Patina Miller is an objectively glamorous and engaging woman. Just look at the photos here—she’s equally skilled at giving goddess vibes in a floaty gown as she is giving a fierce face in a white jumpsuit accessorized with a designer fanny pack. A decorated veteran of Broadway (she won a Tony in 2013 for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in “Pippin”) and a student of the theater since she was a child, the 33-year-old “Madam Secretary” star is in her element both in playing to a camera and feeding off the energy of everyone in the room. And the results—on stage, on the screen, or in the pages of a magazine—undeniably speak for themselves.
Miller is also a new mom, and an active working mom at that. Unsurprisingly, she’s also the type of mother who doesn’t shy away from being open about the ups and downs. This means taking a break to pump during our photo shoot; it means FaceTiming often with her 6-month-old daughter, Emerson, when she’s at work on-set; and it means not being shy about leaning on her family and friends when she needs help.
“I know for females—working moms, that is—there’s always the fear of ‘I’m not going to be able to mother the way that I want to mother and I’m going to have to give up my career,’ and what I’ve found is that no, you don’t, you just have to figure out how to make it work. If you can get yourself a good village of people who are willing to be there for you…that’s the best thing,” Miller explains. “You can freak out, and you should allow yourself to freak out because that’s just normal, but having clear-minded people around and a support system is huge.”
A native of South Carolina who began acting in fourth grade and went on to a performing arts boarding school (the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities) and later studied musical theater at Carnegie Mellon, Miller’s career is hard-earned (in addition to her TV and stage work, movie fans may also recognize her from the final two “Hunger Games” films). And now, her method of integrating her new role as a parent with her longstanding one as an actress is paying off nicely. Though she just welcomed her daughter with hubby David Mars (whom she met—no joke—on eHarmony in 2012) this past summer, she’s starred as Daisy Grant, a new mom herself and the press coordinator to the show’s titular Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (played by Téa Leoni), on the hit CBS political drama since 2014.
“For Daisy, her whole thing is navigating this world of having the career and having all of these ambitions, but also wanting to have all of these things at home as well,” Miller says. “It’s really amazing that I’ve been able to channel all the things that I’ve been working on in my own life and [been] able to bring all of that to my character, because it is the exact same thing.”
In the midst of her filming schedule for the latest season of “Madam Secretary” (which, as Miller promises, “just continues to get better and better every episode”), we caught up with Miller on everything from politics to postpartum depression to what makes playing Daisy Grant so special.
You’ve played Daisy Grant on “Madam Secretary” since 2014. How has it been to embody this character for four years?
It’s been really amazing to do 24 episodes a year for the past four years, and to get to know a lot more about who Daisy Grant really is—her strengths, her weaknesses, how she works and how she works under pressure, her relationships that she has with the Secretary and with everyone else in the office. I feel like I’m super blessed to be able to play one character who changes all the time.
Four years ago, when “Madam Secretary” debuted, the political climate was very different than it is now. Given that the show is about politics, how has that been for you as a cast member?
I’ll be honest, it’s exhausting sometimes—having our political climate be where it is now and having to go and portray characters in the political world that we are in now. I think it’s pretty amazing, though, how our stories get to mirror what is happening in real time. I feel like we do a great job of telling stories that people can relate to. We’re not necessarily pointing fingers at anyone, but we’re able to adapt and tell these stories that people at home can identify with. The characters are going through the exact same things that we, in this country, are going through, in similar—but not the exact same—ways.
How would you describe Daisy Grant to someone unfamiliar with the show?
Daisy is absolutely, I would say, on her power-woman thing. She’s in a male-dominated world, obviously, and she’s a female and she’s the spokesperson for the Secretary, which is a huge task. She’s very driven and she’s very direct. She’ll say how she feels, even, sometimes, when it comes back to bite her in the butt. She’s very passionate; she’s passionate about the things that she believes in, and she’s not afraid to let that be known to the Secretary or to anyone else on the staff.
How are you most like her?
