Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the More Than You See podcast hosted by me, actor, filmmaker mental health advocate, Deborah Lee Smith. Every Monday, just like this one, I come to you to share some resources, have a conversation with like minded individuals, and generally just dive into all sorts of topics around mental health. I am not a licensed practitioner or therapist, but just a woman exploring my own mental health journey, and sharing it with you, my listeners. My hope is that this podcast brings you some joy, some understanding and some tools so that you can build your own mental health toolbox.
Welcome, everyone to Episode Three of Season Two of the podcast. I really hope that you enjoyed my conversation with Lynn last week. Lynn is a dear friend and every single time I talk to her, I feel like I understand myself a little bit better. I know that her discussion about infertility and coming to terms with her own idea around motherhood and what she wanted out of her life is something that has really resonated with me for a long time. And I know that whenever I have that kind of conversation with someone, it really helps me, so I hope that it helped you all as well.
Today, we're gonna jump into something completely different and I'm really excited about my special guest today. Today's guest is a well known actor, you who you probably have seen in all sorts of different roles. He is an established TV and stage actor best known for his work on HBO's The Wire and has a long list of credits that includes Billions, The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU, The Deuce, The Blacklist, The Plot Against America, Wizard of Lies, Molly's Game, and many, many more. If you haven't guessed already, our guest today is Michael Kostroff. He also has an extensive resume in theater, and he's toured in The Producers, Les Miz, and played leading roles at regional theaters across the country.
Now the reason that I wanted to talk to Michael today is because he is an acting coach, which, of course, is something that is, you know, very important to me. But he also has a very strong focus on mental health and how mental health affects our day to day lives. Because of that, he's actually created a class for actors called Audition Psych 101, a workshop that focuses specifically on the psychological side of the audition process. And I'll put a link in the bio as far as where you can find information about that. He's the author of several books, including Letters from Backstage, Audition Psych 101, and the soon to be published Stage Actors Handbook.
Now, if you are not an actor, or not in the entertainment industry at all, don't worry, because that is only a small part of our conversation today. Because you know, we both connect about being an actor that certainly does make its way into the conversation. But a lot of the conversation is really about finding your passion, finding the thing that works for you, and what to do, if you know you have this passion for something, but it's affecting your mental health in a negative way, or you're not able to support yourself or like there's so many different negative aspects of being an actor. And I really wanted to have a frank conversation with someone about that, because I think that sometimes, we just think that it's all sunshine and roses. And, you know, like, if we're meant to do this, then we're just gonna do it. And that's just certainly not the case. And Michael has had a long career and really talks very candidly about his own struggles with mental health. So I'm, I'm genuinely excited to have him with us. And I really hope that you get something out of the conversation, as well. So without further ado, I will see you on the flip side. Here is Michael Kostroff.
Michael, thank you so much for being here. I am so excited to have this conversation with you.
My pleasure. Happy we were able to connect.
Yeah, me too. So for everyone listening, Michael and I actually connected through Clubhouse, which is so wonderful that there's all these new ways that we connect with people, you know, through the pandemic, and that's kind of where I want to start with you is... You know, with the pandemic, obviously, I've actually heard you say on another interview, you were you were talking about actor vitamins and the idea behind you know, like making sure that you're doing something creative to like, fuel your creative self in some way. And I think this relates to anyone who's listening, even if you're not an actor or an artist, just like something that like, gives you a spark that, you know, like brings you to life in some way. And with the pandemic that has changed the landscape so much, and I'm curious how this experience has been for you and how you've navigated that.
Um, like, six different things. No, no, I I want to just talk a little bit about the Actor vitamins idea. To answer your question. You know, I think one of the things that happens in the profession of acting is people get profession obsessed, so that it starts to be everything is about booking a job, everything is about forwarding your career and, and that sort of death grip on the on the career can become really detrimental to your your well being, and I think lots of times when we feel like I gotta I gotta do something, I got to book a job, what we really need is what a collector of vitamins. Which is to do something creative, to do something that's not career forwarding, to do something that is artistic, and satisfying and not calculated to do something in your career. Some of my favorite things that have happened in my life and in my career, were things that started from me just going I just, this is just something I want to do, I think it would just be fun.
The pandemic has been full of surprises, for me as it has been for all of us. I thought that boredom would be an enormous danger, because I don't do well with boredom. And I've been not very bored at all. I've had lots of things going on. Yeah, staying busy with other projects. And like, I coach for auditions, and one of my coaching clients, sort of drafted me to teach an acting class. Which is honestly something I never thought I would be doing, because I am not a highly trained actor myself. I was like, nobody's gonna want to do that. He said, I got about eight people who want to do it and now I'm teaching three classes a week. And people are like, this is so great that you don't like follow one technique, and we attack each each scene. So that's what keeps me busy.
