Michael Muyunda is an up and coming film actor from Nottingham, born in London, who made his feature debut in Unholy directed by Anthony Winson and will be seen in upcoming short film called “Who Brought the Coatstand?” directed by Matthew Simmonds.
What inspired you to act?
I was scared to death of acting for the longest time. I had zero confidence growing up. When it came to talking to a group of strangers I would just cave and try to say as little as possible. I just wanted to blend into the background and hopefully not do anything that would be embarrassing. I believe the first time I ever thought about acting was doing primary school plays. It started off as me needing to be less scared of putting myself out there and getting rid of stage fright. However after primary school, even though I had the interest of acting, I didn’t actively go for it as I’m doing now. The thought taunted me throughout my teens. I would do drama like you had to in secondary school but once I didn’t have to, I let it go. I still really had a lack of confidence in a big way. I would see my younger sister do it and I remember just knowing that performing was what I loved but I was still way too scared to go for it without being forced. Storytelling was always a huge thing growing up so I thought I would make films, I would write my own stories or always think about my version of someone’s story. I grew up watching actors like Al Pacino and Denzel Washington, they’re like magicians to me. I would watch them just obsessed wondering “How are they doing that?” I still do that with many actors. I was twenty before I decided to audition for amateur theatre at the New Arts Exchange in Nottingham. I went for a role in Macbeth, directed by Rachel Young and the audition was awful. Nothing went to plan, I forgot my lines for the monologue I picked, I was quiet, I was nervous and I just remember thinking I was in way over my head but for some reason she still accepted me for being a part of the group. I auditioned again, which went better, to then get the role of Macduff. The whole experience of working on that character and for someone to take a chance on what was initially a nightmare, after three months of rehearsal to do a one night only performance of Macbeth made it concrete for me that I had to act. The love for it was too much and I realised for sure that it was something I had to pursue. So being scared of it, but loving it, ultimately inspired me to do it.
How would you describe your acting style?
Well right now I would say it’s obsessive. When the role comes up I really do get anal about every word said and every feeling that person has to have and live in it. Once I know it enough I try to make it natural and not be in my own head but I’ve wondered myself how deep I might go for a role. There’s acting I’ve done that I thought fell short because I didn’t spend enough time in the character’s skin and it looked fake. It was acting in a bad way where it’s just phony. That has pushed me to stay a lot more in the mood of the character, rather than switch on and off too much. It might be a phase; I’ll probably calm it down. Either way I hope that whatever style it is, it looks real and you buy the emotions; whatever those emotions are.
What do you look for in a script?
That can be a rough one sometimes because they might not be perfect when you get them. (To put it kindly!) The story can be better than the dialogue, the characters can be better than the story you put them in but the character is the thing that will draw me in. I need to connect with what the character is about and, through dialogue, it’s important that I buy what that person is saying, it has to make sense, if I don’t understand it or it’s not interesting, I won’t do it. I wish scripts could try to be different from the type of story it might tell. There are scripts which end up being super generic, so I hope the script makes me feel for the characters, the circumstances and the dialogue. Maybe there’s no dialogue but just what that character does sucks me in.
As an actor, what are your feelings on zero budget projects?
The biggest thing which sinks a film is money, and that becomes a problem for someone like me who waits for projects to come to fruition months on end. There are still projects I’m supposed to be a part of that I’ve been waiting on for over a year now. So a lot of these zero budget films have been good to get rid of a barrier that normally stops films getting made. Problems still occur for sure with people who need to do other things and scheduling can be a nightmare but it is an incentive that to get better at film making you have to keep doing it. Sometimes waiting for that budget won’t do you any favours; you have to get creative, telling stories that have the minimum. Hopefully that means it’s essential to have a great script more so than ever. I think it’s easier especially for big budget films to hide behind their money and succeed because it looks great with the effects, with 3D, with movie stars; but the story, script and acting is weak. You can’t get away with that, especially if you’re a zero budget film so although I may not be getting paid, creatively it becomes just as important as if I was.
What aspects do you look for in a no pay project to compensate for the absence of a working wage?
