Feature originally published inside The HERO Summer Zine 5.
Owning the most infectious grin in the streaming world, Michael Cimino charmed the world with his titular role in Gen Y teen drama Love, Victor – an off-shoot of the 2018 hit film Love, Simon. With season two on its way, the US actor is broadening his horizons with the new sci-fi podcast serial Black Box from writer-director Brian Siegele. A love letter to 80s geek-outs, it tells the story of four unwitting teenagers who chance upon the wreck of a crashed time machine.
Cal Brockel: So, Black Box. Details are scant at the moment – what can you tell me about the show, and your character in particular?
Michael Cimino: I play Logan, a twelve-year-old kid in a little friend group and he has a big crush on another character named Riley who’s played by Brec Bassinger. We all stumble upon a time machine and we go on this crazy journey, then the other characters go on another crazy journey to try to bring us back.
CB: And it’s a homage to 80s sci-fi?
CB: Were you a fan of those movies before, or did you have a watchlist to get you primed?
MC: There was a movie that I watched… Back to the Future! In order to get ready for the project, because I really wanted to get that kind of energy into it.
CB: Nice. How did you first get involved in that?
MC: As it’s a podcast, I sent in a recording and they brought me back in for the character I wound up playing. It was really fun, we had such a good time. I got to meet Chosen [Jacobs], Jacob [Bertrand] and Brec and they were all such sweethearts.
CB: It’s quite a young cast apart from Joel McHale – was he the 80s authority?
MC: Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet Joel. All of us recorded on the same day except him. But Jacob met him and he said he was really cool.
CB: And that was actually one of the first things in production after everything locked down.
MC: Yeah, we were lucky enough to do that during Covid, which is cool cause obviously Covid kind of ruined everything…
CB: Did the restrictions make that more difficult?
MC: It was the first production that I went to during restrictions. The rules were pretty strict even though it was a podcast. But I’m super grateful because I got to meet all those cool people, that was the best part if I’m honest.
“I wasn’t working at the time. I was under the impression that if you wanted to be an actor you couldn’t have a normal job, which is a total misconception.”
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CB: Are you a big podcast listener?
MC: Not really. I listen to a lot of wellness podcasts. There’s this one on Spotify called Ologies.
MC: Yes, I listen to that one a lot. It’s about all different kinds of ‘ologies’ like… it’s definitely not the right name, but like scorpionology and spiderology. It’s really cool.
CB: But the serialised story format of Black Box, that was new?
MC: Yeah, it was for me.
CB: It’s interesting. It’s kind of a new thing, but it’s also a throwback to old radio shows.
MC: That’s what I really like about it. It’s like history repeats itself.
CB: And the simpler it gets, the more it opens up. You can get away with things you couldn’t do on screen. In the theatre of the mind. Can you tell me about those early days growing up in Las Vegas and then moving to LA? What was that journey like?
MC: A journey it was. So I was sitting in a Subway – the restaurant, not the train station – and someone who managed actors and taught classes took notice of me. I started taking his classes and eventually he became my manager. I was too young to drive, so my mom would drive from Vegas to LA and back, every time I had an audition. We did a lot of that for years and years. I booked some stuff but nothing crazy.
“I was too young to drive, so my mom would drive from Vegas to LA and back, every time I had an audition.”
CB: How old were you in Subway?
MC: I was twelve when I was noticed, and thirteen or fourteen when I started pursuing acting professionally; seeing it as something attainable, and knowing this is something that I want to do. I started doing online school in eighth grade because it’s easier to graduate early. So I graduated at sixteen and was like, “Now what do I do?” I got a full-time job doing electrical work with my dad. Then at eighteen I was like, “I’m going to move to LA.” I had a whopping $3,000 saved up.
CB: I imagine that doesn’t go far in LA?
MC: It does not. I was in a two-bedroom with five people, and then it was six, then eight, and then ten. I had a lot of different weird roommates. I wasn’t working at the time. I was under the impression that if you wanted to be an actor you couldn’t have a normal job, which is a total misconception. Everyone that wants to be an actor can have a job, they just have to be night jobs [laughs]. So I was just eating rice and beans for three months. I thought, “I’m tired of this, I’m tired of being broke. I don’t want to do this anymore,” and so I got a job. I started working at Saddle Ranch, which is a restaurant-bar place. I worked nights there. I was the mechanical bull operator.