One of the best things I did was I you know, there's that we always have these shelf projects, or things that we never get to. And one of mine is a Stage Actors Handbook, which surprisingly doesn't exist. Because we have all these traditions in theater, all these sort of unwritten rules. And I now have a book deal and that books can be out next year, which is so important to me to pass along that legacy of like, this is how we conduct ourselves. So I had plenty, suddenly, plenty of time to do that. Yeah. So yeah, it was it was. I think, like a lot of people I, I had survivor's guilt. And I was surprised to find that there were a lot of bright spots in the middle of this darkness. And I have a little guilt over that. But it was not not as bad as it could have been. Yeah.
I mean, this podcast is kind of one of my versions of my actor vitamins. No, no reason for it, really, besides the fact that I like talking about mental health. And I think it's really important. So I totally resonate with that.
So you brought up your acting class. And you know, you and I were talking offline before we started about the idea of kind of, like taking people's energy and how much that affects you and or affects people in general. And I'm curious how now as a coach, or an acting teacher, especially dealing with this past year, how has that, like, do you feel like you're people's therapist, basically, like, how have you managed to, like, you know, attain that those boundaries and stuff again,
Because your podcast is about mental health, I'm gonna relate it to that. One of the big issues that I struggle with feeling is legitimacy. Being a teacher, and a coach is a win win, because people love me as a teacher and a coach, because I love actors, but what I get is, I feel like, like, legitimate, like, I've got something that I'm giving to people, that I've got something that makes me valuable on this planet, you know. A more mentally healthy person would feel valuable just by existing, you know, I feel a little more valuable. Because when I can help somebody with their, with their work, or with their auditioning, I mean, it's, it really is a sort of a very pure joy to be able to do that. But the side thing is that I also feel like, at this time with the pandemic, where there weren't a lot of opportunities to do what I do. I had something that I could - that I could give, something that made me feel like, like I was doing something valuable. Yeah. It's sort of a mixed mixed thing going on there because at the same time, some of my students have told me that they were in classes where they were humiliated and degraded and torn down and I really - that makes me so angry because I genuinely love actors. And I get very excited when I see my students do great work.
Yeah. Yeah. So going back to one of the roles that you're known the most for is from The Wire. And, you know, The Wire was such a monumental show for I mean, so many reasons in such an incredible show. But I would love to ask you about, you know, that that's a show that so much, sometimes overtly and some more as an undertone, is about the systemic problems in our society. And as an actor, when you're kind of living in that world so much, I'm just curious if you can recall, your mental health during that time, like how you were able to show up and kind of live in this world that's so permeated in, you know, systemic racism and the systemic issues of our society, and then kind of step away and still be like, Okay, well, I'm a good person, and I'm still processing things, you know, like, there's, there's so many layers there.
I'm laughing, because once again, I've got to answer your question in a different way than you expected.
No, I love it.
I had less time on the set than a lot of the other people. I was, I was in the sort of clean, scrubbed, you know, lawyer world, and I didn't get my hands too dirty. So I didn't experience a lot of that, that could have been, you know, the depression of that. But one of the really surprising things that happened in the last season, I became a series regular, they bumped me up, I was very excited. They said, you have to relocate to Baltimore. I got an apartment. And I was there for six months. And I worked six days. And the time hung heavy. And it's one of those things where you don't want to complain about being a series regular, but I didn't have a set to go to. I didn't have friends there. And I woke up some days and thought, Oh, God, how do I get to the other end of this day? You know? And it's, it's one of those things you wouldn't - you wouldn't think of. You know, but but the experience was not anything like what I thought because I was isolated a lot more than people would think. That's the part, that that was the struggle. That was the wrestle.
Now I'm pretty sure I could kill a whole day just on my computer. But at the time, I don't think that was 20 years ago, I don't think there was as much to do.
Yeah. No, that's, that's really that's really interesting.
It was a weird one. I was like, can I come be a PA on the set or something? You know, like, Oh, yeah, we'll get to you. We'll get you. I think if I had to do over again, I might have managed that time differently by going back to New York, because it's a three hour train ride. I didn't have to sit in Baltimore, you know. But that was much more of a challenge than the themes of the show. It's actually you know, as often happens with these very serious shows we would be goofballs have set. There was a lot of stupidity and laughing and, you know, it's a lot lighter atmosphere than you might imagine.
Yeah, that's wonderful. So I mean, I think that that's so important, what you were saying about, especially like the, the like high highs and the low lows, so like the idea behind what you think something is going to be and then what it actually is. I would love to, you know, like, has your career been what you thought it was going to be like? And how have you, you know, gone through those cycles.
Boy, that's - how much time you got.
You know, I always knew that being being an actor was my calling. As soon as I knew there was such a thing. It was what I wanted to do. And at the same time, I had very low expectations because this is not unusual for actors, but terrible self esteem and terrible shyness and awful, awful torture, and just presenting myself in the world, which I don't entirely understand. I don't know what all that was about. But I, I was afraid to go into a store and ask for something. I was like, I don't know what happened. It was really rough. And so it was a weird juxtaposition of that kind of personality, and also knowing this was what I wanted to do. So it's one of the reasons that I was a very late bloomer in my career, because a lot of therapy, and a lot of sorting things out for myself.
