Michael Judson Berry: “Enjoy the present!”

Enjoy the present! I spent so much of my twenties worrying about my future that I often forgot to stop and just enjoying the moment I was in. I think this came from a place of insecurity. I didn’t know how to embrace who I was, so I would fantasize about the future potentialities instead […]

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Enjoy the present! I spent so much of my twenties worrying about my future that I often forgot to stop and just enjoying the moment I was in. I think this came from a place of insecurity. I didn’t know how to embrace who I was, so I would fantasize about the future potentialities instead of creating present actualities.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Judson Berry. He grew up in Syracuse, New York and received his BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, as well as an MA in Classical Acting from the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He also had the pleasure of touring the country as Patsy in the National Tour of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

During quarantine, Michael decided to put his comedic acting skills on TikTok, in order to bring some happiness into the world. His impression of the Schitt’s Creek character, Moira Rose, and her hilarious show, “QuaranTeaTime with Moira Rose” has gone viral throughout social media. Michael’s TikTok has millions of views and followers to date, as well as personalized merch for fans. Michael writes and performs all of his skits in many different outfits, wigs to portray Moira Rose. Not only does he do impressions of Moira Rose, but he also includes cameos of the entire cast of Schitt’s Creek throughout his page. Emmy Award-winning actress, Catherine O’Hara, acknowledged and praised Michael for his impression of her Schitt’s Creek character Moira Rose in a recent interview saying, “He’s really good!”

Michael recently completed his first feature film. ‘Milkwater,’ opposite Molly Bernard and Robin De Jesus. ‘Milkwater’ recently won “Best Screenplay” at Brooklyn film festival and “Best Narrative Feature” at the Indie Street Virtual Film Festival.

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

It all began on a crisp, fall day in 1971, in the sleepy town of Potsdam, New York when a young college freshman named Liz Burke (recently voted Best Legs on campus) laid eyes on the dashing Sophomore and Student Body President, Paul Berry. Eventually, they graduated, married, became a lawyer (Dad) and a psychologist (Mom), moved to three states, two countries, and at least one condemned house before settling in Syracuse, New York. In 1987, Liz and Paul had a baby with unusually large eyebrows, that cried constantly and never slept. Eventually, that baby grew into his eyebrows…although still never stops talking and is a terrible sleeper.

I had a fairly normal childhood (despite Syracuse’s unnecessary amount of snow). I was fortunate to grow up with the world’s greatest older sister, who is still teaching me new things and bailing me out of jams. I was very hyperactive and loved doing funny voices and impressions, so it was no surprise that I ended up in the theater. Growing up I loved old movies, especially classic comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Harvey. I watched as much Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and Carol Burnett as I could find, and memorized Bette Midler, Joan Rivers, and Robin Williams’ comedy routines.

I had a wonderful group of neighborhood friends who played kickball and capture the flag almost every day during the summer. We all had nicknames that one of the older boys gave us, mine was “Supersonicidioticmushbrain”…because I was very fast but had a very short attention span. I attended Catholic schools, first Most Holy Rosary and then Christian Brothers Academy. I would like to thank Mrs. Mannion and Mr. Benware for being amazing creative writing teachers (If they see this, I sincerely hope I use proper grammar!)

I’m lucky that my parents are curious and intrepid people, so we did a lot of camping, hiking, and traveling…we’ve managed to visit all seven continents! My Dad used to race motorcycles, so in high school my sister and I both learned how to ride, and still have our own bikes. Both of my parents love music, so there was always something playing, from Puccini to Bruce Springsteen. And when I decided I wanted to be an actor, my whole family was very supportive, and still are!

I’ve always been a little different, kind of a lovable oddball. I have an extensive collection of “old man sweaters”, I drink far too much coffee, and I always stop to watch a nice sunset…I think that’s me in a nutshell.

