Interview with actor Michael Chan
Michael Chan attended the Toronto Film School in the CBC Building and began auditioning for roles in theatre and independent film productions. In 2007, Michael landed his first theatre role as a Chinese pirate in the Toronto Pirate Festival’s stage show. This was followed by Forward Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” where he played Angus, and then the leading role in the Toronto Chinese Business Association’s production of “The Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival”. Michael’s on-screen career include “Dan For Mayor”, “Covert Affairs”, “Slasher”, and “Mayday”. I had a quick interview with Michael Chan the other day.
1. How was life in high school?
It was tough. I was, and still, am, a huge nerd. However, back when I was in high school, the things I was into wasn’t mainstream like they are now. Nerd wasn’t chic. So, there really weren’t that many people into comics or video games, and only a handful into Anime. It was a lonely time and I was bullied heavily, so I kept to myself and focused all my energy on studying, working on the school yearbook, and playing the saxophone in the school band.
2. Describe your voice work for several student productions when you first caught the “acting bug”.
I went to the University of Toronto with the intention of becoming a doctor. If you had told me back in my first year that I would become an actor one day, I’d have had a good laugh because back then, acting was not something I had even a modicum of interest in. However, I was known to the people I met for loving to do silly voices and imitate voices from Anime like ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ and ‘Pokemon’.
In my second year, some acquaintances who were working on a video game for a course asked me to do some voices. I thought it would be fun, so I sat in my dorm room with the crappy mic that came with my PC, recorded a few short lines and some grunts, and then something inside me just ‘turned on’ – like a switch was flipped. I was hooked, and the next time those acquaintances were looking for voices, I jumped at the opportunity. Eventually, I branched out into doing voice parodies of my own, and that led to me applying to film school after graduating from the U of T.
3. How was your experience at the Toronto Film School?
The Toronto Film School used to be in the CBC building, so it was absolutely incredible to learn and train in their studios. The teachers I had were working performers, filmmakers, producers – people who were good at what they did. Learning from them and benefitting from their experiences was amazing. However, as happy as I was, things were tough. The change from science to acting was jarring and forced me painfully out of my comfort zone. I also had to deal with the reality that I was abandoning the stability becoming a doctor would bring for the constant uncertainty of the entertainment industry. I was pretty much living in a constant state of simultaneous joy and fear every single day – Sometimes, I think I still am!
4. Can you describe your experiences on “Dan For Mayor”, “Covert Affairs”, “Slasher”, and “Mayday” compared to the theatre?
I started my acting career on the stage. Back when I was doing theatre, whatever production I was in, I’d be around a group of people rehearsing, putting together a show, and then performing it. Quite a bit of camaraderie would develop as everyone got to know each other over an extended period of time.
When I transitioned to film, one of the most drastic changes I experienced was how I would meet a few of the people I’d work within production at the wardrobe fitting, meet the rest on the day of the shoot, and then when the shoot was done, that was it. I would then have to continue getting to know people through social media and whatnot. I am admittedly a very shy person, so I definitely found it easier to make friends on a theatre production over film production.
Still, my preference is working in film, which is why it’s what I perform these days. I find film and TV production to be absolutely magical. I could sit there watching people work for hours and never get bored. It’s actually one of the reasons why I loved doing background work so much early in my on-camera career. I didn’t have to worry much about ‘acting’ and got to see how things were done!
5. Just for fun. Do you have any special talents?
I love to paint miniature figures, like the ones from Warhammer. My favourite figures to paint, though, are zombies from all the zombie-themed board games I play, like ‘Zombicide’. I also do swing dancing with my wife. We got to the point where we were in a show. However, after we had our daughter, we haven’t been able to keep it up, so nowadays, most of the dancing I do is the Hokey Pokey. Haha! https://www.michaelchan.ca/