Which is why I mean, I got to teach a class on the psychology of auditioning, because it was my biggest challenge. And over the years, I have had to process through the, the sort of the logic or lack thereof, of some of the things that we get scared about, you know, we do a lot of weird stuff to ourselves psychologically, that we don't have to we're, we're burdened in a way that we, that we don't need to be. And I'm just about later this week, going to be talking with a friend of mine who's got his first big TV job, and he wants to talk to me because he, he, he's afraid he's going to crash and burn on the set. We set up a test for ourselves when we've already passed the test. You know, so I think honestly, the biggest surprise of my career is that is this exceeded my, my very low expectations.
That's that's a wonderful feeling.
I mean, I make a living as an actor. I just didn't expect that I thought I'd be waiting tables and struggling in the hole, and I signed on for that. It was okay. It has really exceeded my expectations.
It's like the the reality the Instagram, you know, reality versus, you know, whatever - but like for, in a good way.
In a good way. Yeah, that Yeah, in that sense. It's just the, I think I'd say the surprises have been more positive than negative because I was wired to be like, Oh, yeah, that's probably not gonna happen.
Yeah, for sure. It's so it's so interesting what you were saying about your friend talking to your friend later this week, because that's actually something that I struggle with, you know, like, I've done a lot of indie film, and I've had leads in indie film, but I've never booked television. I've barely even audition for television. And it has become such a terrifying thing. That for me to - the idea of me going on set to do a co-star, which is two lines, when I can lead a movie is for me, it like freezes me to the point where I've, you know, talked with friends who, you know, have had success in that way and been like, can you please talk me through exactly what that situation is going to be like? That way I can kind of visualize it and kind of take myself out of that, like fight or flight idea of being, you know, frozen and these expectations and stuff.
Yeah. Can I kind of stretch out on that? You know, co stars are hard. They're harder than people give them credit for being? Yeah, I just want to talk about that for a little bit. In case it's valuable to you, or your listeners. You know, there are a couple of reasons why co-stars are especially hard. One is, it's not the job that we trained for.You know, we play leads in our acting classes. We don't play "would you like more coffee"? We don't do that. So it is, it is a different job description.
Here's what I've figured out. This is how my brain works. I sort of pick it apart for why does it make us so nervous. Because a lot of the times co-stars are jobs that any decent actor could do. Subconsciously, I think we think well, they're holding auditions. So they must want some secret special thing. It's a trick, we have to crack the code. Instead of just find out if the person wants more coffee, and then pick somebody to do that. But one of the things also that I've observed is, you know, once you've been chosen and you've gone set, there's so much going on. You've already been vetted, you've got a big checkmark, if you'll only take it. You know, you've got a big checkmark. Like, Oh, yeah, that's the person playing that part. We're not looking at anybody else. That's who it is. Now, onto the lighting, the camera angles, the other things that you know, the people, you know, need to get a take. There's so much going on that nobody is - nobody is vetting you. Nobody is watching you to make sure you don't fuck up. That's not what - we do. We make that up.
And it's so unkind to ourselves. When it's I always say it's not the finals. It's the prom. You already passed. Yeah, you know, but that phrase that you're talking about is so common. It's so understandable, so common, because I think the fear of God, I only have two lines...what if I fucked one of them up? How bad would that be? Makes us think that it might happen. And I have watched series regulars, all kinds of people, you know, miss lines and do them again, nobody cares. Nobody cares. It's not. So we do this terrible, terrible things to ourselves that we don't have to do.
Right. Yeah. I mean, relating that to just like the normal people to us, not to us non- actors. I think that, you know, it is so much about the idea behind what we are perceiving like what we the stories that we come up in our head as far as like what people are thinking about us. And they're often so much worse than what people are actually thinking.
Well, that's why I really put things to the logic test. I really vet things because I know for example, I'm a pretty likable guy, people tend to like me. But in a neutral situation, I'm inclined to think that people don't like me. If they're not gushing or coming out and saying, hey, you're a great guy. I'm inclined to think that people don't like me or that they're not enjoying whatever I'm putting out and that's, I have to keep sort of going back to the logic. Going that's not really that's not really supported. That's just not supported. You know, like I once heard an actor saying, Casting Directors will do anything in their power to mess you up. I said, Okay, put it to the logic test. Why? Why would they do that? You can't hold on to that belief. Doesn't it doesn't hold water, you know? Yeah, cuz we think some crazy stuff we really do.
Yeah, yeah, definitely.
I know I do. I get all in my brain about, Oh, people don't like me. It's like, it's really, I gotta say, of all the things that I need to worry about. That's not one of them.
That's true. Yeah. So going, you know, like, you mentioned that you think that you're a bit of a late bloomer, and I'm curious what your childhood was like. And, you know, were you an awkward, shy kid, just like how you related to other people. And how, how, and when you started to kind of transform into the person that you are now.
