never expected to get that call from Hollywood. Growing up in Portland, Michael wanted to be an actor, and so he moved out to New York after high school, studied his craft and went to work in theater. Next thing you know, he's auditioning for the role of Superman and making out with Rachel Bilson
. Not bad. Michael, best known for his role as Zach on The OC
, is back with a new series on The CW, the Kevin Williamson teen drama Hidden Palms
. Michael took some time recently to speak with us about the show and about how his career has led to where it is now.
Below you will find both the written transcirpt and the full mp3 audio.
First off, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into acting? I know you didn’t grow up as a Hollywood kid or anything.
No, I’m really grateful for that everyday that I didn’t grow up as a Hollywood kid. I…let’s see, how did I get into acting? I…When I was…I was really fortunate to go to a great school—an elementary school that had a music teacher which is a rare thing nowadays in America. And so I…the music teacher would put on like a musical production that generally was like songs taken from…performed by kids—you know obviously it’s a school and taken from a play. And so we learned the songs and we danced a little bit better…and when I was eight I did, I can’t even remember which I did, and like what songs our production or whatever we did but we did it and I went home one day after rehearsing and I was like “Mom, this is what I wanna do.” And she was like “Great.” And my mom’s a school teacher and my mom was like “Okay, well if you wanna do it, you should take a class.” And so I took a class at…I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I took a class at a theater company in downtown Portland and did classes and productions and I ended up working with that company as I was going through high school and grade school and that’s how I got to be sort of a like a professional actor. I sort of got paid to do it when I was like fourteen. But I was just doing theater, and through that company I got involved with all the other, a lot of the other regional theater companies in Portland. And then yeah that’s how I got started.
When did you decide to make that move to Hollywood?
Eight months ago actually, I have been living in New York for the last five and a half years and I moved to New York when I was eighteen, at a high school to get actor training and to try and start a career as an actor. I never thought in a million years that I could be a television or a film actor. I didn’t know anybody that had done it, I was always…I grew up in the theater thinking like that was for a very select group of people, and I would never be one of them. I was totally okay with that. I really enjoyed theater. And…so I moved to New York to get training and I went through the two year program at the New Actor’s Workshop. I studied at the HB Studios and with a couple of coaches. You know, two years ago—they have a way of doing workout so that I was in a situation that I totally didn’t expect and I was auditioning and I got a manager through a friend of a friend and it turned out to be really great and I’ve sort of been working ever since. So that’s three and change years.
Your big break for TV fans was obviously when you got cast as Zach on the O.C. Can you just run us through how that occurred?
Yeah. Like I said, I was auditioning in New York and waiting tables at the time and I had flown out to Los Angeles to test for a TV show that didn’t work out, the show didn’t work out and me getting the job didn’t work out. And I…like a month later, I got a phone call from my manager and I was walking down the street. I’ll never forget where I was when I got this phone call and my manager said, “You have an audition for a really big Warner Brothers movie, and we don’t know what it is yet, but you have an audition tomorrow.” And I said, “Okay, are there sides?”. And they said “You’ll get them at the place.” And then I get a call like a half an hour later saying “Okay, you can pick up the sides for plays for tomorrow.” And the sides were first thing that...the movie turned out to be Superman, and the sides were for…they weren’t for Superman, they were for…they were very generic like for a girl and a boy scene and so I studied them. And I found out that I think that later that day that I would be, I was auditioning for the movie Superman and the manager said “The movie was Superman, we just found out.” And I said, “Great, what part am I auditioning for?” He started laughing and he said “Superman.” And I said, “No way.” You know, like, I don’t know who grows up thinking they can be Superman, I’m not one of those people. Certainly.
So, anyway, I went in, and I read, and it was like forty guys in New York, like it always is, and you enter the lobby and you go one at a time you go into tape the audition. I went in to tape the audition, they said, “Thanks a lot. See you later.” I mean, obviously they were seeing a lot of people and I didn’t think anything of it but two weeks later I got a phone call from the director of Superman who at the time was McG. He was very enthusiastic as McG is known to be and he was very supportive of me as someone he should cast for the role and I ended up testing, flying out to LA, shooting scenes on a loft from the script on the set, wearing the Superman suit and essentially they tested the six guys and obviously I didn’t get it. I didn’t know the guy who ended up getting it, Brandon Routh, I didn’t know that he was even testing with us in that because time because Bryan Singer ended up directing it. But… this is a very long answer, I could have done a better job with this. McG after the testing process was over we weren’t sure whether or not I was gonna get the job. McG called over to the OC of which he was a producer and said, “You should hire this kid.” They said “We have a part coming up.” And I went in and auditioned, I got the job.
