Q & A: Michael Vartan “I’m really not a method actor at all”

Find out what Michael does on his time off, his thought on actors not learning their lines and auditioning during his hiatus

HawthoRNe, TNT’s medical drama, just wrapped up its 3rd season and for Michael Vartan, that means he’s looking for his next job during his hiatus. “I would say you never stop looking for work as an actor,” he told me.

I talked to Michael on a conference call about what he does on his time off, auditioning and if he’s ‘method’ in his work.

If you get a chance, listen to the audio interview; he seemed like a really great, down-to-earth guy. He was open, honest and funny so I definitely recommend taking a listen!

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.

Where do you see the longevity of the show?

Michael Vartan: You know, I’m not sure, it’s definitely in the hands of the writers. If you told me at the beginning – at the end of season 1 for instance that in the middle of season 3 I’d pull a gun on a cop in a parking lot I would have laughed. So the great thing about our show is that sure the backdrop is the hospital and the medical drama but as we’ve seen this year it’s kind of free to go wherever it wants. So and also with the life and death that a hospital drama offers the viewers there is always that high sense of just pressure and it’s – I have no idea, I couldn’t even imagine to tell you – to begin to tell you where I think season 4 might go. But it’s certainly exciting. 


When you’re not working on the show what takes up most of your time? Pursuing other work, auditioning, taking a much needed vacation?

Michael Vartan: You know,  so I would say that’s probably you know the biggest concern although it’s not that time consuming because if you’re lucky you have maybe two or three auditions a week and so it’s not really that much time.

I’m very good at doing nothing so I do enjoy my down time, exactly. But you know it’s a funny thing because no longer than three weeks ago as we were shooting the season finale I was just – I was on the phone with my wife and I was bitching about the 14 hour day, I’m exhausted, I can’t wait for this to be over and blah blah blah I can’t wait to – literally 24 hours after we wrapped I was all already fretting about when I’m going to get my next job.

So it’s important I think to force yourself to just take a couple of weeks off and just really be okay with doing absolutely nothing and I feel guilty about waking up at 10:00 in the morning and things like that but I stay pretty active. I play a lot of sports; I’m a newly married man so that’s wonderful – I guess you could call it an activity. We have two dogs that we take on hikes all the time so I stay pretty busy.

What’s your advice to actors?

Michael Vartan: Learn your lines. Honestly learn your lines because – and the reason I say that is there is nothing more unbecoming than a young actor who has not pulled his weight in this business to show up in a set and not be prepared. And number two, I have been doing this for 22 years to this day the only times I still get nervous in front of a camera is when I don’t know my lines. So learn your lines, you’ll earn the respect of your peers and the crew and if you learn your lines you won’t be nervous.

You’re recently married, I was wondering how does your wife feel about your on-screen romance – your marriage with Jada Pinkett Smith?

Michael Vartan: She is completely fine with it because she’s met Jada several times and she understands the nature of what online romance is – online, Jesus, my brain, sorry. What onset romance is. For those of you – those of – some of your readers who have never been on a set when there is a love scene there are literally 30 people around. There is the camera operator saying now move your elbow so you can hide her nipple and kiss this way and move your hair out of her face and do this. It is literally the most unromantic thing you could ever do.

But on a more personal level I mean obviously Jada has been marred to Will for years, they’re an amazing couple, my wife and I are newlyweds so we’re still madly in love, no one else really exists. So it’s really a non-issue and it’s part of – I guess it’s part of my job but also I’ve never enjoyed – I’ve never enjoyed that even when I was single and she knows that so she’s totally fine with it.

What’s your secret to keeping your marriage happy?

Michael Vartan: Well it’s only been 4 months so I think that’s probably the biggest secret right now. I think – I don’t know if there is a secret because you look, I mean sure Hollywood couples they do tend to get the spotlight when things go bad but there are a lot of Hollywood couples that stay together forever and no one cares about them so we don’t talk about that I think it’s really more than the fact that people are in Hollywood, it’s who they are as people you know. Sometimes people can be together for an entire life and sometimes it doesn’t work after a year, sometimes it doesn’t work eight, you never know but I would just say don’t marry an actor or an actress.

