Michael Ornstein [Interview]

Michael Ornstein1Much like the rest of the world, I have fallen in love with FX’s Sons of Anarchy.  The show has gained so much praise and love over the last few years that it actually as an Anonymous Support Group on Facebook boasting almost 13,000 members (including myself).  I’m serious, check it out.  I once dubbed this show a “soap opera for men”, but it has obviously evolved in to so much more.  And as you may remember, we have interviewed cast members in the past and had to perform background checks too.  It is an addicting drama that is so much more than a show about a cutthroat motorcycle club.

But, as we like to do here at Trainwreck’d Society, we need to know more about the folks involved with the series.  That is why I was so interested in learning more about Michael Ornstein, the man behind one of the strangest characters of the show known as Chucky.  He is a character who’s chronic masturbation led him to be cast aside from the Chinese underground, and led to the ever-embracing arms of the more “caring” SAMCRO (Obviously there is more to the story, but we shall leave it at that for now).  Of course, there is more to Michael Ornstein than just this role, and that is exactly what we want to learn.

And through some research, I discovered that Ornstein might very well be one of the finest artists and musicians working today.  As a painter, he is far too impressive within the world of abstract and impressions for a simple minded fool and/or blogger such as myself to truly convey.  You really have to check out his work for yourself (you owe it to yourself to go HERE, but do come back!).  He is also a wonderful musician with influences that range from Bob Dylan to ragtime.  This is a man who personifies the idealism that a character actor does not simply have to remain a character actor.  One man’s genius should not be restricted, but highlighted in several variations of genius.  This is exactly what Michael Ornstein has done.  And with that, I am very excited that Mr. Ornstein has agreed to let us ask him a few questions to share with you fine readers.  So here we go!

You are an accomplished actor, painter, writer, musician, and so much more.  Tell us if you would, what was your first artistic love, and when did you know you wanted to create art for a living? 

My first artistic love was for painting. My parents took me to a lot of museums and gallery shows in NYC when I was a kid and there was something about the paintings that turned me on in a big way. The theater, too, turned me on quite a bit. There is nothing like that moment when the lights go down in the theater and the story begins. I learned real early on, from those moments, that I was an artist, way before I actually performed in front of people or put paint to canvas. So, painting and performance go hand in hand with me, still. I call my work “Hand Painted Radio” and view the paintings as performance and music. Check out http://handpaintedradio.com Making a living from art is still a struggle and I think it’ll always be that way, but I signed up for that struggle long ago and there’s no turning back on it now. I wouldn’t know what to do outside of that, except maybe be a cook. Open a little place, hang paintings on the wall and serve up some food. I could do that.

What sort of music do you like to perform?  Any works we should be, or should have been, looking for?  

I like to perform very simple music with a repetitive structure. Real old story songs. I’d say that everybody should explore Alan Lomax’s field recordings and hear as much of that as possible. He collected music for the Library of Congress, recorded people in their living rooms, on their porches from Appalachia to the Delta to the West to Europe. He recorded prisoners working in chain gangs and longshoreman in Genoa singing acapella on the docks. That’s my favorite kind of music to listen to. Story music told by real people. Start here, http://www.culturalequity.org/alanlomax/ce_alanlomax_index.php Bob Thiele draws on a lot of that music for SOA, actually. Songs like “John the Revelator”, “House of the Rising Sun”, etc. I also love hunting down new bands and love what Elvis Costello and the Roots just recorded. I listen to a whole lot of everything. I love Flamenco. Folks should also revisit the music that was coming out of NYC and the UK around 1975 for some background on what’s happening now, all those amazing bands. I feel like people ought to be aware of the history of where today’s music and performance came from. Take a look at Little Richard when he first hit the scene. Gene Vincent. Buddy Holly. Blind Willie McTell. Glen Gould. Monk. Miles. Django Reinhardt. I think you can learn a lot about people and the world by traveling through the history of music.

