Interview: Michael Rowe talks ‘Arrow’, ‘Crown and Anchor’July 19, 2019
Leaving the life of a musician behind, Michael Rowe row jumped into acting and never looked back. Recently, we had the chance to talk with Michael about his music background, his big break as Deadshot on Arrow, and his new film Crown and Anchor
You started out as a musician, songwriting, playing the drums…where did that interest come from?
Michael: I grew up in St. Johns, Newfoundland and my grandfather had a music store. Some of my earliest memories were family get-togethers and all the instruments coming out, turned into a family jam. My dad played in a bluegrass band, so I grew up watching him play as well. My grandparents lived about a music store so it was really a matter of just picking one. I was always captivated by drummers in bands and there wasn’t one in the family. I guess good drummers come from understanding parents, who listen to their kids just smash on the drums all the time. I played in the school band, then fell in love with basketball, when to those practices instead and got kicked out of the school band. In high school, my older brother’s friend needed a drummer for their band and so we started jamming in my basement. I really fell in love with playing at that point in time because I started writing my own stuff, it wasn’t something I had to do, it was something I wanted to do.
After playing my first show it was like oh man, when can I do that again? It’s really hard to be in a band in Newfoundland because you’re stuck on an island so eventually we moved to the mainland, we all dropped out of University and hit the road. Honestly, looking back on my life, it’s one of the best things I ever did, even with the struggles and the band breaking up. After the band dissolved my youngest brother Andrew, he was the film buff and he moved to Vancouver after graduating from University, and he was just starting to make short films, writing, right at the same time my band was ending, so I decided to pack up my Toyota four runner and drive across the country and see what he was up to. I helped him make his movies, that got me into acting and I had originally thought of starting a band up out there but I got an agent, Arrow was my second or third audition and I booked it so was off and running. Andrew was the big mechanism to get me interested, to get me started and we were able to make Crown and Anchor together, with him making his feature film directorial debut. It’s my first lead role in a feature film people seem to be connecting with it so it’s a really great feeling.
How did you find that transition in careers, moving from music to acting?
Michael: It was surprising how similar the two were. I think you’re just trying to tell a story to be honest, and I didn’t realize that would be the case. All the time I put into music did translate into acting, even things like memorizing lines, doing accents, its rhythm and melody when you’re doing an accent. Even when you’re doing action and superhero stuff, there’s a lot of choreography and it was very similar to drumming, all the training you put into learning a fight sequence, it just all translated. There are just so many aspects that I didn’t see translating well that kind of translated perfectly. I thought I’d be starting all over again but it was more like an evolution of sorts however, I still had to put a hell of a lot of work into it. I didn’t start acting until maybe 2010 and I devoted myself to it, every day I did something, studying, rehearsing, writing, running scenes, things like that but I still feel like I’m just getting started.
You mentioned about landing the role on Arrow as Deadshot. Was that a case of you doing an audition and then getting the call months later or was it a pretty quick process?
Michael: It was a pretty quick process. They had just started filming the show, it was episode three of the first season, and I think there might have been four or five days between the initial audition and the callback. When I went in for the callback it was with the director of the episode and we did the scene, then I remember him asking me hey by the way, do you have any tattoos, I said no and he said ok, thanks and so I went out and there was only one other guy there for the callback, auditioning for the same role, and he’s covered in tattoos and I thought damn it, they wanted tattoos, I’m not getting this. As it turns out they wanted the opposite as the character tattoos the names of all the victims on his body so they needed a blank canvas to work with, so that might have been the thing, a small detail like that, that helped me get the role.
Was it intimidating at all to be thrown into such a big production right away, so early in your career?
Michael: Absolutely, it was scary as hell. I think I was bullshitting people, telling them I knew how to fight and all this stuff because I didn’t want to lose the job. I’d been on set, when I was filming with my brother, I got a job as a photo double on a TV show for USA Network called Psych, did that for about a year. I also did some background work on the movie Twilight with the main cast and I would see them screw up their lines, do bad takes and it was good to do that man, it put it all in perspective that these are normal people, they screw up like everyone else, I can do this, so it gave me some confidence. But to show up and be the guy, it’s really scary, however, it keeps you on your toes and keeps you sharp, as long as you don’t let it get in your head you can take advantage of the opportunity, and that’s what I tried to do.
So let’s talk about Crown and Anchor. Where did the idea come from for the movie?
