It’s no secret I’m a big ONCE UPON A TIME fan. I follow most of the cast on Twitter, and Michael Coleman, who plays Happy, is one of the friendliest and out-going of an incredibly friendly and out-going cast. Michael’s face is easily recognizable to genre tv fans not just from ONCE, but also SMALLVILLE, EUREKA, STARGATE ATLANTIS and others, and his voice can be heard on a number of fan-favorite cartoons, including HAMTARO. I was flattered when he graciously agreed to an interview.
ANTHONY: Let’s start with a fairly standard question: how long have you been acting, and how did you get your start?
MICHAEL: This is never an easy question to answer. I think we’re all actors from birth. We all master the art of play, self-delusion, suspending disbelief, and/or behaving truthfully as children playing together or with imaginary friends. Somehow, somewhere down the line I just started getting paid for it. My foray into the professional world came during my days as a stand up and improv comedian. A professional actor in the audience saw me one night, had a good time and bridged an introduction to his agent. Asking only that I pay it forward someday. Which is coincidentally a major reason I started my acting schools. (I wonder if that actor knows what an impact he had on my life or career?)
ANTHONY: Looking over your website, it seems like you’ve done it all: stage, radio, voicework, television, movies. Is there any form of performing you haven’t done that you would like to?
MICHAEL: I have been fortunate to have a curious mind. I have performed in every fathomable kind of performing imaginable but there are always new stories, new stages and new artists to collaborate with that motivate me to always want to go deeper, bigger and venture into further unexplored territory.
ANTHONY: You’ve done quite a bit of voicework for animation. Who have been your favorite characters to voice?
MICHAEL: While they are all like my children, and choosing one would seem unfair, I loved voicing a character named Stan on a series called Hamtaro. It was an incredibly cute series, where we sang, told cheesy jokes, had our own language… AMAZING! In recent days I have been auditioning for iconic characters I have loved since I was a young boy. Due to non-disclosure agreements I can’t offer specifics at this unfortunately, but I recognize the incredible opportunities I’ve been afforded in life. Living proof that hard work can pay off and all of your dreams can come true.
ANTHONY: Other voice actors I know have talked about how hard it is to get a “starring” role in animated television and especially films these days. Your demo reel for voicework on your website has so many recognizable character types and accents. What’s your experience been? Is it just as tough to transition from character actor to lead in animation as it is in live action work?
MICHAEL: I really approach every character in the exact same fashion regardless of the size of the role. They all have common framework in their construction and the work needed and regardless of the size of role you play, we truthfully are all smaller pieces and serve the real star…. which is “the story”. Regardless of the number of lines or scenes we have… we all want something from someone, get it or don’t, have strong feelings about it,… risk losing something if we don’t get it… Apologies for getting all actory here LOL.
ANTHONY: As someone whose career has been so varied, is there any noticeable difference in the way you prepare for a tv or movie role versus cartoon voicework?
MICHAEL: The voice work often has far less prep time and requires instincts and training to be at an all time high. You need to be incredibly sharp and work your voice every day because you often get way less time with the scripts, you move through the material much faster, you often play multiple characters in a scene or show… That being said you can show up literally in your pyjamas and once you get started you’re pretty much the focus until it is all said and done.
ANTHONY: Once Upon A Time. Smallville. Stargate. Fringe. Eureka. I’d bet that you have one of the most recognizable supporting character faces in American genre TV (even though you’re Canadian). Do you gravitate to sci-fi/fantasy shows by choice?
MICHAEL: I am without question a sci-fi/fantasy fan at heart and always have been this way. It is surreal sometime to play characters in stories you would love regardless of from a cast member or fan point of view. In fact, I think it is always special when you are both a fan and a cast member. Those shows are always incredible to work on. Once Upon a Time is most certainly one of these cases. Most of us are enormous Disney and Fairy tale fans and our reverence for the iconic roles we play is hopefully transparent to those who watch the show.
ANTHONY: Why do you think genre fiction, from fairy-tales to comic-books, is still such a powerful draw for people?
