Michael Harney is an actor.
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You probably know me from NYPD Blue, Weeds, Deadwood, True Detective, and Orange is the New Black.
Victoria's helping me out via phone today. AMA!
Edit: Well, I just want to say God Bless you all and keep you and thank you for taking an interest in my work, and more importantly, thank you for watching the show, and I hope your holiday season is really filled with a lot of grace and love and joy.
Hey Mr Healy, we need a new tv in the rec room, the old one is broken. Can you get off the internet and fix our shit?
I'll take that under advisement.
As your credits start 20 years ago, what made you decide to get into this field? I've read elsewhere that it really was a period of discovery for you and you were thinking about joining the Church. At that time, did you consider how risky it was as stable job?
Well, first of all, it was 36 years ago that I began acting. It happened by accident. I was going to be a social worker, and because i was drinking a lot in those days, I wound up in a program that was mostly theory, which was book learning, and I spent 2 years doing a lot of volunteer work in civil rights and prison reform, so when I got to University to do my last 2 years and found that i was involved in a course of theory, I was so bored I took an elective acting class, cuz my dad was a performer in the Navy, he was an impersonator, dancer, and tenor (he had a great voice). And I had done a play in high school. So I took this elective, and met a guy by the name of Professor John Barrett, who was actually a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and then when he found out - they didn't tell them what they were working on in those days, I guess he designed the device that helped to detonate the explosive part of the bomb when it hit a certain height from the ground - when he found out what he was doing, he had a breakdown, and became an artist after that. And worked at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts. He did theater and dance companies throughout Europe. When I met him, he was in retirement, teaching at the university I was at. He took me under his wing, I remember the first thing I did was Cyrano De Bergerac, and that was... I was gone, man! I was like flying around that stage, I felt so free.
It took me about 10, 15 years to recreate that internal. But he took me under his wing, I did 7 shows back to back in my last 2 years of college, and when I went to New York, I had made the decision, and you know - like I said, i did over 100 plays in New York for nothing. I directed my students, I taught for 8 years, I learned from the ground up the work. And I did consider that it was a tough job, I always had 2, sometimes 3 jobs, I drove cabs, limousines, I dug ditches, I painted houses in my 20's, I worked as a temp in different jobs, I was a security guard one year at night during the graveyard shift... so I could be available during the day, and then once my son was born, I created a job in my home where I set up on the news both local and national for the early morning shows, so I could be with him during the day and make meetings for my work... that was all during the years things were tough.
And my parents helped me, I had people that helped me over the years - David Milch helped me a lot - I had people that believed in me, and wanted to keep going.
It was difficult. It was difficult in terms of my decision. I did think of becoming a priest - I wanted to become a Jesuit at that time, I was still very close to many Jesuits at that time, I considered them my friends and at the heart of my life in many respects - and I just decided I was taking spiritual direction at Fordham university from a man by the name of Father Walter Chicek S.J. and by doing the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius with him, I realized after 1.5 years that I really wanted to have a family.
Now, with my son, it's so clear to me that that's what I was supposed to do, have a marriage and have a child.
But I did go in and interview with a novice master at Fr. Chicek's suggestion - after talking about my checkered past, he said "After what you've told me, there's no way I could let you in!"
I was devastated, and went to Fr. Chicek, and when I told them they rejected me, he laughed so hard his head flipped over his chair, and he said "If you want to get in, I'll get you in." Because we were having very authentic experiences of prayer together.
But the right thing happened. They were right. Everything is as it should be. But the Jesuits are very close to my heart. They made a tremendous impact on me.
How do you feel about lesbians?
Love lesbians. The role that I play is not the person I am.
How do you feel about thespians?
Hahaha. I love actors. I trained actors for 8 years in New York, after studying my craft for about 7 years, and anyone that's really willing to devote themselves to the artistic process to learn the art of acting I have a great respect for.
What advice would you give to someone that is wanting to get into acting in their mid-20's? Is it too late? When did you begin?
It's never too late.
First thing I would say is to fall in love with the art of acting. Read everything that Stanislavski ever wrote. Find a good teacher, and Sanford Meisner's technique and sit in on sessions at the Actor's Studio. Finally, I would watch interviews on YouTube or online of actors that you respect.
is it hard being a jerk sometimes as Healy ?
