Far too often the success of a performer is measured in box office dollars or TV ratings. Not nearly enough are those tasked with providing our entertainment given credit for the quality or versatility of their contribution.
Enter Michael Nardelli. Quietly, Michael has become much more than just recognizable for his weekly guest spots and supporting film roles, he’s also a producer, writer, director and leading man. You just have to know where to look.
I first discovered his work on the Netflix film Circle – A cerebral thriller totally worth your time – and already can’t wait for what he’s working on now. But that’s enough from me, I’ll let him tell you the rest. Here’s my chat with the up-and-coming star:
onFiction: When did becoming a performer register for you?
Michael Nardelli: Basically when I was born! I was always acting in my school’s plays and was always a huge film buff, and my mom was always introducing me to the old classics, like all the Alfred Hitchcock movies. We’d always watch Doris Day and Nick at Nite and the Dick Van Dyke Show. I was indoctrinated into the idea of film and acting and entertainment from a pretty young age. I’d always make short films with my friends and ask my teachers if I could do a film instead of writing a paper or doing an essay. I was always drawn to it since I was a young kid. I finally found the courage to admit that I wanted to do it professionally somewhere toward the end of high school after I had done a bunch of high school theater.
oF: I know you’ve got Christmas in Homestead coming up where you have a chance to play an actors’ nemesis: the paparazzi. Is it fun jumping into those shoes and playing the character everyone hates?
MN: It was different and interesting. The joke of the set was that I should show up and get pushed to the side because my character is always hiding in trees and trying to get the exclusive…it was definitely interesting to play a character with an arc that starts out as a little narcissistic and a little selfish and materialistic and hopefully grows into something a little more likeable (I hope, if I did my job right). It was interesting to see what their lifestyle is like as a paparazzi. It seems at least from my experience to be pretty lonely and pretty ego destroying because you show up to work and nobody wants you to be around, they always want to get rid of you. They were kind of interesting shoes to step into for a little while for sure.
oF: I’m assuming it was a pretty fast shoot being a made-for-tv movie. How do you prep and shift gears to make sure you are presenting the best version of the character when you are working on something that is so time-sensitive?
MN: It was probably less than a week to get it ready and film it. That’s kind of the pace I’m used to at this point because I’ve never worked on something where you’ve had six months to film it and all the time in the world. I feel like everything I’ve done is pretty rushed, so it’s a pace I’m used to. You just try to decide how much time you have and what you want to spend that on. I tried to do a lot of research on the paparazzi and I tried to watch a lot of comedies and Christmas movies to get back into that tone because the last couple of things I’ve worked on have been sort of dark or dramas or thrillers. You just look at how much time you have to prepare and you say, “I can spend this much time on this role that he has in life, I have this much time to learn the lines,” and you just do the best you can with what time you’re given. It’s usually not a lot of time these days.
oF: With all the streaming services, there is so much being produced, and the goal is always cheaper and faster. Do you think that impacts the quality sometimes? Have you ever been on a project that you felt could have been amazing if you’d had just a little more time? Or do you feel like the system has adapted such that even though it’s fast, there is still a lot of good work being churned out?
MN: I have two opinions on it. I feel like the technology we have these days make it a lot easier to film things quicker and still have them look great. I think storytellers and artists do well when you have due dates and deadlines. I think if you procrastinate too long, it doesn’t necessarily make the product better. You get sort of obsessive about reaching perfection, which you are never going to get. There are definitely times where you wish you had one more time, or one more take to get into it. I definitely longed for that while I was doing this and other stuff I’ve worked on that moves at such a fast pace. But, it is what it is, and deadlines and limitations can foster creativity. You just have to make peace with whatever you are given and think you did all you could and that it is in the hands of the editors and filmmakers now…You always want more time and to do more, more, more, even if you have a gigantic project that takes six months, the filmmakers still probably wish they had one more week to do a certain stunt. It’s just kind of the nature of wanting to have things perfect when you can never get them perfect, given all the different factors that go into making a film.
oF: Dark/Web is coming out next year, and you’re working on that right now?
MN: Yes, I’m actually on set right now, we are filming an episode.
oF: Nice! What should viewers expect and be excited for in this series?
