In this, the golden age of television, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find original content in a sea of “original” content. With so many quality productions showing up on the small screen, it’s hard to get excited for every new series because, frankly, there’s only so many hours in a day. So, when a concept comes along that oozes inventiveness and cleverness, it’s hard not to take notice.
Enter Syfy’s upcoming grindhouse series “Blood Drive.” While clearly not developed for every television viewer in mind, those who harbor a love for horror and comedy are revving their engines in anticipation.
We recently sat down with the series star Sean Cameron Michael to discuss his South African roots, the wondrous absurdity of “Blood Drive,” and how his character will kill anybody who gets in his way.
TrunkSpace: You’re a chameleon in the roles you take on in that you’re never afraid to change your appearance. Is that something you always strive to do when you step into the body of a new character?
SCM: That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you. I think with every project that I take on, even before I start working on it… in the audition or in the casting… I really try to figure out who the character is. So I’m quite method in that sense. So once I figure out who that character is… what they look like, what they sound like, what they walk like… then it sort of makes it easier for me to sort of climb inside of their heads and their emotions. I don’t think I specifically go out and say, “For this job the character needs to have a mustache and for the next one he needs to have a wig.” I think it just happens that I’m like that because over the years I’ve been fortunate to work in so many different kinds of projects, which happen to be with different kinds of looks and accents.
TrunkSpace: You mention figuring out the physical movement of the characters. Does that internal search stem from your theater roots?
SCM: I think theater is always a good place for actors to start when you’re young. It was always sort of taught to me that with a theater background it’s really sort of putting down your roots and then sort of building up from there. But, specifically for TV and film work, it’s a case of… because I’m originally from South Africa and really sort of started out when I was 12 years old and I’m now 47… it’s a case of a lot of TV and film productions were being shot in South Africa and I got to play sort of, you know, smaller roles. Little cameo roles or costar roles. And when you play in these small supporting roles, if you’re only going to be on screen for a few minutes, your look and your feel needs to be 100 percent convincing and believable and authentic. So, I think it’s really that. That’s where it started.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned growing up in South Africa and starting your career there. How is a career in acting perceived in South Africa and is it different than here in the States where actors are often held in a high regard?
SCM: South Africa has got a very small, local entertainment industry where they do TV and film with very, very low… sometimes nonexistent… budgets. With a result that the majority of the time, unfortunately, something is only as good as the amount of time and money that you put into it. South Africa has really, over the past 15 to 20 years, has been a really big servicing industry… servicing a lot of big productions coming from the States and the UK and Europe. So as an actor in South Africa, it’s certainly a great place when you’re starting out… to get the opportunity to work on so many different productions and sometimes really big productions from around the world. But, because we don’t have any actors unions in South Africa, which I suppose is another incentive to film in South Africa… there’s the result that today you can play the lead role in a film and tomorrow you’re playing Doctor #3 who has one line of dialogue. There’s no real ladder that one can climb in South Africa whereas over the last few years that I’ve now been working in the States, it’s great because over here you can really start at the bottom doing background work and then you go to TV and do costar work and then guest star roles and recurring roles and eventually series regulars and leads. So that’s really exciting for me about the States, that there is this ladder and that there is this sort of respect for actors and that they do have the ability to really add something to a production.
TrunkSpace: So having lived in different places and experienced different cultures, does that make it easier to tap into different roles and characters when an actor has global exposure?
SCM: Absolutely. When I first moved to the States and got an agent and manager over here… I was working in the industry for two or three decades already… and I spoke to my manager and was like, “Do I need to maybe go to a couple acting classes over here and just sort of get a feel for the industry over here and maybe work more on my American accent and all that?” And my manager said to me, he said, “Sean, you’re in your 40s and you’ve been living in South Africa all your life. You were in the South African Defence Force for two years. You have had such a rich life and such wonderful experience of living in South Africa during the years of Apartheid and then seeing the fall of Apartheid and seeing Nelson Mandela released from prison. And because you’ve worked on so many different productions playing so many different characters with different accents… you’re this amazing international actor, so why would you want to change that and become another stereotypical American actor?”
So, to answer your question, absolutely. Growing up in South Africa and working with all of those different experiences and having sort of experienced some of the things in that country, I think has certainly helped me whenever it comes to playing different roles and climbing inside the head space.
TrunkSpace: One of your next projects and one that we’re very excited about is called “Blood Drive.” This is the official premise we read online.
Los Angeles in the near future: where water is a scarce as oil, and climate change keeps the temperature at a cool 115 in the shade. It’s a place where crime is so rampant that only the worst violence is punished, and where Arthur Bailey — the city’s last good cop — runs afoul of the dirtiest and meanest underground car rally in the world, Blood Drive. The master of ceremonies is a vaudevillian nightmare, The drivers are homocidal deviants, and the cars run on human blood. Buckle Up, Lube Up and prepare for everything you know about Cable Television to Blow up!
That sounds like the craziest TV show of all time. Is the tone handled in a serious way so that it’s grounded or is it played up for fun?
SCM: You know what, Syfy just released today, some teaser trailers from the show, so if you have a look at those, you’ll have a very good feel for what the show is going to be like.
