Interview: Michael Steger on ‘90210’, How He Got His Start and Bad Auditions

"We’re all just trying to get a job and work here. Everybody realizes that actors are gonna mess up once in a while. That really helped change my mind set."

90210 just started its fourth season and the kids from West Beverly High School are growing up. Some are headed to college and some are going right into the world to make a name for themselves.

Michael Steger’s character, Navid Shirazi, is doing the latter; taking over his father’s adult video business and trying to make it into something legitimate.

I talked to Michael recently where he said that Navid is basically a 19-year-old kid “trying to find himself.” We talked about his time on the show and how he dealt with the new showrunners, how he got his start and one particularly bad audition.

You have new show runners this year. When that happens, how does that work?  Do they call you and talk to you about your character, or so it more like, “This is the direction we want to go?”

Michael Steger: Well, we were always kind of, you know, a bit nervous because we didn’t know what to expect, but they all made appointments with us. We had like an hour-and-a-half meeting about character and it was great because, you know, they mentioned that they were really big fans of the show, that they really didn’t want to change it. They just wanted to continue it and add on to it because they really dug what Rebecca [ ] did the past few seasons. So it was a seemless transition where they wanted to continue the exploration of the character.

Were you able to say, “Hey, it would be cool if this happened or that happened?”

Michael Steger:  You know I did a lot more of that season 2 and season 3. But this year, they really had a good grasp of the character.  But they told us they’re very open to receiving feedback or ideas, or if we had a different idea for lines. They left the door open for that.

You probably couldn’t say, “I think I should go to clown college.”

Michael Steger: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.

From the first season until now, how has your preparation for the show changed?  Is it easier for you?

Michael Steger: You know, it’s not… No, it’s never easy. You’re always trying to live within the circumstances and you try to make it as real possible and we’re doing shooting half a movie in seven days.

The through line on Navid is really he’s just trying to find himself. He’s running a business so young but at the same time but he is forced to make all these rational decisions and it’s just connecting with that young 19-year-old mentality. He’s trying to find himself at the same time trying to be a man and run a business. There’s so much weighing on his shoulders and yeah, you know, it’s just trying to always be connected with the circumstances in his life.

What was your acting life before you got the show?  How did you get your first agent?

Michael Steger: I got my first agent, I had a manager that… she sent me out on different jobs and she didn’t want to settle on smaller agency so she told me that she wanted to get me a job first, and then  use that job to get an agent.  So I thought, “Okay.”  That worked for me. And she got me my first sitcom, the Seth MacFarlane produced live action called The Winner with Rob Corddry, and then from there, we went into this agency and we were like “Hey, I have done this sitcom. We would really like to sign with you guys. We’ve heard a lot of great things about you as an agency.” And after a couple of months, I ended up signing with them and everything changed.

It was interesting because I was with this boutique agency before but then the thing was, you know, an A level boutique agency it’s like, you know, 80 auditions a year, they were pumping them out.  It was a very much a business in terms of getting me out there. It was very exciting for me, acting wise. I was studying all of these characters.  I was going out three times a day. Yeah, it was very thrilling.

So when you’re going out three times a day, you’re getting all the sides the night before.  I know when I get even a co-star role, I’m going over it like 150 times.  How do you segment your time working on each audition?

Michael Steger: Well, I very much try to break up the workload.  Like if I have three, I’ll make sure coached. I’ll get private coaching and I’ll really try to work on the circumstances of that scene. And I’m very big on script analysis and that makes it very easy because when you do script analysis, you get the circumstances and bring the script to life.

It’s funny too because on the days I had 3 auditions in one day are my best days.  When I have one audition, it’s not as great. [laughs]

It’s probably because you’re more focused on that one…

Michael Steger: Yeah, and you’re not dwelling as much on one.

When you were auditioning a lot, were you getting a lot of encouragement? Getting callbacks?

Michael Steger: Yeah, and I had a very interesting manager because like if I didn’t feel good about an audition, I’d call her and say, “Yeah, I don’t know about that one.”  She’d say, “Ok, go back and ask to do it again.” And I would say, “What?”  She’s like, “Go back in there, ask them if you can do it again.” I’m like, “I’m not going to do that.” “You’re human. They’re human. We all mess up. So go back again.”

Of course I would go back in there. I would ask to do it again and they would be like, “Sure. You didn’t like that take? Let’s do it again.”

We’re all just trying to get a job and work here. Everybody realizes that actors are gonna mess up once in a while.  That really helped change my mind set.

What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?

Michael Steger: Oh, my God.  [laughs] Oh man.  The worst audition I ever had, don’t get me started.

Where you walked out and you just want to go jump off the bridge. 

Michael Steger: Yeah.  Why do we do that to ourselves? It’s like you’re leaving the audition so depressed.

And you’re driving home, there’s traffic and you just feel miserable.

Michael Steger: Oh gosh.  So many of those.  Oh my God.  The worst audition, it was a horror film.  I had to wake up sewn to another person. And I had to wake up and realize that my right arm was sewn to my girlfriend’s left arm. It was bizarre. And I started breathing deeply and I was kind of like, I started getting freaked out. And I think I freaked myself so much I started hyperventilating and I couldn’t feel my legs and I couldn’t feel my arms. I was feeling tingly all over and I completely forgot all my lines and the casting director was just like, “Yeah, can we do this again?” And I’m like, “God just please let me go.” It was just such an embarrassing experience.  I’m like, “Oh my God.  I can’t believe I did that. Why did I even take the audition? This is so ridiculous.”

Are you still auditioning for things during your hiatus?

Michael Steger: Yeah, I’ll audition. Still hustling and looking for work during hiatus and sometimes like, even during the show. It’s just tricky because the show is very reluctant to let us go out and pursue things because it’s such a tight schedule.

What’s your advice to actors?

Michael Steger:  Keep studying.  I know a lot of actors they get a job and they stop.  But I think studying and take as many classes as possible.  Take on camera, take scene study, take improv, take voice. Just keep growing as an artist. You just always want to be prepared.

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