Michael Nathanson Talks About “Side Effects,” Jude Law and Life as a Local Actor

My friend Michael Nathanson is an actor that has officially made it to the big silver screen through hard work and talent. Michael is a big part of the local acting community on the East End and he’s in the upcoming movie Side Effects that stars Jude Law. Below is a little Q and A that I had with him.

Me: What’s your relationship with the Hamptons? How did you connect with the acting community out here?

Michael: My folks have had a place in East Hampton since the early 70s but I grew up in NYC, but spent summers out on the East End. I’ve always felt like an “honorary” local, because I still remember being in the Hamptons pre-massive gentrification. But it is still the most beautiful place in the world to me–it’s definitely my sanctuary away from the NYC craziness…
I went to drama school at Northwestern University in Chicago and had been acting in the city and in regional theatre for a few years and then saw they were casting for The Cherry Orchard directed by Josh Gladstone at Guild Hall—I had met some of the acting folks out here at random times and found out about the production and decided I would audition and Josh and I really hit it off and I was cast as Trofimov. Josh and I collaborated the next year on Hamlet in which I played the title role, and I also played Ishmael in the Tony Walton directed Moby Dick Rehearsed with Peter Boyle. I also directed and acted in numerous readings at Guild Hall, as well as directed a production at GH of the comedy Red Herring by Michael Hollinger.

Me: What were some shows out here that you enjoyed performing in?

Michael: Hamlet was a dream come true and an amazing experience—we worked on the play for about 3 months in rehearsal, so Josh and I really got to explore the text and create a real living breathing world, different from a lot of other Hamlets—it’s actually a very funny play (in the same way that Chekhov actually wrote his plays to be comedies) and it was a joy as an actor to explore that side of the text. I had a blast directing Red Herring. Brian Leaver created an amazing “Swiss-army-knife” set for that production (it was about eight actors playing 30 different characters and about 30 different scene changes and music cues). Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft came to see it one night and I got to hang out with them at The Palm afterwards and they were very complimentary—it was an honor to have one of my comedic heroes tell me that what I did was funny.

Me: What is the struggle like being an actor in New York? Is it worth the struggle?

Michael: Well, the struggle of being an actor is being an actor. The journey is the struggle, not the jobs…you have to have a tough skin, because essentially your life consists of people saying no, and you have to learn how not to take it personally and believe that you have something to offer.

Me: How did you land the Jude Law movie?

Michael: My agents at Innovative Artists spoke to casting in LA about me, and I put an audition tape together in New York for Carmen Cuba, the casting director, and Steven Soderbergh. A few weeks later, we got the offer. Apparently, Steven had been seeing a ton of name actors for the role but hadn’t seen anyone he liked, and they were getting down to the wire and needed to cast the part. When he saw my tape, he decided that I was what he had been looking for, and hired me from the tape. Steven really takes his time with the casting process and tries to find exactly what hes looking for for every role, thats also why he hires the same actors over and over, he trusts that they will do a good job.

Me: Is it surreal working at that level? What was a surprise to you working at that level?

Michael: I was the lead in the short film Time Freak that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012, so I had already had a major taste of it. I got to attend the Oscars and walk the red carpet, as well as do a lot of media interviews during that time. So I feel like having had that experience, I was more prepared to handle a role like this with a lot of these major Hollywood players involved. I’ve also worked on a few other high profile studio films, and had done a bunch of TV gigs, as well as acting in a bunch of national commercials… so I had the experience already of working on major projects with well known actors and directors with big money involved in the production. The thing that was surreal about this, was my role being as big as it was, and someone like Steven Soderbergh having the confidence in me to just go out there on set with these great actors like Jude Law and Rooney Mara. I was hired for four weeks on the movie, but I was definitely freaking out the first day on set, because I was going to film one of my big scenes with just Jude and myself and one other actor in a small interrogation room for the whole day—and there weren’t any rehearsals, Jude actually came over to me in the makeup trailer that first morning, knew my name and introduced himself—an extremely classy move on his part, it definitely helped put me at ease, and made me feel like, ‘yeah, ok, I belong here. I was hired because they felt I was the best person for the job, not like I won a contest or something… After that first day, things got easier and I was much more relaxed on set—the whole shoot was an amazing experience. I recently shot a role in Scorsese‘s new film The Wolf of Wall Street and having had the experience of working on Side Effects it helped me relax on that set—although, at one point, I found myself standing on set between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, and the three of us were discussing the scene, and I thought, holy $#!t, this is definitely a photograph I need to take in my mind. This is pretty cool.

Me: Will you be out here this summer?

Michael: David Brandenberg, the aristic director of the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival, is still trying to revive the fest, possibly for next summer and we’ve been working together behind the scenes on the project—would love to come back and do some summer Shakespeare—also my friends Morgan and Tristan Vaughn, who are producing Macbeth at LTV currently, are talking about bringing something out here this summer and would be a blast to work with them… of course, if my old pal Josh Gladstone has something for me at Guild Hall, I’m always happy and open to return to that stage…even though my career has taken me more to the world of TV and film, and I have and will be spending more time on the west coast, I’ll always want to spend my summers in the Hamptons—and hopefully get to act as well in my favorite place on earth.

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