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Mike Heslin: “Constantly feed your artist soul”

Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. I feel like I wasted some of my youth professionally trying to fit myself into a box that I saw working for someone else. I tried to emulate actors and filmmakers I thought I was similar to. It wasn’t until I […]

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Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. I feel like I wasted some of my youth professionally trying to fit myself into a box that I saw working for someone else. I tried to emulate actors and filmmakers I thought I was similar to. It wasn’t until I took a hard look at what makes me unique from the other thousand guys who are seemingly identical and embraced my “special sauce”, that I really began to understand myself as an artist, what makes me tick, what made my point of view unique/different from the next guys’, etc. You will have so much more success and people will be much more interested in what you have to offer if you lead with that little magic that makes you you. I feel like that realization was the true moment that the adult version of my inner artist was born.


As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mike Heslin.

Mike Heslin created and stars in the upcoming mockumentary comedy series The Influencers from Well-Versed Entertainment The scripted short-form satire premieres on December 28, 2020, on Amazon Video and also marks Heslin’s directorial debut.

This timely show follows six social media “stars” vying for a coveted dream brand deal — but what you see online is rarely what you get in real life. Heslin, who wrote and directed the series stars as Taylor, the ‘normal’ half of the obnoxious ‘Insta-couple’ of Taylor and Tyler (#instaboyfriends). While Tyler wants likes, Taylor just wants to be liked.

Heslin also stars in and co-produced the digital comedy pilot Boy•Friends from Ish Entertainment, Keshet Studios and Well-Versed Entertainment. Boy•Friends, now available for streaming, is the fully realized half-hour version of the widely acclaimed and popular web series My Gay Roommate from creator Noam Ash, which was heralded by Vanity Fair and has over 9M views to date. Heslin’s other screen credits include I Dream Too Much (EP Richard Linklater), TV Land’s Younger and Lifetime’s I Love But I Lied.

Theatrical credits include the national tour of the Tony Award-winning play War Horse, appearing in over thirty cities across the country, the hugely popular musical Mamma Mia and Diane Paulus’s The Donkey Show in which he appeared while earning his BFA in directing from the prestigious Boston Conservatory.

Whether in front of or behind the camera, Mike Heslin enjoys all parts of the creative process and officially established his production company, Well-Versed Entertainment, with co-founder Noam Ash in 2019. Overseeing everything from development to production and post-production, WVE has a full slate comprising several feature films, pilots, and stage-to-screen adaptations with a specific focus on social impact through the normalization of LGBTQ+ stories.

Born in California but primarily raised in Arizona, Mike is a nature lover at heart, preferring to spend most of his time hiking or on the water. He is a huge animal lover and activist, focusing his energy on conservation efforts in his spare time. Heslin is also a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ issues and a supporter of Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS and The Trevor Project.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Redlands, California but primarily group in Arizona. I’m the oldest of five so needless to say, there was lots of daily activity in our household. My younger siblings often were subjected to my imaginative ventures and ended up being in my skits, magic shows, plays and puppet shows that I would put on for the neighborhood. I grew up performing in local Arizona theaters and then chose to continue to pursue the arts/acting/directing professionally. I auditioned and was accepted into the Boston Conservatory where I earned a BFA with an emphasis in Directing then moved to New York City.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was a highly imaginative child and loved getting lost in larger than life fictional worlds (I watched Jurassic Park and The Wizard of Oz almost daily). My mom took me to see a local children’s theater production and I was instantly hooked. I was only five years old and they didn’t allow anyone under six to audition, so I bided my time and practiced my audition song for a full year and was eventually cast as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. It was one of my favorite movies as a kid and then I got to be in it, which just blew my mind that I could be a part of telling that story to people. From then on I spent all of my free time trying to bring my favorite stories to life and creating my own. My dad even built me a stage with a trap door as a Christmas present! It wasn’t long before my siblings and the neighborhood kids became regular cast members and started appearing in my weekly productions.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The first professional thing I booked out of college was the national tour of the Tony award-winning play War Horse. My friend and I were supposed to go to lunch so I went to pick him up from his audition for it. There was a lag in appointments and my friend said I should try to get seen, so I did. I read the side for a few seconds then went into the audition room and (eight callbacks later) I ended up booking it! It always reminded me of that quote about how luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Or maybe it’s a lesson in that you do your best work when you throw it all away, are grounded, and not putting so much pressure or preciousness on it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I originally came from a theater background, so when I started acting on camera, I definitely was performing a little larger than I should have been as if I was on a stage vs a close-up. I distinctly remember a casting director telling me to do it again, but to not move my eyebrows or forehead at all.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m super excited about my new show, The Influencers, which is now available on Prime Video! It follows six social media “stars” who are forced to cohabitate together while competing for a dream brand deal. It’s a mockumentary a la The Comeback or Best in Show and gives a satirical look at the current social media world we live in. I created, wrote, directed and appear in this series and am super proud of it. I got to combine all of my favorite reality TV tropes and we had such a blast shooting it. Whether you love or loathe social media, this show is for you.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

