Edited by Jose Morales
"As the actor, you are at the center of it all, but it also becomes very clear that you are playing a part in something so much bigger than yourself."
Los Angeles, California – Actor Michael Rivera was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. At the early age of six months, his family moved to Chelsea in New York City where he was raised by his single mother until her passing when he was eleven years old. His grandmother then stepped in to raise him and helped him become the man he is today.
His passion for acting started during his elementary school years while he attended PS11. He attributes some of his success to one of his teachers, Ms. Garrick, who motivated him to participate in school plays such as ‘Annie’ and ‘South Pacific.’ She also helped him to get into the Professional Performing Arts School, a school for students pursuing professional work in the arts, with alumni such as Alicia Keys and Jesse Eisenberg. At seventeen, he was ready to take his journey to the next level, and moved out of his home, attended college for two years and began his Hollywood career.
Known for his work in the groundbreaking HBO series, ‘Oz,’ and films such as ‘Fighting,’ ‘It’s Complicated,’ ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,’ and ‘The Beaver,’ I had the honor to sit with Michael to discuss his career as an actor, and learn more about him.
1 – What inspired you to become an actor?
To be fair, I have always loved movies and the movie-watching experience. Great movies have allowed me to escape reality for a few hours a day. As a kid, I wanted to escape all the time. I started acting before I even knew I wanted too. I was forced to be in elementary school plays during the third, fourth, and fifth grade. I met my eventual manager, who introduced me to my first agent when I was ten years old. Before I knew what I was doing, I auditioned and landed some acting jobs. Only when on set did I truly fall in love with the process of acting and filming. As the actor, you are at the center of it all, but it also becomes very clear that you are playing a part in something so much bigger than yourself. The human connection, the ability to help someone else escape, inspired me very much. I have never looked back, let alone prepared a plan B.
"Mistakes happen. It is how we respond to them that makes us or breaks us."
2 – What has been your greatest accomplishment as an actor?
It is a 3-way tie on this one. First, I would like to say it was finding my wife and having a partner that understands my passion; the ebbs and flows of good financial years versus bad ones and having someone that supports you regardless of the successes you attain or do not. I feel accomplished in having found that special person. Secondly, I also feel super accomplished in that I have been able to support myself for the last 20 years, and now, my family, as an actor. Not an easy thing to do! Thirdly, working with Meryl Streep! She is my favorite actor of all time. I worked with her on the set of “It’s Complicated.” I love the art form that is acting, and I am a fan of the magical actors that bring life to it. Working with her was a personal accomplishment, unlike any other experience as an actor. It was a true pleasure.
3 – Of all the roles you have played in the past, which is your favorite, and why?
I have two favorites. Many moons ago I did a Coke commercial that aired in the theatres during previews as well as on television. My character’s name was Deluxe 247. He was an eccentric kid who believed he had the coolest life. The commercial was a spoof on the old MTV Cribs show. A show I truly enjoyed. People recognized me everywhere I went. You can still find it on YouTube.
My other favorite role was in the movie “The Beaver,” where I played a character named Hector. I acted opposite the late Anton Yelchin. Jennifer Lawrence played his girlfriend in the film, and I was cast in the movie by Jodie Foster, who was the director. In the callback audition, I did not know she would be there. During the first read of my scene, I stuttered and stammered so horrifically that I was sure I wasn’t going to get the part. Jodie Foster had me reread it with some instructions, and I did so gracefully. The fact that she hired me showed me that mistakes happen. It is how we respond to them that makes or breaks us. The role meant a lot to me as it was the first time I played a role where I was wimpy and vulnerable. I was able to show some versatility against some of the characters I had played before.
"I love the art form that is acting, and I am a fan of the magical actors that bring life to it."
4 – Tell me something I may not know from reading your resume?
I am a pretty good basketball player. Looking at me might not lead you to believe it until you see me on the court. Sports have been my jam since as far back as I can remember, both watching and playing them.
On a different note, my wife has gotten me hooked to the Miss Universe pageant show that happens once a year. We really get into it and judge the ladies throughout the night trying to predict who will win! Kind of embarrassing, but I look forward to it every year now.
5 – If you could choose which three actors would you want to work with?
Lady Gaga – for a while now I have thought of her as the most talented performer on Earth. She has won Grammy’s, the Golden Globe and now the Oscar. Being around someone as immensely talented as she can only rub off on you in a positive way. I would be thrilled to the moon and back to work with her!
Bryan Cranston – before my son was born less than two years ago, I watched as many programs as I possibly could. My favorite series of all time is ‘Breaking Bad.’ I have been an avid fan of Mr. Cranston since. To me, his intensity is unmatched by any actor around. I would be honored to work with him, but even more so to learn his process.
In my opinion, the best actor of all time is Marlon Brando. The only actor I have ever seen come close to the electricity he brought to his work is Tom Hardy. Any time he steps into a scene, the screen sets on fire! I would love to work with him and see how he gets to the places he gets to as an actor.
6 – What is something embarrassing or unexpected that happened to you on set?
Easily the most embarrassing experience I have had as an actor was having to be filmed naked on an episode of ‘Oz.’ It was the first recurring role I ever booked. I was 18 years old and super chubby. The way that series worked, we would not get the script until two days before filming. You can imagine the surprise-look on my face when I read that I was going to be thrown into a jail cell butt naked! I was super scared and felt awkward, but I told myself that I wanted to be an actor, and sometimes that is what we have to do. There might have been about 10 to 15 people on set with me while I was naked and nervous. Somehow I made it through the experience feeling better for having gone through it.
7 – What sort of acting roles will you be seeking in the future?
Roles that are of my age! My current age range is 19-27. I am well into my thirties. I have a little bit of the Benjamin Button syndrome! It is an awesome thing to look a lot younger than you are, but most of the characters I read for are not on the same life level I am currently living in. I would much rather play someone closer to where I am in life now. I have only played a married dad once, which is what I am. To be fair to my agents and to casting offices, I cannot even grow a full beard! Though playing a college guy is cool. It keeps me feeling as young as I look.
8 – Can you tell me about what you are currently working on?
I recently filmed a Coors light commercial which started airing this past June. I am also working on a pilot titled ‘Up North.’ This project is cool because the lead actor and writer is a good friend of mine whom I introduced into the acting game more than 15 years ago in New York. Now, we both live in LA. He told me he had a part for me from the day he began writing it. Not only in art but also everyday life, it is awesome when connections like that come to fruition. I helped him out because I knew he had potential. Little did I know that it would lead me to have one of the coolest roles of my career.
However, what I am really working on right now is myself. I am under construction. I have lost 20 lbs since the start of the year through intermittent fasting and working out 4-5 days a week. I am aiming to lose another 20. I strongly feel that it is my responsibility as an actor to keep my skills sharp by taking classes and always reinventing myself. – GM
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