Hangin’ with Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn is an absolute legend. His voice alone could soothe the nations. He is a prolific actor that has been in over 100 movies! Just check out his IMDb! He’s been in the film business since the ’80s and has acted in movies like Footloose, The Best Two Years, and the Lamb of God, to name a few. He has a motto for his incredible success: Never give up. And he hasn’t. He will never retire. He loves what he does. So much so, that in this business that is more volatile than investing in Bitcoin, he has thrived. Even in tough times, he has been able to make it through and care for his family. Michael can be seen in front of and behind the camera. His most recent film Who We Are is one that he directed and touches on subjects that are quite sensitive in our community. But he knows it’s important to talk about—and does in a powerful way. Michael is a good man that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over 15 years now. His insights in this podcast have been so powerful and poignant. Enjoy!
Get to Know Michael Flynn
Born Michael Lawrence Flynn on September 28, 1947, in Meriden, Connecticut, he started his acting career at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia. Acting was not the desire for young Michael. Instead he constantly dreamed of playing second base for the New York Yankees. As he wasn’t a good enough athlete to make it in high school sports, luckily for him, acting came calling soon enough. The school’s drama teacher, John Reese, approached him one day and asked him to try out for a play, which netted him a small part and set him down the path to the diverse career he has today.
His Theater Career
His pursuit for the craft of acting took him to Brigham Young University. After graduation in 1973, his move to California resulted in him starting The Santa Clara Arena Theater, a common theme in his desire to create work for him and other talented individuals. His career solely existed on the stage, playing roles as diverse as Arthur in Camelot, Harold Hill in The Music Man, John Adams in 1776, and Michael in I Do, I Do! up until 1980, when he moved to Utah and where he currently resides.
Moving On to TV and Films
Upon his move to Utah, he got an agent and auditioned for the film Footloose, resulting in a small but memorable role as the cop who pulls Kevin Bacon’s character over and gives him a hard time. From there, his resume reads like a potted history of the 1980s and 1990s popular culture, including TV shows Touched by an Angel, Moonlighting, Matlock, and Walker, Texas Ranger. Some of his movie roles include the Latter-day Saint films The Home Teachers, The Testaments, and The Book of Mormon Movie. Other notable roles include Pontius Pilate in 1999’s The Lamb of God. He branched out into directing, most recently Faith.Hope.Love (streaming on Amazon Prime), which he also wrote. Flynn’s efforts as a producer include The Best Two Years, about four missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands, and The Dance, a romantic comedy.
The Actors Workshop
Over the last few years, he has been the director and owner of The Actors Workshop, which he created in 2004. Sponsoring classes in the Utah areas of Provo and Salt Lake City, Michael’s focus is on developing the actor through monologues, scenes, and improv to exude and achieve passion in their work and to find the guts of the profession “unfiltered by your brain,” to quote the man himself. It started because he liked working with actors, and the business side really appealed to him. While he had taught acting classes before, the lightbulb moment for him to do it on his own has, as he says, “worked out quite well.” With dedicated actors filling up workshops on a regular basis, this little business venture has gone from strength to strength.
Devotion to His Faith
Another crucial part of Michael’s life is his devotion to his faith. While organized religion was not a part of his upbringing, it was the influence of a friend that changed the course of his life. In 1966, after a friend joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she encouraged him to look into what the faith had to offer. After much persuasion, he eventually joined the church in his late teens and ended up serving a two-and-a-half-year-long mission in France, including taking an extra six months to learn the language (which he still speaks to this day, frequently returning to France for vacations). His missionary service has had a huge influence on his life, where he learned the importance of thought and prayer to get through the day-t0-day challenges.
He Plays to Win
While acting is pivotal to Michael in his life, sports have been a consistent element in his existence. While sports never came calling as a profession, as he never had the ability to compete in high school, he is still devoted to it, playing racquetball at any given opportunity. He likens it to an audition, where it has the same level of competition, and he plays to win.
Family is important to Michael in everything he does. He married Barbi Nixon Flynn after a previous marriage. Between them, they have 13 children and 40 grandchildren.
A force of nature, Michael’s career and life is a whirlwind of faith, creativity, and sheer guts.
Michael Flynn Podcast Transcription
Charan: Hey guys, welcome back to the Lemonade Stand Stories podcast. I am your host, Charan Prabhakar, and today I am chatting with my dear friend Michael Flynn. Michael is a prolific actor that has been in the film business since the ’80s. He is active in over 100 movies, like Footloose, The Lamb of God, and The Best Two Years. And I have had the pleasure of knowing Michael for over 15 years now and have worked on a few projects together. Now, unfortunately, we’ve had a few technical problems at the beginning of this podcast, so we’re actually jumping right into where I finish my introduction. Enjoy.
Michael: So one day after school — I was a sophomore in high school — the drama teacher was out in the hall, and he said, “Hey, what are you doing?” I was just walking down the hall. I said, “I don’t know, nothing.” He said, “Why don’t you come in and try out for a play?”
Michael: I said, “Well, I’ve never done that before. So, I don’t care. All right.” I’m thinking, well, maybe if I get in a play, I don’t have to go home after school.
Charan: Kind of do whatever.
Michael: I didn’t want to go home. Anyway, I try out for a play. I got a small part and I was 15, 14, 15, and I thought, “I can do this. This works for me. I get this.” So I went on to high school, did a ton of stuff. College, a ton of stuff. Went to a professional-theater-school-type thing on the East Coast and then, like you, I joined the Mormon Church when I was 17.
Charan: Like me.
