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Mike Manning Interview

Mike Manning with left arm up

Mike Manning is a multi award winning actor.

He has been in series such as This Is Us, Teen Wolf, The Bay, Days Of Our Lives, and Youthful Daze. He starred in the award winning movie Slapface.

How do you use your productions and or profile to advocate for causes?

So I think that as I got into acting, because I love telling stories. I got into producing because I love telling stories. And I think that as an actor, sometimes I'm invited to be a part of stories that other people are trying to tell and worlds that other people are trying to create. I've been in Los Angeles now for 12 years pursuing acting. And I decided when I started producing, I said, look, if I'm going to put my effort into creating my own stories, whether it's writing scripts or finding scripts to produce or packaging films or whatever that might be as a producer, I want to find projects that means something to me and say something to me and projects that affect me.

And that I think if those projects are made and put out into the world, they will help positively affect society and open people up to new ways of thinking, new ways of being, that sort of thing. So that's why I love activism. And I think just by being honest with who we are and telling our stories, I think that there's a lot of good that can come out of that. And that is what film and television is: storytelling. So I always try to infuse the projects I produce with that sort of activism element.

Is it challenging to be a partner in a production company and also manage an acting career? Or are there advantages?

Both. So it is challenging to be a producer and an actor. And there have been times where I've been both at the same time on set, and that is challenging because as an actor, I try to remain in this creative space and I try to remain present and calm and focused on the character and my scene partner and what's happening. And then as a producer, I'm sort of worried about everything that's going on set. If a car has a flat tire, I have to fix it. If an actor shows up late, I have to fix it. If it's anything that goes wrong, it's really the producers that have to find solutions.

And so it's sort of using the left side of your brain versus the right side of your brain. And I try not to do that at the same time. I try to either produce something and very be in the business mindset, or I try to be in the creative mindset, but there have been times where I've done both and it's been challenging, but it's also been really fulfilling when that project comes out and it's successful because I feel like I had a hand in every part of that process.

Can you elaborate more on why it's not preferable to be both an actor and producer simultaneously?

As an actor, if the set is well organized and it's a good set and it's a good project, I like to just show up, be an actor, do my job, hang out with the other actors, be goofy and then worry about my lines and what's happening in the scene and this world that they're creating. And that's it. And I like to worry about that. I don't want to worry about the camera equipment or if lunches arrived late or all of the other things that the producer has to worry about. I don't want to worry about that while I'm acting. So I actually would prefer to not act in things. Only in things that I produce.

Is there a specific type of character that you like to play?

Yes. I think that changes in terms of the characters that I like to play. I think right now, I just started doing romantic comedies. I just finished filming a romantic comedy a couple days ago, and that was a lot of fun. Before that, I had done, I finished season six of This Is Us, the NBC show. And that was sort of a goofy character that takes his shirt off all the time. And then before that, it was Days Of Our Lives, where I was a bad guy. Before that, it was this film called Slapface, where I play an abusive older brother. So I guess to answer your question, I think I look for characters that are different than the last character I played. I always try to find variety and I always try to mix it up and not be the same character.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was taking every acting job I could get because that's how you build your resume and that's how you gain experience and everything else. So a lot of times I was offered the jock or the boy next door, or the jock next door. I was expected by casting or by producers or directors or whoever was offering me these roles to stay in my lane. And now, over the last, especially the last five, six years, I've been able to branch out and be other characters. And so that's been really fun.

If you could work with any actor or director, who would it be?

There are so many, I mean, the easy answer would be Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio. So many other actors that I just love. Amy Adams, Charlize Theron. So many actors that bring so much to their characters and whose careers I respect so much. And then in terms of directors, I would say, Guillermo del Toro, or obviously, Spielberg somebody that everybody would love to work with. What I love about his storytelling and same with James Cameron or Michael Bay is they create worlds that you step in and you live in and their worlds are so large and expansive. And I love that aspect of it. I also love superheroes. I would love to work with Taika Waititi on a Marvel movie, just really, there're so many. I'd love to work with Ava DuVernay. I think she's a very interesting director. Lee Daniels.

