Interview With Actor Michael Coleman

By Ruth on October 3, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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It seems that on a somewhat regular basis, I find a series that I somehow missed out on, and this is when I am so grateful for Netflix. This past summer, after interviewing a crew member of the popular show Once Upon a Time, I finally gave in and gave the show a try. And instantly, I was hooked. As a result, I began to seek out the cast and crew on social media, and it just so happens that Michael Coleman was the first to respond to my interview request. So earlier this summer, he and I chatted about his career, his roles, and most interestingly, his views on what makes a good actor.

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RH: Before I start, I do want to say that my daughter and I have really gotten into Once Upon a Time

MC: Oh, okay, very good. That’s good news.

The reason I got into Once Upon a Time is that I interviewed stunt woman Maja Aro–do you know who she is?

Yes, I know Maja very well.

Well, Maja said I had to watch it as she assured me it’s a really good show. My daughter had seen a few episodes, and now we’re binge-watching it.

Good–I love it.

So you are the first person from the cast I’ve gotten to interview. 

Well, that’s good news. I’m sure they’ll be more to come.

So what inspired you to become an actor?

It’s just what I’ve always loved doing. I’ve been so fascinated by stories–watching them, reading them, telling them–so it just seemed like the right fit. It’s just been my passion since I was a little boy. I guess I’m just not ready to not be that little boy yet.

What kind of training have you had for acting?

I’ve been really lucky. I’ve worked with some pretty cool people up in Vancouver and down in LA. I’ve worked with some great coaches who were very inspiring. In my early years, I had some great high school teachers that were really great.  I had some really empowering teachers in high school who made this feel like being an actor could be a reality, and I’ve never stopped pursuing it.

I hear that about a lot about teachers, and since I’m a teacher, it’s always nice to hear.

Oh, that’s great. Yeah.

As I looked over your credits, I see that you have done a lot of voiceover work. I’ve interviewed a lot of actors up in the Vancouver area who do voiceover work.

Yeah, it’s a nice community up here–I know most of the voiceover community up here.

Everyone I talk to always speaks so highly of voiceover work. What do you see as the benefits of voiceover work?

To be honest with you, I think there’s a lot of interesting things about voiceover. It’s a way we can tell more imaginative stories on a smaller budget. If you can draw it, you can do it. So that’s important. And I also think the diversity that you can do is very interesting. You can really be color-blind and gender-blind. Some of my good friends are young ladies who play young men in cartoons or vice versa. I know people of different ethnicities who can play any kind of ethnicity. You can be an Asian man and play a Caucasian or African-American–whatever. You can do everything.  I myself have been South American, American–I’ve been the whole gamut of things. So it’s a way to be a little bit more inclusive and diverse, I guess, which is interesting.

And I think it’s always interesting too, especially in today’s animation… and this was true when I was a kid too. I find it interesting that in the world of animation… I’m always a fan when we can tell stories and tales that are applicable to children, but have an extra layer for the adults. You don’t have to necessarily reveal to the children too much of those. Mom and Dad can watch the exact same show and get a totally different experience out of it. So I think that’s kind of fun with animation. Often there’s more action figures ’cause some of those are just big half-hour commercials for the toys. It’s kind of fun to voice something and have it be some big action figure. That’s always been kind of cool.

mv5bmtk0mdm0mzg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztcwntiwodkxmq-_v1_You told me some different things than I’d heard. I hadn’t really thought about the ethnicity and diversity thing. I hadn’t thought about that angle, but you’re right. It doesn’t make any difference what you look like, so you’re exactly right. 

By way of example, I’ve got this little character over my shoulder that is a hamster I got to play from the show Hamutaro.

Of course, a lot of people are going to know you from Once Upon a Time, since your character Happy is a recurring role on that popular show. So how did you get that role on Once Upon a Time?

Just regular audition process. They already had a lot of American cast in place, and they held some auditions up here in Vancouver, and they were looking to fill some of the other roles. I came in late in the game. They had seen lots of people in the earlier rounds. I like to think they were saving me for the important stuff, but I didn’t come in till later in the audition process. I had a good time. I auditioned for the role of Happy. My wife and I had literally just found out that we were pregnant with our first child, so it was pretty hard to knock the smile off my face. So I credit my kid for helping me land the role.

When you guys started out the first season, were you expecting the kind of response that you got?

Truthfully, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I always thought it was a really clever idea, and I knew there were some smart people involved. One of the writers/producers on the show is Jane Espenson, and I had followed her career for a long time. I had been a big fan of hers. I think any time you’re lucky enough to get someone like Jane involved, you’re probably gonna have some success. Adam Horowitz and  Eddie {Edward} Kitsis–they’ve also had some pretty big successes. I get to chat with them every once in awhile and see what they say on social media. They’re pretty smart guys. I think they know how to strike a chord with a whole generation of people. I kind of suspected this might be something special and that there might be a possibility for this to get bigger. A lot of the cast was new to me when we first met, and I was blown away from day one. A really good friend of mine, Lana Parrilla, is absolutely brilliant and has set such a lovely tone right out of the gate. Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, Colin O’Donoghue–you go through the whole list–Bobby {Robert} Carlyle… the whole list is just amazing.

