Michael Abbott Jr is a talented actor who has been in the industry for years and has acted in various platforms.
Being a graduate of The North Carolina School of the Arts Drama School, he has appeared in numerous stage productions in New York and in productions across the country in some of the nations most prestigious regional theatres.
Abbott Jr is also a proud member of John Houseman’s Tony-honoured, Acting Company and made his feature film debut in writer and director Jeff Nichol’s debut feature film Shotgun Stories in 2007.
His forthcoming venture The Death of Dick Long is his first major exposure in terms of acting in a studio-backed ‘commercial’ film.
Michael plays Zeke, one of three Alabama boys who are members of the band, Pink Freud.
One night after band practise, they get up to some mischief… Or in the words of Dick doing something ‘weird’.
We subsequently witness a late-night montage of shot-gunning beers, blasting cans with shotguns and launching fireworks from between their legs.
This is followed by a hard cut to a few hours later when Dick has been killed.
The authorities have not identified the body, but Zeke’s wife and his daughter get increasingly suspicious.
In a special interview with Filme Shilmy, Michael Abbott Jr opens up on The Death of Dick Long and his career.
How did the opportunity come about for you… What was your initial reaction like to the script?
I was contacted by one of the producers, Melodie Sisk, whom I had worked with previously.
She said there was a role in an A24 film she was working on that I absolutely HAD to play.
Melodie was instrumental in me even being considered for the role as the creative team already had their eyes set on some big names to play the part.
Throughout the course of a couple of weeks, I was self-taping scenes and submitting them.
Then I would get notes from Daniel and re-tape them applying the notes he had given. It was as much of a TDODL boot camp as it could be.
I was a huge A24 fan and an even bigger Swiss Army Man fan, so there was no way in hell I was going to let them NOT cast me.
Your character Zeke is dorky, irrational and constantly conflicted. What was the main reference point for you as an actor to portray the part?
The role for me was really based on lies; the lies people tell to keep themselves from being “found out”.
The extremes people will go to keep a secret.
I think to a certain extent, Zeke has so many lies circling his orbit in order to keep his world from crumbling around him, that he starts to believe a lot of those lies.
The lies become his truth.
Given that you’re from Tennessee, how challenging was it to adapt the Alabama style of speech and mannerism?
I’m from Tennessee originally, but I’ve been a New Yorker for 20 years. I’ve lived in NYC longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life.
We shot the film in Alabama (where it takes place and where Daniel is from) and I think that decision was crucial.
The environment, the culture, the people—they all become their own characters within the story and bring a real sense of authenticity to it.
When I get around people from the south and submerge myself into a small community like that—the accent and speech patterns come flowing right back. It’s like riding a bike.
Director Daniel Scheinert knows how to bring the raw emotions out of his actors. What was your camaraderie like with him?
Daniel is like an idiot genius. Every day of shooting was like recess. He brings a childlike sense of play to every scene and every shot.
He’s really an actor’s dream in terms of working within a partnership.
There was an intense feeling of solidarity on set every day. Complete with periodic dance parties and sing-alongs!
What is the most ‘weird’ thing you’ve ever done?
I went to a classical drama conservatory training program for college—so anything I did (in OR out of class) while I was there would probably be considered “weird” by most of the general population.
The film certainly is not for the faint-hearted. What ‘advice’ would you give to them whilst watching it?
I would implore them NOT to read anything about the film online prior to seeing it.
This will be one of those experiences that will only be enhanced by the less you know going into it.
Be ready to get weird and be ready to rock.
You’ve been in the industry for many years now, but Dick Long seems to be your most mainstream/commercial film yet. How difficult has it been to breakthrough?
This is certainly my biggest role in a studio-backed project.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic actors and directors over the years, even on smaller budgeted films.
This industry is relentless.
The turnover rate is quite high. I feel like the trick to survival is you have to have staying power.
You have to learn to appreciate the feeling of being told “no thank you” or “we’re going another way.”
You have to get to a point in your life where you’re able to relinquish yourself of any feeling of defeat and accept that this beast is out of your control.
I don’t even know that I’m there yet.
All you can do is choose projects that make you happy, do good work, and love the people around you.
I’m not sure what a “breakthrough” is. I’m pretty sure I don’t want one. I like walking around the streets of NYC in relative obscurity.
If I wanted a “breakthrough” I think I would have moved to LA, gotten a tan, and threaded my eyebrows.
With so many talented actors in the industry, how do you feel about the word ‘competition’?
I think ‘competition’ is a word best suited for programs like The Bachelor and Shark Tank. Your job as an actor is to know what tools you bring to the job and what your skillset is.
Hone your craft and be the best craftsman you can be until someone notices.
The trick is getting them to notice. That’s where you have to get creative as an actor.
Finally, what’s next for you after this film?
I have a psychological thriller coming out later this year called The Dark and The Wicked, written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers, The Monster) that I’m excited for people to see.
We shot it down in Texas earlier this year.
Marin Ireland and I are playing siblings on screen for a second time.
I’m also in pre-production on a film that starts shooting next month in Georgia that I’m really stoked about too.
Here’s wishing Michael Abbott Jr all the very best for his current and future projects.
We managed to watch The Death Of Dick Long at Sundance Film Festival London. Read our review here!