Growing up in South Africa, Michelle Howarth started acting as a way to express herself. The country has eleven official languages, and communication barriers often arise. Being on stage, she found she was able to transcend this obstacle and connect with her audience no matter what language they spoke. The arts, she found, can relate to any person. Film and television are enjoyed around the world, in every culture. This reality got her hooked, and her natural talent and creative instincts are what allowed her to rise to the top of her field, making her one of the best actresses to recently come out of South Africa.
“I wanted to be a professional actor because I knew I was obsessed with the craft and wanted to mold it into my career. I wanted to specialize and fine tune my acting and creativity to the point that I am able to create films and performances that resonate globally. I was big into physical theatre growing up, and that medium especially is able to communicate across transnational borders and cultures. I wanted to be able to do this on a global scale through film and television and tell stories that would otherwise go unheard. I wanted to be a professional actor to be a part of an artistic process that initiates conversation, understanding, empathy and insight across the globe,” said Howarth.
The twenty-five-year-old actress has done just that. Through her work in several successful projects, she has captivated audiences around the globe. She has had a leading role in films and television series such as Just Animals, Parenthood, Talk Stew, Shameless, King Krule, and Jackson and Randall, as well as stage roles in Angel Academy, Chicago, Ivy, and Hanamichi. Howarth consistently impresses not only audiences, but her colleagues as well. Sonja Smit, the director of the touring play Villian in which Howarth was the star, says the actress’ performance greatly contributed to the success of the play.
“Michelle has the rare ability to truly inhabit a character, always merging naturally into the character’s personality without losing any of her inherent “star power”, an ability that was on full display in her extraordinary lead performance in Villain. It is this exceptional quality that has allowed her to become one of the most exciting new faces in theatre and independent cinema over the past several years, and there is no doubt in my mind that her career will only go from strength to strength,” said Smit.
Despite such success, the highlight of Howarth’s career comes from her work in the highly-anticipated new television series Hummingbird. The series tells the story of a group of American teenagers that go missing in the United States. Detectives look into the disappearance of these teenagers and see that, although they disappeared independently of one another, there are similarities between the cases. After further investigation, one detective in particular notices a thread between each case. Each one seemed to be very active online and in each case met a member of an extremist group in Syria, and went over to Syria to do their Jihad and join ISIS. The show reveals the psyche of each individual and the process of their decision to now be a part of ISIS.
The story is incredibly timely, given the war against ISIS and terrorism that is taking place around the world, with such divisiveness on how to handle people that make these decisions. Not only is the show based on true events, it will be shot in a realistic way, and each actor knows the responsibility they carry with their portrayal of their characters. Howarth wanted to do her part to enlighten audiences on such an important issue.
“It is an important story that needs to be told, and I am proud to be a part of a show that is didactic as well as entertaining. I believe the show will shed light on socio-religious and economic issues and help initiate conversation and critical thinking around said issues,” she said. “I believe it can create a basis for conversation and debate around the subject matter on a global platform. I also believe it will give insight to a world far removed from most people and hopefully offer understanding of that culture and religious practice.”
In Hummingbird, Howarth plays the pivotal role of Cassandra, one of the American teenage girls who goes missing. It is later discovered that she met an older man online and after falling in love with him, was flown over to Syria to do her Jihad and join an extremist group. She is one of the girls who they are able to find. However, unlike the other girls, Cassandra refuses to come back to her family and the United States. Cassandra is strong willed and happy in her decision to convert to this new religion and live this extremist life.
Howarth’s portrayal of Cassandra will allow the audience to witness such a journey and possibly understand the reasoning behind it. Cassandra reveals the extremities and consequences of social media and online interactions. She shows the journey through the psyche of a young teenage girl who goes to extreme lengths for the man she loves. Through her portrayal of Cassandra, Howarth will allow viewers to witness the practices of the Jihad and life in Syria, as well as what it would be like for a female member of an extremist group such as ISIS. The role of Cassandra is vital to helping reveal why these girls made the decisions they did and how their lives ended up.
The show is expected to be an instant hit, and Howarth’s portrayal of Cassandra is a large part of that. The story is something viewers around the world want to know more about, and Howarth will help audiences gain insight into such troubled mindsets.
“In today’s world, there is much turmoil regarding this subject matter, and this series dives into these issues. The story is important because it may help one experience and understand a world we are removed from and its practices and realms,” she concluded.
Audiences have a lot to look forward to from the South African native. Beyond Hummingbird, be sure to check out Howarth in the upcoming film Madness Descending, which will be released next year.