Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Michael Harney has played all manner of uptight cops, lawyers, politicians, and other authority figures in a three-decade career, the last 22 of which have been on TV and film. After countless guest roles and supporting roles big and small, Harney landed a series regular role for the first time on Netflix’s hit Orange Is The New Black, where he plays prison guard supervisor Sam Healy, a man whose peccadilloes are barely contained by his slow-burning, seething exterior. The third season of the show premiered on June 12.
Michael Harney: Well, I started with Jenji [Kohan] with Weeds, and that was a great experience for me. I remember auditioning for the role, and Mike Trim was one of the producers on Weeds at that time. I wound up getting it, and one thing led to another. If my recollection serves me correctly, it was not supposed to be as heavily recurring as it was, but after we did a couple of episodes, they saw possibility in it, and it was a good fit for all of us. So it just kind of took off.
AVC: What was your experience working on Weeds, and how did that translate to working with Jenji on Orange?
MH: It was great. The majority of my work was with the kids, and I really enjoyed working with Alexander [Gould]. I really enjoyed working with him because he was young. He was really open to possibility in terms of moments, and he wasn’t shut down at all, and we had a good working relationship together. He was very malleable, I guess is a good word, and that’s really important for an actor and for him to have that as a young kid. So it was cool because I taught acting, and so I was able to share a lot of stuff with him, and it was a special time for me working with him. Working with Mary-Louise [Parker]—she’s a really wonderful actress. Artistically, she’s really sound, and that was great having her around, and meeting her, and working with her, and just the people—we became kind of a family over there. Kevin Nealon is a great guy. I just really had a great time working on it. A lot of the material is comedy. So I did a lot of comedy, and I really enjoy that.
AVC: You do comedy roles every so often, but most of the time, it’s a cop or guard kind of role. So how is it to break off and do comedy for the first time in a while?
MH: Well, I really enjoy comedy. I enjoy deep comedy. I really used to admire Peter Sellers, and I studied Jackie Gleason when I was a kid, but the kind of comedy that I do is pretty much… I play it like farce. Farce is successful because you do it truthfully, right? So that’s the kind of comedy that I’m really asked to do pretty consistently when they do ask me to do it. I’m usually the straight man and just trying to really live truthfully under a farcical, imaginary circumstance.
AVC: What’s a good example of that? What role do you think was a good example of that?
MH: Well, Weeds was a great example. Orange Is The New Black is a great example.
AVC: When you got the role in Orange, what did Jenji tell you about Healy?
MH: We didn’t really talk about it. When I did Deadwood with David Milch, and doing Orange with Jenji, our relationship is really sound. It’s found in the artistic foundation of what we’re doing. So she communicates to me through the writing, and I communicate to her through the behavior that I bring to the work, and it’s kind of a dance, and it works great. It’s always great to see her, but it’s always too short, and I just said, “Hey, I love you,” and I don’t say much, but I don’t think we have to, and she said, “Exactly.” She comes into a room, and the canvas is covering the whole wall, right? She starts painting on the canvas, and she goes away, and then I come into the room, and I go, “Oh, wow, look at that, man.” And I start painting on the same canvas, and the colors really go together, and the forms, and the shapes. So it’s a good deal.
AVC: What do you access to play someone like Healy, who looks normal on the outside but has, in some ways, a sad but an interesting internal life?
MH: Well, for me, I’ve been acting for 36 years. So I just read the script over. I probably read it 100 times before I get to the set, and what I try to do is just when I’m reading it, things occur. It’s like Bukowski said one time, when he sits at a typewriter, it’s like popcorn. Things just start to pop in his unconscious or out of his unconscious onto the paper, and for me, it’s like that. Not comparing myself with Bukowski, but it just occurs. Things happen from reading it over and over again, and as they occur, I’ll be moved as I’m reading it.