I wouldn't say that I'm a jerk. I would say that everyone has the capacity to choose life affirming actions, or destructive actions, in their lives.
To live through... to live through actions that are potentially destructive, negative, harmful to others is something that needs to be done very carefully as an artist, because I need to find positive ways of doing it.
I need to find a way to do it whereby I'm triggered to do it. Genuinely triggered to do it. Genuinely inspired to act in that way.
So i have to find parallels within my own life to justify the actions of the character.
Once i do that, I'm just doing what I feel is the right thing.
To look at it like good or bad, jerk or saint, is a real mistake and a diversion from what the actual process is (for me).
What do you think about to get into that depressive state that Sam seems to perpetually be in?
What's been your favourite moment of the series so far?
I think Sam is really grappling with a lot of life issues, a lot of work issues, and a lot of fundamental issues whereby he's not in his mind not really succeeding in his life. So that's just great writing, the writers give me wonderful obstacles to overcome. I get inspired to live out the overcoming of those internal obstacles. I feel work through those life issues and hopefully do it in such a way whereby people viewing it can identify, maybe laugh a little bit, and not feel so alone.
And when I got the phone call to go to work.
Who is the funniest cast member to work with?
Probably Lea DeLaria, aka Big Boo. She's a stand-up comic, ya know.
Also is piper as hot in real life as she is on the screen?
Absolutely. She's a very very beautiful woman inside and out.
How long is the typical day on set?
It varies for everybody. It really varies, depending upon the workload that we have.
What's your favorite dinosaur?
Boy oh boy. I don't know. I guess a T-Rex.
Hi Mr. Harney!
I'm a huge fan of OITNB and your character has been one of my favorites from the start. What has been your favorite storyline to be a part of, and what is your favorite Healy quote? Thanks, and have a great day! Can't wait for season 3! :)
I really don't have a favorite storyline. The one that I'm doing now is the one that is my favorite - in other words, I look at my work on the show like bodysurfing, like I get to catch a way, I get to have the opportunity to hit the beach, and i get to bodysurf all day, and I'm just into the wave, into the experience of riding the wave that I'm doing. Everybody that i work with brings their best, so it's really a wonderful - all of them are really wonderful for me.
I don't really have any favorite quotes, to be honest - the writing is so good, every episode that i do - what it's more about for me is the meaning, or the circumstances. Acting is a lot like painting for me, so being able to use different color paints with different artists to create something really beautiful. That would be my answer.
As a long time fan of "NYPD Blue", I liked the character of Mike Roberts, and thought the episode where he dies was probably the biggest departure for the show, style-wise (in a good way). Any stories you can recall from working on the show?
Oh yeah. Steven and David gave me my first shot out here. I will always be very grateful to them. They're just wonderful people, very good to me.
My experience on the show: i was in New York for many years, doing theater for free. Must've been over 100 plays for no money, on and off Broadway. So when they called me to participate in NYPD Blue, I was so grateful, and I still am. And we just had a wonderful cast. David was such a wonderful writer, he gave us circumstances to live through that really triggered us to be in an inspirational state while we worked.
That's not common.
I have that, now, in Orange, and I've been very lucky. Very,very lucky to be with good writers like Jenji and Nick, through my career, as a journeyman (which is what i consider myself to be).
It's like I said before about Orange - every day was a new adventure, and I was just grateful to be part of the show.
Hi Michael. First of all, thanks for doing the AMA! Hope you enjoy it. So,if you could get Mr.Healy an X-mas gift, what would you like to get him? Thanks!
I would give Mr. Healy a deeper understanding of women.
How is it working with Jenji Kohan again? She's certainly one of the more original writers active in the business. Any good stories, either from Orange or Weeds?
You know... I have 2 people that I work with, when I worked with David Milch and with Jenji, our friendship, our relationship, is really carried on through the work itself, though the written word, through my embodying the characters they give me.
And it's quite a beautiful process. And it's one of respect, and gratitude for me.
For Jenji, she saw something when we were doing Weeds together.
I'm very quiet. I really am.
I like to fly under the wire most of the time.
And when I work on a show, or in a movie, I'm pretty private. I'm not the kind of person that's gonna be talking a lot before i shoot something, most of the time you can find me in my room, knock on the door and I go to my position onset and I just do the scene.
