MCD INTERVIEW 2016

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You’d be forgiven if, when asked what you know about the character of Gator on “The Last Ship”, the person in question didn’t immediately spring to mind. However, once you see a picture, he’s instantly unforgettable. It is a testament to Michael Curran-Dorsano’s skill and light touch that the character is at once both unremarkable yet utterly memorable.

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We recently had the chance to talk to Michael about his role as Gator, his partnership in Cinema Collaboratorium, and an upcoming crowdfunded project called “Leave”.

Having first auditioned for the recurring roles of Miller and Cossetti, we ask Michael what drew him to the show in the first place.

“I was pretty new to Los Angeles, and it was one of three auditions I had done since I’d been out here,” he explains. “It was what was available, and they seemed interested in seeing me.”

“I didn’t know much about the show when I first walked in, but I thought it was something new and different, and I hopped in. It was just luck, really.”

Despite Gator having been in the show since the second episode, we know very little about him. We asked what Michael’s take on him was.”In the beginning of the show, we got a few details, and throughout the show, some things have come out. At one point – I don’t know if it made it into an episode –  but we did film a picture of a cell phone buzzing, and it had my wife on it. There are certain details that have been scattered throughout the piece, but really for me, what I had always envisioned for the character was that he was extremely good at his job, he cared about the mission and cared about the ship, but was always level headed and a little bit of a counterpoint to the more adventurous sailors on the ship. For me, the crux of the character, the function of the character on the show is a little bit like C-3PO in ‘Star Wars’, where it’s like ‘never tell me the odds’.

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“My big inspiration for the character has always been what his actual job is on the ship, and how that shapes a person. In this changing world, his one constant is his position as a navigator.”

“I was interested in exploring the fear that you probably feel working on a ship, especially in such extraordinary conditions, and the loyalty that you need to have, and care that you need to have for your fellow sailors, and also just how freaky intelligent the real navigators in the navy are! It’s like a three dimensional chess game that they’re doing at all times with the incredible amount of variables. Those were the big inspirations for me. You know what you really need to do is to be able let the mental prowess that you need shine through, and I like to explore a counterpoint to some of the other braver characters. That’s not to say that Gator’s not brave, but just maybe it doesn’t come as easy to him as some of the other sailors.”

It certainly sounds as though Michael pours everything he has into the character, and we wondered what the toughest thing was about playing Gator.

“I would say that the hardest thing is when you have a lot of technical information that you need to get across, while also conveying a sense of story and context around those events, to make sure that the audience is understanding the emotional stakes and what the characters want or need in a situation. That’s the hardest thing for me.”

“Now it’s like a well honed skill that I’ve been able to sharpen over the course of the show, but there’s always something. It’s being able to give more than just a technical context to very technical language.”

The episode “In The Dark” brought Gator to the fore in some respects, and the scene on the bridge with Takehaya (Hiroyuki Sanada) was exceptional. “That was definitely one of my favorite scenes,” says Michael. “Those scenes are the ones that are the easiest to play, because so much of what I hook into in the show are the power dynamics and when the rule of law in the navy creates the actual tension and obstacles. Hiro is awesome to work with, and for me, it was the easiest thing to do on the show because it was so rich and so meaty a moment.”

 Being a newcomer to LA when he won the role of Gator, Michael has worked with some heavyweight industry stalwarts such as Eric Dane, Adam Baldwin and Charles Parnell. It was one hell of a cast to come into. “This is my first television show,” he says. “It was definitely a leap to move from being primarily a theater actor and going into a film setting. I’ve definitely learned a lot, and been able to observe how different actors on the show were able to deal with the grueling and sometimes not accommodating schedule that is a television shoot. I’m able to observe the other actors and see what sorts of tools and techniques they’ve developed over the course of their careers to handle that. In many ways, it was a gift, too, because so much of the pressure wasn’t on me in my first gig to deliver. Obviously I have to be on point, but I’m not the crux of the entire story, so it was great. I got to absorb all of these other actors tricks and work and creativity, and then also got a chance to really take the training wheels off and actually find my feet as an actor on screen.”

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It’s almost a teasing question to ask Michael whether his heart lies in theater, film or TV. “I thought about this a lot and my heart ultimately is in theater,” he admits. “It feels like home. It’s the most comfortable. A lot of that has to do with what a play asks. It asks you to explore things very deeply, and it’s very relationship focused and character focused from a content perspective. But it also requires you to be live, and present and in the moment. The actors are the editors in a play. My heart is definitely there, but I don’t think that the philosophy that we bring to the stage is not transferable to screen. There’s a certain culture in the film and TV world that has evolved over the last X amount of years. I think my heart lies in just a good process as an actor, and whether that happens on screen or whether that happens on stage, that’s really where I want to be because there is a beauty in both forms.”