In the final stages of my preparation, oftentimes I’m on a plane going to the set, and I’ll be sitting there, and I might get upset. I’ll be going through this plethora of emotions sitting in my seat because I’m just about to get there and do my job. Now, when I get there, all that stuff is there, but then I throw it away. I throw it away, and I just work off of who I’m working with, or I work off of the environment. And if I’m lucky, I’m free to just respond to who I’m with, and so everything is part of it, but all the things that have popped in during the preparation, they’ll become expressed and oftentimes at different points in the scene.
AVC: Is that process internalized for you at this point?
MH: Exactly, man. For many years, I used to break it down. I would draw diagrams. I’d write pages and pages, and it just kind of happens now, and I prefer it that way. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do the preparation. It’s actually the opposite. In some ways, I do more because I travel more miles internally.
AVC: The show shoots in an old prison?
MH: We use Kaufman [studios]—we’re on the soundstage and we [shoot] part of the show in an abandoned children’s psychiatric center.
AVC: How weird is that?
MH: Weird. Yeah. Actually, I’m kind of sensitive to places, and it just feels to me like a lot of stuff went down there. Just a feeling I get in my gut. I just don’t like the feeling I have.
AVC: Do you use that creepy feeling when you’re doing the work, or do you try to shut that out?
MH: I use everything, man. If I’m talking to you right before I go on set, I use that. Just kind of everything. It’s all part of it. It’s all part of it because it’s just about being open.
AVC: What were you doing up until you started working in movies and TV?
MH: Well, I did probably 100 plays, and I got paid nothing for them, but I’d build the sets, or would produce, or would get flyers out. I’d do all this stuff that young actors do in New York, and yeah, I got to work with some really good people. I worked with Allison Janney in New York with her company, Red Earth Ensemble. I really banged around. I was an athlete when I was younger, and I took that drive and I used it in art. So I said, man, actors act, and ball players play ball, and so I got to do this thing, and I got all the jobs that people get. I had two, three jobs pretty much throughout so that I’d be free at night to work, and then I realized there were holes in my work and my technique.
So after studying for almost two and a half years, I was introduced to Bill Esper in New York, and I started working with him, and I took it really seriously. I think that year I worked as a night watchman so I could do all my emotional work because there was nobody around. I worked at NYU, and I did all my work walking the corridors of these abandoned buildings. They were busy during the day. I did one year with Bill, and then he invited me back, but I chose to work with a guy named Phil Gushee for my second year. Phil is also from the playhouse and is a great guy.
After I was with him for about four years, he asked me to teach with him, and I honestly didn’t feel up to the task because I had so much respect for these guys, but I did. I sat in my chair, and I shook for, you know, Saturday afternoon. I had seven students I think, and they weren’t getting it. So he said, “Look, man, I’d like you to do this summer workshop with me,” and so he split it up. He took half, and I took half, and then in the fall, I had a class, and I was like, “Holy shit, man.” It happened pretty quick.
AVC: Was this the late ’80s that you were doing all of this?
MH: I’m pretty sure, yeah. It was like late ’80s. That’s right, and I just couldn’t get arrested in New York. I couldn’t get any work unless I paid to play, and I just couldn’t get any work.
AVC: So at what point did you start trying to audition for movies, TV, that kind of thing? Your first movie role isn’t until ’93 or ’92.
MH: Yeah. Well, what happened was the work itself, working with Bill and working with Phil, I really fell in love with the art of acting because that’s an Americanized system of Stanislavsky’s work, which is what Meisner created, and I really fell in love with the art of acting. And when I couldn’t get work other than work that I paid to do… And you know, I’m driving cabs, and I was digging ditches, painting houses, working in restaurants, and I said, man, if I teach, I can still do the art. I can still be immersed in the art form, and so I started teaching, and I really dug it. I really got into it, and the students that worked with me really dug it, too. They got a lot out of it. I hear from some of them sometimes.