There's a lot of mystery for me about what my childhood was like, because I was in a bit of a fog. And I think some terrible things happened to me that I can't remember. I know that I was, I was molested by my dad when I was in my, my, like, high school age. I lived with him by alone. And that was a whole gaslighting weird thing, because it wasn't sex. It was a sexual atmosphere. That was really strange. But now that I know a little bit more about molestation, I think I think something happened to me. I got I got very inward and strange and I, I, you know, a six year old kid doesn't walk around feeling ugly. That's, that's a weird thing. And I was I was awkward. And I was, I was kind of fought in a fog and dark. And I yeah, I don't know, I there's a lot. I don't know.
The answer to your second question is, I'm really lucky that I have a very analytical brain. And that was the very slow walk into being a relatively happy person, which I am now. I'm still complicated, mentally. But I I, you know, given where I came from, I'm a fucking miracle. Because I thought I would, I thought I would end up at a mental institution or killing myself. And, you know, I'm kind of really glad I didn't do those things.
Yeah, me too. Yeah. Many people are, I'm sure.
Yeah, I mean, and therapy helped. I remember what one one therapist that I went to when I was probably that my early teens or... and I said something about being weird. And he said, so why do you think you're weird? I said, Well, my family, they all think I'm really weird. He said, Did you ever consider that maybe they're weird. And I said, No, cuz there are more of them. So I figure consensus. Like, it's possible that they're weird. Crazy. Turns out they were, you know. So I, it's hard to fill in all of the blanks. I just know that I, I mean, there were other things that we might, you know, after my parents got divorced, my mother was very anti-male, and I got really traumatized by her. And you know, didn't feel that I had terrible middle child syndrome. Like, my, my sister was the smart one who got the privileges. My brother was the cute one who got adored, and that was sort of invisible. So there's, there was a lot of stuff that went on.
But I would say, a good amount of therapy, a good amount of, you know, logic has been my friend, and I always have to add that the camaraderie of our tribe has been my fucking salvation. That I mean, there is nothing like - there's nothing like the camaraderie of actors. Most of us are a little weird. And most of us, you know, are able to love each other in spite of that. And there's a lot of tough love, but it's still love. There's a lot of like, people pulling you aside saying, hey, straighten your shit out, you know, but, but there are people who are just fine with my strangeness and, and didn't try to tamp me down. You know, they loved all my crazy, crazy characters and voices and stuff. And, you know, that's my people, man.
Yeah. Can I ask where did you grow up?
Mostly New York. But there's, there's some moving around. It's not terribly interesting. I kind of went back and forth. But yeah, you know, I had a very difficult relationship with my mother. So I moved into to live with my father. That's when the weird the weird stuff happened. And I've been back and forth a bunch, but mostly New York.
Yeah. And it just because I think our environment impacts the way that we grow up and and who we become so strongly. And I'm curious about the LA versus New York thing, and if you've ever lived in LA, or, you know, just like how that...
I've been back and forth to LA. I'm actually living in LA again now. But I lived here for 20 years. It was never exactly my language, because New York is New York, you know? I'm very much like a man of my word. When I say something, I do it. Here it's anyone's guess. Hey, I'll see you tomorrow might happen might not, but I yes I feel very fortunate to have grown up in New York. First of all, because of the cultural influence, also, because of the interracial influence. I grew up with a lot of black and Puerto Rican culture, which I'm so just, I feel so so lucky. You know, for that. And also, I mean, my parents were in the arts, they were interested in the arts, we saw concerts, we saw theater, we saw all this stuff. And it's I think it's really a terrific place to grow up. I also think it makes you smart, because you kind of have to navigate through the day. You got to sort of figure out your route, which trade to take and how to avoid crazy people. And yeah, it's a lot, a lot of rain. It keeps you smart.
Yeah, yeah, definitely.
I think so.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I'm curious, you know, throughout your career, how you have maintained your voice, and you're just like, like, who you are as a person. Like, I feel like, I feel like a lot of your characters are very similar actually. Or like, like, they've definitely have a through line. And I'm, I'm just curious between the moving between the, you know, once you start to like, process your childhood, and like, because I think that changes. I know that for me, going through my divorce a couple years ago, changed me as an actor so strongly, and there's a period of my of my career where all of my roles, you can tell that I'm going through something really dark, actually. And that was what I was being cast as, and that is what that is, that is there is just an undertone of that. And I'm curious if you've experienced that?
I don't know that I have. I mean, yeah, I always thought that I was gonna do funny character roles and musicals. Because a lot of the big surprise has been what's happened with a TV career I play like, just the most ice cold, ruthless, you know, unscrupulous, mostly lawyers. I don't think that really, there was any correlation between that and me. I just would have been very delightfully surprised by that. But that's, that's what's happened. You know, the people who don't know me are like, Oh, I hate that guy. I don't trust him,. Which is just great. And I, again, another surprise, is that I became this, you know, drama guy on TV, which was not the plan. And it's, again, I I'm a great advocate of low expectations, because everything is a delight. I've been so surprised. I'm still always surprised when I got hired. I think that's I don't know, that works for me. I'm not into the positive thinking. At all. I mean, I'm into the very realistic, low expectations. I teach....you're not getting the fucking job. There's no fucking job. Yeah, have a good time at the audition. You know?