MN: It’s got sort of a hybrid format where it’s part anthology and there’s a story that’s serialized over eight episodes. It’s a little bit of Black Mirror, a little bit of Mr. Robot, and definitely deals with modern technology and the dangers and horrors and excitement of this world that we live in now that’s always connected, and there’s zero privacy, and everyone knows what everyone’s doing. There’s a lot of different themes that are brought out in it. It’s a thriller, it’s horror, it’s got a little sci-fi. It kind of does what Twilight Zone does like take some of the modern things we are dealing with now like hackers, social media, cyber terror, and freedom of information-all the things we are watching on the news pretty much every day-and hopefully rolls all of them into an exciting story about modern technology and the world we are living in.
oF: I know that you’re pretty much wearing all the hats – you’re producing, writing, directing, acting in it. When you have so much going on, how do you separate the Michael that’s the producer and the writer from the Michael that is the actor that is going to be in front of the camera?
MN: It’s hard! For one thing, you have to be working with good partners that you trust. You can multi-task parts of the day and some parts you have to zone in and be just the actor or just the producer or director. It’s definitely about sharing and delegating responsibilities and working with people that you trust. There’s times that are super fun and empowering and it feels really good and there’s other times where you try to figure out how to juggle all these things and what to focus on at the moment. There’s definitely times where it gets overwhelming or I get super anxious. As long as I am doing SOMETHING that is helping with the forward movement of the show, then that feels good. There are definitely times that I get overwhelmed and think, “Oh boy, I don’t even know where to start today!” It’s been a fun and exciting learning lesson for sure!
oF: It sounds like it! What were some of the things, either challenges or benefits, that you were surprised by in taking on a project with this many responsibilities?
MN: For example, these episodes that we are shooing right now, Zelda Williams is directing one and Boman Modine is directing another episode, and mainly I’ve been a producer on these two episodes. So I’ve been getting deep on contracts, and insurance, and locations, and having a location that works one day and that falls out the next day, and trying to find one that we can replace that with, and even negotiating talent deals with agents. I’ve definitely taken on a lot of the producer-ial responsibilities for these episodes, so it’s been kind of enlightening. Normally I’m working with a partner who helps with that stuff. You know, dealing with vendors and camera equipment, and making sure we have a haze machine and not a fog machine for this day. Just the amount of minutia of it all has been very surprising, and you don’t really think about that when you watch something, or go to a movie or a concert. With an entertaining piece of content, you just get drawn into something and you forget that literally everything you’re seeing and everything you’re not seeing had to be coordinated by someone, from the service truck showing up on time to the painting that’s hung up on the wall, and making sure it’s a public domain and we aren’t going to get in trouble if it’s shown on camera. The minutia has been the surprising part of it-the not glamorous, not sexy side of filmmaking has been interesting.
oF: In dealing with so many of the small details, do you think that’s changed how you approach your acting and your performing?
MN: Oh yeah! We shot some of Dark/Web before I left to shoot Christmas in Homestead, and I was just an actor, a hired hand on that, and so I’m grateful for those experiences. It almost feels like a vacation in a way to be able to focus on one thing. I’m also hyper aware that you don’t take anybody offset for granted because everybody is serving an important part. Actors and directors get a lot of the attention, but everyone that is there is part of making it work, and usually wind up making the actors look good. I always appreciated everybody offset, but now I can think, “We’re really late in the day, I bet the producer’s really stressed right now,” or in Christmas in Homestead, there was a lot of fake snow that they were using and I was thinking how the people had to be stressed out of their mind making sure that the snow looks perfect and the script supervisor catching where there’s no snow. There’s always stress on every set and everybody has to contribute something. Having been through that on the other side of the camera, I definitely am grateful for every person on set that makes it functional, because it takes a village and a half to get everything done. With all the things that could go wrong, it’s shocking that anything gets made, and that it looks good, and that it works, and that it moves the audience, and that it’s successful. In terms of acting, it’s now like, “I better know my lines and do my thing because there is no excuse and everyone else here is doing their thing.” It definitely creates a real responsibility to be on time, and on mark, and on point, and know my stuff.
oF: DarkWeb is going to be distributed digitally, is that correct?