This has been such a dark season, do you have a process of going in and out of your character? How method are you about that?

Michael Vartan: I’m not method at all. I actually jokingly said the other day, someone asked me if I take my homework – my work home with me at the end of the day and I said you’re kidding I don’t take my work to work with me. No it’s – acting is – to me is just that. I don’t really have a method at all I just try and imagine what it would be like to be put in a situation that the writers would you know the writers for my character and then I just try to be as honest to that notion as I can. Obviously there certain scenes that are much darker than others and you may be take a few minutes before the sort of go to dark place if you will. But for the most part it’s – I think even in dark moments and in dark scenes you can still have fun, it’s part of that creative thing. I don’t know what it is, I still haven’t figured it out, that’s why I’m still – but yes, I’m really not a method actor at all.

So, as soon as “cut” is said you’re done?

Michael Vartan: Yes, where are the twizzlers, let’s go.

Are you comfortable in your character shoes now or are you always on your toes?

Michael Vartan: I’m very comfortable in the shoes although I will say this, you know I think it’s both a testament to the writers and also a sign of just the many directions the show could go in. I’m really not quite sure like I was saying earlier if you told me that my character would pull a gun on a cop at the beginning of this year let alone last year I would have laughed because that’s so not my character.

So I’m not comfortable in the shoes in a sense that I have no idea where they’re going to take him and if there is a season 4 I really have not even the slightest ounce of – idea of what’s going to happen but I’m very comfortable in playing him and I’m very excited at the prospect of whatever might lie around the bend. So we will see.

You mentioned that you did some auditioning, what types of projects are you looking for?

Michael Vartan: I’m really trying to do comedy. I love comedy, the darker the weirder the better. It’s a tough business when you’ve been type cast as a certain type of actor or character to break out of – I just really – drama is great and – sorry there is this enormous truck driving by. Drama is great sorry there’s enormous traffic driving by – drama is great and look any type of acting is fun, that’s what I found out four years ago but I find that comedy really – doing comedy is the only time that the alarm goes off at 5:00 in the morning I literally jump out of bed, yes, can’t wait to go to work.

So I just I want to experience what it is like to go to work and also have a lot of fun doing it as opposed to just oh gosh, 16 hour day of crying and drama and – so yes comedy and you know it’s a funny question because often people ask me what I want to do and I say well what do you think I want to do? I want to be in a movie with Matt Damon and work with Spielberg I mean it’s not like I decided not to do that.

People have this notion that actors can pick and choose, that’s not really the case, I go where I’m wanted and so it’s just finding that mix of something that’s – you’re right for that you are willing to do because I get offered stuff all the time that is like do you think you’d fit into a tomato suit? No, I’m not going to do that. So you just have to pick the lesser of two evils sometimes. So I’m looking, there is stuff out there it’s just it’s hard to coordinate and also being on this show I’ve got time considerations so it’s all very interesting but I like it like that, it’s fun.

You have a movie, Columbiana, coming up?

Michael Vartan: Yes. You know it is a little off topic only because I don’t want to take away from HawthoRNe time but in a nutshell it’s a movie about a woman whose parents are murdered when she’s a little girl and she spend the rest of her life trying to avenge their murder and it takes place in Colombia and in the United States. And I play her love interest who has a hard time breaking her very tough exterior but yes it comes out at the end of the summer and it’s a really good – Zoe Saldana is the star in it she’s fantastic so I think – I saw the movie. It’s very, very entertaining. A lot of violence too so it’s good.

What would you say is the biggest challenge of playing Tom?

Michael Vartan: Not having any idea where the character’s going. I suppose it’s challenging but that’s not a negative you know – I kind of like that. The last three episodes of the season this year was challenging for all the actors because – not even the writers I think ultimately knew exactly how the show was going to sort of wrap up this year.

A lot of ideas were being kicked around and you know we were all welcomed on these discussions and conversations so that was nice to be part of that but it’s kind of a luxury to have you know when you’re not sort of stuck in a direction.