And I didn’t deviate from the work as it was given to me. I took voluminous notes, and the way that I delivered it was different because it’s a very individual thing. It’s one thing you learn, is your point of view when you work with Meisner. That you really have a very solid point of view about things. So the way that I delivered it was different, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to deviate from the work, as it had been laid down and communicated by word of mouth through so many years from the group theater to where I was. So it was really special, and I really look at that is being a solid foundational piece, Meisner’s work through Esper and Gushee, a solid foundational piece to my work ethic and to the way that I approach things.
AVC: So that’s when you started applying that to auditions for movies and TV. How did you get this role in Italian Movie with a young James Gandolfini, and Rita Moreno, and all those well known or soon-to-be well known actors?
MH: Well, Ellen Parks was casting, and she brought me in. She’s a friend of mine. She brought me in to read this role, and I did, and they picked me, and I did it. I remember we were in Cobble Hill on Court Street in Brooklyn, and our dressing rooms were clotheslines with sheets put up, and I think Michael Della Femina produced it. It was really early, and it was good to work with Jim. We had a scene in a restaurant together. It was pretty cool.
MH: It was the only show in town really in those days. It was the opposite of what it is now. I mean, there’s a lot going on in New York. In those days, there was really nothing. There was Law & Order, and I forget the other one. I think it was that English guy. He was terrific. I’m just blanking on his name. He was really wonderful, and that was the second show as I remember it. So that plus the soaps, and after that, after you did them all, then you were kind of like, okay, what do I do now?
AVC: What do the producers tell you when they bring you back for a new role?
MH: You know, I’m so private, and I don’t really talk to people that much. I just don’t, and it’s not because I don’t like them. I’m just strung up that way, and so they call me up. When I work on a role, I just go, “Oh, wow. Maybe…” I remember I did this one lawyer, and I said, “Yeah, my hair’s going to be different. I want to do this,” and they said, “Okay, cool. We’ll do that,” and it’s a fusion kind of thing, and Dick Wolf was around minimally. I didn’t really talk to him. He called me in one time for one of his series, and I realized after I gave the audition that I just went really the wrong way in terms of what I was doing. I didn’t realize it till about six months later. Dan Sackheim was there, and Joe Stern was there in the beginning, and Joe was very gregarious. So he’d be around, and we’d talk, and trying to think. Arthur Forney was there. I always had a good rapport with them. I’m just quiet. I just show up, and hit my marks, and say my words, and if they want me to go a different direction, I do it. It’s not nuclear physics.
MH: Yeah, I worked with Bill. That was pretty funny. One day, I was working up in a restaurant up in Harlem, and he just kept saying, “We’re eating. You should be eating,” and I was nervous in those days. I was really green, and so I did this scene with a mouth full of food, and it worked great, because my Uncle Larry, who was a milkman forever—he became a foreman on the lifts at the dairy. He called me up. He said, “Man, holy shit… you really look like a detective in that thing.” That was Bill telling me that… throughout the scene, I was so busy eating I didn’t have time to involve myself in my own narcissism, which was still present back then.
AVC: At what point did you start feeling that you were playing a lot of lawyers and cops?
MH: Well, it was weird for me because I spent so much time over the years doing character work, and I mean multi-character work. Very, very different, and I can do many, many things. When Ian McKellen was doing Amadeus on Broadway, I wrote him a note because I saw the show, and I just thought it was astounding that way that he did the performance. It was so technically sound, and I felt like he was sort of the modern day Olivier, and when I started out when I was younger, my dad, who was a performer, he turned me on to all the great British actors when I was a kid. Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Jack Hawkins, all these guys, and Alec Guinness.
So I had a leaning in that direction to study these guys, and I was able to find some great things. It was interesting because later, after I did Meisner’s work, I went a completely different direction, but I have to say, in the beginning, I was probably more presentational as a performer, and that’s okay. That was part of my process, but anyway, I went, and I wrote him a note. It was interesting. He called my house, and he said, “Is Michael there?” My sister-in-law at the time answered the phone. She said “No, he’s not. May I take a message? “ He said “Well, this is Ian McKellen,” and she said “Ian who?”
