Shulman Is All 'Sherman's Way'
At only 27 years old, the incredibly versatile Michael Shulman already has a resume that would be the envy of most actors twice his age. He has been acting since age eight, winning his first major stage role on his very first audition. Since then he has conquered an array of complex, nuanced characters with a fresh, instinctive approach inspired by his idol Dustin Hoffman, appearing in everything from the hit TV show Party of Five to the searing new off-Broadway play, White People by J.T. Rogers.
His new production company, Starry Night, Shulman and producing partner Craig Saavedra will soon debut their first feature project, Sherman's Way, in early March, which reunites him with his Party of Five co-star Lacey Chabert. Shulman both produces and stars. I spoke to Shulman the week before he was finishing up White People and we spoke about the show and his new film.
TJ: You new film, Sherman's Way...this is from your new production company, Starry Night.
SHULMAN: That's right. Starry Night was started, as the name kind of suggests, as I went to Yale and was an Art History major. I decided to take some time off from acting and go to college and learn the other side of art. So, I took all these classes in art and music and literature. And one of my favorite paintings in Starry Night, which is at MOMA and formed this company with my producing partner who is based in LA and I am based in New York. Sherman's Way is our first film and it's very exciting that it's coming out as it's been traveling the festival circuit for a year. It's great that it will finally be going in front of movie-going audiences on March 6th. It will be a lot of fun!
TJ: You not only produced it but you are starring in it as well?
SHULMAN: Yes, I did. The story is largely based on myself and my producing partner. To kind of sum it up, Craig, who is producer and director, and I decided to make a little movie, which he would direct and I would be in it. We started looking at all these scripts and we really couldn't find anything. It wasn't like we were getting the top of the line crème de la crème scripts...we were getting scripts we could find.
Well, as it happens, we took a road trip when I flew out to California and we went up to Napa Valley. We were in this convertible and Craig, who is an older guy in his forties, and I were talking and he is looking at the incredible scenery saying, "Oh my god! I can't believe how beautiful this is!" And I'm looking at my cell phone because I can't find reception. And we realized that's a story! One guy who is so in love with nature and appreciates all the fine natures of life and the other guy who is so tied to the fast-paced life in New York City that all he is worried about is being able to get a phone call or make a phone call or get his e-mail.
So, we realized that the story was really about us and we pitched it to a writer, one of Craig's close friends, who wrote the script. It became this movie, Sherman's Way, which is kind of a buddy picture with a love story twist about these two guys who are totally different and end up on this road trip through Napa Valley and both teach each other parts about life. In the process, I meet a girl who kind of changes my life.
My character, Sherman, discovers that life is about the journey and not the destination. So, it's very much a story about appreciating each detour along the way on the road of life. It's something that I have learned through being an actor and spending time in different places and growing up in New York, which is so fast paced and wanting everything to happen now. I went to a school where I was the only actor and and everyone else wanted to do the businessman and lawyer route. It's New York and you're trying to figure out how to do it on your own. It's a story that's very close to me.
TJ: It's very funny...and familiar...hearing you talk about the cell phone and the e-mail situation.
SHULMAN: Little did I realize that we would end up filming the movie just north of Napa Valley at this place called Lake County, California, where there was literally no cell phone reception and no internet. I was in a cabin in the woods for four weeks where the restaurants closed at 6PM, not opened, but closed! To film this movie, for me, was the ultimate getting into my character. I spent my entire life in New York City and filming this movie, I learned how to drive a stick shift. I learned how to climb a tree, which no one realized I had no idea how to climb a tree. I mean, who climbs a tree in Central Park?? I learned how to do all these things just from filming this movie. And that's kind of the story of the movie too and having the summer of your life out of your comfort zone.
Filming itself was out of my comfort zone...there were bugs everywhere...it was 120 degrees. At one point, I get thrown in a swamp in the middle of the movie, which was supposed to be this beautiful, beautiful lake. But because the temperature was so high, right before we started filming the scene, the algae in the water just sort of blossomed or whatever you call it and the entire lake turned green. I stepped onto the dock and there were tarantulas everywhere and everyone knows that I am totally freaking out. My co-star said to me, "Dude, don't do it. There are leeches in the lake." And I am like, "There are leeches in the lake??" He said, "If you can see what's at the bottom of the lake, don't do it."