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

When I was eight years old, I understudied the role of Oliver in a production of the musical Oliver. One weekend, the kid playing Oliver called out, and I got to go on! I had already done a production of The King and I, where I played one of the many royal children, but this was my first time playing a lead. I vividly remember sitting alone in a spotlight, belting out the song “Where Is Love”…that was the moment I fell in love with performing. From there I took singing and dance lessons, and did as many productions as I could. Eventually, I received my BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, followed by a Masters in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Now, at 33 years old, performing onstage is still just as thrilling as it was when I was eight.

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

The joy of working in live theater is that anything can happen! I’ve had many interesting experiences, but the first that comes to mind is a story from when I was in the National Tour of Monty Python’s Spamalot. I played the role of Patsy, King Arthur’s sweet, but longsuffering sidekick. In the Spamalot, King Arthur doesn’t ride a horse, I just followed behind him making hoof sounds with coconut shells and carrying a massive backpack (literally, the backpack was larger than me). At one point in the show, Arthur and I exited stage right, then had to run quickly behind the stage, and enter immediately from stage left. Well, one theater we played had a very narrow crossover (hallway behind the stage), and while Arthur ran ahead of me, my giant backpack and I got wedged partway down the hall. Because our microphones were still on, we had to be silent, so I couldn’t call out to him! Arthur barreled on ahead while I desperately tried to silently free myself, arms and legs flailing like an overturned beetle. After a few seconds I heard Arthur make his entrance, say his lines, and then turn to find that I was no longer behind him. Thankfully the actor who played Arthur (who was named Arthur in real life!) is a brilliant improvisor and managed to makeup a whole monologue while the crew came and shoved me down the rest of the hall. Eventually I came flying onstage, out of breath and scuffed up, to a round of applause and Arthur’s great relief.

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 don’t know if this is necessarily a funny story, but it certainly was a learning experience. After the roaring success of my weekend playing Oliver, eight-year old me thought I was just the bee’s knees. A few months later I went in to audition for a production of The Music Man. I didn’t properly prepare, because I thought I was so talented that I didn’t have to practice; so, of course, during the audition I forgot the words to the song they’d asked me to learn. Afterwards, my Mom made me go back and apologize to the director…needless to say, I did not get the part. Ever since that humiliating and oh so humbling experience, I prepare as much as I can for every audition I get!

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

During the pandemic, I created a show which I post on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube called QuaranTeaTime, where I do a parody of Catherine O’Hara’s character Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek. It was meant as a sort of inside joke among my friends but has inexplicably become an “international sensation.” Now I parody other characters and celebrities that “guest star” on QuaranTeaTime with Moira such as Britney Spears, Cher, and other characters from Schitt’s Creek. I was never very knowledgeable when it came to social media, and I’ve never written or created my own work before, so this whole thing has been a wonderful learning experience!

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?

I think it’s essential that entertainment honestly reflect our culture, which is extremely diverse. I think it’s especially important that we have diversity in entertainment so that children grow up with all kinds of role models and fictional characters to look up to and be influenced by. With kids seeing more varied kinds of people represented, hopefully, that will inspire them to embrace their own individuality and not try to “fit in” but instead to “stand out.”

I also think the more diversity we have and the more inclusive the entertainment industry is, the more exciting work we will see! I personally love seeing movies or plays about people who are completely different from me, who open my eyes to new perspectives and ideas…and the more diverse the storytellers, the more interesting and eye opening those stories will.