Yeah, for sure. Just like enjoy life.
Yeah, it's, you know, I'm sort of a reluctant positive thinker in a way because I do believe in relishing the journey. Like if, you know, just like you I have things that I haven't achieved yet. I don't have a New York theater career. I really want that. But if I was focused on that, instead of going, well, this TV work, I'd be missing that missing the fun.
Like if you have a student or or a fellow actor or someone that comes to you and is like, they're in that downtrodden place, not necessarily even related to mental health, but just related to their career and feeling like things aren't going, you know, whatever. Like, what what would you say to them to help them? Yeah, get their passion back or, or feel like, they, you know, can keep going should keep going?
Yeah, it's hard. We have to choose this career again, and again. And I always say that there are times when we find ourselves in a dysfunctional relationship with our careers. I compare it to the person who's married to a drunk who beats her. And she says, but he's got he's, it's only what cuz he's drinks. It's not his fault. He has a heart. And you know, he's promised this he'll stop. Well, our career keeps promising, it's gonna get better and it keeps not getting better keeps shitting on us, and we get to this place. And I, I have a lot of counterintuitive theories. And one of them is is I used to quit the business twice a year mentally. It's amazingly therapeutic. I would say myself, okay. If this is it, what else do I want to do? And I would actually look into that, like, what would it be like to go to culinary school? Gee, I wonder if there is one. I wonder what that cost? And I, I get interested in that. I just put my attention on that. You know, what would it be like to go back to school, and it releases again, that we're death grip, and it reminds us that we hold people outside of our career. It's not a magic trick, but I will say that a lot of people find that they get a job shortly thereafter.
And I I always try to coax people back to the joy part. Because you know, again, a big thing in my class is, you're not getting the job, but don't miss today when you get to play the part for three minutes. Yeah, you get, you get to do what you like to do. And we keep missing that because we're trying to parlay it into something else, instead of being right here going, I get to play the scene. And I've gotten real good at just relishing those little nuggets, because that's usually all you get. Yeah. But I think what I'm, I also will talk people through and say, you know, you are allowed to quit, nobody makes you do this. And I've known people who have quit, and been very happy that they did. So do you want to choose this again today? Right? And when they do say, Yes, I do. I'm like that you are back in the power seat, because they're not a victim, you're not being forced. This business will always be like this, where it's disappointing. And it's not what you want, and you're always chasing these characters. But if you keep deciding on for that, then then that's what you're doing.
Yeah, that's awesome. I think it's so important to have agency over, over your life over your mental health, it's so important to be your own advocate and know, your limits. And, and when to ask for help. And when you know, when you're fine. And you know, all that kind of stuff. I don't know if you know this, but you know that I took four years off and had a construction company in Australia.
Why construction, and why Australia?
I was I was in Australia for getting my master's degree in film production. And that's a whole other reason for that, and then met my ex-husband. And we he's in construction. And so we started a construction company. And I - working on site, number one has made me an incredible producer because now I mean, I produce a lot of films and I was managing the engineering surveying for a $50 million job. So now to run a million dollar movie is like a piece of cake. But for me, also, you know, this is something that I actually haven't talked about on the podcast that much. But for me, the switch between deciding to go away from construction again and go back into acting was because I was having panic attacks, like weekly, and I didn't actually only now do I know what they actually are. At the time, I thought that I had early onset MS. Like I had no idea what was going on, I went to so many doctors to try and figure it out. And it was only until years later when I was reading a book about it - about artists are something - about people who are pushing away their dreams, or like pushing away the thing that actually makes them happy, and makes them tick... and this author was describing exactly the symptoms that I had. And I was like, that's that's what it was. And it's so interesting, the way that you know that your life can sometimes be like, that is not what you should be doing. You need to yeah...
It's interesting, because I've had many times where I thought, well, is this career like... Does it give enough to the world? And I have lots of questions about the value of it. And I stopped asking that, because I don't know why. But this is what I do. It's what I do. And that's that. And I've seen people who put that aside, and I sort of just kind of just have their souls bled dry. Yeah. Because it's, it's your thing, you got to do it. Now. It doesn't mean that anybody has to do it professionally. I knew this guy who gave gave up acting and went to law school became a lawyer. And, but when we would get together and have a play reading, I saw him come back to life, you know? So you gotta..you know, you get actor vitamins. That's what I call it. That's very interesting that your your insides told you. You have to do this. Practical, not practical. Whatever.
Yeah. Without a doubt. So, you know, going, going back to the mental health stuff, I'm curious if you have, I mean, obviously, mental health still has this huge stigma. But I'm curious if you have seen people talk about it more, especially in relation to the entertainment industry and how that conversation has shifted.