We recently spoke with one of your former castmates, Christopher Douglas Reed, who was sadly killed off this season.  Now, your character Chucky has survived a lot during your tenure.  But, obviously nobody is safe from the brilliant mind of Kurt Sutter.  But no matter if Chucky gets offed or survives through the show’s entire existence, what do you think Chucky’s legacy will be when we look back at the show?  What have you wanted to convey to audiences?

I think what Chucky personifies is how a person survives against a whole lot of odds and never complains about it, just finds a way to go on and on, helping those around him as best he can. He’s a totally selfless man who places importance on loyalty, integrity and family in top priority / above himself. The club saved his life. He honors that with how he lives his life. There’s a lot of strength and soul to living like that.

Michael Ornstein2SAMCRO is definitely all about family, friendship, loyalty, etc.  Is there the same kind of feeling behind the scenes amongst the cast and crew? 

Absolutely. Working together on this level for this number of years, traveling through this particular story is a deep experience for all of us. We’re real tight as people, as a cast & crew. It doesn’t get tighter than this. It’s evident in the work we’re doing and how it’s being communicated to fans all over the world, from our hearts to yours.

What exaclty are your fake fingers made of?  Are they easy to function in?

They’re a type of rubber, like thick rubber gloves. They’re made from a mold of my hands, so they’re very comfortable.

You seemed to create quite the buzz with your soon to be legendary kazoo scenes.  How was it filming those scenes?  Could there be a pretty hilarious blooper reel made from shooting the scenes?

The kazoo is an insane instrument. It’s inherently funny that a person would “play” a thing that makes those sounds. It was a pretty integral instrument in the 20’s, actually, with early ragtime. It’s a home-made instrument, like a jug whistle or a wash bucket bass. I love the spirit of that kind of thing. Plus, even with a harmonica, you have to hold it and manipulate it with your hands, unless you’re wearing a neck holder, like Dylan and Neil Young do. A kazoo, you could just stick it in your mouth and go to town, hands-free, which is a perfect instrument for Chucky to express himself with. So, yeah, we had a lot of fun with that kazoo.

I heard that you displayed some of your art at the wonderful Beat Museum in San Francisco.  As a huge Beat fanatic, it behooves me to ask you what you dig about the beats?  Did any writer, or writers, have any direct influence in your own writing and acting?

I embrace the writings of those guys the way I embrace music. I grew up to the sounds of Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac. I come from an Italian / Jewish household and listening to my family speaking and telling stories was like listening to music, too. The music of language has always had a serious impact on me. I first read On the Road when I was about ten or eleven and it sparked something very large inside of me. Hearing the sounds of just being in New York City, when I was a kid, was like swimming inside of a symphony. Reading Kerouac exposed me to the possibilities of what a writer could do with words on a page. Later on in life, I was fortunate to have hung out with Greg Corso and Alan Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke. Alan grew up in Patterson, NJ, a town very close to my hometown of Passaic. We both come from mill towns. Kerouac also grew up in a mill town. There’s something to living around flowing water, I think. Reading those guys when I was a kid and later spending time with them, I related to them a great deal. The show I did at the Beat Museum was about Kerouac in New York City. I settled on six NYC locations that were important to Jack Kerouac and also important to me, and I wrote six poems about those places and painted six paintings, corresponding. So, at the show, I linked the paintings to audio tracks of me reading the poems, via QR Codes, so that people could stand in front of the paintings and listen to the stories. This show can be mounted anywhere. I’m sure I’ll put it up again. Here is the story, online, if you want to check it out, http://handpaintedradio.com/Jack-Kerouac-in-NYC

Original art by Michael Ornstein

Original art by Michael Ornstein

What do you consider to be your greatest non-artistic accomplishment?

Having children with Zoe and raising them to be good people. But, even that’s artistic in some way, right?

What else is in the future for Michael Ornstein?  Do you have any other projects of any sort in the works we should be looking forward to?

I’m going to keep on writing and painting and performing for as long as I’m around.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My children, just now. I smile all the time.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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