“I was born on a tiny island, Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean. And now I’m standing on an international stage, and I am being honored—regardless of the color of my skin, regardless of my passport—for being the best at what I do,” proclaimed The Young and Restless star Mishael Morgan during her acceptance speech as the first Black woman to win the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress.
“And now there are little girls all around the world and they’re seeing another step forward. And they know that no matter their industry, no matter their vocation, no matter what they can strive to be the best at what they do. Not only can they achieve it, but they will be celebrated for it,” she continued.
As a kid Morgan secretly fell in love with acting but didn’t know it could be her career. “I never ever thought I would ever be in a soap opera,” Morgan confessed to EBONY prior to her win. “It was never on my radar.”
“I emigrated from Trinidad and moved to Canada when I was five, so I’m an immigrant. My parents were like ‘you’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer. That’s it,’” she explained. And today, she plays lawyer Amanda Sinclair on Y&R.
At one point, though, law school was an actual goal. However, tragedy in her native isle made her embrace acting again. “I broke my neck in a car accident when I was 19 and was in my second year of university,” she shared. Facing the very real possibility of being paralyzed, Morgan said she heard a little voice pushing her and automatically knew she had to give acting a real shot.
“It just reminded me to just try,” she said of the voice. “I just said a prayer: ‘Alright, God, if you let me walk again, here’s my deal, I’ll try.’” While bartending, she met her agent and just started booking roles. “Two weeks before I was set to start law school, my agent called and [said] ‘You’re not going to law school,’” she recalled.
“I never in a million years thought about soaps even though I [was familiar with] Michelle Stafford (Phyllis Summers), Eileen Davidson (Ashley Abbott), and Eric Braeden (the iconic Victor Newman) and all of them inspired me growing up. I watched Y&R my whole life,” confessed Morgan.
After submitting a self-tape to the iconic soap, Morgan, to her surprise, booked the role. And in 2013, she began her trailblazing career as Hillary Curtis, an anonymous blogger who wreaked havoc on Genoa City in search of revenge for her mother against Neil Winters (played by Y&R staple Kristoff St. John until his untimely death in 2019). In soap fashion, however, she and Neil later became lovers, with Hillary eventually caught in the middle of one of daytime television’s juiciest love triangles involving Neil and her true love—his adopted son Devon Hamilton (Bryton James).
Though reminiscent of Victoria Rowell’s Drucilla’s infamous entanglements with Neil and his brother Malcolm (Shemar Moore), Morgan delivered but with her own spice. “I wanted her to be a person that is trying so hard to be good, but she just can’t do it for some reason. But, in her heart, she knows she’s good,” Morgan said of Hillary. “I just showed the vulnerable sides of a person. I don’t believe that there’s a bad person and I hope that came through with Hillary. Because as much as people want to label her as a bad character or villainous character at certain points, I feel like she was just a person that was trying her best in this life.”
As madly popular as Hillary was, in 2018, she was killed off. Ever the thespian and soap opera fan, Morgan admitted that she ultimately embraced the move. “I know some people don’t believe it, but, when they pitched the death of Hillary, I felt a little taken aback for a second, but then I’m like ‘what a dope way to go out?’” she recalled. “I’ve watched soaps my entire life. To build a character for five years, to have this on-and-off again affair with Devon for so long, [showing] that heat and that passion and then getting married in a hospital bed and dying in your lover’s arms, it just was what soaps are all about. So, I was actually ecstatic to do that.”
Fans didn’t let their disappointment over Morgan’s departure go unnoted, however. “I saw that all my hard work paid off. My fans actually saw it, and they rallied behind me, and they wanted me back,” she said of the outpouring of support. “There’s not a better feeling than that, where you’ve put so much so much energy and love into your work and it’s received positively and people are not just rallying for your character, but for you. I felt honored. I was flattered.”
When the show’s leadership changed, the married mother of two returned the next year but as Hillary’s doppelganger Amanda Sinclair. Because Amanda is “very comparable to Hillary’s breakdown as a strong Black woman,” Morgan shared that she had to figure out how to make her strong and powerful, but not like Hillary. “I had to figure how [to make her] stand up for herself but not fall into the trap of what I’d gotten comfortable playing for five years,” explained the Y&R star. “I welcomed the challenge because it started to stretch me as an actor where I had to figure out how to command that strength in a different way. And I feel like I did it because even the dynamic between me and Brighton [as Devon] when I play Amanda is so different. And I think it’s such a testament to our work and our abilities as actors.”
Coming full circle, Amanda’s storyline confronting her and her twin Hillary’s mother is why she was nominated and won. “I am so immensely proud of our generation. We are breaking glass ceilings, left, right, and center. And I am so honored to be a vessel and to experience this moment,” the soap star explained, with her award in hand. “And it’s because of everybody who is out there today who is proving to the world that we can, and we will do this thing called equality and unity together.”