Anyway, so I called him back, and I went [to see him], and we spent an hour. He went to the deli [up the street] to get a sandwich, and then we talked, and then we sat down in the theater on the stage for about a half an hour, and I said, “I want to do certain roles. I want to be able to play all these different characters,” and he said, “Well… how they see you, that’s how it’s going to be,” and he was so right about that because that’s how it’s been for me. I think as I get older, it’s changing because there’s roles that I can play—I just finished doing a movie where I play a dad, but again, he’s an ex-Marine, and that has to do with bearing. I’m a fairly large individual. So that has something to do with it. It’s certainly nothing special about me. It’s just the way that I’m perceived.
MH: I was teaching at the time [of NYPD Blue], and I got a phone call, and they said to come in and read with Alexa Fogel for this detective, and I was like, “Man, I just set up my studio, I don’t know if I want to do this,” and then I’m… “All right, I’ll go in.” That’s when my student and I went, and I worked the character for, I don’t know what it was, a week or so, and I walked in in character actually, and the first thing, I walked into a room, and there were like ten 12-year-old kids, and I thought wait a minute. What’s going on? I may feel like I’m 12 years old, but I walked out of the room, and I then I heard “Michael!” It was Alexa, and she said, “Please come here. They sent you to the wrong place.”
So I walked down, and I laid down some footage as Mike Roberts, and a week later, I got a call, and they said, “Look, we’d like you to do it,” and I just decided at that time that would be a way to go. So I talked to my students, and I was never gone for a long time. I often wonder what would happen if I had stayed out here. Would I have become a regular on the show? But I couldn’t do that. I made a commitment to my students at the time for a two-year process, and for anybody that’s done Meisner’s work, that’s a hell of a commitment as a student. You pick your teacher carefully, and it’s something that’s a very special time in your life. So I wasn’t about to bag on them.
AVC: What kind of a showrunner is David Milch? His methods are intense. He always seems to get a lot out of the people that work on his shows.
MH: In terms of being an artist, he’s the real deal. So whenever you get a chance to work with somebody that’s a genuine artist, you take it. David happens to be a friend of mine. I’ve never had a problem with David Milch. I have nothing but really good stuff with him.
AVC: How is he a true artist? What does that mean as far as a writer and a producer…
MH: Well what it means is that he has an innate talent that I have never met anyone that has that level of ability in terms of his insight, his ability to translate his inspirational life to the written word and then the screen, his ability to direct actors and actresses in scenes that he’s written. When I was doing Deadwood, we would go, and he would talk for about 10, sometimes even 15 minutes before a scene, and there wasn’t one time that I didn’t feel like, “Wow, that made the scene better,” and I’m not kissing his ass either. I’m just telling the truth. It’s an issue of him coming and saying, “Hey, man, have you thought of this?”
There was a scene in Deadwood… I played Steve, the town drunk. Bullock had made this deal, and they were going to give me the money to run the livery, and I was in there doing the scene. I was beginning to improvise it before we started shooting it, but pretty much what I had going on was this arrogant guy with no self-esteem. That was what was going on for me, and “I’ll show you motherfuckers,” you know? “I’m going to be top dog.” So David comes in, and Molly Parker’s sitting there, and she’s handing out the money, right, the bank, and he says to me, “Look, you’re thinking she wants me.” Now that in itself, that put the scene in a completely different hemisphere because now we have a situation where there’s somebody, meaning me, who’s experiencing this beautiful woman who’s in love with Bullock, and she wants me. So I’m living in this delusion. Well it put a whole different level of human comedy of just the nuance of human insanity. That whole thing was laid out there, and it came through on the screen. I don’t normally watch my work, but I watched that, and it really worked. So that’s an example of it.
AVC: Going back to NYPD Blue real quick, when you would come back and there was another cast change, did that change the vibe on set, or did things just run smoothly no matter who was there?