Michael: Just a little over, I was almost 18. And a little over a year, on my 19th birthday, the actual day I left to go to France. That’s how I got started. When I came back from France, I went to BYU, graduated in theater, which was a lot of fun, didn’t help me a bit.
Charan: Absolutely. Doesn’t help with your career, but it’s a great, great, fun major.
Michael: But a buddy of mine and I decided, let’s go to the Bay Area and start a theater, which was a really stupid idea when you think about it, because how do you start a theater to make money. No, it’s ridiculous. I was married with two kids at the time.
Michael: We went to Santa Clara, California, and we started the Santa Clara Arena Theater, and I was working in a bakery during the day, making pies, of all lovely things. I made tens of thousands of pies, literally, not exaggerating. But at night we did our theater, and I did that for two and a half years. Then I moved to southern California, traveled around the country, doing musicals and all that kind of stuff and then got into a film in 1980 when I moved back to Utah.
Charan: It’s interesting, because you definitely started in theater first. You didn’t go into film immediately.
Michael: No. They didn’t have a film program.
Charan: There was no film program.
Michael: I’m an old guy, Charan.
Charan: I don’t buy that for a second.
Michael: They didn’t have any film programs at all, and so I would have studied film because I love film. I love theater.
Charan: Well, it’s interesting, because you say you traveled all over the place, and you were in southern California doing theater, but you didn’t get into film until you came to Utah.
Charan: What prompted that move to come to Utah when you were already in southern California?
Michael: I was traveling around the country doing stuff, and then a friend of mine named Doug Stewart was doing this play called Saturday’s Warrior, and so Doug hired me to come to Utah and direct and produce Saturday’s Warrior in 1980.
Charan: The play?
Michael: The play.
Michael: And so I did, brought my family back. By now, we had five kids, something like that. Four or five kids, crazy. I’m a crazy man.
Charan: I’m so fascinated how you’re able to make a living traveling around doing plays.
Michael: I have no idea how we did it. My wife, who is no longer my wife, but she was very patient, and I was really crazy dragging her and the kids all over the country, and we went back to Washington, DC, we were there for a while, because I was from that area. Anyway, here I am just rambling on here. But anyway, I came back here and was doing this play, Saturday’s Warrior, and I thought, “I’ve got to make more money and film is where the money is.” I started to realize, “They make movies here in Utah.” I got a gig. I went to BYU and said, “What’s going on?” There was some play, movie, going on, a short film. I was playing a cop. I played a lot of cops when I was younger.
Michael: I’m dressed as a cop and we wrapped on one particular day, and I had a recording session in Salt Lake that night. I don’t remember how I got it. I’m still in my cop uniform, it was a legitimate Orem City, whatever, Provo City cop [crosstalk 00:06:02] thing. I’m driving along the freeway dressed as a cop. I get to the recording studio and there was a whole bunch of actors. It was one of those recording studios where they had two or three mikes hanging from the ceiling and about ten actors in the room, and you had your script and when it was your turn to speak, you went to the closest mike over your head and said your lines. It was a really weird thing.
Charan: That’s really weird.
Michael: No, it’s very strange.
Charan: That’s not how they do it now.
Michael: No. I think that was the only time I’ve ever done that. And he had all the suits behind the big glass window; it was a big, big recording studio. But the guy named Larry [Rupe 00:06:34] was there and he was an agent. So he liked what I said. I don’t know what he liked. I’m dressed as a cop. Scared the heck out of the actors. I think half of them were probably on drugs; I was there to arrest them all.
Michael: So anyway, Larry came up and said, “Michael, so who’s your agent in town?”
Michael: “I just got here. I don’t have an agent.” He says, “Well, you do now.” So he was with McCarty Agency. It was 1980. So I was with McCarty Agency for 35 years until I switched over to TMG.
Michael: And that’s how I got started and they sent me out on auditions. And fortunately, I think you probably can resonate with this, and when you sign with an agency and they send you out and if you immediately get work for them, they like that.
Michael: I got the first five or six things that I read for.
Charan: Wow, that’s great.
Michael: There was a couple of commercials in there and then the film Savannah Smiles. Do you remember the film Savannah Smiles?
Charan: No, I don’t remember that one.
Michael: It was the first film I ever did; it was about 1980, ’81. And really cute, fun, little family film, and I read for that. That was the first movie. And got a pretty nice supporting role and it was kind of weird. Is this okay?
Charan: Keep going. This is [crosstalk 00:07:48]. Let’s talk, this is great.
Michael: So I’m in this Savannah Smiles thing, again playing a cop, motorcycle cop. And they said, “Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?”
Michael: “Yeah, I know how to ride a motorcycle.” Which I did, fortunately. So I said, “All right, if I’m going to be this motorcycle cop, I’d better” — and I have an ulterior motive with this — “so I should probably take this,” and it’s a legitimate Salt Lake City, big Kawasaki, whatever, police motorcycle.
Michael: “I should probably take it for a ride just to make sure.”
Charan: Just to make sure it works.
Michael: I don’t want to embarrass anybody, and I don’t want to look silly. So I’m tooling around Salt Lake City dressed as a cop on a motorcycle.
Charan: This is so great.
Michael: It was fun. The way people look at you.
Charan: Oh, 100%.
Michael: You pull up next to them at the stop light, kind of vroom, vroom, look over at them.
Charan: And they’re the terrified-
Michael: “Is he going to arrest me? Did I do something wrong?”
Charan: This is great. This explains so much.
Michael: So then I go back to the set on my first day of shooting, and I show up and I’ve got my own dressing room. I’m a theater guy.