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It’s interesting–I have some other online friends who just discovered the show as well. And when you first try to describe the show, it’s like, “Fairy tales? I’m not so sure.” But it goes so far beyond that. It’s not like just sitting down and watching a Disney show.

I think it’s different things to different people. Even my four-year-old daughter likes the show, and she likes it for different reasons than a lot of the younger fans or even the older fans. It just this sense that different parts of the show speak to different people. I think there’s just this layered message of hope that runs through the whole series. I think today we could all use a little hope. It’s always interesting to hear what the show means to different people ’cause everybody seems to be watching the same show, but getting something different out of it. Each person’s experience is special in its own unique way which I think is really magical.

I think for me, I’m constantly reviewing shows and interviewing people connected with shows, and I can just sit down and watch this show and enjoy it. I don’t have to be picking it all apart. It’s like you can escape to another world, and you can still get some underlying messages like you said. But I can just enjoy the show for what it is. 

I think the neat thing is we all grew up with these characters in different forms, and in all honesty, I think from the actors to the crew, the entire group is amazing. But the crew is really amazing. They don’t get enough screen time. Fantastic crew–the camera operators, the DP’s, everybody’s so great. I think since they’re stories we’re all familiar with, we get a chance to jump into a universe that already fits like a nice little jacket. It’s nice to see what everybody does with their little version of it, but it’s familiar.

I know what you’re saying about the crew. I’ve been trying to get better at recognizing the crew. And I agree. I don’t think a show like this could exist without a solid crew. 

No, such a great crew. Everybody’s so great. I just love ’em to pieces. Great people. Great at what they do, but even better people.

So I understand that you have also started your own production company. 

I have a company called Rebel West Pictures. We just got done filming Thirty-Seventeen. That’s a fun little movie. Then I’m working on another series called Hipsterverse with my good buddy Dylan Townsend from Ireland. So I got a couple things going in addition to the Once Upon a Time stuff.

Well, that keeps you busy. And then you have a family on top of that. 

I do, and those are my favorite roles. Being a dad and being a husband. Those are my favorite characters to play. So that’s a full-time gig that I dig.

Is it difficult to balance your family time and your work schedule?

Yeah, insanely. Insanely difficult. And it’s really tough, you know? You gotta be careful what you wish for. You know I’ve been fortunate enough that I wake up every day. I have this really cool studio here in Vancouver with a giant casting/post-secondary school. I’ve got all the toys in the world, and I get a chance to do what I love on set and write stories. But the more people that give me an opportunity to do what I love, the less time I have to spend with my family. And that’s really where I prefer to be first and foremost, so it’s a struggle.

Well, what I noticed when you first came on–even though I know first impressions are not always right–is you had this big smile which made me think, “He’s a cool guy. He’s a great guy. He’s got a great personality.” And I was thinking, “Yeah, they cast him well, They cast him as Happy.”

Yeah, it works well.

I did ask for fan questions, and I got a really great one here. Since you’re an acting coach, if you have someone who is thinking about acting for a career, how are you able to figure out if they have acting talent or not? Is there something you would recommend they do to determine if they have talent or not?

You know, it’s easier than people actually think. Talent is insanely overrated. I think talent comes through hard work and learning the craft. I find this an interesting occupation I’m in, and I guess I’ve always approached if differently than most of the world. I know a lot of people think that to be an actor, you have to be born with it. Everyone assumes that everyone who does it is just naturally good at it. What we do is we recreate real life, human experiences on cue and on command, but all we’re doing is recreating humanity. So the first question is, “Are you a human being?” And if you are, congratulations, you can do this. That’s the hardest step. And even then, if you’re a dog, there’s dog movies. But it’s a learned skill.

I find it interesting that a lot of people think, “Oh, I could never be an actor. I’m no good at it.”  But if they wanted to be a doctor, they wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’m not gonna be a doctor. I’d be no good at it.” Well, probably not right now ’cause you didn’t go to medical school. But I bet if you went to medical school and you read the books and you went to the lectures and you did the practical elements that you needed, I bet you could be a doctor. It’s like with actors. I think there’s this romanticized thing where everybody wants to be discovered and born with this natural gift. And most of us who get a chance to do this, that’s just not how we got here. We trained hard every day, and we still train hard every day. You know, there’s a lot of professions out there where as soon as you get in the profession, you stop learning new skills. As a professional actor, you never get that luxury. You learn for your entire life.

