Australian-born actor Michael Teh (@actormichaelteh) is a fresh face in the Hollywood scene, but with roles in Sharknado, Sleepy Hollow, Alien Rising and a new TV series entitled, The Other Brother, alongside Tom Hank’s brother, this fresh face is about to be in your face a whole lot more!
The Levity Ball sat down with Michael in Los Angeles, California for a chat about his career, and how it feels being compared looks wise to Keanu Reeves…
When did you first “know” that you wanted to become an actor?
I’m not sure when I “knew” I wanted to become an actor, but I remember when decided to go for it professionally. Acting is actually my fourth career. I have three degrees and had three different corporate jobs before attending full-time theatre school in New York. After about two years of training I sat down with some teachers and asked them to honestly tell me if I had any talent, because I could walk into a well-paid corporate career again if I didn’t. Austin Pendleton (a teacher) said yes I should go for it, and Susan Batson (Nicole Kidman’s coach) wrote me recommendation for a lead role in a film opposite Meryl Streep. Around this time I also entered this national monologue competition run by the TNT Network, and out of thousands of contestants was named a semi-finalist and prize-winner. These things gave me the confidence to go for it, professionally. I’m sure as a child I thought acting would be a fun job too, but I didn’t start acting until later in life.
Who were some of your role models growing up?
I guess just my parents while I was growing up. They were the first in their families to go to college. They eloped for love, themselves having some parents disapproving of their interracial relationship. They studied and worked hard and spoiled their own kids with education and the blessings of travel.
You have been compared to Keanu Reeves and recently did a Matrix parody video… When did you first start noticing the resemblance? Are you a fan of his?
You know, I never really noticed the resemblance. It’s just that some other people seem to think I look like him. I also get Lou Diamond Phillips and Ben Bratt, but I get Keanu more than anything else. I probably started getting comments around when the first Matrix film came out. And actually my first big Hollywood audition (before I even moved to LA and got representation) was to play Keanu’s brother in the film The Lake House. I was super-green and petrified, and totally bombed that audition!
I guess I am a fan of Keanu for two reasons. First, I simply love some of his movies including The Matrix and Point Break; and secondly because I hear from people who’ve worked with him that he’s simply an awesome guy. Humble, generous, and unpretentious.
And yes, I did just make a Matrix parody. Remember the scene in the first Matrix film where Agent Smith interrogates Morpheus for the codes to get into Zion? Well, that’s the scene I flipped. Check it out at www.matrixparody.com
How does living and working in Hollywood compare to your time in Australia?
I’m from Sydney, which like Los Angeles, features warm summers, mild winters, and surfing beaches that lend to some lifestyle similarities. Both cities feature a lot of diversity too with many immigrant communities adding to the cities’ flavors.
However, my professional life in Hollywood is totally different. My last job in Australia was as a management consultant working 100 hours a week in an office, and I did not enjoy that. Now I’m lucky to work 100 hours a month, but I get to use my imagination and I love it!
What has been the hardest thing you’ve gone through in the Hollywood industry since starting?
The hardest thing in Hollywood, for most actors including myself, is getting auditions and work. First, it can be really difficult to get representation, be it a manager or agent. I know so many talented actors who’ve been seeking representation for years. It took me four years in LA to get a theatrical agent. Even when you have representation it can be difficult to get auditions, especially when you come to acting later in life. Decision makers would rather audition and hire people they “know, like and trust”. Guys I compete with in my age range often have 15-20 year relationships with casting directors because they started in their teens or early twenties, so they fill most of the audition slots. It can be really hard for people whom casting doesn’t know already to get auditions. Furthermore, most producers are looking for established “names” who can bring audience/sales. So in many cases the best roles are reserved for established actors with large existing fan bases. It’s not a meritocracy. It’s a business.
You have a new series The Other Brother in the works… tell us about it!
That’s right, I just shot the pilot episode. It’s a comedic series about what it’s like to be the brother of somebody in Hollywood who has an infinitely more successful career than you. It was created by Gavin Grazer, Brian Grazer (the Hollywood mega mogul)’s brother and it stars Gavin himself. I play his best friend – another struggling actor in LA – who’ll do just about anything to get a role. It also stars Jim Hanks (Tom Hank’s brother) and was super fun to shoot. I look forward to seeing it cut together. Apparently, Showtime has first look, so fingers crossed it goes somewhere.
What has been your favorite project to work on thus far in your career?
I’m kind of torn between two projects. I had a top-of-show guest starring role in Sleepy Hollow of it’s first season on FOX. Everyone working on that show, in every department, from fellow actors to costume and set designers were at the top of their game. Loved the people, loved the work and loved how there was a budget to do everything properly.
The other project I thoroughly enjoyed was one of my first features Lost Colony: The Legend of Roanoke. I loved it because I got to combine fun acting work with travel, my other passion. We shot that film in Bulgaria in and around Sofia, and I made some great friends and got see a bit of a country I hadn’t visited before.
What is your “dream role”?
It’s completely unoriginal (and perhaps a little juvenile), but I’d love to play James Bond! I think that would be fun on so many levels. I’m happy to entertain, however, the artist in me would super-excited to play any role that touches, moves or inspires an audience, be that in a play, a series or a film.
What is your advice to others looking at getting into the entertainment industry?
The entertainment field is very broad, but if you’re pursuing acting: find good teachers and learn different things from each of them. Some are better at comedy, some teach plays, some teach auditioning for camera, some teach voice, some teach “the business of acting” etc. Keep learning from different masters in their fields. If you’re not learning, you’re in the wrong class. And if you’re serious about succeeding, then don’t quit. Find ways to enjoy the pursuit and develop some passions outside acting, as very few actors get paid to do it very often.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
I’d love to be working more frequently, on well-written pieces, with talented passionate collaborators, all around the world. And maybe married with a bun-in-the-oven. But I’d settle for a being in a great film, play or series, some travel and having a lovely girlfriend.