A question I get a lot is, “when did you first start acting?” I’m never exactly sure how to answer. But it seems like an important question, so I’ll try here.
My first time on screen was an episode of Stargate SG1. I played a character simply named “Guardsman.” My lines were, “There’s no one here sir. Yes sir,” and I think the only real acting I did that day was acting like I wasn’t terrified of a whole new process.
But, that’s not really at all when I started acting. That wasn’t even the first time I was paid to act. The first time I was paid to act was when I did a show called Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding. For those that don’t know, it was a dinner theatre experience where the audience got to be the guests at a zany wedding. Over the course of the year I was with the Vancouver production I played many of the male characters. But mostly I played the jilted ex-lover. It was an archetype I would later reprise a few times in the years that followed. When you’re not quite famous enough to play the guy who gets the girl, jilted ex isn’t a bad gig.
That wasn’t how I started acting either. Before that was the first play I did as an adult who had decided that acting would be his profession. I didn’t get paid for it, but my first time on stage in a
serious way was in a play called Birdbath by Leonard Melfie. It was directed by James Purcell, a man who had been a professional actor for many years and would become my first mentor. Among many other things, he taught me the value of creating your own opportunities on stage. That’s something I hold with me to this day and it was one of the reasons I would form a theatre company years later, to keep sharp between paid gigs and, more importantly, to remind myself of the absolute joy of being an actor.
Of course, I was acting before that. There were the plays in high school. The only thing I took seriously in high school was the theatre program. In grade ten I played so many dads that the rest of the class took to calling me “dad.” Later, even as I started to drift away from the rest of school on a somewhat troubled path, the theatre teachers would try to pull me back by making me a teacher’s assistant. A kindness that makes me stop and thank Ms. Tomlinson and Ms. Conrad to this day.
Before that though, I played the Russian delegate during our Olympic ceremony in grade five. Even before that I was a sailor in my grade school’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.
Even that isn’t my earliest memory of acting. There was the house party when I was young where all us kids gathered in a bedroom upstairs. As the adults partied below, I performed upstairs, creating a show out of bits and pieces of comedy specials I’d seen. Then there’s the photos of me in a school play while at Carden Elementary in Malibu. Even before that I remember immersing myself fully in pretend worlds. Those are some of my earliest memories of this life.
So I guess the answer to the question: “How long have you been acting?” is always. I’ve always been acting. I’ve always been an actor and, the universe willing, I’ll always be one.
Michael Karl Richards was born in British Columbia, Canada and raised in both BC and Southern California. With a foundation built in large part on his training at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Michael prides himself on being active not just on the small (Chesapeake Shores, Supernatural, etc.) and large (2012, Overboard, etc.) screen, but also on the stage.