Tracie Thoms plays Detective Kat Miller on Cold Case, one of Start TV's most popular shows. A trained actor whose roles span sitcoms, musicals, movies and more, she told Start TV where it all began.
Thoms remembers being shy with a vivid imagination as a child (although her parents disagree about the "shy" part). She spent the majority of her time trying to broaden her horizons, testing and trying new things to occupy her time. Thoms specifically remembers falling in love with Junior Star Search, a talent-based TV show that inspired her to consider performing. “I didn’t know what talent I wanted to do… I thought maybe I could sing, but I wasn't a very good singer… And then there was dancing, but I knew I wasn't very good at that either. And then there was this acting competition… And I'm like, I can do that.”
This attitude shaped the course of her education for a long time. Despite having a solid foundation in her newfound craft from the Baltimore School of the Arts, Thoms opted to major in communications for college, focusing on writing for radio/TV/film. Her father, the Senior Vice President of Programming at PBS, was not convinced of her choice. She can still recall the words that changed the course of her career; once while discussing her major, “[My father said], ‘You’re doing it because you're scared. You're scared you're gonna fail. That's why you're in radio/TV/film. I know filmmakers, they look at the world a certain way. You don't look at the world that way. You're just doing it out of fear.”
This moment spurred Thoms to change her degree from communications to theatre, and it was then that her journey began. After receiving her BA of Fine Arts from Howard University, Thoms moved on to attend the Julliard School’s Drama Division from 1997-2001. Throughout school and immediately following her graduation, Thoms dove into the work of auditioning, booking regional theatre jobs and even a few televisions spots.
In 2004, Thoms hit one of her next greatest milestones. It came in the form of the Broadway musical Rent, a show Thoms had been chasing for almost a decade before finally hearing the word "yes" from director Chris Columbus. She played Joanne Jefferson in the 2005 film adaptation. Following the success of this movie came her audition for Cold Case as Detective Kat Miller, the ambitious homicide detective with a knack for narcotics investigation.
There were two sides to Thoms' experience on the show, much like a coin that was constantly being flipped. On one side, the show was a hard-hitting cop drama rich with character development and detail-dependent cases. The scene work was often intense, something that can be exhausting for an actor to recreate over and over in one day. Thoms specifically remembered a scene in which a teenager died in her arms, and how the scene emotionally drained her. Time spent in front of the camera was dedicated to fostering organic performances from the actors and creating a program that would run like a well-oiled machine.
The other side of the show was the “family and fun” aspect. Thoms distinctly recalls that members of the cast, crew and staff enjoyed being at work. They had their own daily rituals that made showing up to the set a joy, no matter where the episode took them. Thoms even had the chance to incorporate her love for music, singing daily for crew members. “The crew would go, ‘What are you singing?' It became this running thing. They go, 'Tracie, what's the song of the day?' …Then the whole crew would be singing "Jessie's Girl" for the entire day. And then every day, I had to come up with a new song of the day.”
Aside from the singalongs, she also took the work seriously, viewing both her roles as Joanne in Rent as well as Detective Miller on Cold Case as active opportunities to represent minorities in the media, a movement that Thoms is very passionate about.
Growing up, Thoms said it was difficult to find characters who reflected her own life experiences. Cold Case was giving her the opportunity to correct that experience for the girls and women who were still tuning in. As a woman of color in an authoritative role, she could be the face that she had wanted to see as a child. “In the Eighties and Nineties, it was very rare to see a black woman with a story, in a relationship that was not based around what notes she’s singing and if she is going to riff and sing Gospel; this woman [Detective Miller] was a like a real woman that I'd never seen before…”
Entertainment is one of the key industries undergoing a revolution in representation, and Thoms has experienced this shift firsthand. She believes that telling specific stories and highlighting the journeys of groups that have minimal onscreen presence is necessary. Her dream is to see all kinds of people in all kinds of roles, telling Start TV, “There are not enough good roles for minority women in Hollywood. My dream is that we get to a point where you see people of color in roles that are not contingent on them being that race… It's just, I'm this person, I happen to be black and I have the same humanity that everyone else has, and the same problems.”
While Thoms has been lucky enough to consider her career a dream come true, she also reminds anyone she speaks to that to succeed, the work needs to be done. She advises anyone who wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry: “No. 1: train. Take a class somewhere and learn what you do. It's a craft like everything else. No. 2, don't let anything stop you. That includes your mother – don't let anything stop you, because if you let something stop you, you're not gonna make it.”
Catch these wise words in practice as you watch Detective Kat Miller at work on Cold Case, played by the dedicated, talented, and unstoppable Tracie Thoms.