Interviews - Movies
Michael A Miranda – A Strong Sense of Home
Q) What are some of your most recent projects that you are working on?
A) One of the most recent projects I have is working on the show “Il Duce Canadese.” It’s a pretty good show and a great premise and sort of has a cult to it. I’ll be playing someone who is going to be killed and doesn’t really mind. He’ll be murdered by one of the puppets. They try and give him a break by saying they’ll sort of split the hitman fee, but he says, “Naw, go ahead anyway. I don’t care. I have no reason to live.” At the beginning of January, I worked on “Lives of the Saint,” which is a TV mini series with Sophia Loren. I have a wonderful role opposite her.
Q) What has been the highlight of your long lasting career?
A) They’ve been both in film and theater because there is nothing like the immediate response of an audience reaction and energy. There was a show called “Something in the Air,” which was a political thriller. We did a play in Toronto, which became an award winning play, that dealt with the abduction and killing of what the government considered subversive. That was quite a milestone and a memorable moment in my life. I had the good fortune of working a dozen times with the same multi Gemini award-winning director. I guess the ability to entertain. When someone says, “I really liked you in that,” or, “I didn’t know that about you.” I thought, “I guess I’m doing my job correctly” for eliciting that reaction.
Q) What made you decide to become an actor?
A) I am 44 years old now and I actually started in high school. I’m not sure really what happened, but I remember the incident is that I had my high school timetable for grade twelve and it was a liberal art schedule and I didn’t like the schedule. I was going to be taking the first modern dance class offered in the Ontario high school system. I thought it was pretty neat and that being a dancer would be such a great thing. At a high school level, being the only male in a class of thirty women, but other than that class I didn’t really like what I was taking. Back then, there were certain courses that you had to take and then you could work out other courses. I went through the entire course outline and came upon theater arts and there was a great shift in my consciousness and I thought, “That’s what I have to do.” There is no rational to it, but it just sort of struck me in the solarplexes that this is what I had to do. I never really looked back and have sat comfortably in my decision ever since.
Q) What kinds of jobs did you have while working to become an actor?
A) I did the traditional waiter route and became quite good at it, unfortunately, so I got stuck in it. I’ve been officially retired from waiting tables for over ten years. I’ve done landscaping, home renovation; I did some teaching and some corporate work. I’ve had a wide array of great jobs, but I found that every time I left a trait to concentrate on my career that actually things started happening.
Q) Why did you decide to change your name when you starting acting?
A) Michael is my middle name. It’s basically something I always wanted to do, but never had the courage. I thought that being from an Italian Catholic background that there was a lot of guilt about changing it. I talked to my father about it fifteen years ago when I was just entertaining a professional film and TV career. I remember being at the Sunday afternoon dinner table and I was ready to broach it and ready for sort of the passionate response, “What’s wrong with our name?” Or, “Is this name not good enough?” Well, he basically floored me and turned to me and said, “Well, I guess you should change it.” So, I had his endorsement, but even with that I was still unable to muster the courage. What ended up happening was that I lost my father. I now am no longer the son of someone else and sort of the head of my own family. I personally had a lot of family deaths and close deaths in the last five years. So, I thought, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’m going to do it. This is right for me.” The last name was no arbitrary pick because it is in my family tree that is my great grandmother that I had fleeting memories of. When I went through my family tree, that again, it was sort of similar to the fleeting moment I had in high school, when I saw the many names along the tree I immediately gravitated toward that name and have sat quite comfortably in it. You only live once, so why not?
Q) What was it like working on the set of the film Gotti?
A) It was pretty good, actually. When I was a waiter, the actor that ended up killing me on Gotti who is now Paulie (Tony Sirico) on “The Sopranos,” would come into this a very hip bar that I was working at with another well known actor named William Forsyth and a couple of the production people. Of course, it was when I used my old name, and Tony comes up to me and asks, “Are you Silvio Oliviero?” I think to myself, “This guy looks pretty hip and he isn’t from around here with his Brooklyn accent.” So, I fool with him, and ask, “Who wants to know?” Well, he asks me again if I’m Silvio Oliviero and I said, “If I don’t owe you money, I don’t have to tell you anything.” We sort of looked at each other and I said, “Yeah, I’m him.” He introduced himself and he says, “I kill you in about three weeks.” So, it was a wonderful introduction to this fine actor. While I was on set, I got to die, once again. With Gotti, the weapons inspectors had come up with a gun where you could actually put the gun up to someone’s head and you just wouldn’t get hurt. They were very pleased that I was willing to try out this new gun. I felt honored trying something that had never been done for effects. I was treated very well. Armand Assante and Vincent Pastore were very kind and very generous and a lot of fun.
Q) You have worked with Neve Campbell, Keanu Reeves, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ice-T and so many more celebrities. Who would you most like to work with in the future?
A) I would really like to work with Vincent D’Onofrio quite frankly. I had a number of days on working with him and he was very kind and open. He’d talk to you and it was never one of those things where it was I’m big and you’re just a Canadian day player. He invited me to give him a call, because I was living in New York at the time. Unfortunately, we never were able to get together, but I’ve always liked his performances. The first thing I wanted to talk about was his performance in Full Metal Jacket. He told me that it was almost like reliving the moment because it was almost like he couldn’t believe it either. He told me it was his very first role and that because it was Stanley Kubrick, who takes a good two years to film a movie, he gained an enormous amount of weight for the role, got to work with Stanley Kubrick and got to hang out in England for thirteen months. I thought, “What a way to jump on the wagon!” He was a very nice guy and I always liked him. I never miss an episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” if I can. I really enjoy the slant he puts on characters.