And so I would say the only thing that’s – like in the past especially if you’re doing a movie you know exactly what’s going to happen. You know where your character starts, where he or she ends and that’s that you just go to work and do it but not having any idea of – maybe Tom will shoot someone, maybe Tom will go to jail or maybe Tom flies off the handle and becomes an alcoholic and join the biker gang. Not knowing is kind of fun but it also I think – I don’t know what it does – I’ve never been in this position before so I’m kind of sort of in a place where I’m waiting to see A, if we get picked up for a fourth season which will be amazing and then maybe that’s when I call a meeting with the writers and say can he not join the ballet maybe because I really don’t feel like wearing tights.

Did you sit in on any of those discussions about what was going to happen for those last few episodes or did you just kind of let them do their thing and…

Michael Vartan: I let them do their thing. I’m a firm believer of letting people who are good at what they do, do their job. I’m certainly not a writer by any stretch so – yes and John Tinker who is our showrunner and our head guy is such a talented dude. I have full confidence in his story telling ability so it’s kind of nice just to be able to let go and – they’ll – just to come home and say they’ll figure it out. That’s fine.

What do you like most about Tom? About his character? What’s – what do you find most appealing about him?

Michael Vartan: Well what’s – interestingly what I liked the most about him as a character is probably the thing I ultimately find the most boring about him but is his integrity. You know if I was a woman I would like to marry a guy like that. Someone who’s solid, who’s faithful, who’s seemingly got his got his head screwed on the right way and just – he’s just a good guy. Someone you can count on, someone who can be trusted.

As an actor sometimes those qualities as wonderful as they are in the real world translate to being a little soft and boring to play in film or television so I was very, very happy to see him develop a bit of an edge this year. Things like buying a gun even though it’s not much it’s still a huge departure for someone like that and it’s just a nice little – a dark wrinkle in his otherwise very sort of clean sheet of white paper. Yes.

When you get your scripts for that week’s episode how do you go about preparing for that? I mean is it more quickly than you would a feature film?

Michael Vartan: Yes for sure. You know just even the nature of that life on TV is so different than in movies. On TV you just – everyday you shoot sometimes up to ten pages and you just got to get it done because obviously they’ve got a deadline to meet and they’ve got a cut to show and have it ready for air and usually four five weeks tops. In the movie sometimes you’ll shoot three quarters of a page in a day and you have time to explore and to be creative and to try new things and sometimes oh we’ll go over a few weeks fine whatever. You don’t have that luxury in TV so it’s definitely much more of a structured pace.

And in terms of character preparation I think that obviously if you’re lucky enough to be in a season 3 of a show if you don’t have a decent handle on your character by now then you’re in trouble. It’s more of a – it’s more of the you know since you deal with actors I think the most important thing for me, because I’m not a method actor at all. I don’t even – I wouldn’t understand how to be method and frankly I don’t like that. I don’t like if the scene calls for something really dark I don’t want to remember my dead father. There other ways to do things but for me the really – the most important things are where’s your character been, what’s happening in the scene and where is he going after? If you can know those three things then you’re ahead of the game.

You’d be surprised how many people I’ve worked with who have no idea where the scene fits in terms of the grand scheme of things or where their character literally – I’m not saying like on a psychological level where has he been. Where was your character physically the scene before this? Is he coming out of the circus or is he coming out of the funeral parlor? That informs a lot about his mood in the next scene. It’s a very simple thing.

You would not believe the number of actors I’ve worked with over the years who have no idea – and I’m talking about megastars. They clearly get by on just sheer talent. They could read the phone book and still be electrifying and that’s wonderful for them but I’ve always been shocked at how good yet how unprepared some actors are. So just know where you’re going and know where you’ve been and you’ll be fine.

Which is easier for you, comedy or drama?

Michael Vartan: I think comedy is harder. Because I subconsciously feel like I have to prove myself and I – it’s because no one – the number of times I’ve called my agents so get me in on that I want to and well they don’t want to see you. They don’t think you’re funny. And I totally understand that, but it’s such a frustrating thing it’s like really come on such a blanket statement give me a break.

So it’s harder to just sort of – to answer your question more simply if I have to audition for a comedy I’ll be more nervous than if I had to audition for – drama’s easy. That sounds horrible. Actually I take that back it’s not easy but there’s just something more comfortable at least for me maybe, about doing something that’s dark and dramatic than something that’s really light and very funny I – It’s not in my wheel house just yet so.

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