As a gay filmmaker, representation is of the utmost importance and something I strive to bring to all of my work. EVERYONE needs to see themselves reflected on the screen and see their stories told. If you don’t see yourself represented in the stories being told in TV and Film, it perpetuates a narrative that you are less than or singular. There are so many different layers, faces, stories, and representation that has still yet to be told in a mainstream way for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s something my business partner and I talk about on a daily basis and seek to incorporate into our work: normalizing LGBTQ+ characters and stories so that having a gay character in your show isn’t about checking off a diversity box. We’ve made great strides in the past few years but I think that that’s the next step.

What is something you wish someone told you when you first started and why. Please share a story or example.

Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. I feel like I wasted some of my youth professionally trying to fit myself into a box that I saw working for someone else. I tried to emulate actors and filmmakers I thought I was similar to. It wasn’t until I took a hard look at what makes me unique from the other thousand guys who are seemingly identical and embraced my “special sauce”, that I really began to understand myself as an artist, what makes me tick, what made my point of view unique/different from the next guys’, etc. You will have so much more success and people will be much more interested in what you have to offer if you lead with that little magic that makes you you. I feel like that realization was the true moment that the adult version of my inner artist was born.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Constantly feed your artist soul. What gets you inspired and makes you motivated? Do that. For me, it’s watching a good series or a classic Hollywood film or watching roundtable discussions/interviews with filmmakers I admire and respect. There is so much in this world and industry that’s outside of our control so control you surroundings. Take proactive steps and do whatever you need to do to get you back to that creative and curious zone.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think we need to start a movement of empathy! It sounds silly, but we take it for granted that everyone has basic levels of empathy and compassion when, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead of being resolutely divided, we need to continually challenge ourselves to explore other walks of life, put ourselves into other people’s shoes, and try to educate ourselves and understand each other’s differences.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents. They’ve been supportive of my creative pursuits since I was five years old and instilled a strong work ethic and tenacious spirit in me, which has definitely gotten me to where I am today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s not a race to the finish line, it’s a test of endurance. It can be so easy in this industry (and life) to play the game of comparison and berate yourself for not having a certain amount of success by a certain point or age. But it truly is a test of endurance and about who can stick it out. The ones who do generally seem to find their way if they can hang in there long enough.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ryan Murphy — he’s really paved the way for queer filmmakers and is a hero of mine (it’s a bucket list goal to work with him someday)! The fact that he’s such a celebrated industry tycoon as an openly queer filmmaker and his effort to continually tell and lift up marginalized voices in his work has really inspired and fueled me. Love his work (most recently The Prom and Hollywood) and would love to pick his brain.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on social everywhere as @mikeheslin. Give me a follow and say hello! You can also get in touch via my website at www.mikeheslin.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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