BWW Interviews: Look Out Los Angeles, Here Comes the New Kid - Jemar Michael
It's a breezy spring morning on the patio of Spyhouse Coffee on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, and Jemar Michael is in the middle of explaining his exhibitionist behavior via social media. "I'm very comfortable with myself," says the actor leaning back in his chair. "I'm finally in a place where I'm confident. I worked hard for this body, and if I want to take my shirt off or take my clothes off, I will---I like it. I love my body and I love my booty."
The Minnesota native wasn't always as openly confident as he is today. Growing up, like all budding teenagers, he had a few insecurities. "High school and junior high were an awful time for me---I was fat and awkward," he says. "People were still friends with me, but I was also that friend you could make fun of and I wouldn't say anything. I was a pushover."
Back then, Michael also had a fascination with the Hollywood scene. He thought everyone was beautiful and everyone was a model. He knew he wanted to be a part of that world but it wasn't until he was fourteen that he truly realized he wanted to be an actor. "I saw the movie CRASH, and it just hit me really hard. I remember the way I felt after watching it, the way that it moved me, and how it sparked me to want to make films that move people or spark conversation."
Now, the 22-year-old, who already looks like he's perfected the act of "being incognito" dressed in a completely neutral clothing palate with his brown sweater, brown corduroy rimmed jacket and gold club masters, is making his feature film debut in DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, which opens this fall and did a majority of filming in various locations around Minnesota. "I remember when my agent called me and told me about it. I was like, there's a feature film being shot here [in Minnesota]---dope," he laughs. "I got the sides a couple days before the audition and researched the film. When I saw the YouTube clip, I knew it was gonna be huge. I knew I had to be a part of it."
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE follows the lives of four African-American students attending an Ivy League school when a riot breaks out over a controversial themed party. The film explores the idea of racial identity and tackles some of the issues facing "post-racial" America. In the film, Michael plays the outspoken, outlandish, super-hip Dreads---a role he only attempted for "shits and giggles" but managed to perfectly capture. "I only read for him once but had the room laughing. A couple days later, I got a call from my agent telling me they wanted me for the role," he says.
While some viewers may find a bit of the material in the film un-relatable, for Michael much of it fell pretty close to home. "Growing up as a mixed kid, I had both spectrums. I was dealing with the white kids and the black kids. I never really saw color and I never really cared to see color," he says matter-of-factly. "And I can relate to a lot to the film because some of the stuff that happens, has actually happened to me."
In addition to his work on DEAR WHITE PEOPLE and other various film projects, the CAL Arts semi-student---he went for the first two years, to perfect his Shakespeare skills---has also done a fair share of live theatre, including HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and yes, even a Shakespearean treasure, RICHARD III. Most recently, he took the stage alongside some of the Twin Cities most respected theatre performers in Theater Latte Da's critically praised production of CABARET, the well-known musical about the rise the Nazi party, as a Victor the Kit-Kat boy.
These days, Michael is focused on the next big phase of his career; he will be moving across the country to Los Angeles come October. "My lease is up and it's perfect timing," he says. "I just can't do another winter here---twenty-two years is enough for me, well, a little less since I was in California for two, but still. I cannot."
Before moving to the "city of vanity," Michael plans on spending a good chunk of time at the gym, or enjoying some of the warm weather by the lake with friends. But once in Los Angeles, it will be all about the business. Even just talking about the industry, it's very clear that Michael is committed and extremely passionate about his craft. "I remember getting to set and just seeing all the trailers---it was so surreal. I couldn't believe that I was doing something this major. And I don't think it'll hit me until I see it [the film]," he says. "This is what I do. This is what I'm passionate about." He pauses, and then smiles. "This is going to be my job."
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE directed by Justin Simien and featuring Jemar Michael, will be released in theatres this fall. Until then, feel free to shamelessly follow, like, and/or comment on his Twitter, Instagram or Facebook---it's what Michael would want.