I think I’m most like her in her ambition… Daisy is absolutely someone who is ambitious. She’s not someone who is okay with just being mediocre. She always wants to be great, she always wants to be the best she can be, and she tries to attack everything that she does with a level of perfection. That can be one of her weaknesses as well, because she’s always striving for perfection and always trying to do things the right way and that’s hard.
And like you, Daisy is also a new mother.
It’s a high-stress situation for Daisy and she’s doing it all without a man now. She’s a single mom and she’s making it work. And you know what? Single moms make it work all the time—I’m really happy to be able to be a voice for those women, at this moment in time for Daisy on the show, so that people can see: “Yeah, there can be some mistakes but you turn them into blessings, and it’s not ideal being a single mom and doing this thing, but it can happen and it can work if you want it to work!” Her community is the people she works with, their dynamics, and how they help out. I’m really excited for my character to continue to navigate new motherhood, this new role, and her new identity on the show.
Your daughter is newly 6 months old. What have been the biggest joys and challenges of new motherhood?
The joys have been watching her development over the past six months. From every smile, to every coo and now watching her try to talk…it’s all been really exciting! I can never get enough of her cuddles and her sweet personality.
Part of the challenge of being a new mother is how quickly each moment and milestone passes. You want to savor each and every one. In the beginning I did struggle with the baby blues, which turned into a mild bout of postpartum [depression]. I thought I was prepared to tackle it, but honestly, you can never be prepared for something like it. Six months out, I’ve now realized that I have to be kind and gentle with myself and set expectations that are realistic. I don’t have to have all the answers; I just need to love and care for her.
What do you and your husband like to do together with your baby?
Our big thing that we like to do on the weekends is to take our baby swimming. My husband takes her into the pool and I get to sit and watch the both of them swim together. That has been a highlight, for me, of taking baby girl around—just being able to sit back and watch him have father-daughter time and watch her play and be free in the water and just have so much fun. That’s special. Then after that we’ll usually do a brunch with her. Brunching was a big part of our life pre-baby and it’s nice to be able to bring her along now that we can.
When you have a moment to yourself, what do you like to do for your own sanity and self-care?
I love working out and I love moving. It’s something that I’ve always loved and that I just enjoy—so being able to get a workout in at all costs is something that’s super important to me. I try to do it every day—I’m not so successful now that baby girl is here—but if I can, that to me is the No. 1 way that I practice self-care.
This is a new world for me, and I battle with having to leave my daughter but also wanting to be around her all the time and be a hands-on mom, but also wanting to continue to do the things that fulfill me artistically. That was the big fear of mine before I went back to work… Now, since she’s sleep-trained, my mom has been here and has been helping take care of her. I do a lot of FaceTiming when I’m on-set, but I am very blessed that the filming schedule is not super intense… It’s a struggle, in all ways—wanting to be around her all the time and give her all the attention, because she’s so young and I have this desire to just be a great mom and do the right things. When you’ve focused on yourself and your goals for so long, and then this tiny human comes into the world, you just want to give everything to her. But I realize that I also have to do things for myself in order to be good for her.
Your co-star Téa Leoni is a mom as well.
Téa has been an amazing source of wisdom and advice throughout this entire journey. Having someone that I can lean on and take all of my crazy mom-anxieties to and have her calm me down between takes [has been great]. There was this one moment when I was pumping and my milk supply was low and I freaked out and I had to race back to set, like: “Oh my God, my milk supply is low! What do I do? I’m not going to be able to feed my baby!” And Téa said: “Just breathe. You will be fine. It is all good.” It immediately calmed me down.
Any advice you’d offer to new parents feeling overwhelmed by the work and family balance question?
I’m still working through it, but what’s been really valuable for me is surrounding myself with people who’ve been through it and experienced it all, reaching out to those people, and not being afraid to talk about it. Talk about your fears and the work-life balance if it’s possible. Having people around you who support you is super, super important. I do not think that I would’ve gotten out of that [postpartum] fog and haze I was in if I hadn’t had a support system with me…it is hard, but it’s worth it, and in the end, you have to figure it out.