By: Judy Shields
Hollywood, California (The Hollywood Times) 2/11/2020
THT: Share your background?
Michelle Danner: I was born in New York. At a young age my father was asked by the William Morris Agency to open an office in Paris off the Champs-Élysées so I grew up in Paris. I had a great childhood surrounded by museums and French culture. I traveled all over Europe where I was exposed to wonderful playwrights. I studied at the Conservatoire of Paris. I moved back to New York when I was 14 and continued my education studying with acting teachers like Stella Adler, Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof. I was always passionate about going to the theatre and museums.
THT: Did you learn the language?
Michelle Danner: Yes, I speak five languages fluently, French being one of them. I also speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English.
THT: Have you experienced struggles as an acting coach?
Michelle Danner: I have taught for over 30 years and it’s still scary. I have had many amazing students and I’m always thrilled when they achieve success. It’s enormously rewarding and one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching acting. I think one of my struggles is trying to impart a certain work ethic in the new generation. It takes time to learn a craft and you must be patient. Everyone wants the school of fast food, quick, quick! There are things that take time to learn and you need to understand the process and not associate it with something that is tedious. It sounds painful and laborious, but that is the joy of the ride, not the destination.
THT: Did your upbringing influence your desire to teach acting?
Michelle Danner: Absolutely. I was probably born to be a teacher because I was always an avid reader and loved going to the theatre and movies. It seemed like a natural progression to pass it down and share it.
THT: How old were you when you discovered your love for cinema?
Michelle Danner: I always loved cinema and being raised in Paris, I would go see films by Jean Renoir and Jean Cocteau. When I moved to the United States I would see three or four films a day. I love filmmaking and theatre, too, and now television is not a dirty word. I’m not talking about reality TV shows, I’m talking about wonderfully produced television shows that are often works of art such as “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Handmaids Tale,” or “Ozark”. These are beautifully crafted shows. I am fascinated by every medium.
THT: When did you get your first break to direct a film?
Michelle Danner: I got my first break 20 years ago, and I am now on my fifth feature film. I just completed The Runner. I am currently in the process of editing the film. My prior film, Bad Impulse, a psychological thriller with horror and supernatural elements, will premiere at the Chinese Theatre at the end of February and will hopefully be released US wide a few months later. I have gone from one film project to the next. I have done short films and documentaries. I am really excited about telling stories that potentially can be seen by many people. When you make a film, you are playing it to the biggest classroom you can.
THT: Can you tell us a little about Bad Impulse?
Michelle Danner: The cast is an extraordinary group of actors, from Australian actor Grant Bowler to the wonderful actress Sonya Walger and a whole generation of young actors. We also have Paul Sorvino and James Landry Hebert, who has a memorable part in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. The writer was inspired by The Shining. The film explores big brother and security systems. If you saw Black Mirrors, you will like this a great deal because it is similar. It is very edgy and rollercoaster-like and I’m told it’s really scary. It’s pretty crazy that I would make a scary film! Jason Chase Tyrrell wrote a great screenplay. Sandra Valde-Hansen was our fantastic cinematographer. I think people are going to enjoy the ride. We have been screening it at film festivals and have won three Best Feature Film awards and Best Director.
THT: What is the best advice you ever received?
Michelle Danner: The best advice was from my father. He said to not be in a hurry achieve your goals. This addresses what I mentioned previously—be patient! When I was younger, I was very impatient. You don’t have to put yourself though all that anxiety, you are going to get there. I sometimes feel I have this big to do list and that everything has to get done now! I just have to pause, take a breath and remember my father’s words.
THT: Which film are you most proud of?
Michelle Danner: With every film I make, I try to raise the bar and learn from the previous one. The film I just finished, The Runner, is going to be the best. But I have also explored different genres. My first film How to go Out on a Date in Queens with Jason Alexander and Ron Perlman, was a romantic comedy. My second film, Hello Herman, was an intense drama starring Norman Reedus. My third film, The Bandit Hound, featured kids and dogs and starred Catherine Bell, Judd Nelson and Lou Ferrigno. Bad Impulse is a psychological thriller and, The Runner is a suspense action thriller. So with every film I have explored a different genre.
THT: What would people be surprised to know about you?
Michelle Danner: That I am actually very quiet. I like to be quiet, stay home and cook dinner for my kids and watch movies. Most people think I go out all the time, but I like peacefulness.
THT: You have two sons, are they following in your footsteps?
Michelle Danner: Oh yes! One of them is still too young but my other son is 17 and just graduating from high school. He is applying to film schools and has already won awards on the film festival circuit with a short film he made. I think he is more passionate about film than I am. He is watching and learning every single day. He is a sponge and has tons of ideas. He is passionate about storytelling.
THT: What is next for you?
Michelle Danner: If you love to tell stories, you have to tell them. An opportunity came my way to work with Anne Archer on a play about Norman Mailer’s sixth wife, Norris Church Mailer. Norris wrote a memoir called A Ticket to the Circus and it was adapted by a wonderful writer named Bonnie Culver. I am directing Anne in this one-woman show. It will open May 2nd at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica. We are currently in rehearsals. It is going to be really special. It gives a glimpse into the literal life and politics of Norman Mailer and the sixties.
We also have a film festival called Cinema at the Edge taking place at the Edgemar Theatre on February 21-23. We are going to screen 60 films from all over the world including narrative, documentaries, and short films.