Yeah. Tyler Perry is kind of like a goofy director I had wanted to work with for a while. And I worked with him five years ago and that was really fun. I did this Spike Lee movie where Spike Lee was the executive producer. The director was Barry Alexander Brown, and it was a story about civil rights and Spike Lee, I was so excited to be a part of the project. Spike Lee was executive producing. It was a story that took place in the sixties about the evolution of the civil rights movement for Black people in America, in the sixties, in the deep south, particularly. And I was so excited to meet Spike Lee and I never met him through that process. He didn't come to set and I was very, very sad. So I would love to work on a Spike Lee movie also, I feel like that's a box that I haven't ever checked. I don't know. There are so many, but those are just a few.

You started your television career on the Real World DC, how enjoyable was doing that compared to working as an actor?

So I think that for me doing Real World and starting, I don't want to say starting because I did theater, I started doing theater when I was 13 and I had always loved theater and I loved acting at an early age, but I think at the time I auditioned for Real World to help my best friend get on the show. I had never watched the show before. I didn't really know about it and I was going to school for business. And I really think that Real World for me was the universe just picking me up and putting me back on track to what I was meant to be doing because I followed him to the audition. I tried to help him get on the show. I ended up getting on the show.

And after that I started receiving calls from agents and managers in California. I was living in Colorado at the time and they said, "Hey, kid, I saw you on Real World. We think you should move out to LA and give it six months and you'll be a star." And of course it took longer than six months and I'm not where I would like to be, but I'm very grateful for how far I've come. But yeah, it was definitely Real World setting me on that, back on that trajectory, the trajectory that I was on.

What was the reason that you decided to do acting instead of doing more reality TV shows?

That's a good question. So I had an agent at the time and I think I had been living in Los Angeles for a year, maybe, maybe two years. And I had an agent. I had a manager, I was doing acting jobs and they weren't huge, but I was getting TV guest star roles. And I was building my resume and MTV reached out and they asked me if I wanted to do a challenge because after you do Real World or road rules, that's what everybody did. They would do the MTV challenges. And I asked him and he said, "Mike, if you do a challenge, you will forever be put into the category of reality TV person. And you will not be taken seriously as an actor, which is what you want to do. Do you really want to take that risk?" And I said, "No, I do not." So I didn't do a challenge.

Would you return to Days Of Our Lives for future guests stints, if you were asked? Charlie could have a long lost twin or they could make another character for you.

Yeah. So first of all, I loved playing Charlie on Days Of Our Lives. I loved being a part of Salem. I loved being a part of that show and the family and working with all those people. It was such a positive experience for me. So if they did ask me to come back, I would probably say yes, of course it would depend on what that looked like. You said a twin or a long lost brother or somebody else. I know sometimes they bring it back. It's completely different characters and it's the same actor, which is fun. Maybe a little confusing but fun. So yeah, I don't know. I think it would depend, but I would really consider it because I had such a great time on the show already.

Do you think that it's worthwhile for producers to get some ideas from actors, as I know that you were able to insert some of your ideas in the movie Slapface?

Yes. I think that good producers, good writers, good directors. They will listen to the actors when it comes to questions or thoughts or points or changes about their character. And I'm not saying that every actor should go in with a million opinions and try to change everything. An actor is very much a puzzle piece in someone's larger vision in the story, in the vision of the director, in that puzzle, the actor is one piece of that. And there are a lot of people that it takes a village to make a movie or a TV show. It takes a lot of people, but I have noticed that good directors, good writers will have conversations with actors about certain changes to their roles or whatever because the actor then after they accept the role and they do their research, the actor knows that role and that character better than anybody else if they've done their job correctly, because the actor, that's our jobs is to learn a character, to become a character and to embody that character.

And so if something on set doesn't feel right in the dialogue or in action or something else, the actor's responsibility is to stand up for themselves, stand up for the character they created and say, "Look, this doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel real to me, let's have a conversation and figure it out." So I think that's on every project. Specifically with Slapface, I was a producer on Slapface and I was the lead producer on Slapface. So I found the script through a friend. I worked with writer, director, Jeremiah Kipp on changes to the script. We then raised the money. I cast the actors. I helped find the locations. I helped find the crew. I went to New York and this is what I was talking about earlier. And I was acting and producing at the same time.

So I was trying very hard to embody the character of Tom and to be true to Tom and to be authentic and real and believable as a character. But also, everything that went wrong was my fault. So there was one day where one of our vans got caught in the mud. Our 15 passenger van got stuck in the mud and I'm sitting there on my hands and knees digging this van out of their mud because we had to, and we had to shoot the movie and we had to stay on schedule. So that was very difficult. And that was like I said earlier, it's going to be awhile before I produce like that again, while I have a lead role in the film. But yeah, I think that was a special circumstance.