So again, how do you know if you have the talent? Well, if you’re breathing, you probably have the talent ’cause that’s all it really takes out of the gate. The question is, “Do you have the discipline and the willingness to do the work to get there?” If anybody who thinks we just pretend for a living or we have fake emotions for a living–no, a real actor really experiences all of that as it’s happening. And it’s not a natural thing that we do. What we do is really quite abnormal. If you were to go to a house party and someone suddenly started pretending to be somebody else right in front of you with an emotional response to it, that would probably be a little out of line perhaps. But in our world, that’s what we do.

So my advice is to be willing to do the work and understand that none of us were born into this. Like everyone else who is working, we weren’t from Krypton or anything like that. We weren’t destined to do this. We just had the willingness to do the work. If you’re willing to do the work–and it’s not doing the work on your own terms–you’ve got to learn the skills we have. Like if you wanted to be a doctor, you couldn’t just look at people and invent your own ways to make them better. You go to medical school! You would learn how doctors become doctors. It’s the same thing with actors, and there’s a lot of great schools out there. I have a great school. There’s lots of great schools in LA, New York, Toronto, all over the world.

I like that answer because I’m also a musician, and so when I was teaching music, I always had kids who said they couldn’t sing. “Well, can you talk?” “Yes.” “Then you can sing.” And I had other adults who wanted to argue with me about that. I had a voice teacher tell me that sometimes when you’re born with a natural talent, you rest on that too much, and you don’t get the training you should get. So then somebody who didn’t have all that natural talent, but they applied themselves, might end up getting further than you did with just your natural talent. 

When I was a kid, there was a big actor from the ’80’s {who shall remain nameless} who was like the world’s biggest actor and was on a hit show. He had the right look at the right time, and he had natural talent. He could write his own ticket. He was one of the most powerful TV stars of the day, but he never learned the skills. He never learned what it takes to do it. And so he faded away in terms of acting. So can you be an actor and just get lucky with the right look at the right time? Yeah, sometimes that happens. But sometimes people become millionaires by winning the lottery. If you want to be a millionaire, I wouldn’t say to go buy a lottery ticket. I’d say to go learn how to run a business. Find out how to make measurable growth within your business. Most people who are millionaires did not start by winning the lottery. Most actors who make it don’t end up like this lucky actor I’m talking about. Most have to do the work.

I agree, and I like that perspective.

A lot of people think that being an actor is like royalty. If you could be an actor, why would you be anything else? I don’t know; some of us leave ’cause we want to do other things. Rick Moranis is one of my favorite examples. He had an unfortunate even where he lost his wife, and it was like, “Do you want to act or do you want to raise your kids?” Raise my kids! It’s no contest. You don’t want to be super famous? No, I want my kids. Kids are way more important to me than any fame. It’s fun to be famous–it is super fun. It is so much more fun to be a dad.

I really respect those who are actors and who are in the entertainment industry as a whole. What you guys do and the dedication that you have to your craft–I highly respect that. 

Thank you.

So really fast, what other upcoming works can we look for from you?

As I mentioned, we are now in post-production for a movie called Thirty-Seventeen that I wrote, directed, and starred in. It is an ensemble cast of recognizable names from various TV shows who I have known for years.

Now I’m working on a show called Cop and a Half. This is a remake of an old Burt Reynolds movie and stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Janet Kidder, Lulu Wilson, and myself.

In a few weeks I shoot season two of that series I mentioned earlier called Hipsterverse where I am both a writer and the lead actor.

In addition to that, I am still trying to make my schedule available for Once Upon a Time as they are in their sixth season and it just started up again a couple Sundays ago.

Outside of that, I am still developing new projects for both television and the big screen, as well as running my casting studio and post-secondary art school for acting, writing, animation, video games, and photography.

 

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I daresay you won’t find a happier actor in Vancouver than Michael (Okay, MAYBE you will, but I think you might be hard-pressed to do so). His jubilant energy and general cheeriness are quite infectious. Not only that, but he is able to put anyone at ease regardless of the circumstances. He is not one who puts on airs or tries to impress you with his big words or wealth of knowledge. But don’t underestimate his talent, dedication, knowledge, nor insight of the business. As he explained in his perspective on acting, he didn’t get where he is now without working incredibly hard even though it sometimes keeps him away from his favorite roles a bit more than he would like (father and husband). It seems that he has friends wherever he goes, and he is respected for who he is because he is such a professional who still knows how to have a good time while doing what he loves every day. I invite all of you to check out his various links below so that you can keep up to date with his various works–past, present and future. And be sure to watch Once Upon a Time every Sunday night on ABC because you never know when you might see him in the cast. Or if you are like me and still need to catch up on past seasons, check out seasons one through five on Netflix and you’ll be sure to see his character Happy on many of the episodes.

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

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