MICHAEL: A great question. Stories, all art truthfully, provide society many, many gifts. It is a chance to see how our moment in time perceives the past, present and future. The artist’s mandate is to educate and/or entertain, hopefully achieving both. Recent times in America, and throughout the world, have seen an increase in fear politically, spiritually, philosophically… The discussions that are happening are BIG world issues with very few sitting on the fence, choosing to take a strong position in either direction. When this happens we often see a rise in opportunities for escapism or desires to be lost in other worlds that champion the ideals and characteristics we wish to see in the world. Sci-fi/Fantasy have always created ground breaking opportunities to safely explore “better” or “different” worlds we wish we could live in, cheering on leaders we would follow. You may have also coincidentally noticed a resurrection in Zombie films/shows in recent years as a direct correlation to the societal perception of masses losing individual voices, over-comsumption at record highs, disregard for anything but wanting MORE MORE MORE… Our stories, our “art”, allows society a break from reality to reflect on who want to be, who want to know, who we want to lead… So, I will take this time to offer you a first scoop exclusive… I nominate GINNIFER GOODWIN for President of the United States of America
ANTHONY: I have to ask about your experience on Once Upon A Time over the past two seasons. The dwarves are break-out fan-favorites who could probably support their own show (or at least mini-series). There’s even an official Twitter hashtag, #Team7. Is the cameraderie as strong in real life among the actors?
MICHAEL: We get along like real life brothers. I have three younger brothers in real life and this is all very familiar territory for me. We have always joked about a web or mini series during the hiatus of “The Hovel” so fans didn’t have to wait so long between season.
ANTHONY: What was your favorite Happy scene to work on over the past two years?
MICHAEL: Episode 21 in season one. Where we stormed the castle. No matter what else happens in life I can say that happened. I think the cast grew stronger as a community during this time too. And they let me shoot a flaming arrow, a crossbow and do some Kick axe sword and axe play!
ANTHONY: I saw a tweet from Lana Parilla that filming on OUAT season three begins in mid-July. I’m sure you can’t answer this directly, but we’re all dying to know: any word yet on whether we’ll see the dwarves back soon?
MICHAEL: The fans often know before I do. Happy is always Happy to hear from fans who give him the scoop on when he’s back on the show! LOL And we’re all excited about the spin off too. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland has some amazing talent behind it and will give everyone twice the love next year!
ANTHONY: You also run the Vancouver Acting School. Tell us a little bit about the school’s history and goals.
MICHAEL: As I mentioned above, I opened it as a means to “pay it forward” to an actor who helped me early in my career. Our goals are to provide the most elite level training available in film, television and voice-overs by giving students a chance to work with some of the smartest, most working actors/coaches in the industry. We have several Once Upon a Time actors as coaches… The Fairy Godmother (Catherine Lough Haggquist), Stealthy (Geoff Gustafson), Granny (Beverly Elliot), as well as many other coaches who have appeared as other non fairy tale characters throughout the series; David Nykl, Alex Zahara, Nicholas Carella, Tony Alcantar, Ingrid Torrance, etc. etc. We have many of the other cast members; Michael Raymond-James, Lee Arenberg, Meghan Ory as regular guest coaches and speakers… and this year we have Josh and Ginny coming by as special guests!
ANTHONY: What other projects have you been working on? Where can audiences (US and Canadian) expect to see you in the near future?
MICHAEL: I also work as a screenwriter and I am developing a film with various friends from various sic-fi/fantasy series… I can’t leak official casting decisions but look for familiar faces from Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, etc. all in one crazy film.
ANTHONY: Because I’m a writer, I always close with this question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
MICHAEL: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… and the reason? Because you will learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything… (Spoiler Alert! The answer is 42 LOL)
ANTHONY: That’s one of my favorite books, too. Thanks again for your time, Michael!
MICHAEL: Anytime! Thank you.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @1MichealColeman. You can learn more about Michael and view clips from some of the shows he’s been on by visiting his website, which has one of the most fun home-pages I’ve seen in ages. And you can find out more about Vancouver Acting School at their site as well.