Acting was Michael Flynn’s second choice. Playing second base for the NY Yankees was his first. He soon learned that the Yankees would never come calling – then came the acting bug. An active Mormon, Michael served his mission in France with Mitt Romney of all people!
It was a pleasure chatting with Michael about his acting career and his new job as an acting teacher.
Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about the The Actors Workshop http://www.theactorsworkshop.biz/?
Michael Flynn: I started the Actors Workshop a few years ago because I enjoy working with actors. It was also my impression that a lot of actors with whom I was working we’re making some fundamental mistakes. Again, just my impression.
As I started working with actors I got a great deal of positive feedback. So I took my workshop to the next level and opened my own studio in Salt Lake City.
MT: What makes a great acting teacher?
MF: Wow. A great acting teacher? I think that is akin to asking what makes a great painter? A great teacher? Great singer?
I suppose, In my opinion, passion plays into it. Let me say upfront that I would never classify myself as a great acting teacher. I have my own methods. I am very passionate about the process. But I also believe that each actor should find his or her own mentor. His or her own teacher.
I don’t believe that there is one great acting teaching method out there. There are many methods that work for many actors. But through it all, I do believe that a great acting teacher needs to have passion for the process, have a great deal of appreciation and affection for the actors who join him or her in the studio.
MT: What should an actor look for in an acting teacher?
MF: Find a teacher or mentor who inspires them. Who is honest with them. Someone who understands the business on a profound level. Someone who can discuss agents, Unions, and someone who has a very specific approach to working with actors.
An actor should find a teacher who is willing to be brutally honest with him. I think one of the advantages of having an acting coach or mentor is that through the process of working with the coach an actor can determine if he or she is really cut out for this business.
It is important to remember that the entertainment business does not need you. It does not need me. Movies will be made regardless of any one person’s involvement. The movie business does not need us. It is doing just fine without us. Speaking on an individual basis of course.
So then the question becomes does the individual actor need the movie business? And is that particular actor qualified to work in the movie business? Does he or she have the talent to compete? A lot of these questions can be answered by finding the right acting teacher.
MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?
MF: I must say that I don’t watch a lot of movies over and over again. I have of course seen quite a few films many, many times. I think the film that I most enjoy going back and watching again and again is William Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. I believe it came out in 1968. Starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. It is one of Anthony Hopkins earliest films. A brilliant script. Brilliant acting. Great story based somewhat loosely on history. O’Toole and Hepburn were up for Oscars. Hepburn won. Check it out.
MT: What has been your most favorite role that you have played?
MF: My favorite role. Well… I come from a stage background and I must say that my favorite roles have been on stage. I have been very fortunate to play some iconic rules in musical theater. Arthur in Camelot. John Adams in 1776. Harold Hill in The Music Man. Those are some of my favorites. In film, as I look back, the first film I did left an impression. Footloose. Enjoyed working with Kevin Bacon, but I especially loved working with the fabulous director Herb Ross. Funny story from Footloose. I played a cop and was accompanied by another cop in a scene where we pulled Bacon out of his VW Bug and gave him a bad time. The other cop, Russ McGinn, was about 6’ 7”. I’m only 5’ 8”. Herb kept getting our names mixed up. Finally started calling us by our correct name. During a break I saw two strips of white tape on the side of the camera. “Russ – tall”. “Michael – less tall”. I got a kick out of that.
MT: What type of role would you like to play that you haven’t played in yet?
MF: For some reason, that I cannot quite understand, I would like to play a general or commanding officer in a war film. I was scheduled to play the role of George Patton in a film. The film was put on hold and has never come to fruition. I loved the script and the story and character. That would’ve been a blast. Another role on my bucket list is to conduct a fabulous orchestra/choir.
MT: I direct screenplay table readings every single week and meet and work with over 300-400 actors every given year. I’ve learned a lot about actors and I feel that the great ones have learned how to stay in their lane. What I mean by that is any successful actor is good at doing one or two things and they keep doing the same roles over and over – but the camera lens, makeup, genre, and story tones just change. So it appears to the audience that they are doing something distinctly different, but in reality they are just staying in their lane. The ones who try to have too much range, eventually fail. Overall, would you agree or disagree with my assessment? Especially for young actors? Get better at what you’re really good at and stop trying to be/do something you’re not.
MF: Yes, for the most part I really agree with that. I’m a firm believer, and I teach this in my workshop, that every role we are asked to play is inside of us somewhere. So, we draw on our own personal experiences for any role that we are asked to play.
I also tell actors that they are going to be hired to be them. I look them square in the eyes and say you are going to be hired to be you. Not someone else. You simply need to find the character inside of you. And let the character out. Let that aspect of you come to the surface.
I remind actors that we have all said, after doing something that seemed completely out of character for us, that whatever you did that you did not like, whatever you did that seemed hurtful to someone, hurtful to yourself, whatever negative thing you did about which you are really embarrassed or sorry – you have to understand that that is you. We sometimes say after doing something really stupid or hurtful or mean “Wow that’s not me”. Actually, it is you. You did it. Nobody forced you to do it. You did it. It was your choice.
I love the word “choice”. I use it all the time when working with actors. I will often say make a different choice. But I think it’s important to understand that all of our choices come from within us. So yes, I believe that an actor should really understand his or her own talents. Who he or she really is. I like the quote of Ryan Gosling: “All my characters are me… I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the part of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t”.
MT: What advice do you have for an actor who has out grown their agent and must try to seek new representation?
MF: I recently switched agents. I had been with my previous agent for quite a long time. I was very good friends with my agent. But, I felt that I needed to be handled by someone else. So I went to an agency that I thought was more professional. One that would further my career. I would say if you feel like you have outgrown your agent just be honest about it. Be upfront about it. It would probably be helpful to have the confidence that you can actually get another agent before you leave your current agent; sort of like having another job lined up before you quit your current job.
MT: What advice do you have for an actor who is just starting out? Do as much work as you can no matter how low-budget or sketchy it seems?
MF: Sure, I tell actors go do a play. Go do a low budget independent film. Do a student film. Do whatever you can to hone your skills. But I also tell actors who are just starting out, make sure this is the business for you! Because this business is not for everybody.
And there are many, many talented actors who will never work in this business. For a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t know how to audition. Maybe they’re really good but just not good enough. So when an actor is just starting out I always tell them the first thing you should figure out is if you like this business and does this business like you?
The entertainment field is like anything else. It looks different from the inside than it does from the outside. And once you jump in the pool and get a good look at it from the inside you may discover that it’s not really for you. And of course, it is better to find that out early on rather than later on.
MT: What is your secret to being a working actor for so many years?
MF: My secret? Persistence. I never gave up. And I am not saying in any way shape or form that I have realized all my dreams and aspirations in the entertainment field. No. There’re still many things I hope to accomplish. And I do not feel like I have had some sort of stellar career. I have managed to support myself and enjoy the bumpy, up-and-down ride.
It hasn’t always been easy. But, I think the real secret is you have to be passionate about it. And you flat out cannot give up. Some actors go into it with a ”backup plan”. My philosophy has always been that if you have a backup plan your backup plan will end up being your life. If there’s something on which you can fall back eventually you will fall back.
But if you don’t have a backup plan, if you just throw yourself in the deep end you have to learn to swim. And remember if you don’t have talent, if you don’t have the gift, the magic, the drive, you probably won’t make it in this business. And that’s okay. Like I said earlier, this business does not need you. It will do just fine without you. The real question is, do you need this business?
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.