They’re really paying homage to the grindhouse movies of the 70s, so it really is, I think… maybe I’m mad in my head… I think it’s beautifully done. It really sits completely into that genre. It’s beautifully filmed and the attention to detail and everything that has gone into it. So, yeah, it really, really grounds itself into that world. Obviously a lot of it is sort of tongue in cheek because some of it is just so over the top, but I’m really excited for audiences to see it when it premieres in June. It’s such a wonderful mix and it’s one of the first times in my life when I had been sent a script for the first episode and I really burst out laughing. (Laughter) It was just so over the top and crazy and clever and funny. I’m really excited for audiences to see that.
TrunkSpace: And where does your character Old Man Heart play into things?
SCM: The whole story of “Blood Drive” is that you’ve got these death racers… these guys go on a race to win a lot of money or save their lives or whatever, but the whole game that they’re in or race that they’re in is being controlled by a big company called Heart Industries. I play the head of Heart Industries. So, Old Man Heart is the head of this big, big, big corporation who is basically running the whole show. A really interesting character in the sense that, I think in the original brief that they sent for the character, it said that this guy will basically kill anyone who gets in his way. So, a very unsavory and interesting character, I think, for the audiences to meet. And as we were talking about different looks and being a chameleon in a way… on this job I spent about an hour and a half to two hours in prosthetics and makeup and costume each morning before I actually went on set. So I don’t think anybody is going to recognize me at all. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the show is over the top. Are you able to take a more theatrical approach in the delivery of your performance because of that?
SCM: I think what’s wonderful about playing something… if the writing and the set up is already so big and so over the top, you actually are able to do less as an actor. With everything going on around you and with what you’re saying… it’s all there. That actually makes it more comedic. It’s funnier when a character is actually being more intense and more serious even though what’s going on around them is just absurd. (Laughter) The show is one of those things that I think people are going to watch and go, “Oh my goodness… I have not seen anything like this before. This is the most over the top absurdity that I have seen, but in the funniest, cleverest way.”
So, no… I think if I had pushed any harder… if I in anyway sort of turned the role that I was playing into any kind of caricature, it really would have been too big. Some of the directors that I worked with on the show were just awesome. These guys really knew and understood that genre and really knew what they wanted. From a performance point of view, I always go for less is more, so I was sort of coming from under the radar. I try to go for a subtle performance and then if they want me to push it up a bit more… because I think the character that I play is also a bit schizophrenic in a way, so he will go from being very businesslike and corporate to just losing his shit. So, it’s kind of nice and funnier in a way when that kind of comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it. I think it makes it more interesting and exciting to play a character who may be a little bit more mysterious.
TrunkSpace: There’s so much incredible content circulating throughout television these days, but again, “Blood Drive” just seems so unique even in that massive sea of TV originality.
SCM: Yeah. I think audiences today, as you say, there’s so much good television out there, which has obviously attracted a lot of the big movie stars to work in TV because you’ve got such a big audience. But at the same time, audiences have become really, really intelligent and really demand a high level when it comes to production values and content. If you look at a show like “Game of Thrones”… if you’re going to try and make a TV series in that era or in that period, you’re really up against something that’s really big and audiences have been spoiled in that way. So, I think with “Blood Drive,” because it’s such a specific genre that hasn’t really been seen on TV, I think the writers and the producers have a lot of leeway to kind of make it their own.
TrunkSpace: Your film “Last Broken Darkness” is set to screen here in the States beginning this week at The Sunscreen Film Festival in Florida, but that was a film that you actually shot some time ago, correct?
SCM: Yeah. We started shooting it in May 2015 on location all over Johannesburg, South Africa. That was 26 night shoots on location in winter. (Laughter) In South Africa. That was a really challenging… one of the most physically demanding and challenging productions that I’ve worked on.
TrunkSpace: In watching it, it certainly has the feel of an intense shoot.
SCM: Oh yeah. And it’s a South African indie film, so it was on a small budget. And so obviously when you’re doing indie film, you don’t have a lot time, there isn’t a lot of money, and you really have to make it work with what you’ve got and what you’re able to get in that moment. If the final product looks great and sounds great, then that really is a sort of a feather in the cap of the director and the producers… to be able to produce something that looks and sounds great and works on a limited budget in a short amount of time. We shot that two years and then there’s some scenes in the movie that were quite sort of visual effect heavy, so it spent over a year in post. And so yeah, it’s finally doing the festival circuit and they’re hoping to get international distribution for it so that the whole world can get to experience it.
TrunkSpace: Is there a moment in the film from a performance standpoint that you’re the most proud of?
SCM: Yeah. I think actors, especially character actors, we love those really dramatic and really challenging scenes. I think the big moment… sorry, it’s kind of difficult to say because it’s kind of a spoiler in a way. (Laughter) What I can say is that somebody relatively close me… let’s put it that way… I have to deal with death. So, when there’s an emotional breakdown scene, what I love about doing on-camera work is that the camera zooms into your eyes and when you’re having to express an emotion of loss and an absolute breakdown in that sense, you can’t lie to the camera. You can’t have makeup come in and put in some fake tears and go, “Okay, well just act it.” It really doesn’t work like that. You really have to actually go through the emotions and what that character is going through. That can be really hard and really tough, but as an actor, my God… it’s what I love. It’s what I live for.
“Blood Drive” premieres June 14 on Syfy.