I have and it's also very important to me to talk about it because I - one of the services I feel like I provide is people look at me, and they're like, Oh, that's that guy on TV. He works all the time. And I'm, and I want them to know, that I'm able to do that, in spite of and maybe also because - I have depression, anxiety, things that I you know, I speak openly about it. I because I want to erase the idea for especially my students that there's this big chasm between where they are and where the people on TV are. You know, people think oh, they must be all well adjusted, and it's like, it's not true. I'd like to play a very open hand about that. I didn't mention the fact that I'm on medication now it's, you know, it's been it's been, I resisted it like most people, I didn't want to take pills. I mean, I really, really didn't want to. But when you get the medication that makes you feel like your normal self, right, like, oh, man, I really needed. I needed that. You know?
Yeah, I heard an actor the other day, talk about on a podcast, talk about how he felt he also resisted for many, many years. I mean, he's a famous, famous actor. And he was saying how he, he felt like he had been stumbling around in the darkness of his mind. And finally, as soon when he took the medication, he was like, I finally felt like I was standing on a chair, the lights went on, and I could finally see into my brain and go, this is the thing I need to fix. This is the thing I need to fix. And this thing is okay. And finally, he was able to, like, actually do the work that he needed to do because he had that clarity and kind of that like, foundational level to now do the work.
Yep. It's, it's Yeah, it's very much like that. Yeah. I mean, I still I still have my dips. But they're manageable. Especially I think, you know, diagnosis goes a long way. Because if I have a dip, now I go, oh, there's that depression. It's not reality. It's not the world is awful. It's not, you know, I'm permanently broken. It's just okay, this is gonna be rough four days, or three days or two days. You know, it's gonna be rough. And I said, I'll buckle down, take care of myself. And it's fine. But, you know, one of the reasons that it's particularly important for us as actors, is that we want to be pleasant to work with. We don't want to be weird, crazy to work with, we want people to want to work with us, we have to keep doing this again and again and again. You know, making new colleagues and you're taking care of our reputations. I really am glad that I enjoy a reputation for being pleasant to work with and easy to work with and upbeat and all this stuff. And that's one of the reasons we have to address our issues. Yeah. I know, actors with like, major anger issues, you'll be able to fly off the handle. They're not hired again. You know?
Yeah. Especially now. I think before people used to be able to get off on that, but not not anymore.
Right. Exactly. We're not tolerating because it ends up being abusive, even if the person is not coming from that place.
Yeah, absolutely. Do you do you find, I mean, obviously, set can be such a hellish experience in some ways, when it comes to the hours that we work, the conditions sometimes being, you know, in cold and wet and whatever, and I personally actually like masochistically love those situations, like I'm prepping for a shoot that I leave for on Friday. And it's actually going to be a very easy shoot. And I'm almost disappointed that I know how easy it's going to be because that is not what I am used to. But I'm just curious, you know, cuz I do think that there's, it's so important to have that clarity when it comes to being able to anticipate either if you like, feel depressed, and then be like, anticipate what the next four days are going to be. But even when on set and you go, Okay, I know that the next three days, I'm going to be doing night shoots, which means I'm going to be on set and it's gonna be dark for those 12 hours and I have to try and sleep during the day. You know, like all of those weird situations. How do you manage that?
First of all, I'm such a geek that I'm pretty much content if I'm working
Yeah. I hear that.
I love working. I you know, I love the long hours. I love the whole thing. I you know, when I do theater, I love the parts that exhausts me. Even weirder still. And when I go off into regional theater, I love if the housing is funky. It's sort of like what you were saying about the set. Yeah, like if it's funky, and it's like the floor is slanted. I'm like...I love it. I love it all. That said, I have not had a lot of long term on set experiences. I don't I haven't done a lot of film yet. I've done you know, and I do mostly, you know, a day, two days a week on a show, or recurring. So I don't know that I've had that day after day. grueling experience yet.
Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting, I think. I know personally, especially as a when I'm a producer, that I that I feel like there's two different types of people who manage stressful situations. There's the people who who become that like, kind of angry and they become overly stressed and kind of like don't know how to handle the situation that's happening in front of them. And then there's the people who kind of become calm and happy. And I'm the second like, I like this more stressful things become and I think this is because of my construction background, I just become more calm and positive and like we are going to figure this out and it's going to be fantastic guys, like we've got this.
I have a bigger struggle if I if people are mean, or I feel like they don't like me that I have I have such anxiety about not being liked or disappointing people. That's when it goes bad for me.
Yeah. Yeah, you know, I think that it's, it's interesting for me when I feel that when I feel a position of power as far as like, trying to keep the peace, when I myself am struggling with something. I have had that experience before. And that has been really an exercise in like mental agility and strength to be able to maintain my own sense of peace while also being in charge of other people's mental well being.
