Michael McGrady is a man of many talents. Prominently known as an actor, he also plays in his own band, is an accomplished fine artist, and is an all-round action man when it comes to sports.
When he was just 19, the actor’s life changed forever. Having planned to attend law school, Michael then discovered a malignant melanoma (the same cancer that took his father’s life only one year earlier). This led to him taking a break from his studies in order to pursue his lifelong dream of acting instead.
The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, Michael has appeared in a plethora of well known shows and films, including The Babe, The Perfect Family, Rage, Southland, American Crime Story: The People Vs OJ Simpson, and Deep End of the Ocean.
Currently, you will find Michael on Freeform’s Beyond, starring as Tom Matthews. Additionally, he will be returning to our screens as Frank Barnes for series five of Ray Donovan (which airs in August).
We recently had the opportunity to ask Michael McGrady about his extensive career, what we can expect from the new series of Ray Donovan, his band and much more.
How has the first half of 2017 been treating you so far?
Outstanding! Both professionally and personally. All of my kids are doing what they love and enjoy, so as a parent that is reassuring. I miss having them around all of the time though. They are all out of the house and that’s been a bit challenging to deal with. My wife and I find ourselves with a lot more time on our hands, so we’ve been filling it with travel, picking up new sports and activities along with a lot of the things we already enjoy. Professionally, I am recurring as Frank Barnes on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” with Marquee actors, directors, producers and crew across the board. That’s working out very nicely. Additionally, I am a series regular on Freefrom’s new hit show, BEYOND as Tom Matthews. So yes, work is good and so is life in general.
You’ll soon be back on our screens as Frank Barnes in ‘Ray Donovan’. What can we expect from series 5?
Major surprises, twists and turns. That’s in keeping with the magic of Ray Donovan and its appeal. I really liked what they did with my story line in season 5. I think fans are going to be shocked and entertained by what develops between Ray and I. I got to work with Jon Voight a lot this season– that was a real treat. He is so present, thoughtful, kind, and caring. A true gentleman and a terrific actor to work with. You have to bring you’re A game or he’ll eat you alive.
What attracted you to the show/role in the first place?
Ann Biderman, the creator of the show. Ann created a wonderful show called Southland, another show that I was a series regular on that was critically acclaimed. Ann is a sublimely thoughtful writer. Thorough research and a genuine curiosity and love for people pushes through everything she writes. She writes great characters that are fun for any actor to bite into. I liked the idea of being a corrupt FBI agent as well. I am an anti-hero at heart. I am fascinated with the shadow aspect of people; digging in the dirt to find the dark matter that most people struggle relentlessly to conceal. The shame, the guilt, the dark forces that convince us it is okay to do something, that down deep we know is not in our best interest, but we do it anyway. Characters that are multidimensional get my motor going. Anytime I am strapped with a cliché character that doesn’t live up to the promise it had in the beginning when I sign on to a particular job, I have to work twice as hard to work against those malevolent forces that– try as I might to keep at bay– usually result in mediocre portrayals. Sure, that can at times make for interesting work, but that’s rare, and usually it just ends up being an exercise in painting lipstick on a pig.
You star alongside Liev Schreiber – what’s he like to work with?
Challenging, in a good way. Over time we became our characters anytime we were in front of the camera. The work came easy. He is highly intelligent and intuitive and you will not pass any bullshit past him. We discuss each scene with the writer, show-runner, director and turn over all of the stones as it were. Just when you think you’ve put the scene through a rigorous test Liev will find these seemingly minute discrepancies that others have missed, that turn out to be much bigger potential problems if we don’t not address them right away. But he wants to put out the best product he can. He wants what is right and he works hard at his craft. I respect him and became a huge fan and friend.
Your resume is so extensive – what’s been your most challenging role so far?
Lou Gehrig in the Babe. I had not thrown a hardball since junior high, let alone left handed nor had I ever batted left handed. They hooked me up with a couple of pros to teach me. When I first stood in the batting cage I could not hit a 40 mph anything right or left handed, and we were starting in two weeks. I was scared. But in time, I learned to hit 90 mph pitches one after another, left and right handed. I now insist on hitting left handed anytime I play softball or baseball. I’m much more effective batting left handed. For the movie we had to hit off of a live arm, in Wrigley field in front of thousands of extras. It was intimidating but it was exhilarating. John Goodman and I would have competitions at bat to challenge and encourage each other.
Melding fact with fiction is very stimulating for any actor. Honoring the facts, but being interpretive enough so as to put a personal spin on the character and the circumstances is very fulfilling. Anytime I have to portray a real person, of which I have, many times, you have to do your research. You have to pick up on the little idiosyncrasies and contradictions, which are what define us as human beings. I love doing period pieces and I thoroughly enjoy portraying real people.
When you’re not acting, you perform with your band Michael McGrady’s Sonic Groove. What does music mean to you?
Music is my meditation. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10. I jammed with my friends throughout my younger years off and on. I entered a talent contest when I was 11. I sang Sitting On the Dock Of the Bay by Otis Redding and I did it to win the heart of a girl in my class. It did not go well– I forgot the chords and lyrics several times. I was mortified and I was embarrassed to see her. Thank God she was sick that day and stayed home. SCORE!! At about the same time a drummer friend of mine and I would jam together pretty regularly, but we were terrible. I believe we did over 1,000 really bad versions of Smoke On the Water. It’s the only song we worked on and it did not get any better so our band never really became the big deal we were hoping for.
