One of the hardest working actors in show business, Mike Colter, has been on a hot streak in recent years. His big break came when he was cast in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ since then he has been seen in big blockbuster films like ‘Salt’ alongside Angelina Jolie, and ‘Men In Black III’ where he plays Colonel James Edward II, father to Will Smith’s Agent J. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride for this determined young actor. With plenty of irons in the fire with roles on some of today’s biggest television series, it is Colter’s dedication to his craft and powerful performances that are turning the heads of critics and fans alike.
Most recently, Mike has made a splash in television as a recurring guest star in CBS’s critically acclaimed drama “The Good Wife;” where he plays the powerful Lemond Bishop. He is set to return to the series this year and causes quite a stir in the lives of Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner. In addition, he is guest recurring on the EMMY and Golden Globe Nominated mini-series “American Horror Story: Coven;” where he plays an executive of a powerful company and witch hunter alongside Jessica Lange and Angela Basset. His character is the favorite and right hand man of Hank’s father, head witch hunter. Mike is also known for his recurring role on “The Following” alongside Kevin Bacon and his series regular turn in the short lived “Ringer” with Sarah Michelle Gellar.
In the film forefront, Mike is currently filming the lead role of ‘Charlie Walker’ in ‘America is Still The Place.’ Written and directed by Patrick Gilles (Olive), the film is based on the book, of the same name, by Charlie Walker. The film describes the true events that occurred in Walker’s life when he is hired by Tower Oil to clean up the oil left on Stinson Beach after a tanker collision near Golden Gate Bridge and the racial animosity this caused during the 1970’s. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this dynamic actor to discuss his career, his current television roles, upcoming film project and much more!
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. How did you get started on your journey and what made you pursue it as a career?
I got started on my ” journey,” literally, when I was drove to NYC in 1998 to audition for URTA. This was my first time in NYC and it was everything that I thought it would be. I remember always telling my college buddies what I was going to do and based feedback from faculty and friends in college I felt I could definitely pursue it as a career. It’s funny no one ever told “No.” or “You’re crazy!”
Who would you cite as your biggest influences or inspirations along the way?
There are so many. I never talk about it much but my mom wanted to be an actress. To think she never got her chance to pursue her dream makes me feel in some small way she lives it vicariously through me. I have a strong desire to make her proud. We talked about it a lot when I was very young.
What has kept you inspired through the years?
Truth be told my wife has compelled me to press on. She has a very critical eye and has been always honest with me. I have doubted myself along the way and it was her who reminded me that I had a place in this industry and had to press on. She said she would let me know when it was time to call it quits. I check in with her monthly. So far so good.
Many people recognize you from some very notable roles on television. The first one I wanted to touch on was “The Good Wife.” On the show you play Lemond Bishop. What was it about this character that intrigued you and made you pursue the role?
Well, the world of ‘The Good Wife’ is a very refined one. I feel like it is more relatable to that middle to upper class demographic. It’s a show for the educated professionals with life problems that are sometimes found in the show. I always wanted to play a bad guy, but I liked the idea that this guy wasn’t some street level hood. I look at him as a guy who could possess an legit MBA from top program who chose to ” diversify his portfolio ” with drugs. It makes for an interesting character.
What do you feel that you brought to the character that may not have been in the script originally?
I think I was able to foster the idea of him being a legitimate businessman that could go into a Fortune 500 company boardroom and feel at home, but walk out to his car and roll into the south side of Chicago and demand respect from the guy pushing his product on the corner. That duality gives the shows writers a range for writing juicy plots.
Are there elements of your own personality that the viewer may catch glimpses of through this character?
I have been told I’m a charmer. There are many ways to charm and I like them all. They say flattery gets you everywhere.
You are also part of the very talented cast of “American Horror Story: Coven.” What have some of the highlights been for you on this projects both on scene and behind the scenes on the set?
In front of the camera it was great being a part of an epic death scene. Behind the scenes, I’d say getting to know Michael Cristofer. He’s got a great sense of humor and is great writer as well.
This show has a tremendous cast. Do you feel you have picked something up when it comes to your craft and working alongside this very talented group of people?
Always, Always, Always.. I learn from people all the time. They say in baseball if you’re not cheating you’re not trying. I say in acting if you’re not learning, you’re not listening.
What do you consider the your personal highlight of your time on the series?
I’d say sharing the screen with the legendary Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding part about that project?
Doing everything so darn fast. Show up on set down in New Orleans with very little info about the character and arrive to find out that you’re not really in corporate employee but really a witch hunter… Nice!
If you had it your way, where do you hope to see both of these unique characters heading in the future?
I hope “American Horror Story” resurrects David from the dead and I hope Lemond Bishop rides off into the sunset.
The films and shows you have been a part of don’t easily fall into one genre, which is something I find very cool. It parallels you career in that way. What do you find yourself looking for in the characters you play these days?
I’m always looking to play smart characters. I like being able to use what comes natural to me which. I’m a bit if thinker and I ponder things all the time. I want my characters to have that in common, the rest is flexible. Especially the world in which they reside
You have been hard at work on a new film project called “America Is Still The Place” How did you get involved initially and what can you tell us about the character you play?
My representation got the script to me and I read it two days later. The first paragraph of the script grabbed me and it never let go. The character is an Everyman kind if character that any in can relate to. He is tenacious and driven at a time where things did not come so easily for a black man. It’s set in 1971 and based on a book by the same name. This fills two needs I had, playing a an Everyman character and doing a biopic.
Whether it is this project or another, do you have a particular process for bringing a character from the script to the screen?
Yeah, for me it’s getting tapped into their POV or Point of View. It is the most essential part of the process for me. Then the physicality and dress etc.
The film is written and directed by Patrick Gilles. What are your recollections of meeting him for the first time?
He came out into the hall to meet me which was very comforting and inviting. We stepped in it the room along with the casting director ( Robin Lippin) and riffed passionately for over an hour about his script that I really loved.
What does he bring to the table for a project like this and what might have you learned from your time together?
He is keenly aware of the subject matter in the film and has a clear vision of this story. His instincts are great and he is a people person like myself. He gets the human condition and likes to collaborate. It’s been great working with him, regardless of how this plays out. The process has exceeded expectation.
Your career has been and continues to be very diverse. Is there a particular type of film or genre that you are anxious to tackle in the future?
Yeah I’d like to play a teacher or a preacher. Don’t ask me why because I’m not exactly sure other than I know I can tap into their POV and that’s all I need. There’s plenty of room for experimenting with either character.
When it comes to your craft, evolution is the name of the game. How do you feel you have evolved as an actor through the years?
I trust myself a lot more now than before. That comes with experience and just getting older.
You have been part of many wonderful productions and have really been making a name for yourself. If a lesson can be learned from your life and times, what would it be?
This occupation is a game of attrition not a sprint. Take your time, don’t press.
What other projects are on the horizon that have you excited?
I’m so all in on America is still the place that I haven’t really come up for air. It’s hard to look forward right now, but hopefully back to some interesting TV that shoots in LA. It’d be nice to sleep in my own bed for a while.
Do you have any plans or aspirations to pursuing aspects of your career behind the camera… be it writing or directing at some point?
Yes. I have a couple projects written that are very viable but it’s a process and I think as time passes opportunity to make them will be more tangible. The directing can wait until I learn a little more about shit selection.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring filmmakers and actors?
Don’t burn bridges and stay humble. No one likes a jerk around and eventually they will find a way to stay clear of you no matter how famous, powerful or talented you think you are.
Thank you for your time, Mike! Can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!