Charan: You’re not used to that; this is a communal thing when you’re in theater, right?
Michael: You go to the dressing room, not your dressing room, with all the other actors, mirrors all over the place, and I’ve got my own dressing room. They’ve got my wardrobe hanging up in there. Kind of, wow, this is pretty cool. So lunch comes along, and I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re going to get a bag from MacDonald’s for lunch.” They blocked off the street — this is up in the avenues of Salt Lake — blocked off the street, and they’ve got tables for about 30 feet long, with as you know, any kind of food you want.
Charan: It’s fantastic.
Michael: It’s nuts. So I’m thinking, “Okay, this is my life.”
Charan: “This is it. I’ve arrived.”
Michael: I’ve arrived, yeah. So I did Savannah Smiles, which was a really cute, little family film, and there’s a connection with my current wife. And then if we get into that later, it’s fine. Then the second film I did was Footloose.
Charan: Wow, okay, wow. That’s a huge one.
Michael: Yeah, the first Footloose, 1981, Kevin Bacon. A couple of stories from Footloose, you want that?
Charan: Sure, let’s hear some Footloose stories, [crosstalk 00:10:06]. Yes.
Michael: It’s great, but anyway, it’s funny. It was funny. I was doing this scene with Russ [McGinn 00:10:10], he’s still an actor in this area, all these years later, and Russ is a tall guy. He’s like 6’7″ and I’m not 6’7″, as you well know.
Charan: You’re slightly shorter than 6’7″.
Michael: And the director, I can’t believe I can’t remember his name, very famous director, this director … I’ll think of it in a second. Anyway, a big time A-list director.
Michael: And he keeps getting Russ’s name and my name mixed up, calling me Russ, him Michael, and he can’t get it straight. Then he started to get it right after a while, after about half an hour, 45 minutes. We’re shooting this screen. And then we take a break. And you know the big Panavision cameras with the big-
Charan: Huge, yeah.
Michael: Big rolls on them.
Michael: There’s two pieces of white tape on it. And one says, “Russ tall,” “Michael, less tall.”
Charan: That’s amazing.
Michael: So that’s how he got my name straight. And it was fun. Kevin Bacon sat down. We were having lunch, and of course he came. When he showed up on the set, I was dressed as a cop, playing a cop in the film, and after we’d done, I don’t know if we’d shot a scene or we had a rehearsal or something, I can’t remember, he says, “Michael, I’m just really glad you’re an actor and not a real cop.”
Michael: I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of being in a film where they actually hired a real person.
Charan: Oh, to actually play like …
Charan: Yeah. I don’t think that’s every happened to me, but I know what you’re talking about.
Michael: 99% of the time that does not work.
Charan: Oh, yeah, I’d say 100%. Yeah, exactly.
Michael: So anyways, it was fun doing that and then since then, it was 1981, so just a lot of stuff.
Charan: A lot of stuff’s been happening, yeah. Well, it’s interesting because as I’ve seen your work, I just remember thinking you have such presence on screen.
Michael: That’s very kind of you.
Charan: But the thing is, you’ve found a voice and you’ve been able to create a voice for yourself, and it’s a voice of confidence or whatever it is, but I know you’re an acting teacher as well.
Michael: That’s true.
Michael Flynn Talks About Finding His Voice
Charan: So I’d love to know, how did you discover your own voice and how are you able to share that gift and that talent with other people do the same?
Michael: I don’t know exactly. I think it really comes down, Charan, to — and this is what I tell actors all the time. If you have some kind of a gift, if there’s something inside you … It’s like, remember, I told you when I got cast in that play, and I said, “I get this.” If you don’t get this, if it doesn’t make sense on a very visceral, gut level, the whole thing, the whole idea, the whole concept of being an actor, if it’s not in you, nobody can put it in you.
Michael: There’s no pill you can take. Let’s say somebody has the driving desire to be a dentist; well, that’s a really wonderful profession.
Charan: It’s great.
Michael: It’s great. And if you have reasonable intelligence, I mean, you’re a bright guy and you’re smart, which a lot of people are, you can be a dentist. You go to dental school and they say, “Hey, here’s a drill, there’s a tooth, and we’re going to show you how to combine the two.”
Charan: Yeah, exactly.
Michael: I know it’s more complicated than that, and there’s a lot that goes into dentistry.
Michael: But you can learn it. All right?
Michael: Acting in my opinion is different. It’s like being an artist, a painter, a singer. There are a lot of singers … Let’s put it this way. There are a lot of people who can hit the note spot on.
Charan: Spot on.
Michael: And they have a voice that sounds really nice, and usually those singers are really boring.
Charan: Extremely boring. Because there’s no connection, you don’t feel their soul.
Michael: Yeah, there’s no passion.
Charan: There’s no passion.
Michael: And then there are singers — Liza Minnelli’s a good example. I’m sure you’re familiar with her. I guess you take her voice, just as a voice, and you think, “Well, it’s interesting. The voice itself.” But then you add the passion of Liza Minnelli and it comes alive. And when she sings “New York, New York,” you just want to scream and shout and clap and throw flowers at her.
Michael: And so when you ask the question, “How did I find my voice?” I don’t know. I think it was just a question of coming to the realization that I get this.
Charan: See, I think that’s such a beautiful realization to have, that I get this. I think so many people are trying to figure out what their path is supposed to be and where it’s supposed to go. This podcast is all about helping empower the youth with whatever passions they have. But a lot of times people choose paths because logically it makes sense to them.
