Actor Michael Trucco talks to us about preparations for his role in Donovan Marsh's Hunter Killer, forging life-long friendships and learning from his Battlestar Galactica co-stars, his experience working on short films, and advice for actors starting out or waiting to land that first big role.
Hello Michael, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. I last saw you running and gunning in Hunter Killer alongside Toby Stephens, Ryan McPartlin and Zane Holtz as a tight military unit. How much time did you have to forge those bonds, and how did you go about doing so?
I think all told we had spent about 4-6 weeks together from the time we were cast, to the training and rehearsal, and then through principle photography. Ryan, Toby and I managed to get together on our own here in LA prior to flying out to Bulgaria to work with some actual Navy SEALs thanks to Ryan’s connection with them.
We actually all met at my home and used my house as a training ground for some basic team tactics, weapons handling, and coordinated maneuvers like room clearings and building entries, etc. It was a lot of fun and very helpful in getting a leg up on the physicality required to believably play a Navy SEAL. These guys were the real deal and worked us over and over again to get all the little details right. Zane most definitely would’ve been there too but he lives in Texas and wasn’t in LA at the time. But the three of us figured it worked out well because in the movie, Zane’s character is the FNG (fuckin’ new guy) to the team, so we liked that we had a little bonding time separate from him.
Once we got to Bulgaria, we had a good solid week of training prior to filming with some former British SAS soldiers. They’re basically the British version of our Navy SEALs, equally badass and capable. From them we learned more team training in the outdoors, a lot of weapon handling and firing, and simulated mission scenarios. And the one main mandate form our director (Donovan Marsh) was to spend nearly every waking second with each other on and off set. We wanted us to build that bond at all times while together. We all had a blast making that movie and a lot of laughs hanging out together everyday and night.
What was your personal prep work for the role, especially one that would have such a physical aspect to it? And what you go back and tell yourself or another actor about to embark on something similar?
I remember meeting Donovan for the first time over a Skype call just after I was cast. We talked about the story and the character and I asked him what he needed from me in terms of the physicality of the character. He said three things were important physically: “Don’t shave, don’t cut your hair, and I need you to be fit.”
He didn’t care if we were all pumped up and muscle bound or not, he just emphasized being FIT. He said he was going to run us A LOT, and with heavy packs and weapons and over uneven terrain, up and down stair wells and oil rigs and over multiple takes. So I was in the gym nearly everyday working on a very rudimentary workout routine that I researched about SEALs and made sure that my stamina was up to snuff. And even then, there were a few day on set where we were all gasping for air a little. That gear is heavy! If I could go back and give myself some advice?: Run and bike more…worry less about lifting!
Going back to forging bonds, you played Samuel Anders on Battlestar Galactica across 4 years. How did relationships with your co-stars develop over that time?
The bonds we all formed from our days together on Battlestar Galactica are immeasurable. To say we formed a family is spot-on accurate. Now, that is a term that is bandied about by several casts on many different projects, and I have no doubt that it is the case for many of them, but we truly have all remained largely in touch with one another at the very least and heavily involved in each other’s lives in many ways some ten years since we shot our last episode. We got each others’ backs.
Eddie (James Olmos) was really instrumental in solidifying our bond. He was the patriarch. Hell, he WAS the Admiral. And he told us all as we were coming to the end of our final season that this was the best damn project we will ever be a part of. And even though we will continue on to other ventures and have great experiences with new shows and new people in new places, he was right. This was and continues to be a special event in our lives that has never been matched. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it and I am extremely grateful to all of my cast-mates, my friends, my family for welcoming me into the tribe.
There was a BSG reunion of sorts when you joined Tahmoh Penikett for All Cock And No Bull! written and directed by James Callis – a short film showing off several sides of you we don’t often see! One of those sides is some serious comedy chops. How did you get involved with the film, and was it as much fun as it looked?
Oh man!.....what can I say about All Cock and No Bull!? What a strange and magnificent little experience that was.
James had approached Tahmoh and I with this idea for a short film about two buddies laying out poolside in their lounge chars and birthday suits. It was a sort of absurdist piece in the vein of “Waiting for Godot” about these two guys philosophizing on the merits of being naked in each other’s presence.