CB: A mechanical bull operator?
MC: [Laughs] Yes! Bring me to Saddle Ranch, I really know how to ride the mechanical bull.
CB: Is it like a theme place – did you have to wear an outfit?
MC: We all had to wear flannels [laughs]. I worked there for a few months and then I booked Annabelle Comes Home. That was a big job, and then that was enough to tide me over to Love, Victor.
CB: So you got Annabelle and then Love, Victor and then Covid occurred…
MC: Right after Love, Victor.
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CB: If anything can take the wind out your sails when you have momentum it’s a global pandemic.
MC: Yeah! Luckily Love, Victor got picked up for season two. And the Black Lives Matter movement went into full swing. So during that time I was like, “Okay, I could either focus on doing music right now or on activism.” I chose to focus more on doing activism. A group of us started We The Movement [an organisation established to encourage inclusivity, community and address systemic injustices], and started planning and organising events. It started because everyone involved saw a space that needed to be filled – a group of people to help organise protests and keep them safe.
CB: And you’re still involved in We The Movement?
MC: Yes, yes.
CB: You mentioned making music?
MC: Yes. I actually have a song that is coming out very soon, so that’s exciting. As far as my music goes, I feel like I’m still trying to find my style, because I love so many different types of music and incorporate different sounds into each song to see what works and what doesn’t. I always write with my friends and feel like that’s what works the best for me. But I’m glad I did lots of the stuff during the pandemic because it showed me the issues we’re facing as a society. I was able to turn back to art and music after, and put that into perspective as well.
CB: If there was someone that you could collaborate with out there…
MC: Bruno Mars. Easy. Like, dude, when I was a kid I used to wear fedoras because I wanted to be Bruno Mars. He is such a huge inspiration for me.
CB: You’d let him take the lead in that collaboration presumably? [both laugh]
MC: I would hope that by the time I got to collaborate with him I could contribute.
CB: Did I hear you’re writing a film too?
MC: It’s definitely in the works.
CB: Is that something you were interested in before?
MC: Not really, no. It was just like, why not give it a shot? I think the best thing about being an artist is doing things that put you out of your comfort zone, and to try to learn new things from that.
CB: So eventually you’ll be writing, directing, starring and doing the music?
MC: Yeah, that’d be sick.
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CB: It seems like you’re going your own way. Like with Love, Victor, I hear that you were counselled against playing a gay character. What made you go against that advice?
MC: Well, when I was growing up I was not a super traditionally-masculine man. I was a little bit effeminate, and I received some flack for that. Then I was told that if I play a gay character I’ll only ever get cast as gay. I was told I’d have to ask for more masculine work. They were basically trying to make me into someone that I wasn’t. It’s definitely been a weird thing to push through at a young age, but now I’m so grateful that I chose to ignore that advice. Obviously as a young kid I took that advice for what it was, but now I can see that that doesn’t make any sense. It was stupid. They never should have given that advice, and I never should have had to change who I was to please someone else.
CB: You’re changing this messaging going forward too, for the next people who are given that advice.
MC: Hell yeah! Obviously if you’re playing a character, you have to adapt to that. But you’re not playing a character day-to-day, you can just be who you are. It definitely took me some time to work through that.
CB: I think there’s an interesting conversation happening around toxic masculinity, and you can see, particularly within your generation, that things are changing.
MC: It’s a sign of the times, I think. We obviously still have a very long way to go, but by the same token, we’ve been through a lot that other generations haven’t. A lot of things have been changing very quickly, and much of that is adaptability. What comes with that is being able to be authentic to yourself. I think that’s our strong suit as a generation.
CB: I think there’s a flip side to that with how intregrated our lives are with the internet, and how quickly news and communication happens, you almost have to be that adaptable.
MC: Definitely, there are pros and cons to everything. I think we’re in a weird scape right now, where social media brings us all together but separates us so much. It’s such a strange time to be alive. Just look at the amount of content that is able to be consumed by anyone. You can go on YouTube and watch videos about Bali, Egypt, or Australia and see a whole bunch of different cultures. That lends itself to people trying to be more understanding, and being aware of what’s going on.
CB: And they say about a society getting more moral – its circle of empathy growing. The wider its circle, the more people it includes.
MC: 100 percent. And we still have so much further to go. There’s a lot of people that don’t want to be a part of that wave. With time and effort, we’ll definitely get there.
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