Charan: Or it’s like, “This profession is good because I want to have a family one day, and I want to have a stable income and this is going to help with this.”
Michael: Don’t do this. Don’t do what I’m doing.
Charan: Yeah, don’t do what we did. But the thing is, that thought process is not a bad thought process.
Charan: But there are those people that have lived lives like that and have lived lives very unfulfilled and I see that a lot of times. I see that in people’s eyes, actually when I’m walking around. They live life very, very unfulfilled. They’re not alive. And then they get old and they look back on their life and they’re full of regret because they never chose to live.
Charan: But you, even though you were telling me about, “Well, I was dragging my family through all this stuff,” I had this sense of feeling, even when you were talking to me, you’re just alive. You feel very alive, because this is something you get. You discover it, you know that this is exactly what you need to be doing in your life, and I think it’s very powerful to do that. But it requires a lot of courage. It requires a lot of courage to do that, especially when it’s not something that is financially sustainable or something.
Charan: Like the example you gave of a dentist. Hey if you have that drive to be a dentist, yes go do that because-
Michael: Do it.
Charan: … it’s going to make good money as well, and you can have a great career doing so. But for something like acting, where it’s so up and down, how were you able to sustain your own career in Utah, in what you’ve been doing?
Michael: Pretty simple answer to that. You just never give up.
Charan: I love that.
Michael: As soon as you give up, it’s over. You can’t give up. On the other hand, don’t be stupid about it. There’s a great … Winners never quit, quitters never win. But if you never win and you never quit, you’re an idiot.
Charan: Yeah, I love that one. You know where that’s from? That’s from despair.com.
Michael: Oh, is it?
Charan: Have you ever seen those? There’s so great. They’re de-motivational posters.
Michael: De-motivational. But it’s been a process for me. I mean there are times when you get pressure to quit.
Michael: I’ve got seven kids. And much less pressure now because they’re all grown-
Charan: Doing their thing.
Michael: …. they all have great jobs and families of their own.
Charan: You don’t have to support them.
Michael: No, they have to support me. I’m kidding. They don’t, but they could if they had to, I suppose, or if they wanted to. I don’t know that they would. But they’re great. My kids are great. And I’m very blessed and fortunate. And it has nothing, trust me, I’m sure it has nothing to do with me. Their mom was great. Family life was difficult for me as a dad, as a husband, because sometimes as an artist, sometimes I think and I know I’ve dealt with this, you get very selfish, because it’s such a difficult arena in which to make a living.
Michael: And sometimes it’s frustrating, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience, that you do a film and it’s just a stupid movie.
Michael: I mean, come on. It’s just stupid. And sometimes, and I’m sure you’ve done these films, and I’ve done too many of them, where it’s not just stupid; it’s offensive.
Charan: Yes. Not uplifting in the slightest. You’re not doing any good in the world.
Michael: No, and you don’t want anybody you know-
Charan: To watch this film.
Michael: … to watch this film. And you don’t want to-
Michael: I’ve done a lot of films that I have no desire to ever see.
Michael: Then there’s the group of films that, yeah, you do want to see. You’re curious and then there’s a smaller group of, “Oh, that was okay.” And then there’s a smaller group of, “Yeah, I really like that film and I like what I did in it.”
Michael: So when you go through that process, and since we’re being open about the fact that we’re both LDS returned missionaries, stuff like that, I’m still very active in the LDS church, and I tell actors who come through my studio, I say … I interview them. In the first session in the studio, I interview all the actors one-on-one and I upload everything so they can watch it, and one of the reasons I do that, you’ll appreciate this, is when I’m talking to them, and they’re just talking to me, they’re very natural.
Michael: They’re just talking and having a good time. Then you give them a script and then it’s ah-
Charan: All frozen? Yeah, exactly.
Michael: [crosstalk 00:20:24]. And so I upload the interview because I tell them, “That’s what we want.” I don’t want this other crap that you do. But I also ask them, I say, “What’s your core? Who are you, way down deep? What’s your foundation in life?” And it throws them. I’m telling you, it totally throws them.
Michael: And they say, “Oh, wow. My foundation, my core, who am I really? Um, huh.”
Charan: Do you find a lot of them are lost souls looking for [crosstalk 00:20:59]?
Michael: Yeah, and sometimes people get in or they want to get into this acting thing is because they can find themselves there, and that’s a terrible thing to do. It’s a terrible thing to do.
Charan: Yeah, actually it’s very terrible.
Michael: But every once in a while, I’ve had this happen maybe a dozen times over the last 10 years, I’ll ask somebody, I’ll say, “So what’s your core? What’s your foundation?” They look at me and they go, “Jesus Christ.” Bingo. Because, I tell them — And if they ask me, sometimes I say, “Okay, I’ll give you guys a shot at me.” And if they ask me that question, that’s my answer.
Michael: And I tell them, “If you don’t have some kind of a foundation that will never give up on you, then you need to find one, because this business will kick you to the curb; it will kick the crap out of you every chance it gets.”
Michael: “This business does not care about you, doesn’t like you. There is no dearth of actors. Actors are everywhere. We do not need you to be in this business. It’s not like you’re going to come into this business and fulfill some slot-“
Charan: Magnificent [crosstalk 00:22:10].
Michael: … “nobody has ever filled before. No. There are tens of thousands of actors out there. We don’t need you. And so what’s your foundation, because when everything else is gone … Your foundation can’t be your family, in my opinion, it can’t be your spouse, it can’t be your kids, it can’t be your work, it can’t be your acting, it can’t be any of this, it’s got to be something else.”
