. For example, Robyn Coffin, who is [also] one of my favorite actors here in Chicago and is a teacher here at Vagabond - she is just one of the coolest people I’ve met since I’ve been here.
I remember this one time I needed a reader and reaching out to a fellow actor here. They were so on board without hesitation. As a community, we pour into each other and that’s a really fun and healthy place to work from.
Michael: Chicago feels like a great place because you see the same people over and over again. It is a market we are all in together.
Antoine: And you’re genuinely happy for people who have success here. Chris Stolte who’s on Chicago Fire - KILLING IT! I did a few projects with him and to see him on the show regularly, to see his success.
Michael: Same with Amy Morton on Chicago PD. I like to think of those two actors as the heart of the “Chicago” shows. There’s something about Stolte and Morton and seeing them represent Chicago is grounding and honest.
Michael: Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled? What is the farthest place you’ve ever traveled?
Antoine: Farthest place I’ve ever traveled was Shanghai. I did a commercial for American Airlines there which was really awesome. The greatest place was Paris. I flew back and forth from here and Paris for ‘Patriot.’ If you haven’t been - everybody’s got to go to Paris. If you go on the off-season, you can get round trip tickets for $500.
The arts are appreciated so much in Paris. Their culture of work to live instead of here in America where we live to work - falling into that trap can be detrimental. It was one of the first places on the planet that I felt absolutely comfortable everywhere I went.
Michael: What is your take on actors creating your own content? Or should we leave it to producers?
Antonine: I think you can live comfortably in both. Creating your own content for yourself is so important because you are your own amazing lexicon of information. When you can bring all of those things out and share that with people, it’s a story they’ve never really been heard. It’s uniquely yours.
I was blessed enough to create a pilot for myself called, “Written Off,” and the lead character was based on my brother who is hilariously fashion-conscious. He’s a really funny guy, but no one knows my brother like I know my brother. I was able to take that experience and bring it to life.
There’s a lot of stories that we all carry that people will connect with. Creating your own content for you and for your acting friends that you know is really a lot of fun.
Michael: It’s fun to see more and more people creating stuff that does not feel so cookie cutter.
Antonine: And then all the actors, directors, producers - you get to hire them.
Michael: What do you feel makes a good on set experience
Antoine: Getting to know the people behind the scene - the grips, the G&E people, the PA’s. Talking to them and really knowing people.
A few years back, during the downtime, I would PA on commercials just to see what it is like on the other side. That was some of the greatest education I’ve ever received. You realize the experience what our behind the scenes workers go through and who they have to deal with sometimes. It gives you a level of respect for everybody on set and all the work they do behind the camera.
I can stand in front of the camera and just kill it all day, but usually there are 50 to 100 people behind the camera, making all that happen and working just as hard as you are.
Michael: For someone who is working on or auditioning for a Chicago show, is there any advice you can give to them?
Antonine: Be prepared. Know your lines. And Listen. Listen, Listen, Listen.
Listen when you act, listen when you’re directed, listen when they’re giving notes to other actors. Being on set is such a brilliant education.
Being on “Patriot,” I have learned so much about producing, directing and writing on that show alone. It changed me as an actor on set and as a professional.