Michael Kopelow is an actor, writer and musician best known for his roles in The Stoned Age, Don't Tell Mom The Babysitters Dead and Point Break. He plays the lead role in the new sci-fi thriller/dark comedy Counter Clockwise which he co-wrote with director George Moïse. We sat down with Michael to talk about his love of acting, starring in The Stoned Age, music and the 3 years that went into making Counter Clockwise.
CMM-How did you get into acting and who inspired you to be an actor growing up?
Michael-Well it started in high school. I think 11th grade. After a meeting with my counselor, he told me that I needed to take more electives under the 'fine arts' category in order to accumulate enough credits to graduate. A friend suggested/convinced me to join drama class with him. I thought it would be lame but after our first exercise, which was coming up with a creative way to introduce ourselves to the class, I nervously said my name then faked a sneeze and a huge fake hanging snot rocket shot out of my nose. Half of the class was grossed out the other laughed.. I immediately realized 'in here' the shit that would normally get me kicked out of class, I’m actually asked to do.. I realized, this is the place for me and I dove in head first. My grades were not good enough to be in the plays at first so I wrote and directed for the high school theatre festivals. I got my grades up and was allowed to perform. I continued to write, direct and perform after graduation. I got into acting classes at night and trained and trained and got involved in as many plays, musicals and classes as I could. Eventually it led me to Cal Arts. I was doing a play off campus in Hollywood and an agent just happen to catch a performance. She dug me and wanted to sign me. After I realized she was legit, I took a leave of absence from Cal Arts and started auditioning, meanwhile I was also in a production of the musical Hair. I soon booked Don't Tell Mom The Baby Sitters Dead & Point Break and so on.
I never saw myself as an actor growing up. Music was my thing. I remember being fascinated with comedy, animation and fantasy movies. I guess I didn't realize it at the time but I have to say it was people like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, Twilight Zone & endless movies and certain roles by numerous great actors over the years that really just hit me and inspired me. Still do. I've never really had a favorite actor or was driven to be like any one in particular. Its always been a collective. Maybe because when I was growing up and watching movies & t.v, I never really saw any one like me out there. If there just so happen to be a red head in a role, he was usually picked on or was a clown or purposely made out to be the ugly freak that doesn't get the pretty girl or he was the brunt of jokes. I was like why would I want to subject myself to that shit. I can get that in life. In studying and in the Theater the stereotypes didn't really exist for me. It's the experience of doing it, the feeling I get from it still and working with or witnessing great performances from other actors that drives me and inspires me. Sound cliche but it's the work.
CMM-Some of your earliest roles where in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead and Point Break. What led you to being cast in those films and what was life like being a young actor in Hollywood in the early 90's?
Michael-Well, Don't Tell Mom was my first film and maybe my first audition. They kept bringing me back for the part of Kenny like 3 or 4 times but they offered it to Keith Coogan who was actually a buddy of mine at the time. I'm not a 100% on this but while we were filming Don't Tell Mom, Point Break director Kathryne Bigelow was on set one night and that somehow ended up in me auditioning for her a few days or weeks later. She basically hired me in the audition. She just strait up asked me -"so you wana do this?".. Of course I said yes but I had no idea what the movie even was or who was in it. Then I read it and saw the cast list and was like holly shit!
Being a young actor in the 90's was strange for me. I was always torn between some band I was in, or some play or musical and then movies came into the picture. I kinda made it a point to avoid any kinda Hollywood scene and I was like 19/20 years old and lived in the 'Valley'. I knew a lot of those other actors from acting classes but didn't really associate with many of them. It was more so I’d see them around from a friend of a friends thing. I remember seeing certain 'famous' young actors hanging round late night diners and certain party's, eventually bars and gigs but to be honest a lot of them acted like bozos and were just loud & obnoxious and had a kind of elitist attitude. It wasn't so much directed toward me because at the time I was so called 'one of them' because I was in a few movies. It was more how they treated everyone else who wasn't. I didn't want to be associated with that shit. So for the most part I usually just hung out with friends or the dudes in whatever band I was in or a particular girl friend at the time. I will add, It did make getting into bars and getting drinks a lot easier!
CMM-Many people know you for your part as Joe in the 1994 cult film The Stoned Age. What are your memories of working on the film and do you think it served as a blue print for films that came later like She's All That, American Pie and Super Bad.
Michael-I have nothing but great memories from working on that film. It started off as a student film that Jim & Rich where doing at A.F.I. It was amazing to see it go from a student film to an actual Film Film and get to play the role of Joe during each of its incarnations. There was just something special about it even when it was a short. I remember thinking during the first few days of production that they were for sure gonna replace me. That there is no way they are actually gonna go through with this and let me play the lead. Really glad they did.
As far as it being a blue print. That's a tough one. I never saw She's All That & I don't know what the creators of Super Bad and American Pie were thinking about during their process. I would be flattered to find out they had even seen The Stoned Age let alone it was an influence.. For me I think Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Animal House, Risky Business, Diner, kinda laid down the initial blue prints for most of these kinda genre films.
CMM-Your new film Counter Clockwise is being described as a sci-fi thriller/dark comedy. What is the film about and what was your process for making it?
Michael-The movie is about Ethan, a scientist (I play Ethan) who invents a teleporter. Something goes wrong with the teleporter and it turns into a time machine. It sends Ethan 6 months into the future. He discovers that his wife and his sister have both been brutally murdered and he is the main suspect in the murders.. He then has to use this machine to solve the mystery surrounding his life and the deaths of his wife and sister and deal with a twisted up side down dark world where he is being constantly chased.
