I recently got the opportunity to talk to Michael L. Miller about his role in ‘Fright Night’. Here, Michael talks about his thoughts on the remake, what it was like working with Anton Yelchin and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Michael. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Fright Night’ is currently in cinemas right now…
You’re most welcome. Thank you for having me.
For anyone not fully versed in either this version or the 1980’s version, the plotline revolves around a college student called Charley Brewster, who finds out his new neighbour is a vampire who kidnaps and kills teenagers.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play a cameo role in this picture. I am the Store Guy. In the midst of attempting to save his girlfriend, Charlie realizes it’s finally up to him alone to save her and the rest of the town from Jerry and goes off to a surplus store to stock up on weaponry. In the midst of a very dramatic moment, with a look and a three word condescension, “Good for you”, I provide the comic relief. I was pleasantly surprised that our director, Craig Gillespie, decided that was a moment to include in the trailer.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which over the last ten years has become the number 3 film centre in the US behind Los Angeles and New York. Even so, local actors are not usually cast for the larger roles. They are cast out of LA or NY. I believe that’s because the major casting offices are there. However, we have some great casting directors in New Mexico, but they cast the day players. One of those is Jo Edna Boldin who has won a number of awards over the years. She asked my agent, Lynette O’Connor to have me read for the role. I got a callback to read for Craig and I guess we hit it off because I got the role.
As this is a remake of the 1980’s film of the same name, had you seen the original before you signed onto the project? How would you say the two are different?
Yes, I had. The original is one of my all time favorites. As a teenager in the early 60’s, I’d sit and watch the late night horror show hosts on local television dish up the Dracula and Frankenstein movies while making models of the creatures. When the original movie was released and I heard the premise, I immediately went to the cinema. For me, watching Roddy McDowell play Peter Vincent as a washed up television horror host fighting vampire Chris Sarandon, was strongly reminiscent of those nights in front of my television. That version was what I would call way over the top campy while the current version, whilst maintaining a fairly close plot structure, is sexier, funnier, and the special effects are better. All in all, both are great spoofs on the vampire genre. I’m glad I had the opportunity to play a part in this one. I was also pleased to hear that they had obtained Chris Sarandon, the original Jerry, to do a cameo role in the picture.
The film stars Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, David Tennant and Imogen Poots – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
Simply put, it was a delight. I have to say that I’ve never been on a set that was a struggle or unpleasant. Perhaps it’s because I go into each project with the idea that I’m going to have a good time and if I have anything to say about it, everybody around me will too. On this project, I was only on set long enough to work with Anton and the crew. And I have to say the crew was on their best game. I think we shot maybe three takes of each setup at most. The director knew what he wanted and was highly adept at communicating that to his crew. I hadn’t ever met Anton before joining him on set. He’s a very quiet, polite guy. He was very easy to work with and extremely professional. I look forward to our next piece together.
Let’s talk a bit about you Michael. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Seriously, it’s genetics. My mother danced in small local minstrel shows with her grandfather in New England when she was two years old. She met my father in Belgium at the end of World War II where she was a nurse and he was directing a stage show at the camp. When I was born, they were doing little theatre in a small town in Texas and I was literally the baby in the steamer trunk backstage.
As my sisters and I grew up, we’d go to rehearsals of shows my father directed and then come home and perform the scenes for Mom and Dad before we went to bed. Somewhere around the time I was 10 or 11, my father who was a bit of a filmmaker himself made a couple of silent 8mm Westerns using kids in the Cub Scouts, Brownies and the neighborhood. That’s where I began to learn about filming out of sequence. We’d set up a scene and as cowboys, we’d fire our guns at the Indians. Then we’d go to make up and wardrobe, and we’d change costume and as the Indians we would fire our bow and arrows back at ourselves. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned a great deal about film-making during those brief projects. I helped edit the movies and helped make title cards with vinyl letters on glass. But more importantly, I learned how to play different characters on command and make them each different.