You get to do a lot of cool things on The OC, like make out with Rachel Bilson and meet George Lucas, how was your overall experience on that show?
It was unreal. It was absolutely unreal. I didn’t have any frame of reference for any of that and at the time that I was on that show, it was as big as it ever got and that’s not because I was there, it’s just because it worked out that way and I really…everybody on that show, and I would really like whatever, I’m very positive, especially their views cause I don’t wanna put the bad views out there but I…that show was unlike any other show or job that I ever had, theater or otherwise. Everybody was really on board with that show. And everybody talked about it and it was a really, really great place to go to work and it was tremendous place for me to learn to act on film and on the small screen, so to speak. And I mean, I was so fortunate, I was supposed to do three or four episodes and it turned into twenty or nineteen or something like that. I was there the whole season and I’m still friends with a lot of the people that I worked with on that show, actors and otherwise and it was just really…I was just really, really fortunate to work on that show.
Now you have a part on Hidden Palms, the new CW drama, can you tell us how you ended up in the role of Cliff Wyatt?
Yeah, I flew out to LA because I hadn’t worked in a while and it was pilot season and I came in from New York and I crashed at a buddy of mine, who had an apartment on the beach and I was like “I will sleep on your couch and try and get a job, absolutely.” I came out and had an audition for a couple of pilots and a few looked like they were gonna work out, they didn’t work out. I got the script for Hidden Palms and I read it and pilot season is really crazy for actors. We go in for a lot of stuff, especially young people, there’s a lot of young stuff obviously and so the young actors that are fortunate are kept very busy and so I was reading a lot of stuff and I read Hidden Palms and it stuck out to me immediately and I actually got the sides and auditioned for both Johnny, Taylor Handley’s character, and my character Cliff, and I always, always…I mean, Taylor is the star of the show, so I wasn’t going to not audition for the role of Johnny but from the moment I read the script I was like “Cliff will be a slam dunk for me,” for whatever reason. And I went in and I read…I’ll never forget Kevin Williamson was in the audition and our pilot director and producer Scott Winant was in the audition, and I read for Johnny, and they were kinda quiet “I thought you did okay, but not very good, I’m not really a Johnny.” And then I sort of stood up out of the chair and did Cliff and they were just laughing and they were so happy it was like, I left thanking God I really blew it on the Johnny part. I’ll never be the star of the show and obviously the Cliff audition went well, I went back met them again, and then I tested and got the job.
For those who don’t know about Hidden Palms can you tell us a little bit about the show in general and how your character works into that?
Yeah, Hidden Palms is a show that centers on a kid, a young man, a high school kid Johnny played by Taylor Handley, whose father, in the beginning of the pilot, a year prior to the rest of the series, kills himself. He’s an alcoholic, depressed. So, it’s a show about him and his mom moving to this very affluent, sheltered community in Palm Springs and it is sort of about them adjusting to their new surroundings, both the people, and whatever all the things that that entails, and I play Cliff Wyatt, who is the next door neighbor to Johnny and he’s the kid who sort of tries to introduce Johnny to the ways of the younger set in the Palm Springs community that they live in. And, we later reveal throughout the series that I’m a little involved in a way with the kid who used to be in Johnny’s room and he’s now deceased and we’re not really sure, at least Johnny’s not really sure, how he died and that’s sort of the center of the series. It’s how this kid died and how all of us are involved, all of us crazies in Palm Springs.
Do you have anything coming up outside the show, do you ever plan on going back to New York and just doing theater?
I always plan to rest in New York and do theater, like I said I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve gotten work in Los Angeles at least TV and film work that comes out in Los Angeles. We never actually shoot there so as long as that’s happening, I hope to continue to stay. But that being said, I’m an actor and actors don’t really work ever. So I’ll have to go where the work is.
(Interview Conducted by Oscar Dahl)
(Image Courtesy of The CW)