I recently got the opportunity to talk to Michael Mando about his role in new horror flick – ‘Territories’. Here, Michael talks about the film, what it was like working with the cast and crew and what’s coming up for him in 2011…
Hey Michael. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Territories’ is coming out in selected UK cinemas on 24th June 2011. What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
The film is about the kidnapping of five Americans by two border police officers under the pretext that the young travelers could possibly be a terrorist threat to the United States. The story centers around the relationship between the two officers (who actually happen to be ex Guantanamo Bay prison guards posing as officers) as well as the torturous journey that they inflict on their kidnapees in order to extract information. The third act takes an unexpected juncture with the arrival of a detective who has been hired to find the missing people.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play one of the five Americans who happened to cross back into the United States after a leisurely weekend in Canada. My character’s name is Jalil, he is a born American of Arabic decent. His ethnic origin is one of the primary reasons why the group gets arrested, and so he particularly feels a strong responsibility to get his friends out of this nightmarish predicament. He is an electric engineer at GE, happily married to a Jewish woman (who is also one of the hostages)… a simple man of calm and patient temperament, forced into a situation where he has to question the fundamental social rights that his country of birth stands for.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I went through the conventional audition process. I wasn’t initially attracted to the part, but I had a good first encounter with the director, Olivier Abbou, and my agent at the time thought it would be a different and challenging role…it was also my first cinematic feature.
What was it like working with the cast and crew?
We shot the film about a month or two after its scheduled date, so we ended up filming during the end of fall as opposed to end of summer (Canada temperature). Due to the realism that Olivier wanted to maintain and the low-budget nature of the movie, the whole cast and crew had to struggle through the cold, especially with all the scenes happening in the cages where it was almost impossible to wear anything under the jump suits. It wasn’t an easy experience but I believe it helped add to the film an extra dimension…
I’ve heard people call ‘Territories’ a hybrid of hillbilly-horror and torture porn – would you agree with this?
I think, like any film, it is up to the audience to have the final word. Personally, I would like to think that even though there are definitely the horror and torture elements present in Olivier’s film, it gives a pertinent point of view on a situation that is very much current. It is also worth noting that even though the story is fictitious, the grand majority of the torture techniques and interrogation scenes have been inspired by real cases… sometimes by completely innocent people (in the eyes of the law).
Let’s talk a bit about you Michael. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I did not grow up wanting to be an actor, in fact I had never acted before my early twenties… my first two loves were football and poetry. I came into acting through a little trick my father played on me while I was at university. I had taken a semester off for financial reasons and was looking for something educational to occupy my time, as I could never keep a steady job. He had secretly spoken to my girlfriend at the time, believing that I would not follow his advice if he were to address me directly. He wanted her to encourage me to join an acting program because he saw potential in me through the clowning around that my brothers and I did around the house. In consequence of my conversation with her, I finally agreed to join a theatre program in Montreal where I only had to pay a hundred dollars for a whole semester. Teachers and people in the business immediately showed strong interest in me, and so I kept coming back semester after semester, always postponing my university studies. I was offered work before I graduated from the program, and here I am now, three years later, still not able to find something better to do… I’ve grown to enjoy it a lot and feel fortunate to do this for a living… I guess, in a way, it regroups my love for sports and poetry… being somewhat of a literal practice that at times requires strong surges of physical energy. I only found out about what my father had done a few months ago – I thank him, admire and love him so much… he was right.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting?
The same advice I would give to anyone who decides to pursue anything… work occupies about 60 to 70% of your waking life. Make sure that whatever it is you choose to do is directly related to the very thing you enjoy doing the most in life, whether it be: sports, sitting by the beach, plumbing or anything else for that matter. Because, if the simple act of doing that very thing brings you joy, then that in itself is success… and all the rest is just a bonus.
You’ve been on a number of TV shows and films – which have been your favourites to work on and why?
I don’t always think in those terms because the ones that I enjoyed the least from a personal or leisurely point of view were also the ones that have taught me the most… I cherish the fact that I have gone through those experiences just the same. I was also fortunate enough to work with many good directors who were all unique in their own ways, Olivier being one of them… my two collaborations with John Fawcett on ‘The Bridge’ (2010) and ‘The Border’ (2010) were particularly fun as he gave me great freedom to explore those characters… so early on in my career. I have had very similar experiences with Shawn Linden on ‘Rose by Name’ (2012) and ‘Far Cry 3’ (2011).
What does a Michael Mando day usually consist of?
I try to use time as efficiently as possible. Whenever I am not shooting, I am working on my production company called Red Barlo Productions: we are currently doing post-production work on our second short film called ‘Abyss of the Mind’. Our first one, ‘Conditional Affection’ (2010) was very well received in festivals. Whenever I can, I try to go to the gym and stay healthy… I like to read all kinds of stuff and still write poetry when inspired… I’m writing a feature film right now, a gangster drama… I guess that I try to learn from life and enjoy life as much as possible all the while pursuing self-development and understanding.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
It’s been a very busy year so far and I feel very humble. I’ve finished shooting a villain called Vaas on the ‘Far Cry 3’ (2011) video game where I did the voice, face and body capture. I’ve also completed work on two features, ‘Cobu 3D’ (2012) and ‘Rose by Name’ (2012), as well as guest TV appearances on police drama ‘King’ (2011) and a comedy series called ‘Michael’s: Tuesdays and Thursday’ (2011). I am soon going to Vancouver and Mexico to shoot on Neil Blomkamp’s new film: ‘Elysium’ (2013).
Thanks for the interview!