Q) You were close to taking part in the amazing work Life is Beautiful. What was your role in the film going to be and what did the message of the film mean to you?
A) I was in New York and I felt honored because it was in it’s own way a small contribution. My agent said they were going to be English language dubbing the movie and I got a shot at auditioning for Roberto Benigni’s role. I will never know if I was really going to get it because Roberto Benigni ended up doing his own English language dub. They had originally thought that it was going to be too difficult for him. It was great! I wear it like a bit of a badge in it’s own small way.
Q) You were once detained at an airport for being someone deemed “suspicious” for your work as terrorists in films. Do you think that the US’s cautious screening at airports is warranted?
A) It’s much like business, when you are the owner of a big business most people think the boss only shows up once a week when the irony is that the boss is the first person to show up and the last person to leave because he has to be sure that no one is ripping him off. In many ways, sometimes the government of the US thinks that way because they have a lot to protect and a lot at stake, but they also have a lot of issues to deal with internally as well. I’ve been stopped at the border because to a certain degree that even though I’m a Canadian citizen and I’m also considered a white European, but in terms of the color scheme I fall on the darker side that falls into a profile. Ironically enough, with my American status as a green card holder, the only time I don’t have a problem is when someone recognizes me at the border. They give me a hard time until I tell them I’m an actor. One guy at the border said to me, “You were the coked out hitman in Gotti.” I said, “yeah” and he just let me go. In spite of doing everything correctly and legally, I still get a hard time and I find it ironic because certain security measures have to be committed to. There is a Czechoslovakian philosopher that committed to a hierarchy of needs and the number one item on the hierarchy of needs is security. So, I understand it, it’s a bit of a drag, but when I who pay American taxes, do everything legally and have my residence and am doing nothing wrong that the irony is that there are so many people in the country that need to be looked at and they are really wasting their time with me.
Q) What was your experience like working with such a screen legend like Sophia Loren?
A) The joke is, “Now I can die a happy man,” because I’ve worked with the legend Sophia Loren. My wife has such a great sense of humor that when she met Sophia Loren she said, “Finally, I get to meet the other woman in my husband’s life,” and Ms. Loren teasingly says, “Told you about us?” I thought that was wonderful. The real treat was that even though I was born in Canada, my roots are from Naples, that Sophia Loren and I (my family) come from basically different suburbs of Naples that you might a well be neighbors. I still retained the Neapolitan dialect so I got to banter with Sophia Loren in what is being considered the “lost Italian dialect” because now everyone is speaking proper Italian. We had such a brother and sister relationship in so much that I made the cast and crew nervous because by the first day I’m already riffing with Sophia Loren. The cast and crew are going, “Look at Michael! Do you see the way he’s talking to her?” They were like, “Oh no, this is no good,” since I was sort of egging her on and she was doing the same in much the Neapolitan style and the Italian image of “we’re not arguing, we’re just talking” when in fact in Neapolitan you are just talking. It was a time in my professional career that I will always cherish because it really was a special treat to do that.
Q) Why is it so important to you to make a documentary on your father’s immigration to Canada?
A) Well, because I am the first Canadian citizen in my family, there has been sort of a search for identity in terms of having sometimes having what they call “two feet in one shoe” that I’m not sure if I am Italian or Canadian. It is only recently that I have sort of retooled my definition in terms of I’m an Italian Canadian. I thought about it and figured out I’m Canadian Italian. I’m still very proud and I have the ability to speak another language and the ability to think in another language. My father left Italy because he didn’t like what his homeland was doing to him, his society and his people. The fact that he had suffered himself caused him to say, “we’re leaving,” and just came to this country. The irony is that my father was a laborer and basically a working class hero all his life, but he carried an English language newspaper only because as I grew older because my father was a teacher in Italy, with all his accreditation lost. When he got to Canada, the risk that he took to get on a boat and then get on a train with my three-year-old brother was basically the greatest risk he had taken. He was more Canadian than many Canadians. He was very away of the political systm, he spoke English and wrote English very well. I thought to myself that I consider myself Canadian and my father considers me to be Canadian, but the rest of the country (the history of the country) says that I am an immigrant and I find that ironic. I also find that ironic because America and Canada have treated their immigrants differently, so much so that up until 1995 Pier 21 in Halifax was basically a rat infested warehouse. To Americans, Ellis Island has the banner saying, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor,” that they welcome the immigrants. Canada just basically said, “We need you to build the country and we don’t really want you to be anything more than that.” It’s a different response to the immigrant situation and I thought it was always important to my father to never be considered a second-class citizen, that’s why he knew the political system; he spoke English and wrote English. He wanted to know that he could interact with any person in the country and did so. I think that there was part of him that was always in fear of being looked at like the immigrant worker and it’s affected me.
Q) What would you like to say to your fans and supporters?
A) I’d like to say thank you. I’ve been recognized many times. The irony is that we’re in a business where people want to say, “Hey I saw you!” Artists and craftsman can almost be uncomfortable when people pay them a compliment. I’ve learned to at least say thank you for wanting to engage that way. I think it takes courage from a fan’s point of view to simply say, “I really enjoyed that. Thank you very much!” You return the favor in kind. I guess because this is art and commerce that I would like to thank those who have hired me over the years because I’ve been a viable asset to people’s projects that they have validated me enough to say, “I need that person, I need Michael Miranda in my project because he can make it better or bring something to it.” That’s always an honor, quite frankly. After being in the business for so long, I try not to wait for someone to ask me to be in their project. If I find there is a project that I need to be part of, I’ll actually go and see if I can be part of it. That’s part of the Canadian identity. I’m thankful that I haven’t been burdened by wanting to get out or thinking about getting out because this is what I love to do.