On Sons of Anarchy, Michael Ornstein plays Chucky Marstein, an associate of SAMCRO, chronic masturbator and the go-to guy for help around the clubhouse. After 19 episodes on the show, Michael says he still loves the character and like to play someone who “boggles” his mind.”
Michael is also an accomplished painter and has hopes of touring his work around the country and possibly London. Check out his stuff here!
In this Q & A, Michael talks about the journey of Chucky, how he was only hired for the pilot and how his art and acting come from the same “zone.”
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
When you started the role or when you got the job, what was your reaction when you found out the character would have the habit he does?
Michael Ornstein: Well I love that. I mean that was what I loved about it. I love people who are complicated. I love to play people who are complicated. I always did. Like characters that I played in the past or like I developed the character of ‘Louis’ in Angels in America. A very complicated guy. I played people like, ‘Ivan’ from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, very complicated people.
I love being an actor because I love that. I love being presented by a character that kind of boggles my mind. And that I have to do some work, do a lot of work and exploring, okay, how can I make this guy absolutely real and absolutely believable to myself. And then I go to work in doing that in order for it to be believable to an audience, to other people.
When I learned about ‘Chucky’ and the compulsive masturbation and this and that it wasn’t very difficult for me to believe that that could be true. I mean, I feel like no matter what you think up has already happened somewhere in the world, right. I mean there are so many people that exist and I felt like it was just a tick that I really loved it. And what was cool about it is that I was able to separate the tick from the guy so that he could be sitting next to ‘Clay’ and ‘Jax’ is in the van and just have a conversation and be wickedly masturbating while he’s just talking and not even be aware of it. I think that’s really, really like a challenge. And it ended up being really funny and I’m very happy about it. I really dig ‘Chucky’ and I really dig that whatever’s thrown at him he just survives. His fingers get chopped off, he survives. He figures it out. He gets shot. He figures it out. I just love that about the character.
At what point did you actually find out what he would be like? Was it during an audition or was it in the script originally?
Michael Ornstein: No. I saw the script. I read the script and I just was able to see the whole script and the journey during that first episode in Season 1, the journey that he makes. It starts out with ‘Otto’ up at Stockton and the first thing that I thought of was, I’ll bet that ‘Otto’ is the first friend that ‘Chucky’ ever had like in his whole life. The first person he ever connected to, ever. And I think that, right there, is the key to ‘Chucky;’ that he has such a loyalty to ‘Otto’ and to this club and I think it’s because of that. I think ‘Otto’s’ probably the first person who ever really talked to him and connected to him. And I find that to be really, kind of, beautiful.
Could you talk about the progression or evolution of ‘Chucky’ on the show? Were you originally assigned for x amount of episodes? Did you know you’d be on for this long or does your character kind of catch on and Kurt told you little by little that he’d be sticking around?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. I mean, I was just hired to do that one show in Season 1 and that was it. Then, basically, he gets thrown back to ‘Lin’ in the Chinese club and that’s it. What I did on the last shot when they threw me in the car I said to myself, “Well, hey man, this is not a guy who would just sit in the car and let them take him away.” So what I did was when they threw me in the car I just jumped at the other door and I opened the other door and I just took off out of the car and they chased me.
I think that was what this guy would do. He’s a survivor, man. I just did that one show in the first season and then, yes, they brought me back. They brought me back into the second season. Since then, ‘Chucky’ and me have been just trying to figure out what’s going on and ‘Chucky’ seems to have found a real home there, you know, and he’s useful and that’s how it is.
I think ‘Chucky’ is often used as the comedic source on the show. Do you have more room to do that kind of, sort of, thing to improvise more than those actors because your job is almost to make the viewers laugh in many ways?
Michael Ornstein: No. I never improvise. There’s no improvisation at all. It’s just everything is completely scripted and what I do is, basically, I get the script and I figure out what’s going on and I just go and do it and it’s inherently funny. He’s inherently funny. So I don’t even really think about the comic aspects of it. I just let that be what it is.
I just kind of go in and play the truth of it as the character and I’ve been playing the guy for a while. I really know who he is and I know his relationships with everyone in the club and everyone in the town. And, basically, just go in and play the truth of it. It ends up being funny because it’s inherently funny. It’s written funny, you know.
On Facebook I saw you talking about possibly touring your artwork. Were there any definitive plans on that yet?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. I’m working on that. I’m working on–what I’m doing with my oil paintings is really interesting. It’s like the first time it’s ever been done actually. I’m using hand-mixed oil paintings and I’m linking media that I’ve created and I’m adding music to it. So it’s very much like rock ‘n roll. I’ve written these stories that go along with the paintings and it’s something–I’ve been working this way for quite a while now, many years. And I’m using QR codes, which is really cool. It’s cutting edge modern technology.
So, basically, in the live show I have a QR code next to the painting and people can scan the code and get the media delivered to their phone in a matter of just a couple of seconds. And they can listen to the story of the painting; actually hear the painting talking to them. So I’m trying to tour that and also work out some kind of life performance because that’s how these stories originated.
I wrote the stories and I used to get together with my friends in New York and L.A. and stuff and we would perform these stories in little cafés and bars or wherever we could find a space and it was a whole lot of fun. So, that’s what I think the tour would be. It would be the exhibition and then some element of a live show. I was even thinking about going to London with it.
How you channel your painting skills into your acting and visa versa?
Michael Ornstein: Thank you. Well, I feel it’s all coming from the same exact place. When I get a script and do my work and then show up on set and work. It’s the same kind of zone that I’m in when I’m in front of a canvas or when I’m writing a story about one of my paintings or playing music. Whatever I’m doing at any given time it’s the same exact zone. It’s like, I’m a creative person and I use painting, and acting, and writing, and writing songs or whatever as tools to just get a point across in order to communicate a story or an emotion or something like that.
So if I’m feeling something, I know if it’s a song or if it’s a little story that I’m going to write or if it’s a painting or if it’s a play. You know, I might sit down and write a play. I have. I used to write and perform a lot of my own materials with my friends. I made a film at one point about something I was going through. I didn’t want to make a film. I didn’t say, “Hey, I want to make a film now.” I was just going through something and I said, “Wow, man, this is a film.”
So I got together with my friends and shot a feature length film on a budget of like $500, I think I spent, to shoot a feature film. I used digital video and it was actually the first film ever to be shot on digital video, like in the world. And I did that by accident because I didn’t want to spend any time trying to raise money for the film and started shooting on Hi8 and I just didn’t like the way it looked and I went to be in B&H Camera in New York City and bought a digital video camera and went to work.
I actually shot the film by myself and all the actors acted as crew and it was awesome. So, you know, that could have been a play, or that could have been a painting, or a story. But it was a film. So I went and made a film. So what I’m saying is that it all comes from the same exact pool of creativity.