There's a quiet reverence and respect and real gratitude that i have with Jenji.
It's obvious in my line of work to work at all.
She's been a great advocate for me as an artist, so I'm just very grateful to her. And in terms of her ability, there's not a lot of people that - I put her with David Milch, I believe he is a genius, I believe she is a genius. It's not just being able to write something, it's being able to negotiate the myriad obstacles thrown at you once you start the production of a major TV or live streaming series. And both of them are adept at that.
It's not something to be done by anyone who doesn't have tremendous dedication, commitment, and most of all, ability and just sheer talent.
So there's just a lot of gratitude.
And I'm not bullshitting anybody, I'm just telling it like it is.
It seemed like Mr. Healy took a drastic turn during the course of the show. I thought of him at first as a caring individual (but also doing his job) that somehow went down the road of allowing suspected lesbians to be murdered. Was this a deliberate dynamic, like maybe brought on by Piper's betrayal or his troubles at home?
Also, did you know ahead of time how dark Healy would go?
Well, first of all, I don't know anything until I get the script. That happened about 15-20 years ago, that trend. Used to be they would tell you everything before hand, and you would work on it, but then they began in the industry not telling you - you'd find out what you were gonna do when you got the writing. And I almost prefer it that way now, because it's fresh.
And I'm at the point in my work where I like to - I read what I do like 100 times, I just read it over and over and over again, I don't know if it's 100, but many times, and then I just - it's like Charles Bukowski would say, it's like a popcorn maker, the corn just pops - it's like that with ideas, and things that occur to me about the scene, it just starts popping you know? And then I just show up, and I have the scene down, and my friend said to me "You just behave" and that's really what i do - because it's about behavior, letting it happen, not making it happen.
And allowing whoever you're working with to really guide you, the person you're working with to really affect you, to cause genuine responses to what they are doing.
In terms of the last scene of the first season, where I turn my back on Piper and Pennsatucky in the fight, when Piper has called out for help, I think that really what that is grappling with my own limitations and my own inadequacies and my own shortcomings as Sam Healy.
And... it wasn't for me, certainly. It didn't have anything to do with any type of anti-lesbian thing. It had to do with what I had created inside myself. To justify that behavior. And that had nothing to do with the script. It had to do with my personal life, I endowed Piper with something from my personal life with the dynamic that exists in our relationship. And then I live through that.
But very rarely does it have anything to do with the circumstances of the script. UNLESS it's something I really understand. And in that specific scene, that is something I wouldn't do as a person.
So I had to find something that was very strong inside myself.
But I'll never tell you what that is.
You have one of the greatest loudmouth asshole voices of all time. Steve the Drunk is a thing of horrible beauty. You've got a knack for bringing a lot of heart to what could be really bad guys, even that douchebag you played in True Detective. I'm always happy to see your name pop up when I'm looking at a show.
How was it working on the Deadwood set? You all built something really special with that show and it seems like it would have been an interesting place to work.
Well, any character that you play - namely dirtbags, assholes, loudmouths, creeps, jerkoffs, and fuckheads - should never be looked at that way in the creative process.
They should be experienced as human beings who are grappling with their own life challenges, just as you grapple with yours.
Any one of us has the capacity for life-affirming action, or destruction, at any given moment.
And I believe it's one of the artist's main jobs to find the reason for each character's life actions within him or herself.
By doing this, there is no more judgement.
There is only doing.
And living through actions which are totally justifiable within the life of a character.
If you begin the creative process of building a character with judgement, the only thing you can hope for is superficiality, an unreliable persona, and lack of clarity.
So don't be a douchebag!
And the Deadwood set - doing Deadwood was like... being with wonderful artists, and the authenticity of the work, the commitment to excellence - we had a lot of fun. And the writing, David's writing - it wasn't just the writing, he would show up and talk about a scene. For example, when I got the money at the bank from Molly, and I showed up there as Steve, I was just doing that cuz I was half in the bag and had a sense of bravado going on, and that was okay, but David came in and said "Alright now, this scene here, you're thinking in your head Oh, they're going to give me that money and SHE - meaning Molly - She wants me, romantically. So once I added that to the mix, that was affecting me behaviorally, the whole scene took off, and it became a very deeply sort of comedic scene (for me) and you watched Steve. But I never would've gotten to that layer without him.