MH: For me, every day’s different. Every day that I’m on a set is different. Every show is different. So it was just different. The energies were part of the show, and the first season changed, then the second, and it changed in the third, and they all worked really well. I got along great with Jimmy [Smits]. Jimmy was terrific. I thought David [Caruso] in the first season was really good. That was a really amazing performance that he did. So it’s all different to me. It’s kind of like people say to me, well, what’s your favorite scene? And I say I don’t have one. They’re all my favorite. It’s like people I work with. It’s like, I show up, and unless somebody’s being a total fuckhead, I just… I mean, I really get into it, man. That’s what I do. It’s like I get a chance to play cops and robbers again, you know?
AVC: Is that how you have to be as a character actor, even when you’re recurring on a show, because you’re not there all the time, so you’re not getting the complete vibe of the set from day to day? You just come in and do your job?
MH: I don’t know if it’s what you have to do. For me, I’m dedicated to living through the circumstances of the character, and when I’m not on set telling a few jokes, I’m getting along with people and going home for dinner. It’s not a degree in physics, like I told you, and there’s no need for me to be involved in the day-to-day stuff of the set as the regulars experience it because that’s not my job on the shows that we’re talking about. Even on Orange, I go in, and I’m really quiet, and they’ll tell you, “Well, he’s in his room.” And then they say, “Okay, we’re ready for you,” and then I take the walk, and that’s a serious fucking walk, you know? But it’s like, hey, man, I’m either going to live truthfully doing this or not. So I take it really seriously.
MH: We had a really good time. It was very lighthearted. I did a small, small role in that, and I always tell people that was one of the most relaxing acting experiences I ever had because I worked with Al Pacino, and I studied him. I studied Bob De Niro. I used to go to the theaters in Midtown Manhattan by myself at lunchtime before I would start a shift or something, and I’d go, and I’d sit by myself. They were these huge movie houses, and I’d watch De Niro and Duvall, Al Pacino, and Jimmy Caan, and I’d just watch what they were doing.
AVC: Is that why you took the role, because you knew it was going to be opposite Pacino?
MH: Oh, I took the role to get a job. I took the role to work, but that was just a real bonus, but he was all about the work. All about the work, and I remember seeing him in American Buffalo downtown at the Circle In The Square Theater. He was like lightning, man. He was like lightning in that show.
AVC: Was it a loose set? Was Clooney playing jokes on people, like he’s tended to do on his sets?
MH: Yeah, I didn’t really spend a lot of time with George. I saw him. We got together one day I think and had a little conversation here and there, but like I said, I’m pretty much quiet most of the time. It was just good being with those guys. I like them. They’re regular guys. They’re not bullshit artists. They’re there to do something. They work their ass off, and it was nice being around them.
AVC: Did you think that Matthew McConaughey would be blowing up the way he did when he was shooting? Had you seen any of the stuff that he was doing as the present-day version of Cole with the beard, and the mustache, and saying time is a flat circle?
MH: He was really great. So was Woody [Harrelson], and Matthew went really deep into his role. I mean, he really went deep, and as an artist, I just really respect that, and to me, it was like I didn’t think about it a lot until after we were done, but again, it was pretty relaxed because I was with guys that were really devoted to living truthfully through the moments, and that’s really what I signed up for. That’s why I like to do it with guys like that, and when I get a chance to work with them, it’s kind of like if I was a baseball player playing with Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, pitching with those guys.
AVC: I guess you’re a Dodgers fan.
AVC: What does someone like McConaughey do that is different than maybe what you experience with another actor? Does it match what you’ve taught over the years and what you’ve done for yourself?
MH: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. What he was doing was he was totally immersed in his character. He became that guy, and that’s something that I just have a lot of respect for.
AVC: So when the cameras went off, he would still be Rust Cohle?