After James’ pitch and insistence that it HAD to be Tahmoh and I in these roles, Tahmoh and I were both immediately a little intrigued and reticent at the same time. We were definitely a little uneasy at the idea of going “au natural” for the cameras and James pounced on that uneasiness and said that is precisely WHY we should do it! That was the kind of dynamic he wanted to capture especially in my character.
So, long story short, I think Tahmoh and I hemmed and hawed and put it off for a good couple of YEARS after James first brought up the project, and finally, one day the three of us were together somewhere and James brought it up again and Tahmoh and I were like, “fuck it... let’s do this!”
The script was funny and tight, and James is an interesting artist with unique vision, immeasurably talented, and no doubt would make a great director so we decided to give it a go. And ultimately, we had a great time making the film. A lot of laughs!
You’ve been involved in a couple of other short film projects including All American Tooles directed by M. David Melvin and Drone directed by Justin S. Lee. Can you tell us a bit about these projects and your experience on them?
All American Tooles and Drone were made years apart from one another. Both projects came to me through different channels, but it was ultimately the script and the vision of the directors after sitting down to meet with them that led me to sign on.
In the case of All American Tooles, I had met David through a mutual friend and he was a fan of Battlestar Galactica and had written this really interesting and quirky piece with me in mind. I loved it immediately because it reminded me tonally of an off-beat episode of The Twilight Zone - one of my favorite shows of all time.
We seemed to be on the same page in terms of the story and I was lucky enough to get Kurtwood Smith (Dead Poets Society, Robocop) to agree to a cameo in the film and he was fantastic! I had known Kurtwood for years and often credit him for helping me get established in the entertainment game way back when I was first starting out. So it was a real honor to get to be in a project with one of my mentors.
In fact, one of the best short films I ever saw was a project Kurtwood starred in called 12:01. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It made such an impression on me as a nascent actor and I remember thinking “that’s the kind of project I want to be a part of someday”. I like the off-beat, below the radar, passion projects. They can be the most fun and least restrictive in an industry that often has too many cooks in the kitchen calling all the shots.
As far as Drone goes, I was made aware of Justin through a friend of mine Paul Johannson who had Justin as a ‘shadow’ while he was directing a film.
Justin was a USC film student at the time and Paul said to me, “this kid has got some real talent and potential to be a real player in the industry someday. You should really sit down with him.” So I did, and we discussed the script which intrigued me, and again, I was able to call in a favor from another friend of mine, Daniel Sharman, who agreed to play the other character in this two-hander. Justin was totally on board with idea and so we went ahead with it and knocked it out over the course of two weekends using an all-USC crew as part of Justin’s final thesis. I’m really proud of the final result. Justin is one to watch in the future.
What do short films in general offer actors such as yourself who are already enjoying a prolific career in both film and TV? And are such actors more open to getting involved with short films that some new filmmakers might assume?
I think the simple answer here is something that I touched on in the previous answer and that is: short films allow for unique stories to be told by unique voices that might not otherwise have the means nor the resources to share their vision in a full length feature or TV series.
And as I said before, there are far fewer restrictions when you’re operating independently and therefore more room for the writers’, directors’, and actors’ artistry to see the light of day. I think we’re always open to these short films when the script really resonates with the actor, and the story has an impact on him or her.
You once directed an episode of Pensacola: Wings of Gold, is directing something to which you see yourself returning? If so, with the number of directors you’ve worked with over the years, are there any techniques or ways of working that would inform your own style?
The short answer here is; YES! Without a doubt, I would jump at the chance to get to direct again.
My experience directing on Pensacola left such an impression on me. I was young and relatively new to television, but I did my due diligence and shadowed other directors and studied the craft as best I could to prepare myself for my episode and it was an amazing, if not at times daunting, experience. And it is one I would love to repeat because there is always SO much to learn and I feel like I just got to scratch the surface. Plus, I had incredible support from the cast and the crew and the director of photography who really had my back throughout the whole process.
My mission statement to myself was to be respectful and inclusive of ALL the different departments that make a production run. I wanted to hear from everyone on what they thought would be the best way to execute the shots that I had envisioned. I know that sounds like an obvious tactic, but there are many instances where a director might start dictating to the crew and I never wanted to establish that reputation. My feeling was that each of these men and women were here for a reason and we’re all working toward the same goal. I wanted to hear from them.