MN: Yes, we are going to debut some or all of it on this website called LRM Online. We worked with them on our film Circle and they are promoting the episodes and doing weekly updates. They invited readers of that site (it’s like a film blog) to submit episodes and we are going to produce one of the episodes from a reader. It’s kind of gotten interactive with the readers. And we will see where it goes from there. Right now, we are just trying to finish it up and get everything in the can. We’ll get all of it done and see what the perfect final resting place or home for it is. We are hoping like with Circle we were able to sell that to Netflix eventually and hope we can do something similar with Dark/Web.
oF: I really enjoyed Circle, I like the more cerebral horror-type movie.
MN: You’ll like this then! It’s a lot of the same filmmakers, Mario Miscione, who wrote and directed Circle is a co-creator on Dark/Web, and wrote some of the episodes with me. I think if you liked that then you will like this.
oF: When I was reading up on Dark/Web, I got a Black Mirror vibe, which is definitely a good thing.
MN: It’s definitely like Black Mirror in that it addresses the dangers of modern technology. It’s a little more in the direction of horror/sci-fi, but it’s definitely a fair comparison and one that I take as a compliment.
oF: I know that the creativity is a little more open when you do some of the digital and self-produced shows, but what is the biggest obstacle for this avenue? Is it finding a home for it?
MN: Yes, and doing a series is new to me. I’ve produced features before, so doing a series is definitely a little different and a little more ambitious and more time consuming and challenging. Doing it digitally, yes, finding a home is a challenge. And, also, we don’t have the budget that Black Mirror has, so getting great visuals and great talent, and creating a show that is Netflix/Hulu/Amazon quality in the way it looks and feels is the challenge. So far, everything looks great. Just trying to bring it all in so that it can compete with some of those shows is probably the most challenging thing.
oF: That’s a great point, what are your thoughts on how the content has changed so much with the streaming services and the things you see on Netflix, and Hulu, and Amazon Prime – the quality rivals or surpasses everything you see on networks, but things like the creative freedom is so much better and you are getting a better storytelling experience. What are some of the things you’ve seen as somebody in the industry as this has happened?
MN: I’m all for it, I think it’s awesome! I think it’s creating a lot more opportunities for writers and actors and directors and storytellers, so I think it’s great that it’s exploded now. The only downside is you don’t have time to keep up with all the cool shows that are being produced. I think movies now, unless you are doing them for a really low price, you’re kind of limited in how much of an artistic voice you can have. If you do a big-budget movie, you are dictated by certain things. If you are doing a really small movie, you can get away with things, but chances are that people may not find it. The good things with Netflix and Hulu and all of the digital distributors, it’s a marriage of the two things, you can express yourself artistically and take on challenging or controversial or innovative ideas but also have a platform where people know how to find you. I think that Circle has been really fun for us because since Netflix acquired it, so many people have seen it that I don’t think would have found it if we had released it in a more traditional way. I don’t think it would have had as much of an impact. It’s great to know you can make edgy material and have access to that many eyeballs to watch it.
oF: You’ve covered a lot of bases obviously, especially this latest project where you are doing everything except holding the mics, what do you want to do next?
MN: I really just want to keep going. My goal with anything is to get to do it again. I’d like to graduate into bigger stuff-I’d like to be in a Marvel movie, I’m a huge fan of the blockbusters. I’d like to be in front of the camera and behind on that kind of stuff. Mostly, I just want to keep getting the chance to get cast in roles I really admire with filmmakers I can learn from. If I can keep doing that, that would be great. And, like with Dark/Web and Circle, if I can keep getting the chance to write, direct, and produce stuff as well that I’m creatively passionate about and that I think is a meaningful story to tell that is entertaining too. I think it would be great if the sizes could get larger, to have more time and more money on projects, but if I’m not able to do that, that would be fine too. I want to keep having chances to learn as an actor and a filmmaker because that’s what brings me joy in life. To be an ongoing actor or filmmaker is a blessing that I don’t take lightly.
Make sure to bookmark Dark/Web’s page at LRM Online to see all the episodes!
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** Photos of Michael by Patrick Maus **