Charan: It’s got to be something else, absolutely.
Michael: And so that really confuses them usually, when I say that.
Charan: I had a conversation with … Do you know who Ernie [Lively 00:22:40] is?
Charan: Ernie Lively. Ernie Lively, he’s been an actor for a very long time, his daughter’s a very famous actress, Blake Lively.
Michael: I’ve heard of Blake Lively, the Lively name is familiar but not the dad.
Charan: So Ernie’s her dad and he’s a good friend; he’s a good guy. We were having a conversation about just success and what we think success is and all that stuff, and he was telling me about this story about these guys that had done some massive real estate deal and they were just on the moon. They were living large and they were so excited about this whole thing. They were sitting in their car, they were driving on the freeway, they were so pumped about all this thing. And as they went underneath the underpass at that exact time some semi or something lost control, which was on the overpass, and it fell off the freeway and landed on their car, killing them all instantly.
Michael: Oh, my gosh.
Charan: Instantly. How much our life priority can instantly change like that?
Charan: So I think about things like that. I love that question, “Who are you at your core?” Because if you don’t know that, you definitely need to figure that out first, because you do anything in life, anything at all. And I mean, I think I can appreciate actors going and trying to discover themselves or find who they are through acting, but if they don’t find that core, then they’re going to, like you said, hit massive failure after failure, and they will feel like they are the worst … They will internalize that failure as if they themselves are a failure, instead of saying, “Oh, that’s just the circumstance. That’s not really who I am.” You know what I mean?
Michael Flynn Talks About Persevering Through Challenges
Michael: And you asked a question a little bit earlier, I’d like to readdress, “So how do you keep going?”
Michael: When it’s difficult — and I think part of the answer, at least for me, is I really believe, and I’m not saying this in any kind of self-serving way, but I believe that God has given everybody gifts. If you read the scriptures, it’s there in black and white and bold. And I believe we have a responsibility to nurture those gifts, and I believe we are actually stewards over those gifts.
Michael: So that’s one of the things that’s gotten me through. How do I turn my back on that? How do I turn my back on a gift that I’ve been given, and it’s been made clear to me over the years that yes, I can make a living with it. I’m an actor, I have my studio in Salt Lake, I write, I direct, I produce. All of that under the umbrella of, I suppose, the entertainment field. And there are things I love about the entertainment field, and there are things I hate about the entertainment field.
Michael: I get these screeners from Screen Actors Guild, and some of the films that are up for awards and this and that, and I’m thinking, “This is trash.” These are people who are using a God-given gift to do this.
Charan: It’s actually very interesting you say that. When I go to the stores and see movies sold, and I look at what the movie is about, it makes me upset because millions and millions of dollars and so much effort has been put to make this movie.
Michael: And talented people.
Charan: And talented people, and it is doing nothing good for the world, you know what I mean?
Charan: It’s just there. I don’t know. It’s kind of crazy.
Michael: And it’s one thing if it’s a film like Transformers, or something, where it’s just stupid entertainment.
Charan: Blockbuster entertainment.
Michael: [crosstalk 00:26:59], mind-numbing stuff. But then you have films that are really, very … They’re evil in a way.
Charan: I think they bring a lot of dark energy in the world.
Michael: Yeah, they do. And it becomes acceptable. Everything becomes … Because people watch movies and they interpret it as real life, and I’ll tell people, “Hey, trust me, movies are not real life.” I always use the analogy of a restaurant scene. How many times you go into a restaurant and have your meal in three pages of dialogue. And yet three pages of dialogue is pretty good-sized scene.
Charan: That’s a great-size scene.
Michael: In a film and it lasts about three minutes, and we never stop to think about that. Whereas really, we’ve taken an hour and a half of eating this meal and we’ve condensed it down to three minutes, and you’re buying that. What we do is we take that much of life, we take years of life and we squeeze it down into an hour and a half, which is fine, but what sections of that life are you going to play on? And sometimes, we play on the really negative and evil, debilitating, dark sides of life.
Michael: Sometimes I think it can be done tastefully. I’ve seen some films that I thought, “That was really intriguing to me. It was interested how they handled certain subjects that are difficult.” Stuff like that. But as a general rule, I try to stay away from them. I just don’t-
Charan: I do. I do, because I feel like it hurts my spirit sometimes when I’m watching these things.
Michael: It does.
Charan: I’m like, “Oh, man …”
Michael: You feel like you have to take a shower afterwards.
Michael Flynn Talks About Who We Are
Charan: Yeah, why is this even here? Why does this exist? I want to shift topics a little bit and talk a little bit about the film that you just barely directed. You wrote and directed Who We Are.
Michael: Okay, sure.
Charan: Because it’s a really profound film. I remember reading the script and thinking, “Wow, this is a really powerful script.”
Michael: Oh, thanks.
Charan: And it was interesting, because it really all takes place in one location, in one cabin. But you deal with some topics that are pretty heavy, And especially in the landscape that we live in, especially as an LDS member, sometimes we think you have to look a certain way or you have to be a certain way, and in your film, you let people know, all of these characters have massive amounts of flaws.
Charan: But in their flaws, they find absolute compassion and they find absolute love with each other, and they realize in that, that is the true essence of, really, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that ability to love each other despite our weaknesses and our pains and then all that stuff.
Charan: Anyway, I’d love to hear a little bit more about your process of why you made this movie, why you thought it was important and all that stuff.
Michael: Sure. There are some things that I can talk about and some things that I probably shouldn’t.
Michael: Just because I don’t want to offend people.
Charan: No problem, no problem at all.