The guitar continues to be my solace, and my religion. I’ve spent countless hours in hundreds of hotels around the globe on location filming, just plucking away at my guitar. Hours would pass and I wasn’t aware of it. Out of the plucking has come a lot of tears, smiles and insights and even a few decent tunes. I ramped it up lately with a new band simply because I had a major fear of singing in front of people. I was a closet guitar player for all of my life, choosing only to play and sing for my wife and kids and maybe a few select friends. I figured the best way to overcome the fear is to just do it anyway. I met two guys in a men’s basketball league I play in, who play instruments. One is an outstanding lead guitarist, Barry Smith, and the other, an equally talented Percussionist, Jerry Tintor. We were talking one day after several games of ball and the subject of music came up. Barry and I decided to get together and just jam some cover songs at his place, it was magical. We then asked Jerry if he’d like to join some day. He jumped on it. Within 3 months we were playing the local LA scene. Doing a mix of about 30 covers and originals that I wrote. Performing is performing, but performing music live is a rush like no other.
You’re also an accomplished fine artist, you have two black belts in different styles of Karate, and you’re an all-round active man, sailing, surfing and coaching youth sports. Is there anything you can’t do?!
Ha! Lots, but there is still time. I can’t seem to embrace anything that doesn’t involve an adrenaline rush or that inculcates a meditative state. I am motivated by sports and activities that require a knowledge of science, physics, precise motor skills, knowledge and leave little room for error. I am particularly drawn to solo sports. I did the team thing all throughout school and of course my business requires a sense of teamwork as does my band. I really gravitate towards solo endeavors or activities that perhaps my wife and kids can enjoy with me like surfing, sailing, mountain biking etc.
Painting and sculpting have been my other retreats. Again, when I paint or fly my hang glider, ride my Harley, surf, it is all meditative. They are things that require being in the NOW, the present. Nothing else can occupy your mind. You must be totally committed to the task at hand. Hours and even full days can pass and I am always shocked that I was unaware of how much time had passed. Everything I do has a deliberate design behind it and a specific purpose. I paint to relax and to check in with my soul to see how I’m doing.
You’ve achieved a great deal in your career…is there anything left that you would like to achieve, for example a dream role?
Good question. There are directors I would love to work with. Spielberg, Eastwood, Fincher, Scott, Redford, Tarantino, Joe Wright to name a few. And there are actors I would love to work with as well: Daniel Craig, Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Carry Mulligan, Judy Dench, Natalie Portman, Russell Crowe, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hanks, Albert Finney, and Brian Cox to name a few.
You overcame a bout of malignant melanoma at just 19. How did this affect and shape you as a person?
In every way imaginable and unimaginable. Staring death square in the face is no common nor trite task. Anyone out there who has or is or who knows someone dealing with cancer knows it is a solo pursuit. It takes extreme courage, unrelenting resolve, an ability to walk the fine line of determination to live while at the same time being somewhat prepared for the possibility of death. It’s like living life at half speed because you have left the emergency brake on. Every minute of every day there was a pit in my stomach the first 5 years after my surgery. No matter how much fun I might have been having at a party or event or with a certain individual I did not allow myself to fully embrace it. I clinched life very lightly, so as not to be caught entirely off guard in the event that my cancer returned. I was all too aware of how tenuous and fragile life was, so every moment had to count.
I learned to pay attention to the truly valuable and life enhancing aspects of life. To this day I refuse to get into a conversation or engage with anything that is common, average or boring. I want to be stimulated, educated, enlightened, and challenged by provocative questions and better yet to be able to do so in reciprocation. Light conversation is something I will never be accused of. I love to laugh and I love wit and humor and if you can teach me something new I will hound you to be my friend. Anything short of that I simply just cannot seem to get engaged. Once I was more or less in the clear via a 5 year window. I stopped worrying about dying at a young age and started truly living. I was fortunate enough to come across a quote by the Roman Emperor and Philosopher Marcus Aurelius right about the time that 5 year window was up. “It is not death that man should fear but rather having never lived”. I claimed that as my mantra, my motto, my motivation to take a big bite out of life. I developed a voracious appetite for new knowledge, new abilities, new places, new people and I approached life with no fear and no limits. What others thought? I could give a rip. Because in the end they were not there when I took my first breath and they most likely will not be there when I take my last, and rarely are “they” there in between when it really counts.
You’ve got three children, one of which is one of our favourite models Hunter McGrady. What advice have you given her with regards to being in the public eye?
Just that. You are in the public eye. Some will love you and embrace what you are all about and some will hate you or be indifferent towards you. In the end, the product you are selling to the public be it a fashion designers new line, a product or service or even as a character like me as an actor is what is really on trial. Not you the person. That is not who you are, it’s what you do. “They” don’t know you. “They” only know the public persona or the character and maybe a few pedestrian or titillating facts about you, but they will never know you at the soul level. So any personal criticism the public levels at you is based in ignorance and presumption at best. I have always told all of my kids that if you pay no mind to the cheers you won’t hear the jeers either. Stay the course with personal integrity sticking to your own ideals and value system, treat people with the golden rule in mind and watch the wonder of your life unfold. Most criticism is projection anyway.
Do you have any projects lined up for the rest of the year which you can tell us about?
I am still working on my music, switching it up with different band members. I’m angling towards coming out with all originals to play live and perhaps record. I am still painting for a few collectors and hoping to build that up a bit more and trying new genres and a new voice. There are other projects that I’d rather keep quiet about for now. And of course Fingers crossed, Ray will continue, as well as BEYOND.
Thank you for your time.
No, thank you, it has been delightful and my pleasure.
Keep up to date with all things Michael McGrady by checking his website.