You’ve been in a variety of different film and TV projects – which actor/actress has been your favourite to work with so far and who has given you the greatest piece of advice?
I’ve had the privilege to act with some of the biggest and I’m somewhat reluctant to name a favorite. But two specific occasions stand out in my mind. When I did the counselor in ‘Sunshine Cleaning’, I worked with Amy Adams. After we had done principal photography, the company returned during post for a pick up day. For some reason, I had difficulty keeping one of the lines straight. It wasn’t a difficult line to remember, nor difficult to say, but for some reason it kept coming out wrong. The rest of the speech went fine and then the one line would go off somewhere. It would have been understandable if Amy had become impatient, but she didn’t. I have to say that I’m used to trying to give the stars what they need in a scene. I’m not used to it happening the other way around. Amy, however, was doing everything she could think of to help me. She is by far one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.
In ‘Passion Play’, Megan Fox is in a glass cage in one of the scenes. I play the Drunken Millionaire Singer who’s in the cage making fun of her. I do my piece and then stumble out and back to a seat in the audience. Bill Murray who played the club owner, Happy Shannon, was sitting in the balcony watching, where you see him in the film. After we shot the scene, he said to me “I thought you were going to go over the top, but you didn’t.” For me to get a compliment like that from a guy who really knows over the top was a very special moment for me as an actor.
If I asked you to decorate a room – what colour would you choose to paint it and why?
Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t paint it. My wife would. She’s the artist in the family. I make art with my photography. She makes art in many other mediums. Right now she’s into printmaking. Our house is painted a multicolored faux decorative design. I think that’s what she calls it. In any case, I don’t paint walls. I get someone else to do that for me.
If you could have a dinner with three historical guests, living or dead – who would they be and why?
There are so many historical people who I would be eager to talk with, so limiting it to three is really difficult.
I’m an actor before I’m anything else, so my first choice would have to be William Shakespeare for somewhat obvious reasons, also producer/director/actor Sydney Pollack. Mr. Pollack is quoted as saying, (paraphrasing now) “Never get up to act without something in your hands.” I would want to hear what else he had to say about acting.
I also have a strong fascination with quantum physics although my knowledge of the subject is very minimal. The possibility concepts are inspiring, so Albert Einstein would also be one of the guests.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month or so?
It was 50 years ago that UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash on a specific UN peace mission to the Congo. A new book by British researcher Susan Williams (questioning whether it was an accident or whether the plane was shot down) has just been released entitled Who Killed Hammarskjold? In 1961, I remember being fascinated by the television coverage and the speculation then that the plane had been shot down, so naturally it caught my attention when it resurfaced now.
What’s coming up for you in 2011
I’ve just done a role in Jamie Linden’s ‘Ten Year’ with Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewar-Tatum. It’s the second time I’ve worked with Jenna.
I’ve recently did a piece in a film by Rachid Bouchareb called ‘Just Like A Woman’ with Sienna Miller and Golhsifteh Farahani, where I playa Redneck camper who beats up Sienna’s character. I’m also in a local indie called ‘The Deception’ playing a political adviser charged with getting a closeted gay candidate engaged to a senior Senator’s daughter elected to Congress. ‘Ten Year’ has already been released and the other two should be out soon.
I’m also working as a producer/director/actor on what I believe to be a possible female ‘Crazy Heart’. It’s a feature-length character driven family comedy/drama set in West Texas about a 40 something female artist who’s resisting giving up her toyboy to a younger woman and an old man, being played by Basil Hoffman, who’s resisting giving up his mind to Alzheimer’s. It features a town full of quirky residents that support both characters in their struggles. It’s called ‘Clunker’. I’ve been trying to get it to Reba McEntire with no luck so far. We have a couple of scenes shot that will be up on-line soon to act as a bit of a teaser because we’re still looking for some money and a star with box office appeal to join Mr. Hoffman as our headliners. And, of course, I’ll have a small role in it.
Thanks for the interview!