Michael: That came from a script that Matt Wells was working on. He and I played music together, he was the singer in my band, and he was working on a script loosely based on his mother’s side of the family. It was a cycle on his mother’s side, her dad was an alcoholic, abusive, marriage broke up, her siblings kind of got caught up in the addiction, that cycle but she was able to break it and raise her kids outside of that so Matt wrote the script loosely based on that, growing up with that and the things he’d seen. He and I were probably working on it for a year, maybe two years for him, then we raised some money with private investors and got Andrew involved. He wanted to direct it and broke down the script, focusing more on the characters and he did a really good job. His version of the script turned out way better than what we were working on.
Was it always your intention to produce, write and act in the film or did that kind of develop over time?
Michael: It was kind of a necessity, actually. Again, it was very familiar because of the way we ran our band, we got really good at running the business of a band and so that gave us the confidence to try and do this film on our own. Obviously, we had to hire a lot of people, we hired a producer with experience named Vince Buda, who is like a super producer who can turn nothing into something. To go into it with my best friend and my younger brother and this producer, who I became really close to really quick, I knew they had my back and weren’t going to quit on me or screw anything up. I had confidence in this team and this was really the only way we were able to pull it off.
It was probably one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do but also is something I cannot wait to do again, do you know what I mean? It certainly isn’t easy, it’s certainly not fun but it’s extremely fulfilling, and it did remind me of having the band in those moments. Matt is much better at producing than I am, I’ll give him credit for that. He’s a type-A personality, he’s a hustler, he doesn’t take no for an answer, so the team of the four of us complement each other very well. It’s funny, I never really had any ambitions to become an actor, it was just sort of something I wanted to try out and help my little brother make his films, then I fell in love with it and I thought ok, what can I do with this? You want to keep building on it and seeing what you can do. I’m really grateful I got a chance to do it this early in my career and I think I’ll do it again but producing is not my favorite part. Being part of the production team, pulling off the impossible, I loved every moment of that.
A lot of the characters in the film have a dark and disturbing side to them yet there is some great heart in the film as well. Was it hard playing your character James, walking that line between his bubbling anger while also keeping the character human?
Michael: Yeah, I mean there’s not a lot of redeeming qualities in a lot of the characters, is there? (Laughs) We wanted to make it true to life, sort of messy and not clear cut. We wanted to paint it with a lot of greys, not just black and white and was it difficult? Absolutely. I knew it would be difficult and I knew I’d have to go to uncomfortable places. I was lucky to be working with my brother Andrew, so complete trust in him and having that access to each other, that’s really rare. You don’t always have access to your director or writer, so if I had questions about something, even if it was the middle of the night, I could call or text him.
The emotion, or lack thereof, that it takes to do that is tough because James doesn’t show his emotions outwardly, he tucks everything down deep so you’ve still got to feel it for real and really intensely, then you can’t let it show, so you just keep stuffing the emotions down inside you and you almost feel yourself getting sick from it. Also, as I said, we had very little money and filmed it over fifteen days which was really difficult so it was exhausting, so that piled on top of everything really helped the character as you can see the stress showing on the characters face. I’m also surrounded by very talented actors, people give great performances all around as far as I’m concerned, and that in turn makes you want to bring your best effort each and every time.
You mentioned how there are not a lot of characters with redeeming qualities in the film. I don’t there is a better example of that than the last scene in the film between you and your dad, played by Stephen McHattie.
Michael: (Laughs) That’s the one part where it all comes together, where you finally understand why he is the way he is. That’s really important, it’s the heart of this thing, you know, life is difficult, and even more difficult when you grow up with a shitty family. Nobody is really born bad…the dad is a piece of crap, he had to deal with that, that’s why he has his issues so it’s that cycle, trying to break it and is it even possible to break it? My character James has his life set up where he feels like he’s doing good things…he’s a police officer, he doesn’t drink, he’s regimented, he’s making his own set of rules that should make him a better person but he has these things that are haunting him and we wanted to show that and how messy life can be. If you stick with the movie, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel but it is a difficult watch, pretty damn dark.
What other projects do you have coming up next?
Michael: I’ve got a couple of things I’m working on but nothing I can really mention right now. The thing I am excited about is developing something with this team again. Just like being in a band, this feels like you’re part of something, and I love getting that feeling from art and I can’t wait to so that again with this team. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve been developing, working on, so once Crown and Anchor is fully out there, hopefully, we’ll get the chance to do the next thing sooner than later.
I want to thank Michael for taking the time to talk with us