So I'm not trying to kiss his ass, but he would come in and say stuff before each scene that would deepen the scene, that would flesh out the scene, he would trigger the creative imagination - he would always trigger the spirit of the art in you - and you can't ask for more than that.
What was it like working with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective?
They were really great.
Matthew & Woody totally devote themselves to living in the moment in character.
And it was great to work in that regard.
I felt that we were all bringing it, you know?
And it was like being given the opportunity to work with 2 of the best actors in our business.
After reading that story in another comment it seems like you've had a ton of inspiration from all you've done in life.
Have you traveled a lot or have a favorite place you've been to across the world? Moreso, where would you love to go or see if you get the chance?
I haven't traveled a lot, really.
I was in Moscow for 2005 doing a movie with Roland Joffe, doing a movie with him for 5 weeks, and that was a great gift.
I'd like to go to Ireland and visit where my ancestors are from. I'd like to maybe work there one day and bring my son.
My friends tell me I'll never leave if I go there!
Do you shoot scenes in the actual prison?
No. We shoot at the studio, and we also have a location that doubles as the prison exterior.
Do you have pets??
Yes. I have a dog.
Who's at your dream dinner party?
Jesus, Buddha, Daniel Berrigan (the Jesuit), Constantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg. Sanford Meisner. And Spencer Tracy. Robert Mitchum. And Michael Chekhov. And Marlon Brando.
We could do this for a LONG time, so...
OITNB was nominated for it's first SAG Award this morning - what are your feelings about the nomination and this tough Comedy category?
I don't know anything about awards really. I'm grateful we were nominated. That's really nice to know that people think well of us in that regard. I haven't looked at the competition for awards - like I said, I'm grateful to be part of such a wonderful team, to be nominated, but i haven't looked at it yet.
If Deadwood hadn't been cancelled, what do you believe would have been the remaining development arc for Steve Fields?
Well, I had a small talk with David about that one day, we were walking to lunch, he said "Well, maybe you recover and you become an even BIGGER pain in the ass than you were before. Maybe you'll find God and you'll become an even BIGGER pain in the ass than you were before."
Which would've been a really cool arc, you know?
That show was great. I took my son to see the show JEOPARDY, and when we met Alex Trebek, he said "I loved Deadwood so much, it was like Shakespeare in the west." I thought that was really cool, coming from him, you know?
I've heard that before, but coming from him, that's really cool.
Anybody that has the chance to watch interviews with David online should do that, any artists out there that is serious about their craft should watch the interviews with him online, there's a lot of them - from the writer's guild, to speaking at universities sometimes - you should really listen to him about the creative process.
Do the actors eat lunch in the same room as the prison cafeteria? Is the food in the cafeteria real food or stunt food? Do you have craft service operate out of the same kitchen?
Hahaha - no, no. We have our own lunch area.
The guys that make our food are just outstanding, they do a wonderful job.
It's real food.
How was working on Deadwood?
It was wonderful. It was really a very wonderful time in my life. We really had a wonderful group of people, and I remember getting into make up took an hour, hour and a half, I had some scars, and when I put on my clothes, all I had to do was walk down main street and I was totally there, I didn't have to go very far internally to become Steve because of the environment and the set was built to perfection - it was so perfectly done, that visually, I was in that world and became part of that world, and of course the actors that we had were so authentic that we could just live through the circumstances that they were given.
It was just great man. Just a wonderful, wonderful experience.
As an actor, you always want to do a Western, and this was a Western.
And it was very meaningful, and just a great occurrence.
Is there any difference working on a Netflix original vs cable show?
There's not really a difference. The crew people are the people who are really making it happen - they work their ass off to make it happen, and they're all from the industry, working many years in the industry when we just had a couple of networks, you know?
The differences are the way that it's distributed, and the frequency of distribution, the methodology in which people can watch it, the viewing mechanisms if you will are different. Computers as opposed to TV, or phones.
But the doing of it, we're really shooting in a very similar way.
Did you attend St. Stanislaus in Maspeth, Queens? If so, we went to school together!
Hahaha! No I didn't.
Although perhaps I was bilocating at the time.
You have me confused with another character.
