Michael Paré has been lighting up the screen for well over three decades with a plethora of eclectic roles. His latest project, ‘Traded,’ is every bit as ambitious as his earlier work. The gritty drama teams him once again with director Timothy Woodward Jr. (Weaponized, 4Got10). Michael Paré stars alongside ultra-talented, country music star Trace Adkins (The Virginian, The Lincoln Lawyer) and Country Music Hall of Famer, Golden Globe®-winner and American icon Kris Kristofferson. ‘Traded’ features an all-star supporting cast in the form of Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid trilogy), Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) and, in her theatrical debut, Kris’ daughter, Kelly Kristofferson.
The film is set in 1880s Kansas, where sharpshooter turned rancher, Clay Travis (Paré), goes from happily married father of two to a man on a mission after the disappearance of his 17 year-old daughter, Lily. Determined to protect what little family he has left, Clay leaves his quiet ranch and heads to Wichita where, after confronting the ruthless Ty Stover (Adkins), he discovers that Lily’s been traded away into an underground sex ring in Dodge City. And it’s there, with the help of an unlikely companion — hardened old barkeep Billy (Kristofferson) — that Clay makes a stand to bring his daughter home, leaving a trail of gunsmoke and bodies in his wake.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Michael Paré to get a glimpse inside his legendary career, his secret to his longevity as working actor and his process for bringing his latest character from script to screen.
You are a familiar face to fans of television and film. I want to jump back to the start of your career. What attracted you to the world of acting?
Ya know, in a way, I was kind of selected. My first agent was a girl named Yvette Bikoff and she was a talent agent for Jolie Models in New York. Her and I hung out in the same bar on Columbus Avenue, around 1978 and 1979. She started chatting me up and telling me that I should try acting. I was working as a chef and had gone to The Culinary Institute of America, so I had a great career laid out before me. When she said she would pay for my classes during the day and it wouldn’t interfere with my straight job, I thought I would give it a try! My first class was at Carnegie Hall with a guy named Robert Modica, he taught the Meisner Method. After my first class, I thought to myself, “Wow! I can do this! It is not just for a few special people.” I studied for about a year-and-a-half and then I auditioned for George Selznick, who was casting for ABC’s talent development program at the time and I got it! I got the gig! She took Ann Jillian, Ted McGinley and myself. We all came to Los Angeles and I did “The Greatest American Hero.” Ted went onto, I think, “Happy Days,” and Ann got a sitcom. I think everybody who grew up when I did, baby bombers, saw movie stars as our royalty. They were our cool people and our role models. Those were the guys!
You made an amazing career for yourself. Is there a secret to your longevity?
I think I am pretty crafty. I am a pretty good actor and I have never stopped studying. I still go to class! I think the ability to surrender to the role and the director makes me very easy to work with. I commit to the part and I love my job! I love acting and being in the movies and on television. I don’t know what to say, I guess I must be pretty good at it.
A lot of people would agree! We came together today to talk about your latest project, “Traded.” It’s a great film and you are great in it. How did this come to you and what attracted you to the role?
I have made a couple of movies with Timothy Woodward Jr. and from the moment we first worked together he said, “I’m going to find something special for us to do.” He had done four or five action movies and became kind of respectable to the distributor, Cinedigm. They decided to wonder what kind of movies Tim wanted to make and he said he wanted to make a western. When they agreed to do that, he went through the normal list of approved actors. Then he came to me and said, “Mike, I am really going to push for you to get this.” I think every actor wants to do a western. I would love to do another one! It is a classic American genre and it seems like Americana is selling around the world all of a sudden. The American culture is selling and there are a bunch of westerns being made. I jumped at the chance to do it! When Tim sent me the script, I was ready to play any role in it. He said, “I want you to play Clay Travis.” I said yes immediately and just threw myself into it. It is a classic story, especially for the western. He got a great production company and they brought in all the horses and wagons. We were able to go to the best western towns in California. Everyone who came on the set was like, “Wow! We are making a western!” Tim got hooked up with this great DP, a cinematographer named Pablo Diaz. Tim and I had this idea that if you are going to do a western, the cinematography is really important, so having Pablo along was key. That is how it came together.
It has to be a bit of a mind-scramble to step back into the past with a film like this. What is it like to go back to a simple time as you are surrounded by horses and wagons in a small western town?
Ya know, I have ridden horses in about three different movies and in this one I got a warm up to be doing all the stuff on the horse. It took about a week. We had a great wrangler who teaches polo, so he had a lot of insight that I had never heard before about how to handle a horse and control them. That was a big thing. Tim and I came up with this thought that keeps you in that time frame. Cowboys don’t live by the clock, they live by the calendar. It slows everything down and there is no rush. They aren’t thinking about an hour-and-a-half from now. They have sunrise, noon, sundown and then they do it all again. It keeps you in place. Plus, you don’t have your cellphones on set and you have to revert to a time where you didn’t have so many choices and life was much simpler. It is a wonderful time to fall into. It was much easier to be human being. This globalization thing — Wow! Competing with 7 billion people is a lot harder than living out on the plains and maybe being with 100 people who lived within a day’s ride. That is pretty heavy when you think about it!
What was the biggest challenge you faced with the role and what did you bring to it that wasn’t on the written page?
Well, there is the purity of the character. It is something that is not really on the page. Before the story starts, Clay was a gunfighter for hire. When the railroad was going through, in order to clear the way, they hired a bunch of gunfighters to go in and take care of anybody who was a problem and didn’t want the railroad to go through. This is historically correct. I kind of played him like a Vietnam veteran — a guy who comes home and is not sure if what he was doing was the right thing anymore. Living out there on my ranch with my wife and adopted daughter and my son, I’m OK with myself, although the rest of the world may not be. That inner conflict is going on and I know I’m OK but the rest of the world might call me a fuckin’ gunfighter and a killer but what I was doing was right.
Looking back on your career, how have you evolved as an actor?
Ya know, in the beginning, you are not quite sure if the craft is working for you, if you really know what you are doing. It has been a long time, so if I pick up a script and like the role, I know exactly what to do with it. When I was young, I was looking for a lot more direction and confirmation that my choices were right. Now, I am pretty sure that most of my choices are right. For example, working with Tim, I came in with it about 90% complete and he put the finishing touches on certain things, whereas earlier on in my career, I was really hoping the director would say after every take, “Oh, that was good!” Or, “No, we have to do this … ” Now, I am looking for that fine polish and not for general directions!
That is awesome! I know our time is short, so I want to thank you for your time today, Michael. It is a pleasure and keep up the amazing work!
Thank you, Jason! Thank you very much!
‘Traded’ debuts theatrically on June 10th in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. The film will be available Day-and-Date On Demand & Digital HD the same day!