Michael: Like I said, I did film The Best Two Years, and my buddy Scott [Anderson 00:30:22] and I did that. And along with Fred [Daniman 00:30:24], our executive producer. I was the producer on that, and played the mission president and we had a blast doing that film. That was a lot of fun.
Michael: I haven’t always been a fan of … trying to say this carefully, of some of the LDS films. And some of them were my own, Midway to Heaven, The Dance, stuff like that. I just want more, Charan. I want more. I’m always wanting more. I want more from relationships, I want more from my art. And so about 10 years ago, I thought, “I want to make a movie about kids who have problems.”
Michael: Because we don’t talk about them. We don’t talk about the girl that got pregnant when she was a teenager. We don’t talk about the LDS kid who has a drug problem.
Charan: Those things are swept under the rug. They’re kind of like, “No, those are the things that we don’t want to address or make mainstream, because that will put a negative light on our family or anything.”
Michael: I guess, I guess. Reflects poorly on the church or something.
Michael: I have no idea. No idea. Same-sex attraction, pornography. I think pornography’s a huge blight, and I think way too many people are into it. And so those are just some of the issues. And there’s a couple of characters that are there for fun. Alex plays Spielberg in the film and he has some fun twists. And then Kenna, she’s the recent convert, and she’s the one that asks some tough questions, and she’s the one that says, “You guys don’t get it, do you? You don’t get how cool this religion is. I just found it and I think it’s awesome, and you guys grew up with it and you take it for granted.”
Michael: I think there’s a lot to that. But it was a long time in the process and about three, four years before we shot the film, that’s when I started writing the script. And the script went through so many changes. And finally boiled it down to what we’ve got. And I work with a friend of mine, Michael [Bailey 00:32:42], for a while, and he was helpful in the beginning stages. And then I thought, I just need to write this myself. So I just fell in love with the characters that I was pulling out of my head, and no film is ever perfect.
Michael: I look at the film now from a directing standpoint, and well, “I needed more coverage on that scene, and why was Mason making that face? Do we have another take of him? We don’t, so we have to use that?” Well it’s good. I love Mason, I love that, but I was looking for something a little different. Same thing with all the actors. Every one of them. There was always something … But in the big picture, I loved what they did.
Michael: Okay, and in my opinion, and I think I’m being somewhat objective, it’s crystal clear in my mind, my objectivity might be a little bit skewed, but I’ve seen all the LDS films and from my money, and we had a great cast in Best Two Years, but for my money, the cast in Who We Are is the best cast that’s ever been assembled. I’m not saying that’s anything that I’ve accomplished. I’m saying those are the best actors ensemble in an LDS film. In my opinion, there’s not a weak character in the film, and if there is any weakness, it’s me as a director, or me as a writer, not them as an actor. And what a blast to work with them.
Charan: Well, we were mentioning this earlier. I’m friends with at least, I think, three of your cast members, already. And I’ve worked with them all individually on different projects and they’re just wonderful people.
Michael: Yeah, they are.
Charan: Wonderful, wonderful people. You’ve assembled a great cast and it was awesome. I think the movie … Has it been properly released already?
Michael: It’s on Amazon Prime right now under a different title, called Faith.Hope.Love. But where I’m hoping is theaters are now opening up, that we’ll be able to release it probably this summer.
Charan: Awesome. I think it’s interesting, because it’s not like a typical movie, like some sort of action-adventure movie or anything like that, but it’s a very needed movie.
Michael: I hope so.
Charan: I think it’s actually going to be very therapeutic for people to watch it.
Michael: Hope so. We’ve had great feedback on it. It’s an ensemble film, and the structure of an ensemble film is different than another kind of … There’s no antagonist, protagonist. There’s no big huge overriding conflict, “we have to save the day; we’re going to die if this doesn’t happen.” No, there’s none of that. It’s just six strangers. It’s kind of cool that when they come together, they’ve never met each other, and they spend two days together. And we had to get rid of the cellphones, otherwise they’d have just been on their phones the whole time. It was a beautiful experience to shoot the film.
Charan: How many days was it?
Michael: Shot it in 11 days.
Charan: Eleven days, amazing.
Michael: There were days, and you’ll appreciate this an actor, there were times when we were doing 12 pages a day.
Charan: Oh, yeah.
Michael: It’s a lot of pages.
Charan: A lot of pages, absolutely.
Michael: And what enabled us to do that, Charan, which is another thing that you’ll understand as an actor, we rehearsed for a couple of weeks.
Charan: Oh man, love that.
Michael: And you never do that on a film. You show up on day one, here’s your script. Go in there, hit your mark, say your lines and we’ll see you tomorrow.
Michael: And I knew there was no way I could do that for a couple of reasons. The flow and the rhythm and the beats, I wanted to make sure they were there as a director-
Charan: Before you started filming.
Michael: Before … all of a sudden we have a crew that we’re paying. So when we showed up on day one, it just flowed. And I don’t think, and I’m probably wrong on this, I don’t remember any actor, any actor calling for line.
Michael: I’m sure there were times, because when we’d go to a scene and we’d cut, and maybe they’d check with the script supervisor or something like that. Or we say, “Juxtapose this.” Or “You dropped this line.” Or something. But there was never a time, I don’t ever recall a time in those 11 days, where an actor in the middle of the scene goes, “Oh, crap, I forgot my line.” That never happened.
Charan: That’s something that I would have done. No, that’s amazing. I mean the thing is, you were so prepared and that’s what it all boils down to, right?
