'1923' actress Michelle Randolph graduates with honors from ASU
ASU Online courses allow film student to keep up while on set
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
Michelle Randolph, an up-and-coming film and television actress, does not take anything for granted. This includes the ability to attend school online. “It is a privilege to learn,” she said.
It wasn’t a straight path to a degree for Randolph, who took several breaks from classes as she juggled various creative projects. But after some starts and stops — and a starring role in the wildly popular television series “1923” — Randolph is graduating with honors this spring from Arizona State University, earning a BA in film (film and media studies) from the Department of English and ASU Online.
“I am so excited about graduation,” she said. “I feel like I have been in school for as long as I can remember, so it is very surreal thinking of it being over.”
Randolph’s most recent Hollywood project didn’t take place in Hollywood at all, but in the small towns and wide open spaces of Montana. She played the character of Elizabeth "Liz" Strafford, “a feisty and capable young woman and Jack Dutton’s fiancée” in Paramount’s most recent “Yellowstone” prequel.
Being a full-time student while filming in a remote area of the country was definitely a challenge.
“There were times I’d submit homework assignments or need to take a quiz while on set,” Randolph said. “I learned to take advantage of every free moment ... honestly the most stressful part was hoping there was reliable Wi-Fi!”
Randolph discovered an ability to divide her focus efficiently between work and school when necessary. Her most important piece of study equipment: headphones.
“As long as I have my headphones, you can put me anywhere!” she said.
It helped that Randolph didn’t see her degree as a “backup” to her acting career, but as a challenge to round out her own personal growth. She found a camaraderie among her ASU Online cohort, many members of which seemed to be juggling something.
“Discords were a way to feel connected to my classmates,” she explained. “Most were also working, and some were parents on top of it all. They kept me motivated.”
During the filming of “1923,” Randolph spent quite a bit of time in Butte, Montana. Because of its intact Victorian architecture and historic charm, the mining town of a little more than 30,000 people was a filmic stand-in for prohibition-era Bozeman, around which the action in the “Yellowstone” universe primarily happens.
In some ways, the wide open spaces and slower pace suited Randolph, and her real affection for the town and the state is clear.
“Our entire cast fell in love with Montana ... so beautiful. We went on a lot of road trips and definitely kept ourselves very entertained,” she said. “I can't wait to get back for Season 2, truly.”
While we’re all waiting for “1923” Season 2, we sat down with Randolph to find out more about how she envisions her future as a Sun Devil alum.
Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth "Liz" Strafford in Paramount “Yellowstone” prequel “1923.”Photo courtesy of Emerson Miller/Paramount+
Actresses Helen Mirren and Michelle Randolph drive a horse and carriage in a scene from an episode of “1923.”Photo courtesy of Emerson Miller/Paramount+
Michelle Randolph and a friendly horse pose for a photo at the “1923” cowboy camp in Butte, Montana.Courtesy photo
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I never had an exact “aha” moment, but it feels like a passion that’s built up in me over the course of my life. I’ve always been drawn to film, but growing up, I never considered that it was something I could make a full career out of. No one around me was in the industry, so it was a foreign concept when I was younger. Where do you even start? Because of this, I changed my mind on my major almost daily. It still blows my mind that we are often expected to make some of the biggest decisions for our futures when we are barely 18.
When I went to high school, I was active in sports and student government and not entirely focused on my future, but more focused on next weekend’s soccer or volleyball tournament. The summer going into my junior year, my family moved to Southern California. I went from a school of 400 students to 2,400 students, and it was a tough adjustment for me. I ended up testing out of my senior year and started taking general college classes right away.
Being so close to LA, I was exposed to the possibility of having an unconventional career compared to where I had grown up. I found myself surrounded by many inspiring creatives, and for the first time, I realized I could seriously pursue acting. While I studied acting and began auditioning, I found college crucial for keeping a sense of stability and discipline. In the acting world, you face a lot of rejection – pursuing a degree gave me the purpose I needed to keep trying. I never viewed getting my degree as something to fall back on, but as something to give me more confidence in my abilities. I chose to study film and media since it went hand in hand with my acting goals and allowed me to study film from a different perspective.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Adaptability and time management. Going from in-person classes to online was not the easiest adjustment, but it taught me self-discipline. Balancing work and school is doable even though at times it felt overwhelming. I learned the art of managing my priorities and time, and I feel that it gave me a strong work ethic that will forever be useful.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I saw the list of ASU Online degree options; they were really ahead of their time with offering such a vast selection of virtual areas of study. ASU's reputation is wonderful, and I am so grateful to all of the professors, advisors and other students who made my time at ASU so special.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: This is hard, since there are quite a few lessons that will stick with me. But I’d have to say that the four semesters of American Sign Language I took at ASU have been my favorite. I had taken three years of ASL in high school, but (Teaching Assistant Professor) Hannah Cheloha turned my general understanding of the language into a very deep appreciation for Deaf culture and Deaf identity. I plan to continue studying sign language after graduation.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Of course once you start school, your goal is to finish. But the times that I took a break from classes, I missed it. If you went to college right after high school, you almost feel like school, homework and classes are an endless cycle and it doesn’t always feel voluntary. Those breaks in classes taught me that learning is a blessing. When I started, I was doing it for my parents, but as I’ve gotten older, it became for myself.
If you are able to attend school, it is a privilege to learn. Classes can feel tedious at times, but most of us will spend the rest of our careers in one field. Having the chance to take different types of classes is beneficial in every way. My non-degree classes gave me knowledge on subjects I’d otherwise never have an understanding of; they sparked new interests of mine. But most of all, taking different classes gave me clarity on what my passions truly are. Pay attention to that, and it should guide you in the right direction.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am very grateful to be filming a few different things right now, so I am focused on doing the best job I can for those projects. My film classes at ASU made me even more excited to get behind the scenes one day!