Bite-Size 6 with Writer/Director Michael Walker
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Michael Walker the multi-talented writer/director behind ‘Price Check’ and ‘The Maid’s Room’ talks America’s social classes, the type of actor he loves to cast and that ‘x-factor’ quality that he’s looking for in an actor.
Michael gives us ‘the bite’ on your 6 hot questions.
Your feature films ‘The Maid’s Room’ and ‘Price Check’ cover a wide demographic. What inspires your projects and drives you through the writing process into production?
Michael Walker: Different things inspire different ideas. ‘Price Check’ was based on some friends of mine and the things they were going through at the time as they turned 40. They changed their life dreams and had to sort of settle down with bigger financial responsibilities. I wasn’t seeing a lot of films that were about that or that focused in on the divide, between how we are living and how we are working right now, you know. I was interested in that. I also wanted something un-glamorous and I had a friend who knew about the supermarket business. So I picked that.
And ‘The Maid’s Room’ was an idea I had for years. I started writing that script 20 years ago. I always liked the relationship between the maid and a son in a house. That interested me. It evolved to the point where it was a thriller.
Yeah the three films I have done so far, I am very aware of social classes. If you are writing a character, that’s one of the things you have to be very aware of. Like I was telling you, I went to school in England, where they are much more aware of differences of classes. But in America it’s important too. In America everyone sort of thinks of themselves as middle class, but there’re a lot of differences of levels in there. A lot of levels of education. I am very aware of that when I write.
Can you talk us through your process of selecting an actor for a role?
Michael Walker: Well generally, you would go out for a star based on what they have done before, their look and their attitude. I generally like actors who are funny. They don’t have to be comics, but some actors are very serious. Even if they are not serious as people, sometimes they come off in their work as overly serious. My personal taste is I don’t really like that. I generally don’t look for that. I look for people who are having fun when they are auditioning.
You know, it’s great when you actually find somebody who is a perfect fit for a character, which I thought with Drina (Paula Garcés) in ‘The Maid’s Room’. Paula came in and auditioned. She just knew that character and there was some sort of magical thing that happened. Amy Schumer came in for a small part in ‘Price Check’, she knew that character, and you know, there’s something about that when it happens. It lights up a room. The rest of the time, you find the best person for the job.
I prefer people who’ve been to acting school, who know how to act. I generally have (actors) read the part, and see what they bring to it. Then I give them a little direction, see how they react with that. And then I’ll talk to them a little bit. I think it’s also a lot to do with the type of person (the actor) is. Physicality has a lot to do with it. But at the same time you always pick the better actor if you can.
Do you feel it’s important to cast new unknown talent?
Michael Walker: I do but, you know, there’s financing to deal with and you generally need some stars. But everybody else can be unknown. I think (stars) bring something magical to the whole process but right now, there’s way too much of a reliance on stars, even for smaller parts. First of all the major stars, came from playing smaller parts. And the reason (unknowns) can’t pay their dues, is because it’s harder to get (smaller roles) than it used to be. They’d go out for auditions for a supporting part, only to find out that some TV actor, or somebody with a little bit of a name has got it, which I am sure is frustrating for an actor.
Can you describe the ‘X Factor’ quality that you are looking for in an actor who comes in to audition?
Michael Walker: It’s strange because a movie star generally has some sort of charisma and power that is unexplainable. You know what I mean. You see Parker (Parker Posey) on the street. I mean she’s very glamorous but in front of a camera she’s a whole other thing. She’s pretty but in front of a camera there’s just something about her. I’m talking about some sort of synergy that happens between the character and the actor. And everybody gets excited when that happens. I guess that’s what lights up the room. It helps when actors outdo your expectations.
So if you feel an actor is right for the part but the producer disagrees? How do you resolve this?
Michael Walker: That generally doesn’t happen. What happens is you’ll see someone you like and (producers) will see someone else maybe someone on a TV show. And they’ll come in and they’ll do OK, but you’ll prefer the other one. And the finance person will be ‘We want as many stars as we can get’. There’s some pressure in that way. So, you know, you are always having to deal with stuff like that.
It hasn’t happened to me very much. You generally try to find the best person you can get. If there’s someone who is obviously the best part, then it’s easier to fight for them. I remember in my first film, I fought really hard for one person and because I had fought so hard on that, I had to give way on the other one. I wasn’t happy with the choice but you do what you can. It’s hard. Those are the requirements when you have people with money, you have to deal with that.
If an actor found a clever way of contacting you to self-promote (so no emails, no calling or creepy stuff). Would you welcome it?
Michael Walker: I mean I get emails occasionally, I’m pretty easy to find on the Internet, but I just can’t help. When I’m casting there’s auditions and there’s a way to do it. And when I’m not, I don’t know any way to help somebody, especially an actor. I’m not hiring anybody. If it’s somebody who I’ve seen their work, and I know (another director ) is looking (for actors), I’ll mention their name. But only if I’d seen them in something good. I don’t mind getting the emails, I wish I could help but there’s not much I could do.
When I lived in LA, there was an actress who put a billboard on the sunset strip. It had her phone number on it and I don’t know if it helped her or not, but it doesn’t give you any credibility at all. So by doing something like that, it’s just a weird thing to do. The best thing to do is to go to acting school and do as much acting as you can. It’s hard as actor to act, to actually do your job. So the more acting you do the better you’ll become. That’s the best thing to do.