Michael has appeared on “The Last Ship” since the second episode, and, as such, has almost “grown up” on our screens in the last three seasons, at least as an actor. “For me, it’s been such a transition into adulthood, and the amount of life that I’ve lived in just three years on the show is pretty startling. It definitely has been a benchmark, and a milestone, and bookends to a pretty volatile time in my life.”

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Not many people know it, but Michael is skilled in stage combat, and even won an award for it. We asked whether he wished he could get more involved in the more action-based scenes on the show. “You know, it’s been so out of sight out of mind now for a while because of the nature of what I do on the show, but I would love to. I’m laughing to myself, as I don’t know what a fight scene with Gator would look like! We always joke that I would use the compass, or some tool from the navigation table! I would love to play something that is much more physical. Something that I also love about the stage is how ‘in’ your body you can be, and how physically expressive you can be. People joke around set because I bring a lot of my vocal training and a lot of my physical training to the role.”

“I’m used to having to fully inhabit my body to execute something. I love physical comedy, and I love stage combat, and all things physical. So yeah, I would love to do that sometime. I don’t know in what universe that would ever happen, but you know it would be fun  if it did!”

Acting professionally has been a lifelong goal for Michael, and he studied at the world famous Juilliard School. It was a lifelong goal, but not in the traditional sense of it,” he explains. “I have wanted to play certain types of roles. When it became clear that I wanted to be an actor, it was more about the content and less about the fame or the lifestyle. It was about the work, and it has always been about that for me. There were stories that I’ve always wanted to tell, and many which I’ve wanted to act in.”

Surely, then, he has a dream role? “Oh yeah that’s always a hard one,” he says, almost ruefully. “I like really elastic roles. I like ones with a lot of color and range, and which ride the line between the absurd and the dramatic. Especially on stage, that’s definitely something that I’ve loved doing. I’ve always loved extraordinary people, just generally heightened people, that live life on a different wavelength, and are just out there living it. One of my favorite performances is Peter O’Toole in ‘Becket’. He’s chewing the scenery in it!

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“Recently, in ‘Westworld’, at the end of the pilot there’s this [character] who kind of has a malfunction, and holy shit, he, to me, epitomizes bringing everything that’s great about theater and theatrical training and applying it to this character because the range that he goes through, and subtlety, and imagination… That was so subtle and versatile and specific and rich and real, I was just like ‘wow’. That was a really, truly beautiful film performance that he did. Whatever form it comes in is incredible. It’s funny, because the more you work and study, it’s got more technical for me over the years. I’m not necessarily as entranced by certain actors as I was growing up,  it’s hard for me to suspend my disbelief, just because I’m so into the mechanics of it, but holy shit! Everybody in that show is fantastic, but the challenges that he has to bring, he goes above and beyond the call of duty in a way. He just did a fantastic job.”

Originally from Minneapolis, Michael moved to LA after graduation to follow his heart. “My girlfriend was a classmate of mine at school, and we started dating in my final year. I had gotten pretty disillusioned about the New York theater scene, and New York in general. I was also not wanting to spend my life acting regionally, and not have a family or a support center. In terms of my type as an actor, I have traditionally gravitated towards Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill and Neil Simon, these sorts of classic American playwrights that you are generally content to perform regionally. And that’s where you know Brad Pitt isn’t going to take the lead role, so it’s an opportunity for working actors to actually play these meaty parts professionally. So I decided I was ready for a change, and my girlfriend got representation out here, and I followed her. I had a New York manager and a voiceover agent, and that was all. I was ready to see what the universe had to offer, but really just be with her.”.

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As if “The Last Ship” doesn’t keep Michael busy enough, he’s a partner in a venture called Cinema Collaboratorium, and we asked him to explain a little about what it is. “It’s a soundstage up in North Hollywood that I started with a few people, and have been trying to grow an incubator and a hub for independent filmmakers to be able to get access to resources, and create alliances, and network and just make original work. It is, as I’m sure you know, incredibly difficult to actually do the thing itself out here. There’s a lot of obstacles, and a lot of bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape, and a lot of ‘middle people’ that have been placed throughout the process. That creates a lot of inefficiencies in how films are actually made. I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve always been a director, and I’ve always loved making my own work and telling my own stories. I really wanted to make it a place where I could do that, but also connect with other like minded filmmakers and create a real community of people who support each other and are dedicated to maintaining a certain level of artistic integrity and creativity.”