MH: Sometimes, yeah. Just in his rhythm, his physical rhythm, the way that he was focusing on things. It’s literally like experiencing another person, and that takes a lot of doing. Well, let me put it this way: He went past initiating a character. He was totally integrated. He and the character were totally integrated. So he became somebody else, and that’s good work, man. You don’t see it all the time.
AVC: Who else have you worked with that’s done that?
MH: Albert Finney.
AVC: What did he do to incorporate that character into himself ? When the cameras were off, would he be that character still?
MH: No. Albert was different. Albert would just hang out. He was just a regular guy. To me, I think he’s the best around, or I should say one of the best around, but he’s up there with Bob De Niro. He’s up there with Pacino I think. Giancarlo Giannini is a great, great actor. There’s so many great actors. That’s crazy, but you were talking about Albert Finney. So, with him, there’s a great story that I have about him. We were doing this scene where Steven [Soderbergh] set the camera up in the middle of this town hall, which was like a school, and Albert was going to come in and explain the case, and explain the suit, and what would happen, how the money would be paid, and all this kind of stuff, and what the potential of that was, and all of this. And he had this long-ass speech that he was going to go in and do, and I was sitting there in the second row, and I thought to myself, okay, well, I’m doing this totally in character, and then trying to break in thinking to myself wow, this is like a master class watching this guy give a speech, right?
So we start. Steven said, “Okay, let’s just rehearse it,” and he rehearsed it, and I thought to myself, oh my God. It didn’t look like he had it, and I was like, “Oh shit.” And that was just my ignorance, see, because then Steven said, “Okay, whenever you’re ready,” and Albert starts going, and what I realized, his speech was beautiful, and I literally felt that he didn’t know what he was going to say before he said it. So it was fresh. The whole damn thing was fresh. It was like a page and a half, two pages, and what I realized was that during the rehearsal process, I think what he was doing was he was just getting rid of everything. He was throwing everything away so that he could just be there and just deliver it.
AVC: Again, a lot of what you do yourself.
MH: Well, yeah, but I’m not comparing myself to him, but I’m saying that he did it… I was very young then. I don’t know how old I was. It was ’90s or something. Forget what year it was. ’95 maybe. So in those days, I didn’t have that. I was doing that, but watching him do that, that was a real benchmark experience for me, and then I began to try to do that because I felt that that’s what he was doing, but I didn’t achieve it for a long time.
AVC: The way Soderbergh does a movie, is it unusual compared to some of the other directors? What’s his style?
MH: Really laid back, man. I really like working with him. He’s really laid back. He says, “Okay, whenever you’re ready.” There’s no crazy shit going on. It’s pretty simple. If he gets it, he’ll move on, unless he feels that he wants to do different angles to establish something for the story.
AVC: What did he do to get the best out of Julia Roberts, and was it the same as what he did with you and the other actors on the set?
MH: Well, I think he leaves people alone, for one thing, and so there needs to be a discussion, but he’s very open. If you want to talk with him, he’s open to discussing stuff.
First of all, that’s a great role. That’s a great role, and the way that he cut it together had a lot to do with it, as it always does, but you got to remember, when… have you been with Julia Roberts at all?
AVC: I haven’t talked to her. No.
MH: Have you ever been in her presence?
AVC: No, unfortunately. I wish I had, but no.
MH: Okay. She’s one of the few people that I’ve been with that has what I would call star quality, and what I mean by that is that there’s an intense, organic draw to be close to her, and I don’t mean just sexual, although that’s part of it too. There’s just a radiance. She’s glowing. She’s really got this light. The light is on, and everybody’s home with her, and so you can’t teach that. That’s something that’s just innate in her persona. It’s something… like I said, it can’t be taught. It’s a raw talent. She’s a tremendous talent. So when you make a movie with somebody like that, I’m sure Steven felt like he was really gifted being able to do a movie with her.
AVC: Oh, just lucky that she did the movie with him or she agreed to do the movie with him?