And because of that, now that Slapface has come out and has been successful. And I think we have 85% or 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critics are responding well to it. Audiences are responding well to it, it did a handful of film festivals. It won Cinequest, it won something I think at FrightFest in the UK, which was really cool, Grimm Fest. And now, it was on shutter for I think, six months. And now, it just posted to Amazon and to DVD in stores. And because of my involvement, because I was so hands on, I am really grateful and it means so much more that the film is doing well and is getting the response that it's getting.

Were there any scenes that were challenging to film in Slapface?

Yes, there were. I think that one scene in particular ended up being challenging, but it was also one of my favorite scenes of the movie. So after I'm done on my hands and knees digging this giant van out of the mud and I finally get back to set, I had mud on my shirt. I had mud on my hands on my face and they said, "Mike, you have to shoot your scene in 15 minutes or else we're going to fall behind schedule." And I said, "Okay." So I go into the bathroom, I start washing my hands and washing my face. I'm getting ready to shoot. And I thought about it and I was so overwhelmed and frazzled from digging this van out and thinking that this van was going to be stuck there and we were going to be behind schedule and everything, all these producer thoughts were in my head.

And then I just remember washing my hands and trying to calm down. And I thought about it. And I was like, "You know what, Mike?" I'm looking in the mirror. And I said, "You know what, Mike? Just go out there and do the best you can. You're exhausted. You're doing the best on this movie. Just go out there and try to remember your lines and just do the best you can and see what happens." And I did. And I went there and it was the scene in the movie where Lucas played by August Maturo who's an maazing child actor.

I discover a bullet hole in the wall that I assume he fired with our dad's gun in the movie. So I confront him about it. And in the scene, I'm so tired and I'm so exhausted and it's scripted in the movie that I push him and I throw him on the couch and I'm yelling at him and he stands up and in the scene, I just grabbed him. While we were filming, I grabbed him and I just gave him a hug. And I think it was because that's what I was feeling in the scene.

But also, I think because Mike, the person just needed a hug. And so I just grabbed him and I held him and then I pulled him back and we continued the scene and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the movie because my character is very abrasive and very cold. And that was one of the few moments in the movie that you see his warmth and how much he cares for his little brother. And it was because I just surrendered the scene and surrendered to what was happening and just gave myself permission to just do whatever came out of my body. And it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the film.

How easy do you find getting funding for productions? And can you share any tips for aspiring producers?

That is a great question. I think that you just have to connect with people that care about the story you're trying to tell. I got my start producing documentaries and I would find people they were social cause documentaries. So I did a documentary about reform camps that were abusing kids. I did a documentary about homeless youth in America. And for that one, I reached out to investors that I knew would care about homeless kids living on the streets. So I would always constantly go out and meet people and learn what they cared about. And then I would try to connect projects with what somebody already cared about. There's a movie right now that I'm trying to get off the ground and it has horses in it. And so I'm reaching out to investors that care about horses.

You've been an executive producer for multiple projects. Is there any part of being an executive producer that can be challenging?

Yeah. So with movies, it's a little bit different with TV, but specifically with movies, usually the producer is hands on packaging the film, overseeing contracts, adding assets, talking to talent packaging. And then executive producers are typically anybody that brings in financing or helps bring in an asset or a resource that the film uses, but typically, it's financing or a sale or something like that. So yeah, I mean, it is challenging. Sometimes in filmmaking, you already have financing when you start a project, which is amazing, but oftentimes, you sort of have to finance it as you go. And as you add actors and as the package gets bigger and bigger. So yeah, there are definite challenges with fundraising and with executive producing.

What is the proudest moment of your career?

I would say, I mean, winning an Emmy last year was pretty incredible. And being on that stage, holding the golden statue, holding that Emmy and being able to thank my mom and my dad and my grandparents and everybody else that has helped me so far in my career was a pretty incredible moment. So I would say, that's definitely up there.

What is the best way for people to follow your work?

So the best way for people to follow my work is my website is I'm also on social media. If you just search Mike Manning, on Instagram. Twitter but if you just search Mike Manning. I have a Facebook public page. I don't really use Facebook a ton, but if people are on Facebook, they can follow me there. And yeah, I mean, I'm constantly trying to create projects and put them out in the world. So I love keeping people updated. So I post on there, especially Instagram. I post on Instagram pretty regularly.

We have shortened the above answer and included links to his profiles.

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