The process was very in-depth. It took close to 3 years to make. It started when I read a draft that my writing partner George Moise sent me while I was working as a spokes person for Progressive motorcycle insurance at a motorcycle rally in Arkansas. There was something about it. I thought I could Produce it. He agreed and we did a re-write together. It went through a shit ton of re-writes, at times even while we were filming. I was working a lot traveling so we worked on it in spurts. We both pooled all our money and resources together and started a production company and dove in. At first I had no intention of playing the lead, that just seemed ridiculous with everything else I had on my plate with it. Also it wasn't a character that I even related to. It was suggested by our other Producer and editor who is the directors and my writing partners twin brother. I was very reluctant but from basically all stand points it made the most sense. It was insanely ambitious. At one point I was juggling the Lead, Producing, line producing, the business side, S.A.G, payroll, craft service, A.D. the list goes on and my buddy George took on Directing, D.P, Producing and an endless list that still continues. Making the movie went in phases and there are so many of them. At times we ran out of money and had to wait to continue. Every step of the way was done independently. George and I must have had over two hundred thousand conversations about what was the next thing we need to do and how the hell we were gonna do it. I never thought it would end. But it did.
CMM-When is it set to debut?
Michael-We were just accepted into our first film festival, the Action On Film festival Sept 18th-24th. We don’t have a date yet for our screening. We’re gonna use this opportunity as kind of a soft debut. I imagine soon after we will do an independent premier here in L.A for cast, crew and everybody we know.. We don’t have a distribution deal yet so everything with it is still home grown.
CMM-You recorded some pretty amazing experimental soundscape music for the Counter Clockwise soundtrack. how much of it made it into the movie and what was the inspiration for the sounds you made?
Michael-Thanks man! The funny thing is absolutely none of those tracks made it in the final soundtrack. What seemed to work in the final and third or fourth attempt was a few drones I came up with. I wrote an entire soundtrack that would of worked for a horror film, then tried a sci- fi pass, even a traditional score. The director really had a vision for the film and I tried to come as close as I could to matching it. But the reality was none of the stuff I came up with really fit the vision. Besides trying to match certain references the director would send to me from other films ( try and come up with something like this) I wrote from the perspective of the characters and what they might be feeling in particular moments as well as what I thought the audience should feel at that particular moment, be it empathy, fear, amazement etc. Soundtracks have always been my favorite part of the movie. Its the character not seen but heard in every scene.
CMM-What type of gear did you use to make the recordings?
Michael-Mostly a midi keyboard into my imac into Logic. I have a baby grand and several guitars but didn't use them much. I used a lot of live recorded sounds like a real train passing by or industrial ambiance. I'm really into messing around with effects and processors until I get something unique.
CMM-I hear your a pretty accomplished drummer. How long have you been playing and are you currently involved in any bands?
Michael-I’ve been playing drums since I was like 12. Had a short stint at P.I.T (percussion institute of technology) then initially went to Cal Arts for percussion and music composition but switched majors to Theatre after a year of that. The last band I was in as a drummer was a country band called Tennessee Trouble about 3 years ago. I left due to no time between the spokesperson gig at motorcycle rallies and making the movie.
CMM-What's the first music you remember hearing as a child and who are some of your all time favorite bands?
Michael-The first music I remember hearing in my house was Neil Diamond and Elton John as well as John Denver, Cat Stevens and Barry Manilow. My Favorite bands/artist are Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, The Meters, Dr. John, ACDC, Muddy Waters, Rush, Miles Davis, Tool, Soundgarden, Rage, Beastie Boys. There’s really too many to mention and I like so many different styles of music.
CMM-Any new bands you recommend checking out?
Michael-A few come to mind when I find myself in a bar with a juke box, I usually play a few songs from The Heavy, Gary Clark Jr., Rival Sons. They aren't necessarily new but they are to me.
CMM-What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the film industry in the last several years?
Michael-The biggest is technology. We couldn't of made the movie we just made 7 years ago for the amount we spent on it. What you can achieve visually, sound wise as well as the multiple other factors that go into film making is just astonishing. It’s wide open now. People are making films on their phones. I think the industry is kinda split into two at the moment and still going through a kinda growing pain stage with this sorta everyone has access to media and creating it. On one hand were in a phase of comic book, huge budget, blockbuster, wow factor, effects up to the neck, huge production, thrill ride experience films. Then you got the guys who just shot one with a phone and a go pro in their back yard. To me it’s about, no matter how much money or technologically advanced we get, you need a world that your bringing your audience into and a story that has characters and circumstances that interest them or that they can emotionally connect with and care about. Technology and money cant make up for the lack of that, it can only enhance what you all ready have on the page.
CMM-Have you been working on any new scripts since the completion of Counter Clockwise? Any other projects your working on?
Michael-Yes we have a script ready to go called Problems With Girls. A coming of age comedy about dating and the conflicts that arise when your trying to find a girlfriend and yourself at the same time. It's based loosely on some personal experience. I’m also working on a musical and we have a few other really cool diverse scripts being hammered out at the moment. Other than that I've been looking into projects to act in.
You can follow Michael on twitter @michaelkopelow For more info on the 11th Annual Action On Film Festival visit www.aoffest.com