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Michael is currently working on a film with Cinema Collaboratorium, “Leave”. It’s a crowdfunded short based on the controversy surrounding the US military allowing women into more combat oriented roles in 1994. “It came to us through Collin Bates, another Juilliard alumnus, and guy named Kurt, who’s ex-navy. Kurt was very ill for a long time, and when he unexpectedly recovered, decided to shift gears with his life, and really start writing, pursuing and telling his life story, and stories that he experienced while he was serving. This was one of them, and it’s about the first women joining the navy in the nineties, in armed combat roles. It examines the male navy culture, and tries to examine the obstacles and the humanity behind the sailors who were serving at the time.

“So much of today’s political dialogue is unveiling or capturing, and we’re able to see a snapshot of groups of people who are experiencing a lot of change that they might feel uncomfortable with. It is very easy to not empathize in part with those who may occasionally be on the wrong side of history, and I guess that’s up to you, what you think which side of history that is. We were very interested in showing both the rationale behind some of the behavior that we condemn, but also showing how destructive it can be, and really exploring the true value of women by showing and exploring the character’s relationship to multiple women in his life. I don’t to give too much away but it’s a beautiful piece. “

Even if you didn’t know Michael’s face, you might know his voice if you’re into audiobooks. “I’ve done quite a few,” he says. “That started right when I got out here. I don’t even know how many! It’s maybe eight or ten of them! [The process is] so different. It’s hard. You’ve got to prep for a long time. If you want to do really well, and we have a certain expectation when we’re listening to audiobooks, where on one end, you have the storyteller character that you are playing, as well as the characters within the story. You don’t want to feel like it’s being read to you, but you want to experience it. You also want to hear the rhythm and the pulse of the author’s intent. It’s a really strange kind of meta thing where you’re telling a story, you’re leaping into the story, you’re leaping out of the story, you’re commenting on the story. There’s a whole lot of different challenges. One thing that might sound really great read in your head may not always be the easiest to deliver in the spoken word. It’s also helped me really appreciate the writers who can do both: to make something that’s a very well and beautifully written thing, but also when it’s spoken, the words themselves have a whole new life.”

Social media shows that a lot of the cast and crew are caught up in election fever, and we asked Michael whether that applied to him, too. “You know, to be completely honest, I was more engaged in the primaries. I’m pretty sad about the state of the current election. In some ways, I feel as if the candidates in this election were almost given a higher profile just by the press, by how much they were focused on, specifically in the print [media] during primary season. I feel like the candidates were destined to fight each other in this final section, way back a year ago. I’m pretty tired, but I have my own hopes. I really hope we don’t have a Trump presidency. It just depresses me when I turn it on. I have to balance things. I want to be informed, but I also don’t want to give any more attention to something that I believe is not deserving of my attention.”


Back to the plot, anyway. With seasons four and five being shot back to back, that means that the cast and crew are going to have a really busy year. “I’m excited for it. I don’t know what’s going on with the show after four and five, but it’s a gift to have this much work as an actor. It will be the longest continuous stretch that I’ve actually been in the show, because we usually shoot six month chunks. I’m actually very excited about that. I really do feel like I grow over the course of a season. Where I end up at the end of one season, I sometimes feel like I take a few steps back when I re-enter the fray, and that’s exciting. It’s going to be rough. We’re usually burnt out by the end of season, but I think we all know we’re going into it with that in mind. I’m excited to be back, and I’m excited to see everyone, and just keep pushing the envelope and keep pushing myself, and hopefully be pushed by my colleagues.”

Wow, that is one busy guy! Aside from “Leave” and seasons four and five of “The Last Ship”, we ask what’s coming next for Michael. “We’re shooting ‘Leave’ in stages, and my work is coming up. It’s a great part. In terms of other things, in my producing life, I’ve been working on a project that’s been in the works long before I came out here. It’s called ‘Animus’, and you can find a few articles on it. The group that started that project have been doing some creative financing strategies to get that off the ground. I’m very excited about that. I won’t be in that, and that’s just a really fun, really cool project to be a part of. I have an original piece that I’m trying to get off the ground, called ‘The Clockwork Chronicles’. I’m circling around a Canadian partnership with a production company. It’s like a ‘Memento’ meets ‘Sherlock Holmes’ meets ‘Doctor Who’ style miniseries. I’m going to do my best to get that off the ground as well. I’m assuming I’ll be heading back into auditioning a little bit more full time once we have this big break after season five.”

So it looks like Michael Curran-Dorsano is definitely one of the many young rising stars of “The Last Ship”, with more strings to his bow than a 2Cellos concert. Keep your eye on this one, he’s going to be huge!

WWW.CURRANDORSANO.COM – Official Website


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