Today I sit down with Mike Wurst, a local Las Vegas actor, and pick his mind about what it’s like to be an actor in Las Vegas.
So Mike, how long have you been acting and what made you want to act?
Right now, about five years. I retired from being an air traffic controller in 2008. I was into acting a long time ago back in Chicago, which is where I grew up. I studied at Second City after the Belushis and Murrays were there. Jim Belushi was on the main stage. Dani Castellaneta and his wife were in my class so it was pretty cool. I met a woman I wanted to marry and she wouldn’t marry me unless I had a real job so I gave it up to be an air traffic controller. The good news is that we have been married 30 years come this July.
When did you move out to Vegas?
In 1989. I spent 19 or 20 years working here and a year in Northern California before I retired and came back here.
I understand your son is an actor aswell.
Yes he is.
How is he doing?
He is doing well. He’s living in Burbank trying to make a go of it. He’s doing a little bit of everything. He’s doing some PA work. He’s doing stand-up. I’m proud of him. He got a call-back to Flappers a couple of times in Burbank.
What kind of productions have you mostly been part of?
In the last few years it has been mostly the independent stuff here in Vegas. A few little things out-of-town. I did get on an episode of In Plain Sight and got to work with Fred Ward. He was the guest star that week. Also a lot of stuff from the kids at UNLV. Bubblegum and Broken Fingers, Liars Fires and Bears, and also Little Monsters.
You recently joined SAG. How has that been working out?
It’s been about a year and a couple of months now. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Last year when Burt Wonderstone came to town it was awesome because I got steak and lobster for lunch and I got paid a much higher rate than the other extras. Think Like a Man 2 came in and because of SAG I got to audition for a speaking role. That’s good but then it makes it difficult to do some of the independent stuff. Not impossible, but difficult.
Is it more of a hassle for independent productions that cast you?
Well yeah. They have to fill out some paperwork for the union, get a waiver and that kind of thing. It’s more of a hassle for the producers and the people in charge of the project.
Do you have any plans for the future or anything coming up?
I’m not booked on anything right now but I have a callback later this afternoon for the World Series of Poker Tournament. I understand there are a lot of projects coming to Vegas this summer. I’m hoping to pick up a principal role on something but the competition here is pretty tough…and that’s if they give it to a Vegas actor. There’s a prejudice against Vegas actors that is slowly starting to fade but it’s still something we have to deal with.
Why is that? I know there is a bill that is trying to be passed to give production companies incentives to hire Nevadans.
Yeah, and that will definitely help. I think it’s because for a long time Vegas actors were only considered background and not considered as principal actors but that is a carry-over from years ago that doesn’t apply any more. There’s a large pool of talented actors here in town now. But perception is a hard thing to beat.
I just finished working on the Billboard Music Awards and the majority, I’d say 95 percent of the crew were from LA, including production assistants who hardly make enough to cover their trip here. It just seems a bit inefficient especially with the UNLV film school just a block away from the strip.
I’m a huge fan and proponent of the UNLV film department. With what the kids are doing and the professionalism that I see coming out of the university is frankly better than some of the independent film groups living in town here. They’re doing a really good job and I’m glad my son Jason was a graduate of that program. Every time I work with a crew out of UNLV, I know I’m almost gushing, but I just get more and more impressed by the professionalism and the quality.
Tell us about some of the independent projects you’ve worked on. I believe I was there on Liars Fires and Bears when you were shooting. You were toting a shotgun.
I was in some shorts and a bathrobe with a shotgun. That was probably one of the most fun projects I’ve done working with the UNLV guys. Jeremy Cloe was awesome to work with along with the rest of the crew. I got to work with Luke Jones again. He’s one of my favorite actors, him and Mike Vara. Luke beat me up on film for the second time in a year. It’s just so much fun. Frankly they treat me with such reverence and respect that I’m not sure I deserve it but it goes right to my head and I’m a sucker for it (laughs).
What was it like working on Bubblegum and Broken Fingers?
Bubblegum and Broken Fingers was a project Sean Jackson did. When I auditioned for that he asked me to do a couple of different parts. He loved me in one role and asked me to read for another. He loved that too. He said to me that he wanted me for the project but that he didn’t have the right part for me. A couple of months later he called me up and said that he had a role for me. It wasn’t the perfect role for me but asked if I would do it anyway. I had never worked with the Somnium guys before and they were great. They were very professional. They respect themselves and respect their own work and treat it as a profession.
You’ve worked with a lot of independent and student films. Have you noticed more or less studio films coming to Vegas?
Last year there were five major studio movies. The rumor I’ve been hearing is that there are three or four times that coming to town over this summer and fall. I think the incentive bill will help if it gets passed.
I like to travel. I have a motorcycle and I like to ride that. My wife and I like to travel and go to Blues festivals and things like that. Just last weekend we were down in Dana Point for the Doheny Blues Festival. That was fun. I read and stay active as much as I can.
What are your favorite movies? Top 3?
Tough…I like Michael with John Travolta. Such a great character and message. Groundhog Day. Bill Murray. One of my all-time favorites is Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. I’m an Errol Flynn sucker. Those would be among my top 5.
What’s your favorite movie of this last year?
There were so many good ones. It’s really difficult to pick. I, personally, really liked Silver Linings Playbook. I really liked Zero Dark Thirty. I liked Argo. My favorite, honestly, is Lincoln. I’m kind of a history buff and I think that is where most of our stories come from, most of the best ones anyway. I actually teared up when they passed that Amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis was awesome.
Would Daniel Day-Lewis be one of your favorite actors?
If you had the chance who would be the top two or three people you would want to work with in the industry?
I’d love to work with Daniel Day-Lewis. Mike Nichols as a director. I’m looking forward to the future when I can work with people who I have already worked with like Jeremy Cloe, Constanza Castro, and Sean Jackson. I’m keeping an eye on the future. I think there is so much talent coming out of Vegas on the directorial side and production side I’m just hoping they remember who Mike Wurst is and say to themselves “Oh I know a guy who could play that role”.
Actors and actresses, there’s so many good ones. Jennifer Lawrence, I’d like to see what it’s like to work opposite her. I’d like to work with Luke Jones again. My dream would be to work with my son, Jason, on a big project. Mike Vara, Charles Cantrell, Sergiu Iva, Adam Kilbourn, all those guys. The future is so bright for those guys. Can’t say enough.
Any advice for new actors?
For young actors, the University is great and it’s going to get you started but if you are an actor and you are in Vegas, get in the Union. Even if it’s tough and it’s harder to work the independent stuff because in the long run it does mark you as a professional. You’ll get better pay. Eventually, if you are good enough, you are going to have to join anyway.
The other thing is, if you’re not working, I go to class every week, twice a week. I do scene studies. When I’m not working on a project I’m in class working on my skills. I’m a 55-year-old man and my days of being a leading man are probably long gone but it’s still important and I would say that if you are going to make it, you have to keep working at it the whole time. Don’t ever stop working to be better, just keep on at it. My other bit of advice: minimum movement and point of focus when you are in front of the camera and you’ll do a lot better.
Thank you Mike for the interview and for inviting me to one of your acting classes afterward. I had a blast at it!
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