Yeah, and I also think there's value in not being allowed, like, when you're the the producer, you're like, you know, you pull yourself aside, you're like, get the fuck together. Many, many years ago, I don't want I don't want listeners to worry about me, because I'm pretty much fine. Years and years and years ago, I was I was lying on my bathroom floor crying, and I had to go to a wedding. And I was like, You don't get to bring this to the wedding. You just don't get it, you pull it the fuck together, and you go. You know, something to be said for that. Like, you know, it's, it's something that I also tell people about being nervous at auditions. It's like you're not allowed. You're not allowed to be, because it makes people uncomfortable. And it's not fair to them. They've got big problems to deal with. I always use the example of you know, every commercial airline pilot has a first flight, not allowed to share nerves not allowed to. Yeah, you know, there's a lot of, to me there's a lot of value in going well, you're not allowed. Get it together.
Right. That's interesting, because that is something you know, when I, when I talk to, you know, either on this podcast or on the conversations on The Mighty and I have some times where people, you know, they asked me that question where they're, they're saying, like, you know, I'm really depressed, I can't get out of bed, but I have to go to work, what do I do? And it's like, and that's always really difficult for me to answer. Because I always say like, I'm not a licensed therapist, like I, you know, that you need to go talk to someone about that, and like, how you should actually handle that situation. But I do think that there is a difference sometimes between like, just feeling the sense of malaise, and like, I feel shitty about the world and myself and whatever -and then genuine depression. And it's and it's also about I think it because I feel like I have experienced both definitely. And it's about me recognizing, again, having agency and going, am I actually in a deep depression right now? Or am I - or is there something that is just making me feel this way? And I can actually fight through it?
Right. 100% so, so true. Sometimes you can't fight through it. I think, I think that's important to know. You know, if it's, if it's real bad, I think think of it like having the flu. It's like, I can't I can't work today. I can't, you know, I mean, it would take a lot for me to call out of a performance. But I will cancel social plans. You know, or, you know, put off a self tape or something. It's like, No, not today. Be nice to yourself. Eat something you like, go back to bed, whatever you need to do. And it's important to like fault ourselves for that. Nothing is more annoying to people like us, then somebody say, well just snap out of it. Why did you go for a walk? I'm like, I can't go for a walk. I can't. I know. It would help. I can't do it. I can't convince myself to do it. Sometimes I can, but sometimes you really can't.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for saying that. What do you do when you're feeling -when you want to do that self care when you when you have the ability to pull yourself out in some way? What are your tools for that?
When I can?
Yeah, when you can?
A walk is so much more effective than at the time you think is not gonna help? It helps. A walk helps. Deep breaths help. You know, I mean, you know, a lot of stuff that may sound stupid, but you know, watching something that makes you laugh. I think a walk more than anything like, like, really just getting air in your lungs and moving your body around. And even if you go, Okay, I'm going to, but I sometimes do with myself as I'm like, go out for 10 minutes to do 10 minutes. And I sort of just gently get myself out as opposed to beating yourself up. And then I'm out for a half hour or whatever. It makes a big difference. Big difference. Also, having a pet helps.
Yeah. How long have you had a pet?
Couple of years now. Just a couple years. I have a very funny cat. Yeah, that's the other thing is like it's not going to feed himself. You got to you have to at least get out of bed to feed the cat. But it's, you know, it's not it's not unlike having the flu. I mean, I remember the last time I was down with the flu. I was very funny because I'm laying in bed thinking I would like tea, but I don't know how to get to the kitchen.
Yeah, that's, that's I'm glad that you said that because I know that my, for me, my my dog having, having my dog at the point when it was my like deepest depression, having my dog and being forced to go outside and walk him every day because no one could - I mean, he was helpless. And so having that purpose, was the thing that, that helped me recover like without a doubt.
I don't know about you. But the last thing you want is somebody coming over to walk your dog and check on you.
Oh, hell no.
Like I don't want to talk about it. I don't want people to try to try to make me better. I just don't like, you know?
Yeah. So I would love to ask you the final question that I always ask everyone.
Are we already got the final question?
I mean, I feel like I could talk to you for hours. But so More Than You See is really about the masks that we wear and and you know, the things that we kind of hide from the world. And I'm curious if there is anything you feel like you're still working on or or situations in which you do wear masks and then situations and when you when you take those masks off and what that means to you.
It's such a fifth question that I want you to ask it to me again. Don't mind.
Yeah, of course. Yeah. So and this is this is why it's the last question because we this can this can sometimes lead to more endless discussion. But yeah, I mean, so. So like when I created More Than You See, and the first thing that I shared about it was I - this is when I had the idea. So I was going through this deep depression, and that I had one of my closest friends die at the age of 32, he was healthy, nothing was wrong with him complete random heart attack, just like out of the blue. And that same day, I was already depressed because of other things, then I had that happen and that same day, I had a photoshoot. And I and I was supposed to be this like happy go lucky person in like the Huntington gardens, it was, it was a mess. And I remember, like looking at myself in the mirror and going they cannot see this. Like you have to show up for yourself and you are putting a mask on. And like this is the person that you are showing outwardly to the world. And so I that entire day, I was thinking about all of the turmoil and all the other things that were going on underneath. And yet, I was just this happy go lucky person that they saw on the outside. And so I'm just, you know, I like to ask this question to see if if there's anything that you feel like is currently in turmoil that is currently that you're currently working through. And in contrast, the mask that you wear in order to try and you know, cover that up or or show people a different side of yourself.