If it’s a good project, that’s really all I need. I’ll try to make it work from there, it’s about the story and if I’m moved by it in some way. The people who are behind it are key in my enthusiasm for the project, I don’t want to be in the hands of complete idiots. The passion and work ethic a director might have, explaining the script to me, makes me feel good going in. Then how we actually end up working will make me feel like it was worth it. When you find people just as crazy for storytelling as you are, if not crazier.
What is key to your story-telling journey on a film? How important is the director in this?
I rely on a director to be sure that everything is on track. I don’t want to assume things the character is not, or that I’m assuming it to be a film that it’s not. Some directors are free with the interpretation and some are a lot more specific to what must be at every moment, there is no freedom to interpret or experiment. I’m very much stuck on a director approving how I need to understand what is going on in the film, and being able to match that when working on it. I can go through it a hundred times based on what I think but the director has that final say.
Would you like to see more film projects embrace collaboration and story-telling discipline, rather than rely on technology to do the work?
I think if the story isn’t strong then everything falls apart. You can have the greatest cinematography being under appreciated because you’ve put me to sleep with a boring, weak story. In terms of working on films, I think the back and forth between directors and writers, actors and directors, producers and directors on every aspect of the project is essential as the more thorough you are with the movie, the better it is. Sometimes the reliance on the best toy to move your story forward can be nice, but those things can fade.
You have already worked with the Outward team on the short film Who Brought The Coatstand? Can you tell us about your experience working with us and being part of the network?
You really trust me with this question? It could all go downhill from here. Part of me loves this question because actors talking publicly about projects they’ve been a part of, couldn’t slam a project even if they wanted to out of respect and also that they want to work again. So it is an interesting question to get but I can honestly say this project was one of the really good ones. Working on a script with such depth, written so well by David Woods, I was looking forward to it. It wasn’t initially something I read that I thought I would be right for, but thankfully I was given the role of Sadiq. I got to act opposite David Claridge who just nailed his performance; I think it made me a better actor. As well as working with Matthew Simmonds who directed the short. I would easily in a heartbeat work with everyone again who was involved, which has now actually happened, working with Neil Parmar on a short film (A Reasonable Man). I was sick doing “Who Brought the Coatstand?” and it annoyed the hell out of me but being surrounded by people who were dedicated to doing the film right was enough to give it all I could. Being a part of this network through this project is exciting because it is about putting yourself out there while you have the time, no excuses, you try making the best art you can. First and foremost, the art is what draws you in. Also that it will be cherished by talented artists doing the best they can and hopefully enjoying it. The projects coming up through the network I look forward to seeing for sure. I really hope to do more projects with Outward.
How important is fame and celebrity to being an actor?
Well you can have people who aren’t even actors getting roles and they themselves would say that acting isn’t really their passion. They’ll get the roles that people spend their entire lives training for. It seems to be very important that you have a certain level of fame. If you’re not talented and everyone knows you’re not talented, it can still get the job done if you have charm and you look good. It’s probably the more annoying part with this industry, talent not being the most important thing; it’s about star power as this business is about making money. It’s something for me that I hope never ever to focus on. It’s a part of what I liked about doing “Who Brought the Coatstand?”getting rid of all the noise that detracts from art. Not having it be about fame or money or twitter followers, just having the focus on doing the best job possible for the love of film. Not money, not fame but storytelling. As an actor I hope to never be thinking about celebrity, it could come for sure but I just hope to be good, I could be famous but for being a terrible actor and I wouldn’t want that. Of course people will have their opinions no matter what, but for me, I want to have left a project knowing I did everything possible to do my role justice. I know for sure with every role I get I’m lucky because there are so many people that could’ve taken it. I might see their interpretation of a character I would play and like that more than anything I would do. So in that I owe the director everything to make sure I leave everything on the table, I’m being trusted with something that’s not mine so I have to honour that and if I come up short, I feel it wrecks me and I feel like I let people down. All that means more to me than being famous, than being a celebrity and I have to stay focused on being part of great projects. Whatever comes will come but that’s the key to pushing me as an actor, so I hope never to lose sight of that.
Michael will also be appearing in a new TV series called Print, produced by Coalescent Films. Find out more here.
See Michael in A Reasonable Man, directed by Neil Parmar here.