Michael Boatman [Interview]

Pictured: Michael Boatman as Julius Cain of the CBS All Access series THE GOOD FIGHT. Photo Cr: Patrick Ecclesine/CBS ©2017 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Hello Folks! And a happy Friday to you all. As we lean into the weekend, we have an incredible interview with a wonderful performer who is about as recognizable as they come. The great Michael Boatman is gracing our digital pages today, and I could honestly not be more excited. Boatman has been a figure in my life, especially on television, for as long as I can really remember. In fact, during my formative years of middle & high school, Michael was in two shows (at the same time) that would, in different ways, be also very formative to me in very different ways. We discuss this all below, and I think you are going to love what he has to say about his work on shows like Spin City and Arli$$.

But, what is most captivating and wonderful about Mr. Boatman is that he never seems to let up. Whether it’s starring in current hit TV shows like the The Good Wife or The Good Fight, or bringing his brilliant acting chops to the stage or to films like Charles Burnett’s controversial and legendary film The Glass Shield, or the recent Peter Segal directed romcom Second Act, there is literally NOTHING that this man can not accomplish as a performer.

And for these reasons alone we would be excited to have him on the site today. Fortunately, he is also just a hell of a nice guy who gives a wonderful interview. We are so excited to have him on the site today, and for you, our dear readers, to get to know a little more about a guy we know you are all already very aware of after he has graced stage and screens for over 30 years. So Folks, please enjoy some incredible words from the even more incredible, Michael Boatman!




When did you first discover that you had a passion for performance? Was it something you had always wanted to do since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

Before high school I had never even considered stepping on a stage. I was a very shy, withdrawn and socially awkward kid who loved books, science and The Six Million Dollar Man. But in high school, a guidance counselor dissuaded me from pursuing a career in the sciences. I was terrible at math, and when he saw my math scores he suggested a career as a plumber, or possibly something in the military. I was the child of a busy single mom and didn’t know how to fight back against authority. I’d wanted to study the stars or the oceans, and he just killed that dream. I think I became something of a class clown after that, cracking jokes that some of my teachers actually appreciated. A couple of them persuaded me that I had a sense of humor, which led me to audition for the next school play. I did it mostly to meet girls but, to my surprise, I actually landed a part. I loved the process of putting a play together, and when the curtain closed on that first performance I never looked back.


What was your very first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still affect your work today?

My first paid gig was in a McDonalds commercial starring James Brown. I was the usher at a concert featuring the Godfather of Soul, only to abandon my post when a bunch of hungry concert- goers take off to score some Chicken McNuggets. I’d auditioned almost on a dare, and I got the part during the summer break my sophomore year of college. Until that point I had been planning to tour the Midwest after graduation, trying to work the regional theaters and sketch comedy circuit, before settling down to get a Master’s degree and a teaching job. The residuals actually helped pay my way through college, and that was when I learned that I could actually make money as a young actor.


When I was growing up, Spin City was one of my favorite sitcoms. I tried with all my might not to miss a week of it (because we had to do that back then!). And you were phenomenal, especially with Carter’s back and forth with Stuart that I still think about and laugh regularly. So, I am curious to know how your experience was working on this now legendary series? Was it as much fun to be a part of as it was for me to watch for all of those years?

What I remember from my Spin City days was the raucous, continuous laughter. I discovered a camaraderie there that remains a part of my life to this day. I’m still close to several members of that cast. Michael J. Fox and I have worked together on the The Good Wife, and on the current spin off, The Good Fight. Alan Ruck and I speak often. Alexander Chaplin and Richard Kind remain annoyingly present in my life, and Charlie Sheen became one of my closest friends. For six seasons we spent every week figuring out ways to crack each other up on the set while also rehearsing a hit television show. When they turned the cameras on for the Friday night show, that energy just continued in front of the live audience. It was a dream job, and remains one of the highlights of my professional life.



During the same time, you were also appearing on the legendary HBO series Arli$$, which happened to star our dear friend and past guest Richard Wuhl. Now, I got into this one later, for obvious reasons such as me being fairly young and more susceptible to the likes of Spin City at that time. But, I did eventually enjoy the program very much. Same sort of question mainly, how was your experience working on this project? What set this project apart from the plethora of other projects you had worked on prior, or even since?

Arli$$ was a whole other kind of fun for me. The camaraderie among actors who love their work has always been very important to me, and I was lucky enough to be a part of two shows where that camaraderie was constant. Robert Wuhl (Arliss Michaels) loves actors, so he made that set incredibly welcome and open to creativity. Since we were on HBO we were also allowed to run down some crazy story paths: adult situations, darker themes, sex, and lots of F-bombs. I also met the great Sandra Oh (Rita Wu) and the insanely brilliant Jim Turner (Kirby Carlisle), both of whom remain dear friends. We had many late summer nights, shooting crazy scenes with some of the greatest athletes in the world. It was glorious and hilarious at the same time.


In your career spanning over 30+ years, you have done some wonderful work in the world of television, film, stage, and beyond. When it comes to actors, I am always curious to know which form of performance takes all the proverbial cake? If you were destined to only work in one field for the remainder of your career, which would it be?

The live audience format of a multi-camera sitcom is hard to beat. I love comedy. I also love a live audience. Theater is my first love, because the immediacy of the audience creates a kind of tightrope tension, a dark chasm just beyond the footlights, waiting to absorb you or reject you. The audience wants to comfort you, and to commiserate with your character, whether the circumstances are tragic or comic. The tension and energy of a live audience is addictive, and performing for a live television studio audience is the greatest thrill of all.


If you were handed the chance to portray any legendary figure in in American history in a biopic, who would it be?

Currently, I’m obsessed with the voice of the great jazz singer, Johnny Hartman. He was, in my opinion, an overlooked performer who found some popularity when two of his songs were included in Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County. I’m told we have a similar vocal quality, which blows my mind because his voice is truly epic. I’m not a singer. I can carry a tune well enough, but I would learn to sing properly  if I could bring Hartman’s story to the screen.


What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to share with our readers?

I’m also a writer, so I’m always looking for the next story idea to kick me in the face. I recently sold a short story to an anthology of fantasy stories about Africa called. The story is called Thresher of Men. It’s  about what happens when a forgotten African goddess discovers the last of her believers in a small racist town in the Midwest. The anthology is called Dominion and it’s coming out later this year. So I’m excited about that. I’m also kicking around a few screenplays and television ideas. There are so many platforms these days and they all need content. So I’ve got a few irons in that fire. I think it’s probably time to direct something too.


What was the last thing that made you smile?

Watching my daughter complain about my inability to finish Game of Thrones…just now.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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