When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
In 8th grade someone dropped out of our high-school production of “Macbeth” and after drama class my teacher said, “Hey, Michael! You wanna be in a play?” and I said “Sure!” Little did I know that would change my life forever. However, I never considered doing it professionally until my Junior year. Since then I cannot even remember how I viewed life in general before I wanted to be an actor.
What do you want visitors and locals to know about being an actor that they may not already know?
When I was younger, I use to think that anyone I saw on TV or in the movies was rich and famous. Now I know that is rarely the case. You could co-star in an episode of your favorite network television show and make over a thousand dollars that day. That is great! But it is also only one day of work, you still need to pay your utility bill, and the rent is due next Thursday. I know actors who have been in an episode of several different network TV shows and he still bartends to pay the the bills. Acting is an incredible, beautiful, creative form of art but it is also a business. They have entry level positions, management level positions, CEOs and everything in between. It is a competitive work place where we are all trying to make a living doing what we love. But that is why we do it, because we love it.
To anyone considering taking up acting as their career I say, “If you have to act, act!” There are frustrating, challenging, obstacles in every line of work and if you have that fire within you to act then go for it. Not everyone in this world has a passion, something that wakes them up in the morning and propels them through life. If you have a passion, no matter what it may be, live it. What is a greater purpose to life than a passion you can’t explain? I guarantee you that nothing is more fulfilling than knowing you are living your dream everyday.
Who has been an inspiration to you?
I have several inspirational people in my life. My father, Joe Varde, has been an inspiration to me, which I never truly realized until I was well into college. He is a professional race car driver who found his calling around 13 years old and he has been in the racing industry ever since. He has succeeded by his unbelievable work ethic and incomparable passion for what he does. Through his example I learned the risks and the rewards of dedicating your life to your dream. I have also learned the way to success in a trade industry overly saturated with competitors is to consistently work hard, stay focused, and never give up. It sounds cliche but the truth is you need to love what you do wholeheartedly. Enjoy the journey of your life and do not chase after some elusive destination that may not even exist. Life is about living. My father taught me that, even if he never actually said it. My mother inspires me with her incessant optimism. She always finds the light in the darkness. She is unconditionally kind and she is always teaching me to view any situation from every possible perspective. As I have grown older, I realized that she may have unwittingly inspired me to be an actor.
Also my teachers inspire me. I was fortunate enough to become a student of Burt Reynolds at “The Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre” in Jupiter, Florida. The months I spent there changed my life forever. Mr. Reynolds’ passion for acting and teaching inspires me to always strive for improvment. For the past two years I have been studying with Mr. Reynolds’ teacher, Wynn Handman, at “The Wynn Handman Studio” in NYC. Mr. Handman will be 94 this year and the fire in his belly that drives him to teach inspires all of his students every class. Mr. Handman is a force of nature in the world of acting and I could not be more grateful to be his student.
What’s the role you would most like to play?
I would love to play “Biff” in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, on stage or screen. I am about 10 years to young for the part right now but I still do one of his monologues at auditions every now and then. Honestly, since I am 23 years old now and I am playing 16 year old kids on TV, I may be 20 years too young for Biff. But, maybe by then I will be ready to tackle the role.
How has the industry evolved since you started acting?
I think everyone in any industry who is asked this question will inevitably mention how technology has grown exponentially in the past 5 years, which it has. I didn’t have a smartphone until the end of high-school. It is so strange to me that children are being born with the iPhone 6 already in existence. They will never know life without a smartphone. When I was starting out it was difficult to get advice from people in the industry because they would say how it is so different now. They did not think the way that they pursued a career in acting would work for someone as young as me because they didn’t even have the internet growing up. I was taught by my predecessors to print your headshots, format your resume, cut them to size, staple it all together, and it kills me when a casting associate says, “Oh, we don’t need all that, we have it online.”
When I was in school YouTube was still a newer thing that young people were just starting to take advantage of, let alone Hulu, Netflix, Vine, Instagram, etc. wasn’t nearly as influential in the entertainment industry as it is now. Now you have people who are more famous from their work online than someone who may be a recurring character on a network TV show. It is hard to remember that that was not even fathomable 10 years ago. However, these advances have allowed so many more people to break into the industry that may not have had the opportunity before. As opposed to a few hundred channels, there are thousands of ways to get quality work as an actor now.
Another way it has changed is by the amount of pressure industry professionals put on the actor. I am not young enough to be unaware of how business used to be conducted in the entertainment industry. Casting Directors, agents, and other industry professionals use to hold “meet and greets” for free. They wanted to see new talent and the talent wanted to meet the people that they could possibly work with. Now there is this ‘pay to play’ mentality where I would need to go to a third party organization who pays Casting Directors, agents, and other industry professionals to hold “meet and greet” seminars in their office building. Then each actor who would like to meet these industry professionals must pay around $100 to sit in a room with a dozen other actors, and each of us might have 5 minutes alone with the person we paid to meet. To have that expense on top of getting professional headshots, resumes, websites, business cards, acting classes, etc. is incredibly difficult for an actor. If you are not financially well-endowed you have to work three other day jobs to pay your life expenses and whatever would go into savings for the conventional career person, goes back into your acting expenses. We are lucky to break even.
Industry professionals want actors to play every part. They want you to write your own material, cast it, star in it, produce it, film it, put it online, and if it is popular, maybe they will consider working with you. However, that process is both incredibly time consuming and expensive. The fact that it is even being done blows my mind. How someone or a group of people have the time and money to do that is mind boggling because if they are not independently wealthy they are also working day jobs to stay afloat.
That being said, every industry is always changing and it is our job as professionals to stay ahead of the curve. It will never be the way it was and those who do not adapt will be left behind. Change is not wrong, it is just different. I find it invigorating to embrace the changes in the industry and incorporate them into how I accomplish my goals. Fighting these changes will only slow you down and you miss out on countless opportunities in the process.
What’s the craziest thing to happen to you on set?
I won’t name the project but I was shooting a film on location and they put us up in a few cabins in the woods. On the days that I was not needed for the shoot I was left alone in the cabin for as long as 36-40hrs. The cabins were not stocked with food, I had no transportation, the nearest store was miles away, and it was below freezing outside. There was also no internet or cell phone service in the cabin so I had no idea what was going on or where anybody was. That was the craziest thing on set so far. Being stranded in a cabin in the woods eating dry cereal out of a coffee filter.
What social media do you use?
I also have my own website, michaelvarde.com
Describe acting in 5 words or less
Vulnerable, Enlightening, Organic, Magical, Cathartic