Michelan Sisti [Interview]

Hello Folks! I am absolutely stoked to share today’s interview with you all. I’m always excited to have these go live, but today is particularly special. Today we have the legendary actor and puppeteer Michelan Sisti! Now, I have to begin by stating that Michelan was not only involved with two projects that are still all time favorites, but he actually portrayed an absolute hero of mine when I was very young. Michelan famously portrayed the whimsically badass Michelangelo in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action film alongside our friends Lief Tilden (Donatello) and Judith Hoag (April O’Neil), as well as the sequel (and my personal favorite) The Secret of the Ooze. When I was but a boy, there was nobody cooler than Michelangelo. Absolutely nobody. Hence, the reason I am so stoked to be able to ask the man behind the suit about what it was like to create one of the coolest dudes to ever exist.

Beyond the world of TMNT, Michelan also worked on one of my favorite television series of all time. The highly original and so damn fun series Dinosaurs, where Sisti portrayed several characters, and was the primary Charlene Sinclair. He goes into his work on the show with some great details. You’re going to love this one, Folks!

In more recent years, Sisti has done extensive work in another legendary world of the Muppets. He’s also worked on great films like Team America: World Police and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. We are so excited to have him on the site today. This was a real bucket list one, Folks! So, please enjoy enjoy some wonderful words from the great Michelan Sisti!


What inspired you to get into the world of entertainment?  Was it something you aspired to do since your youth, or  did you happen to find yourself in this world one day? 

I’m one of those people who knew from a young age that I had a dream with a goal that felt right for me. As to the  moment when I discovered this dream, that took place in my elementary school talent show when I was in sixth  grade. I gave a solo performance of the song, “I’m  Getting Married In The Morning” (My Fair Lady) complete  with comedic choreography and I liked it! The dream  was born. 

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

Music was my first paying career, and that enabled me at age 20, to choose the path that I wanted most. To move  to New York City to be an actor in the Broadway theatre.  That dream became a career for the first time, with a  paycheck attached, when I was asked to join the NOW Theatre Repertory Company, to begin creating new plays  and shows for the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo (my hometown area). I was a professional actor! I made the move to New York and the journey since then has been a fantastic ride where I have learned from each and every experience along the way. It was the more than two  decades working in the theatre that taught me the vital  importance of learning how to collaborate. That has been  the lynchpin of everything since. All of what I know about  acting and music has sustained me through major  changes in my career path. The first, my transition from  music to acting as a career goal. Second, when I agreed  to leave New York, and the theatre, to move to Los  Angeles and begin working in movies and television. And  I have loved every bit of it. 

You famously appeared as the great Michaelangelo in the  first & second live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  film. Our dear friends and past guests Judith Hoag & Leif  Tilden were a couple of your co-stars! So, I am curious to  know how your experience was in bringing the beloved  comic book & cartoon character to life? What would you  say is your fondest memory of these projects? 

That is a difficult question simply because there are so many facets to my life as a Turtles and how that changed  everything. Plus, I have many fond memories from that hectic time so it’s hard to choose. The physical work was  extreme, overwhelming at times and often horrible.  Creating Mikey in partnership with Mak Wilson was the  absolute highlight of both movies for me. Mak is one of the best puppeteer/actors in the world, with the credits to  bear that out, and he was at the top of his considerable game. The creative experience with him was a joy. We  discussed and considered every idea we came up with  and then rehearsed as much as we could until we  became so in tune with each other that we could  improvise bits and moments on the fly. That was amazing  and great fun. So, collaborating with Mak is my fondest memory of becoming a Turtle. Beyond that, it’s the fans.  They have been such a source of love and hope ever  since I donned the green and I thank them. 

There had to have been a ton of props laying around on  the set of TMNT 1 & 2. I am curious to know if you were  able to take anything home with you? Anything special in a  physical sense, that you were able to take away from this  project? 

I did keep my nunchucks (hero and rehearsal categories)  most of which I have given away to charity auctions and a  fan/friend over the years. However, I kept my hero pair of  chucks that I used in both films. Of course, you couldn’t  

see them in the second movie because they were kept  inside of the leather holsters strapped to my belt. The  laws in England, and some reactions to our first effort,  

required that my chucks not be revealed onscreen. That  is what led to my “Combat Coldcuts” during the mall fight  scene in Secret Of The Ooze. I do have one of the two  

pair of Combat Colducts too. My friend and martial arts  double, Nick Palma, had them and kindly gave me one  pair. I kept my original shooting script including my  written notes and gave away a few others I had. The 

Creature Shop lovelies presented me with a pair of my  Mikey hands and feet. However, because they were  made of foam latex, they have disintegrated into dust a  long time ago. 

Another absolutely legendary program that you worked on  that had a huge impact on me growing up was the  wonderful series Dinosaurs, which you and Leif Tilden  would work together once again! So, same questions  really: What was it like to work on such an insanely  original, and downright hilarious, project? 

 Oh my, Dinosaurs. I am so proud of that series and  everyone who participated. Among my fellow performers,  we all agree that show was the pinnacle of animatronic  character work. What we created there was  groundbreaking in many ways, from putting puppets on  primetime tv, to pushing every envelope of animatronics  we could find in our performances and then some. Plus,  the writing was superb and tackled very pithy subjects.  That’s what I am most proud of, that we never stayed  away from topics that might be controversial. Then, of  course, we did something rare on television shows. We  killed off our entire cast! My great, and ongoing, joy was  to be partnered with Bruce Lanoil for our character,  Charlene Sinclair the daughter, and with John Kennedy  for all the variations that our Sid Turtlepuss character got  to play. Two other world class puppeteers and, like Mak,  excellent people! Yes, I have been so fortunate to work with the best

You have worked on and off screen in the world of film &  television, as well as work on the stage across the globe.  With that in mind, what would you say has been your  favorite space to work in overall? Why?  

Okay, the theatre is my first love. I wished to become a  working actor and that is what the theatre allowed to  happen. I had multiple Broadway shows and that fulfilled  a subset of the original dream too. So, my work on the  stage is my favorite space to be as an actor. Now, I loved  all the work with Jim Henson and Muppets and Disney,  etc. because of the challenges they contained. That’s  right. Each and every puppeteering or animatronic or  performance capture job comes with a very unique set of  challenges that must be solved and techniques that must  be developed. When I’m acting on the stage, I am  familiar with the basic structure of the job in each  performance. With the other work, each job throws up  new obstacles and required adjustments. That is what  kept me coming back for more. I love a challenge. 

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

The pandemic and our initial lockdowns ended the  projects I had lined up for 2020 and changes at Disney 

have altered the landscape with Muppets too, so I am  entering my retirement. I still am happy to participate in  projects with friends but I am ready to pass the torch. It’s  time for younger performers to take my place and  continue the path to their dreams. And with free time  now, I’m rediscovering the joys of travel. Of course, that  has all been put on hold this year, but I’m really looking  forward to resuming travel and having new adventures. I  have even booked a trip for May 2022.  

What was the last thing that made you smile? 

Lots of things make me smile, thank goodness, but the  most recent was from this morning. I watched out my  window as some of my neighbors came walking down the  road with their two little girls who started shooing the birds  at my feeders. The kids were squealing in delight while  one crow sat on the fence, cawing and flapping it’s wings  in protest, I think. Now, how could I not smile at that?  Cheers!

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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