MH: No, no. I mean artistically that she would bring so much to the table. You know what I mean? That’s what I mean. I don’t get involved in thet egocentric shit. I just don’t get involved. I don’t have time for it.
MH: Everything is different. Every part is a different experience for me, and that’s what makes it special still. That’s why it’ll never get old for me, because every single part is completely different from the last one, and even if people start saying, well, I know that guy. He always does similarly or something like that, if people feel that way at all, but to me, it’s completely different because I’m living through a completely different set of circumstances.
AVC: By the way, because you were on one episode of one of the Star Trek series, do Star Trek fans recognize you?
MH: You’d be amazed. Trekkies, they know who I am, and it’s pretty wild. I just did a thing called Space Command for a friend of mine. He actually started his own studio and is shooting his own… I think it’s seven movies, and I did some work for him just as a friend, but he’s the foremost authority on the Twilight Zone in the world. His name is Marc Zicree. He was very close with Ray Bradbury, and he’s really got this thing together. He’s got a great special effects crew. He’s got a really good cast. He’s got people who are affiliated with Star Trek. It’s movies at the moment, but it may be a series for Syfy or something, but the exciting thing is that he’s doing it on his own. It’s a Kickstarter thing. He’s raised all this money, and he’s doing it. He’s getting it done, man. He’s got all these special effects going on. I saw some of the footage. It looks really good. It’s exciting.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (video game, 2011) — “Darth Marr”
Star Wars: The Old Republic—Rise Of The Hutt Cartel (video game, 2013) — “Darth Marr/Additional voice”
MH: Oh, that’s a lot of fun, man. I dig it. My dad was an impressionist in the war, and he was a singer and a dancer. He was an impressionist. He would do Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Laurence Olivier. God, what else did he do? He did Cagney. He would do Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and he was just as good, if not better, than Rich Little, my dad. He was unbelievable, and he had a great voice. He was a tenor. My dad could’ve been a movie star. He looked like Cary Grant. Looked a little bit like George Clooney, but it was during the Depression, and he couldn’t pursue it. His dad had no legs. So he and his four brothers, they helped his father run a candy store up in the Bronx, and they all went out to different jobs to pitch in during those days. It was very rough.
AVC: So you’re kind of following in that tradition of your dad…
MH: Oh yeah.
AVC: What do you do when you’re doing that kind of work to get into character where you know you’re not acting on camera, you’re just acting with your voice or just trying to get into character in a studio somewhere?
MH: Well, I remember stories years ago, and guys would go into loop on movies. Dustin Hoffman would go in, and the people over in the room with him would say, hey, he really improves his performance during the looping sessions, and that was a revelation to me. This was 20 years ago, and so there’s so much that you can do with your voice, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’ve got a really good ear. Like I said, I think a lot of it’s genetic from my dad. My son does a tremendous amount of voices too. He’s 16, but there are nuances to each line that you can bring from the character, and once I start doing his voice, I feel differently. I stand differently, and just things come out differently, and it’s really like an improvisational playtime. It’s kind of like being a little kid, you know?
AVC: Are you curious about the experience? People have already said they walk in this room, there’s a huge amount of people, they feel like rock stars, and it feels a little overwhelming sometimes.
MH: I’m real clear that I’m not a rock star, first of all. That’s crystal clear to me. I just made a friend recently who—she and her husband go to these Comic-Cons, but they don’t go for the glitz and all this stuff. They go because of the art form of a comic book, and so they’ve been turning me onto some really cool comic books that they found. Like this guy Will Eisner, presently. It’s called Contract With God, and I’m beginning to read that. So everything I do, I look through the lens of art because that’s who I am, and I’m just very private, and it doesn’t have to do with anything other than that. Sam Shepard said one time—he said, “Man, it’s not that I think I’m better than anybody else. I’m just too fucking strung out, man, and that’s really it”. That is kind of how I feel, and again, I’m not comparing myself to Sam Shepard, who I have tremendous respect for, but I do share that feeling.