Michael Flynn Talks About Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Charan: Well, it’s interesting, as we’ve had a chance to take a stroll down memory lane and everything. I want to shift the topic a little bit and I want to ask you, just as a human being, as an actor, every single person faces life differently and everyone has different trials and challenges that hits them at different times in their life. Has there been any particular moment, whether it was in your career, or whether it’s your personal life, where you were dealt a massive lemon. This is like, this is the worst. And how were you able to switch it around and come back up on top?
Michael: Well, I think I’ve already mentioned that I’ve been married more than once. That’s difficult. I was married for 19 years the first time, and when you go through something like that, there’s a lot of introspection, “What did I do wrong? Why did I do it wrong? Why was I an idiot? Why did I hurt people I love?” Stuff like that.
Michael: I’m fortunate, now, Barbi and I have been married for nine years and that’s just a beautiful experience. I think you’ve met Barbi, haven’t you?
Charan: I have. I believe I have met her.
Michael: Yeah, I think you met her at the film festival or something. And she’s just an incredibly lovely, wonderful, beautiful woman. I was telling her the other day, because I had a girlfriend while I was on my mission, name was Kay, great gal. But I said, “Honey, if when I was on my mission, if an angel had appeared to me, not that I was worthy of an angel, but if an angel had appeared to me and said, “Here’s a picture of the woman to whom you’ll be married when you’re 73,” which I am now, I would have thought, “Holy cow. I hit the jackpot.”
Michael: It’s not Kay, which I’m fine with that, because wow. And that’s the way I feel, so that’s been a huge blessing in my life. She’s so supportive of my crazy career. Like I said, it’s up and down. Fortunately, at this point, with everything, all the different pies that I had my fingers in — writing, directing, producing, my workshop, acting, you know the routine. We get along okay. We have cars that work and we wear clothes and eat food; we have a dog.
Charan: That’s a good life. That’s a really good life. Honestly, when you think about it.
Michael: It is a good life.
Charan: When you think about it, there’s all these wonderful things. Would you say that, that’s the greatest source of your joy, right now? Your current relationship?
Michael: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, big time.
Charan: It really is all about relationships and I feel like at the end of the day, if all these things that we’re doing with acting and whatnot, I mean one of the reasons I feel like you’ve been able to maintain a great career as an actor is because of the relationships that you have and you’ve been able to maintain those relationships.
Charan: You’re still working; you’re still doing your thing and you’re not giving up and people are still calling you and you’re still creating stuff.
Michael: You can’t give up, Charan.
Charan: You can’t give up. I’m not giving up.
Michael: People ask me, because they look at me and they say, “Well, you’re not dead yet, but you must be retired.” And I said, “You’re right. I’m not dead, and I’m not retired and I’m never going to retire. Why would I retire?”
Charan: “Why would I retire?”
Michael: I like what I’m doing.
Michael Flynn Talks About His Greatest Fear
Charan: No, that’s awesome. What would you say is your greatest fear?
Michael: Greatest fear? Well, it’s an easy answer. In the huge picture, Charan, my greatest fear would be standing in front of my Savior and not having that go well.
Charan: That would be terrifying.
Michael: But if we take that off the table, I’m a really active guy. My brain still works, my body still works, so my biggest fear would be, being old enough to where I can’t … I don’t know how I say this, in any kind of sensitivity. I don’t want to be older where I can’t make love to my wife. I don’t ever want to sip life through a straw. I don’t ever want to be in a hospital bed and having people bring me food.
Michael: Those are my biggest fears. I don’t want any of that.
Charan: Well, it’s great. You see the thing is, I feel like you have always … Since I’ve known you, you’ve always had light in your life.
Michael: That’s sweet of you.
Charan: I mean you’re a positive guy, you’re very kind. There’s so many actors I’ve talked to that have taken your course, that have gone through your program before, and they all are just very grateful for you and your expertise and what you’ve been able to give to them and bless them with. I think that’s a good point. It’s like the moment we can’t live anymore, and we can’t share our gifts, then that is terrifying. Because it’s such a part of you and to not be able to let that part of you shine anymore, that’s tough.
Michael: And yet, I was telling somebody, I think it was just yesterday, the idea … saying to somebody their biggest fear and they would say death. I’m not really afraid of death at all. In fact, I think death would be really interesting, but one hope I would have. I don’t really want to go quickly. I don’t want a semi truck to fall on me, in other words. I think, I don’t know. I’ve never had cancer, nobody’s ever looked across the table and said, “You have nine months to live,” although I’m writing a screenplay right now where that takes place and I’m going to play that character.
Michael: So that’s kind of interesting, I think, I hope, maybe. But anyway, as an actor, I think it would be really interesting to know that I’m going to die. And to go through that process and to just experience it on a passionate level. An emotional level and not be afraid of it and embrace it and say, “Wow, this is one of those big transformations in our existence.”
Charan: It’s interesting. Yesterday, just yesterday this happened to me. One of my biggest problems, I feel, in life is I tend to be a workaholic. I love working. I love creating things, but I get to the point where I’m doing too much all the time, and I’m not taking enough time to just be still. Lately, I’ve been feeling very claustrophobic or just feeling like there’s just so many things happening all at once at the same time. I’ve got different projects I’m juggling at the moment.
Charan: So I made it a point to say, “You know what? I am going to take, every week I’m going to take at least one day or a couple of hours that day, and I’m going to just go somewhere where there just aren’t things. There just isn’t anything made by man. You know what I mean?
Charan: I want to get out of the cities. I want to just go to some space-
Michael: That’s nice.