What's your favorite ride in Disney? Also, when does season 3 come out? I was a background actor in one of the scenes and I'd like to know when I could see it! Lol
The Disney thing, gee... I like Mickey Mouse's house.
And Toon Town.
I don't know when season 3 is coming out. I don't get involved on any of that.
And with Disney, I also like the Parade & the Santa Claus shows.
If you could recommend a restaurant in New York City? Need to try a new place. Thanks!
I don't eat out a lot.
I used to go down to this place, Veselka, it's a Polish restaurant.
The Old Homestead - if you want a real good meat and potatoes meal, go to the Old Homestead down by Tribeca downtown.
I notice you also worked on two other series I really enjoyed "Deep Space Nine" and "Cold Case". I know they were huge parts, but anything you can tell me about working on them?
Well, not much. Deep Space 9, I was doing a lot of guest star roles in those days. They treated me very well. I think Colm was around in those days, doing the show, and I just went in - I think I was there for a day, and it was a cool role, it was sort of this... secret equivalent of the CIA operative in space, and it was kind of a neat scene to do, I remember that. It was really very inspiring for me to be a part of STAR TREK for that episode. I've always had a deep respect, I was privileged to meet Ray Bradbury one day, I was with him for 4 hours, and I have a lot of respect for that whole process.
My friend Mark Zicree is the foremost authority on the TWILIGHT ZONE In the world, he just wrote a book with Guillermo Del Toro, and he's doing his own series about science fiction. And I'm doing a role just because we are friends. But he is doing this whole thing on his own - raising the money for it, selling it - so I find that world to be fascinating, the way they create projects, the research that's involved, the mind of the people who do science fiction - these people are brilliant. Ray Bradbury, you don't have to say much about him. There's just a lot.
And then COLD CASE... my dear friend John Finn was on that show, another mick like me, and we had a really good time working together. A really nice time. And what i remember about that show was that we went out to lunch, and they made a big deal - they were so inviting to me, and so kind to me on that show, that that stands out to me. They said "Please come, we want to take you out to lunch" - we went to a restaurant in Manhattan beach, near the studio.
There are a lot of wonderful people in the business that people don't understand because they're not in it. But a lot of really good people.
If you have very little credits on your acting resume, how do you move forward? How do you build an acting resume? You have a lengthy list of credits dating back 20 years.. Are acting classes a good way to start?
Acting classes are great, as long as you have a good teacher.
Try to work with people that don't water down what the master teachers taught - like Stella Adler, Meisner, Strasberg...
Try to in some way, fall in love with the art of acting. And study it. Try to learn everything about it.
Make it your life.
I did for many years.
If you dedicate yourself to it, it will transform you.
The best way to increase your resume is to constantly act. Actors act, writers write, painters paint, singers sing, dancers dance.
It's not a mystery.
What is your chipotle order?
Uh... OK, BrodyCole. Let's see, what do we have.... rice. Beans. Peppers & onions. Pork. Or Beef. Guacamole. Medium salsa. No cheese.
As a bowl.
What is this question about?
They probably saw me go in there with my son.
Is victoria's voice sexy?
Seeing that OITNB is currently filming season 3, is it easy or hard to keep quiet about the things that are supposed to be under wraps until the season begins?
No. I have a lot of stuff going to my grave with me that people would have their hair standing up on the back of their neck.
Michael you are brilliant in orange is the new black. I love the relationship between mr Healy and the girls especially pensatucky. Do you feel like mr Healy is headed towards a mental break down? He obviously wants to help the girls, but can't accept help himself.
And how has it been working with Netflix rather than cable tv? Have you found that its much different?
I'm so glad you are doing an AMA. I binged when each season was released and was shocked by the ending. I can't wait for season 3.
That's a very interesting perception.
I think the fact that you perceive great conflict and tension in Sam in dealing with his environment at work and his personal life is indicative of someone grappling with profound life issues.
Where he's headed... I don't know. But I'm glad that you're perceiving the intensity that you are.
And no, it hasn't really been that different. They are great. The model that Netflix has is being copied by many people, it's going to be the wave of the future, but it's already here.
It's something very brilliant.
And thank you very much for watching. I'm glad you were affected in that way.
How about a spoiler from the 3rd season of OITNB? Also, do you speak Russian in real life?
No spoilers available. No, I do not speak Russian in real life.