You may not have heard of acting coach Michelle Danner, but you've likely seen the results of her work. Michelle's list of students include James Franco, Christian Slater, Penelope Cruz, Zooey Deschanel, Marcia Cross, and Salma Hayek. She got her start in theatre and Michelle has directed and acted in over thirty plays and musicals in New York City and Los Angeles.
Michelle produced and acted in "Dos Corazones" directed by Larry Moss. This award-winning short won Best Cinematography and Audience Favourite at the Malibu Film Festival. Making her directorial debut with "How to Go Out on a Date in Queens" won four L.A. Film Awards including Best Director.
In 2000 Michelle and Larry Moss successfully raised $1.5 million from donors including Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks to open the Edgemar Center for the Arts.
Michelle talked to us about her career, her new film "Hello Herman," and making a life in the City of Angels.
Acting is obviously your passion, but how did you get interested in it to begin with? Was it a fascination at an early age or something that developed over the years?
According to my parents, when I was three years old, I was tap dancing on top of the coffee table and entertaining agents from the William Morris Agency where my father worked. I was doing imitations of Hitchcock, Judy Garland, and Ed Sullivan. When I was four we moved to Paris. My father opened the first offices of William Morris Agency there, where he was the president. I attended a lot of acting classes in Paris at various conservatories. I had a very strong foundation in French Literature. When I moved back to New York in the 70’s I continued to pursue acting, studying with Stella Adler, Uta Hagan, Herbert Bergoff, and many others.
Do you get the opportunity to act anymore? And if not, what do you miss most about acting?
I’ve never stopped acting. I find a lot of joy in that form of expression. I’m currently very excited to be starring in a production of a new adaptation of Ibsen’s "Ghosts." It’s a very challenging role. I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to explore it. It certainly made me realize that when I don’t use myself creatively in that way, I do miss it.
Tell us about the Edgemar Center for the Arts. How did you decide to open it, and what was it like raising funds for the center?
I found the building for Edgemar in 2000, late at night with a flashlight. I was amazed by how big it was. I wanted very much to see live arts in that space. At the time we were so excited about the potential of what it could be that the energy was contagious. I had $0, just a dream. I thought I’d hang flats and curtains. It was a little more intricate than that. We needed 1.3 million to build based on permits. I am an expert on dry wall and know more about electricity and plumbing than I would like to in this lifetime. Luckily we had people that believed in it as much as we did. As we’re celebrating our ten year anniversary, we have created a lot of magic throughout the years.
You've worked with some very talented people including Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Marcia Cross, James Franco and Christian Slater. What is the most rewarding part of working with these talented actors?
I always say that I’m fortunate enough to have worked with some incredibly gifted actors and if I can contribute something to their process and be helpful, that is very rewarding.
"How to go out on a date in Queens" looks hysterical, quirky and it has a great cast. What was your favorite part of working on that film?
My favorite part of Queens was the cast I was able to assemble. I had relationships with all of these actors and picked up the phone and asked them to come play for a little bit. When Jason Alexander, Rob Estes, Kimberly Williams Paisley, Allison Eastwood, Esai Morales, and Ron Perlman all said yes, I knew we were going to have a great party.
We are eagerly awaiting the release of "Hello Herman." The film seems not only culturally relevant, but provocative, and emotional. How did you decide to do this film and when will it be released?
Sadly enough, it is incredibly relevant. We’ve already seen through several test screenings that it has the ability to move people. It seems to spark a very important conversation. I wanted to make the film because I’ve always been affected by the cruelty that humans are capable of and because we are exposed to so much violence and are more and more technologically driven we run the risk to become more and more desensitized. I feel that we have a responsibility, especially to protect our children. It’s everybody’s problem, and so we have to keep talking about it. When you raise the awareness and keep having conversations about how to protect our kids there is a shot that things can change.
What can we expect from "Hello Herman" and what do you hope the audience will take away from this film?
Hello Herman... is a poignant examination of the making of a teenage school shooter. Its provocative and powerful subject matter speaks to teens, parents, educators, and anyone who has endured the universal experience of needing to be heard. We hope this movie’s open and honest look into our collective conscience will leave a lasting impact on any audience.
What's next for you?
I can tell you that after having done Hello Herman, a provocative drama, and Ghosts, another intense drama (even though there is humor in it, we’re actually getting quite a few laughs) my next two projects are lighter ones. I plan to shoot a comedic short and a feature film that will be a comedy. I’m also working on an acting book.