Charan: … and just be. So yesterday was my day to do that.
Michael: Oh, cool.
Charan: So I drove past Eagle Mountain to the other side, over by Tooele area on the back of [inaudible 00:45:33] mountain, and it was interesting, the emotions that I was going through initially, because I started feeling guilt, initially. Because I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to be working right now. Am I wasting time right now doing this thing?” But I had to let that emotion pass through me, saying, “No, this is for me. This is my time to self-love and to feel God’s love for me and to just be still with God.” And as I left town and I finally got to a place where cars kind of dropped off; they went to different places. I felt this immense peace come over me, just so soothing and so relaxing.
Charan: And as I kept going further and further, I got to this place where the mountain just opened up into this beautiful valley, the sun was shining and I pulled off on some random, small town called Mercer. I’ve never heard of it before.
Michael: I’ve never heard of it.
Charan: Yeah, I pulled off on this random street and I went up on this hill where they had the Mercer Cemetery.
Michael: Oh, interesting.
Charan: It was such a small place that they didn’t have actual proper gravestones; they just put little teddy bears where people had passed away. And I walked up there, nobody was there and it was so sacred. It was just so sacred, and I remember thinking, “This is a moment I want to keep with me for the rest of my life. I just want to be here. I don’t want to leave.” I had trouble leaving.
Charan: And coming back to your question of what would it be like to know that you were going to die, how would your priorities change? And I think that my priorities would be like, “You know what? Work and all that stuff, that’s not the important thing. How do I love? Am I loving people? Am I being loved? Can I share that more with people?”
Charan: It’s very interesting. We’ve talked to people that have had near-death experiences, where they’ve gone to the other side and come back, and their whole perspective changes. And they all say the same thing: it’s about loving and being loved. That is the most important thing and nothing else is really as important as we think it is.
Michael Flynn’s Advice to His Younger Self
Charan: So I want to wrap up right now with one final question, which is with the great experience you’ve had in life, what would you go back and tell that younger self, the one that’s barely getting into acting, the one that’s going to take his family and go on the road and be in place, what would you tell that self?
Michael: I guess part of the answer is, what would I do differently? Because that’s what I would tell him. I would say, “Okay, here’s the path I took. Go ahead and take the same path, follow the same dream, same vision, but make these changes.” I didn’t get into film until 1980. In 1980, I was 33. And so I would tell him, if you really want to be an actor, you have to hang onto your testimony, which I did, for the most part. There have been some ups and downs.
Michael: I’m in a really good place now, have been for a long time but haven’t always been where I should be, so hang onto that. Hang onto your relationship with our Heavenly Father and His beautiful son, Jesus Christ. Hang onto that. Invite the Holy Ghost into your life on a daily basis. But then train and work and focus and do the family thing intelligently.
Michael: I love my kids, obviously. You always love your kids, but I think I should have trained more earlier on. I would have been a better actor earlier on, and I think I could have carved a stronger, more varied career early on. I’m happy where I am. I really am. I like what I’m doing. I like the actor I’ve become. But as I look back, I think I could have gotten to this level 20 years ago.
Michael: And I wasn’t because I got distracted with stuff. I was still an actor, I was still doing stuff, but sometimes I took it for granted.
Michael: I took it for granted that when I went to an audition, I was going to get it, because so many times I did. And I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I would tell him, “Appreciate every step of the way. Embrace every step of the way. Be grateful, be kind.” And I think I am grateful and kind, especially on set. I love working with other actors. I do, even when the movie is crazy and stupid. But I would tell him, “Be really smart about stuff. And really train and be really, really good.”
Michael: Charan, we talked about a dentist. My guess is 95% of dentists can make a great living, because we don’t know if they’re good or not. You move into a new town, got a toothache, you need to have your teeth checked. You drive by, “Dentist. Well, there’s a dentist, let’s go there.” When you graduate as an actor, you can’t put up a sign and say, “Actor” and have people come in and hire you. You can’t do that.
Michael: And whereas let’s say 95 to 98% of dentists can make a good living, well, 95 to 98% of actors don’t make any living at all.
Charan: Yeah, that is very true.
Michael: No, it’s true.
Michael: So I would tell him that, and I would say, “Okay, be really sure this is what you want to do. But if it’s what you want to do, grab on and don’t let go and absolutely go for it, and don’t let people tell you you can’t do it, if you have that gift inside, like we talked about earlier. And if you really feel like you get this. if you get this, then go for it.
Charan: Go for it. Michael, honestly, I can’t think of any better words than that, man, to wrap this up. But thank you. Thank you so much for coming and sharing your words of wisdom.
Michael: I don’t know about wisdom.
Charan: No, seriously it is. It is great. I mean here’s the thing, that idea of saying “Hey, I get this,” and you went for it, that’s powerful. It’s really powerful. Because so many people are too afraid to dig deep and figure out what do they really get. And I think you doing that gives permission for other people do to the same thing.
Michael: I hope so.
Charan: So it really is awesome. So thank you so much for [crosstalk 00:52:56] this podcast.
Michael: It was great to see you again. We don’t see each other often.
Charan: No, not enough. So we need to work on another project together.
Michael: I would like that.
Charan: That would be awesome. Well, thanks again, Michael, and I hope you have a fantastic day.
Michael: Thank you so much.
Charan: Thanks so much for listening to the Lemonade Stand podcast and we hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you use, to be alerted when we release new episodes. We’d also love to hear your feedback in the reviews and if you or someone you know has an awesome Lemonade Stand story, please reach out to us on social media and let us know. Thanks so much and have a great day.