That's a challenging question for me, because on first consideration, I feel like I don't have a lot of phony to me. And I just have a lot of masks. In fact, falsehood depresses me. I don't like it, just like just like, I don't like to pretend to be happy when I'm not. Yeah, I also I just don't have a lot of veneer. You know? Yeah. And it's funny because, you know, outsiders think well, you're an actor, you know, I don't act when I'm not acting. You know?
Yeah, that's great.
Um, I, I don't I don't think I put up much of a mask. I would say, you know, during those times when my wife and I are having difficulties, I don't share that because because it makes other people uncomfortable, or they worry or whatever. It's like it's normal marriage stuff. But, you know, I'd say that's the only thing were probably will always speak in glowing terms about my marriage, because I think that's also respectful to my wife. But yeah, I kind of kind of coming up empty on this question, which is...
No, I think that's, I think that's great. That's, I actually think like, what you just said about the, about your wife and how, you know, like, of course, there are of course, there are things that you are hiding but but I think that that's the thing is that sometimes we wear masks not out of - it's not a problem. Like, these are things because we have parts of ourselves that we never need to share with others. Or, or just with certain people, you know?
Yeah, like it used to be if people said, How are you? I would really give it thought and try to give a really detailed answer. And I've, I've learned nobody gives a shit about all that stuff. So yeah, so yes, I always I'll say I'm great. I'm good. Or you know, so that but that's beyond that. I'm really pretty straight ahead.
Yeah. That's awesome. Good for you.
I guess, I guess I'm trying. I feel like I feel like I've failed the test.
No you didn't. Not at all.
I will. Let's see. I mean, I'll be honest about what if I see a play that I don't lik... I will, I will tell tell people that I loved it. Because I don't want to that. I don't think it serves any purpose for me to talk about it. That's about but that's it. Yeah, I'm show up as myself.
Yeah. Good for you. Okay. I actually have a final final question for you. Okay. I'm curious, what what is the role that you haven't had the opportunity to play that you really want to play? Like, what kind of character?
I would say this, you know, having played a bunch of lawyers, and I'm not mad at it, because that's my bread and butter. And they're mostly very icy cold. But what's been really nice in the last couple of years, is getting more and more opportunities to play people with some soul and some sweetness or some some sensitivity to them. You know, I've had a couple of parts like that, that makes me very happy to be able to sort of share that side of me because that side of me is very rich and deep. Again, I don't know that I have an answer. I think I really relish variety in my career, the more variety of characters I can play, I think that's that's just the best thing ever. I had one role that I was so out of my bed bag of tricks. I was so grateful for it. I was on Banshee. And I don't know why they offered me this role as a straight offer. I was rough. I was like, I had neck tattoos. Scars. I had long springy hair. And I was like, gravel voice and smoking and drinking and snorting coke. And I got to be in a stunt fight. Like I just don't ever get to do these things. But you know, the more surprising stretches like that, that's, that's my jam.
Yeah, that's awesome. You always say that you don't give good answers, but you always give good answers.
Okay, good. I'll take it.
Yeah, they're just, they're just like, you go, you go around the answer, but that that's still an answer. And it's still fascinating. So all of the people are thinking really wonderful things about you don't think that we're not.
You're on to me.
Yup. Well, Michael, thank you so much for being here today. I super, super appreciate having you.
Great pleasure. Thanks for having me. I hope it's helpful to folks out there.
Again, thank you so much to everyone for joining me for this episode. I know that when he was talking about how he gives up, he consciously gives up acting twice a year, and then consciously makes the decision to refocus on his career. That really resonated with me, and that's definitely a practice that I'm going to bring into my own life. And I think that that 100% relates to anything in your life that relates to, you know, friendships that you have, it relates to other things that, that maybe aren't necessarily serving you. And of course, I'm not ever saying, you know, give up on a relationship or a friendship or anything like that without doing some proper work in order to, you know, think through things. But I do think that there is some value in saying, is this thing, is this job, is this situation still serving me? And if you decide that it is worth the effort, then you once again commit to that effort, you commit to yourself and you commit to the thing that is currently causing resistance for you. I know that this is something that I'm going to think about and when I commit to my own acting and producing career every day. So I hope that that is helpful for you.
Again, please you know, share this episode with someone that you think might enjoy it, please rate review and subscribe. It really helps to have you know, you all give me feedback about what you like and, and share this conversation with everyone. I also want to give a very special shout out and thank you to my incredible new editor for this season of the podcast. Jen, you are amazing and making my life so much easier. You're the best. Please be kind to yourself. Please remember that you and everyone around you is More Than You See. Thank you so much for listening. I will see you next week.