I certainly think creating more inclusive and diverse TV shows and films will have a massive impact on society. The more we are exposed to stories about people who may look or sound different from us, the more empathetic and understanding we will be as a society. Hopefully seeing a beautiful spectrum of people in our everyday entertainment will help people be a little less judgmental of each other, and a little kinder to one another.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be Patient! When I first started out, I thought I would achieve “success” immediately. I thought I’d graduate from college and Broadway or Hollywood would come knocking down my door. I’ve had to learn how to be patient and kind to myself…it’s very easy to be your own worst critic. I’ve also learned to appreciate the journey. With every new “survival” job as well as acting job, I’ve met new and interesting people, and grown more as a person.
  2. Go to bed at a reasonable time! I have a very bad habit of staying up too late doing nothing productive whatsoever, which makes actually being productive the next day quite difficult. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but when you have to audition for Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys first thing in the morning, going to sleep at 3 am doesn’t do you any favors.
  3. Stay put! I moved a lot in my early twenties, mostly between LA and NYC. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or scared, instead of working through it, I would move, and hope that a new city would fix my problems. I’ve learned that no matter where you move, your problems follow you. I’m now in my thirties and only just experiencing the benefits of staying in one place, finding a community, and laying down some roots.
  4. Stick with something! I have ADHD and have a lot of difficulties finishing a project. I begin something, then see something shiny, and move on to that. It’s only recently that I’ve had the self-discipline to actually see an idea through, and it’s been immeasurably rewarding. QuaranTeaTime is a prime example of this newfound work ethic.
  5. Enjoy the present! I spent so much of my twenties worrying about my future that I often forgot to stop and just enjoying the moment I was in. I think this came from a place of insecurity. I didn’t know how to embrace who I was, so I would fantasize about the future potentialities instead of creating present actualities.

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

The biggest thing I’d suggest is having other hobbies and that give you fulfillment! I think having a wide range of interests gives your brain a break from constantly stressing about acting, and also allows you find other outlets for potential successes. For example, I recently discovered that I very much enjoy knitting. I find knitting relaxing, and I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I finish a scarf. Sometimes those seemingly insignificant victories can have a massive impact on your wellbeing and self-confidence.

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. 🙂

In every video I post on social media, I strive to remind people to stay positive and to be kind…while hopefully giving them a little giggle as well. It seems like there is so much anger and negativity in the world right now, and I hope that I’m a reminder to people to be more open-minded and nicer to each other, and to be kinder and more patient with themselves as well. I’d love it if every day, as cheesy as this sounds, we could all take a moment to acknowledge one thing that we love about ourselves and one thing that we love about another person. I think we can all use a daily reminder that there are still reasons to be happy.

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?

That’s so true!! I have had SO much help from countless people over the years!

Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. My Mom, Dad, and Sister have supported me my entire life, and I don’t know where I would be without them.

The nonfamilial person that springs to mind (among the many!) is Penny Cherns. Penny is the head of the MFA program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and in many ways, she saved my life. When I enrolled at LAMDA, I was at a very low point, both personally and professionally, and Penny saw potential in me that I didn’t know existed. She took me under her wing and pushed me to be a much smarter, more varied, and confident actor…and human being. I graduated from LAMDA a stronger and much more capable person, and I will be forever grateful to Penny for everything she taught me.

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

My mother always said, “Peoples is peoples”, which, is a quote from The Muppets Take Manhattan. My Mom is a Clinical Psychologist who sees people from all walks of life, and has seen folks at their absolute worst, along with their absolute best. That mindset, “peoples is peoples”, had a huge impact on me because I grew up giving people the benefit of the doubt and to respect their perspective. I feel I am a more sympathetic and understanding adult because of this beautifully basic lesson I learned as a child. You never know what someone else is going through, so be friendly and patient. Sometimes something as simple as a smile can make a world difference in someone’s day.

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. 🙂

This is kind of a three-way tie (I hope that’s not cheating!)

First, obviously Catherine O’Hara! Not just because I’ve now had success doing a parody of a character she created, but because I think she is easily one of the best comedic actors of all time. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, since well before Schitt’s Creek, and I would LOVE to sit and soak up as much of her wisdom as possible…also she seems like such a genuinely lovely person, I imagine she’d be a lot of fun to have lunch with!

Second, can I say Maggie Smith AND Judi Dench together? Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are my two favorite living actors. I’ve heard they’re close friends in real life, so the dream is that they’d let me crash a lunch that they already had scheduled. I think they are both utterly brilliant, and have worked with some of the greatest artists in the business in some of the greatest venues in the world. Being a huge entertainment history buff and anglophile, I could sit and listen to Maggie and Judi tell stories for many, many lunches.

How can our readers follow you online?

The primary place I post QuaranTeaTime is on my Instagram, @MJudsonBerry. It is available on YouTube as well, just search for Michael Judson Berry, and I also post truncated versions of every episode on TikTok, which is also @MJudsonBerry.

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

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