Michael Michele Says Success on 'ER' Meant 'I Could Step Away for a Little While' to Be a Single Mom

Michael Michele reflects on her career-changing role on ER — and how it allowed her to take a long break from acting

michael michele
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It's been nearly 20 years since Michael Michele last graced the screen as Dr. Cleo Finch on ER, but the NBC medical drama changed her life forever.

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the actress and producer, 54, gets candid about the role that meant so much to her — and how it allowed her to step away from the industry to focus on being a single mom.

"It meant everything," Michele says about the role she played from 1999 to 2002. "ER bought me a beautiful home. The home I still live in today. It not only gave me extraordinary opportunity, but it opened other doors. And when those other doors opened, I was able to have other experiences and as a result of ER, I could step away for a little while when I had my son. Well, for a long while."

"It was a gift to me," continues the actress, who is mom to 16-year-old son J. Brandon. "I don't know what I would have done because after ER came How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days and Ali and Dark Blue. All of these have been wonderful opportunities and quite frankly, ER still helps me today in my career. I'm no longer playing Dr. Finch, but it's a role that will be with me throughout my entire career. I'm very, very grateful to that job."

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

When it came to raising her son, Michele didn't hesitate to take a step back from her career.

"I couldn't think a great deal about how my career was going to be impacted because my child took precedence," says Michele, who adds that the experience of raising him solo taught her that single moms "can do anything."

"Women have the ability to go into the room, shed some tears and come back out, shake it off and get the job done," she says. "I have one child, but there are women out there who have had multiple children and they put them through college themselves. They worked multiple jobs to get it done. They've saved their money. They have managed and figured out a way to do it."

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"That's what we're capable of doing as women," Michele continues. "We can do it if we really, truly put our minds to it. That's not to say that it isn't extraordinarily difficult because I had many, many, many, many, many, many days and nights where I would just lose it emotionally and I would get up in arms and say, 'I can't do this. I can't do this.'"

However, during her break, Michele — who launched her own film production company Mix66 in 2016 — continued succeeding professionally and focused on making documentaries before returning to acting full-time in 2019 on The CW's Dynasty reboot.

Wilford Harewood/The CW

She says she was initially hesitant to take the sometimes "ridiculous and crazy" role of Dominique Deveraux: "I just released myself of this [notion that] 'I'm a dramatic actress, and I'm real serious' and let myself go. It's been fun!"

With Dynasty renewed for a fifth season, Michele says she's looking forward to what's next.

"I've been able to define my life and live the life that was most authentic for myself," she says. "Now that things are coming back into place, there's no stopping me."

Dynasty airs Fridays (9 p.m. ET) on The CW.

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