That didn’t mean I was rudderless and a push over though. I had clear ideas and visions for how I wanted to shoot a particular scene and would share that vision with the department heads and then assess the best way to go about achieving that vision.
It was very eye-opening and liberating and creative, and I did a lot of growing up in that few weeks of pre production and principal photography. Cannot wait to do it again.
Going back to acting, are there any actors in particular that you feel you have learned from, or that have offered any advice that’s stayed with you? If so, who and what?
In terms of my experience as an actor over the years, I feel like I am ALWAYS learning from my fellow actors on set.
Most obviously perhaps might be my experience on Battlestar Galactica. Watching Mary McDonnell, Edward James Olmos, and Michael Hogan work, to name a few, was like being in a master class on acting. I was often finding myself almost ‘thrown’ by how much life, and passion, and pain was behind the eyes and words as Mary would be delivering her dialogue on set. And this was when she was OFF CAMERA too! She never let up no matter what the coverage was. She was 100% all the time.
Same with Eddie and Hogan and James Callis and really everyone on that show. Everyone brought their A game at all times and thus forced me to be at their level to keep up. Katee Sackhoff, who is 10 years my junior, would almost always raise my game when we were doing a scene together.
It was a real education being a part of that great series. And I am grateful to ALL my cast mates for elevating my work. Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett, Alessandro Juliani, Kandyse McClure, Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Callum Keith Rennie, and the list could go on and on.
Finally, what advice would you pass on to actors who are just starting out, or those who currently find themselves between jobs?
This is a question that I am frequently asked in a number of settings by everyone from journalists to curious fans to young, hungry, up and coming actors. And part of my answer here is relevant to the last part of the previous question about any sound advice that I received over the course of my career.
It was on my first series, the aforementioned Pensacola: Wings Of Gold, that an actor called Bobby Hosea said something to me that has stuck with me to this very day and has really informed my career ever since. Early in the process of our first season, as we were all getting to know one another as a cast, Bobby, (who had already a fairly well established career and was a bit of a mentor to us younger folk who were experiencing our first television series) said to us all: “You want to see an actor complain?.....Give him a job.”
The message was clear: Be grateful, be respectful, be professional, be humble, and most of all be aware of your good fortune.
If I could impress anything upon new, young working actors it would be this; it is so easy to get caught up in the machine, and to believe the hype. Suddenly, you’re making money, people are taking your picture, you have everything at your beck and call on set and then... your trailer is TOO small, or your call times are TOO early, or the hours are TOO long, there are TOO many episodes, or you don’t like your wardrobe, your dialogue, your hair and makeup, and before you know it, a DIVA is born.
It’s a trap of insecurity masked with entitlement, and it is a behavior that, in my opinion, is too often left unchecked by the powers that be. But, THAT is whole other issue that warrants an entirely separate discussion so I digress.
And finally, as far as advice to actors who are just starting out that have not yet landed that first big gig, I would say this: Remember this feeling, this drive, this hunger and passion inside so that if/when you DO get that first job, you’ll heed those sage words from Bobby Hosea.
And I would tell you to get up on stage. Go back to the basics: the theatre. Do a play, or a one-act presentation, or a scene in a class or a monologue. Study the classics. Read the great teachings of Stella Adler and Uta Hagen and Larry Moss and Michael Shurtleff. Study script analysis, character development and character backstory. Observe fellow human beings’ actions and mannerisms. Watch great performances in great films and stage productions.
I was in a class taught by the great Harry Mastrogeorge and he always reminded us that when on stage or on screen, you don’t have to concern yourself with being interestING, simply be interestED, and the audience will be drawn in by your commitment to the world of the play or film or TV show that you are living in.
And man... if NONE of that works... go out and amass a huge social media following. I’m only half joking. I didn’t have that growing up. It didn’t exist. But it seems to be an inevitable aspect of the game today, but I like to believe that good ol’ fashioned hard work, dedication, and persistence are the building blocks to a successful career in entertainment.
I think it was Jimmy Durante who said: “Be kind to EVERYONE on the way up, because you will most certainly meet them again on the way down.”
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