There is a reason why movies like “Call Me By Your Name”, “Wonder”, and “Love Simon” is made. These movies don’t aim to entertain people; instead, they attempt to initiate a conversation. Mike C. Manning has been working and producing movies that are more than entertaining. His documentary “Lost in America” showcases the lives of homeless youth, wandering and surviving amidst people living the American Dream. Same is the case with other works by the actor.
He first garnered attention with his role in “Cloud 9”, an original by Disney. Manning went on to work on several movies and series including “Jinn”, “God’s Not Dead”, “Six Degrees of Separation” and others.
The actor and producer is busy with several projects. Manning’s latest movie “Ice the Movie” will be releasing on Amazon soon. CelebMix talked to the actor to know about his journey, his activism and his future projects. Check out the complete interview below:
In your interviews, you have shared your fascination for acting & production and how it has shaped the artist you are today. We would like to know about that moment when you realized that you wanted to be an actor.
Growing up, I always had an active imagination, which my parents and grandparents encouraged. I think a lot of kids remember “flying around the house” dressed as one Superhero or another. For me, the cape never really left. My idea of a good time would be to act out movies with my siblings or kids in the neighborhood. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I could actually make a living doing it.
Which moments would you consider as the main highlights of your journey so far?
I’ve been lucky. There have definitely been moments where I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I guess my list would include: nerd-ing out with Dean Cain about Superman on the set of “Operation Cupcake,” being trained by former US Olympic snowboarders for Disney’s “Cloud 9,” getting to fight Linden Ashby on “Teen Wolf” (who was an idol of mine as Johnny Cage in “Mortal Combat”), and interviewing Halle Berry about the need to help homeless youth in our country for my documentary “Lost in America.” I was also able to bring my mom to an event at Paramount Studios where I received an award for activism. She dressed up and walked the red carpet with me. That was a great moment for both of us.
Considering that you are not just an actor but also an activist, we would like to know about your vision of art. How do you perceive your profession?
I like to think about some of the films that I produce as a form of “creative activism.” I think film has such a potential to open hearts and minds to new ways of thinking and being. Whether you have captivated audiences in theaters or in their homes, they are inviting you into their lives. I always think about that when deciding what films to make, “What story do I want the world to see?”
Do you have any actor or producer you look up to?
There are so many. If I had to pick just one, it would be Leonardo DiCaprio. As an actor, he’s transformed himself in so many different roles over the years. As a producer, he’s created films about the environment and the world around us that have really affected me. And it’s not just a hobby for him. I had the opportunity to speak with him after I saw his documentary on the environment “Before the Flood,” and his passion for helping our planet is extremely genuine and inspiring.
Be it “God’s Not Dead”, “Jinn” or “Lost in America”, each of your works (as an actor or producer) deal with both personal as well as sociological issues. How do you decide on the themes you work on?
To be honest, a lot of these projects have found me. For “Jinn,” I had been attending events for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) for years, learning about how they are combatting Islamophobia in our country. Then I met Nijla Mu’min and Avril Z. Speaks at an Independent Film event where they pitched me a story about a girl coming of age at a time when her mother was converting to Islam. I was immediately intrigued. For “Lost in America”, it was similar. I put on Facebook that I wanted to find ways to help homeless youth in LA.
Someone messaged me that they were working on a film, and I fell in love with the story.
What issues do you wish to showcase or create awareness for on-screen through your future projects?
There are so many issues out there, but I’d say with my future projects, I’d like to create awareness for homeless youth, the environment, and public safety/gun control. I think good stories can have a combo of these and many other issues.
“God’s Not Dead” is already in the theatres. What responses have you seen so far?
I’ve had films in theaters before, but “God’s Not Dead” is the one that’s had the widest release, so for me, that’s definitely exciting. I’m getting messages from family/friends around the country that they saw the trailer in the theater, or saw the movie and didn’t even realize I was going to be in it. The responses I’ve been getting have been positive so far.
We went through the comments on “Lost in America” trailer and found people to be really excited about the movie. Youth Homeless is a serious issue that affects both the homeless individual as well as the nation as a whole. Please tell us about your involvement in the project.
For the past six years, I’ve been doing volunteer work in LA for the homeless – with my church, with friends, it’s an issue I’ve cared about for a while. On “Lost in America,” I’m the lead producer, which basically means that when something needs to get done, the director calls me. The film has really grown over the past year, to include people like Rosario Dawson, Halle Berry, Jewel, Jon Bon Jovi, Sanaa Lathan and others. We could have released the film in 2016, but we waited, and now I think it’s a much better project because of that. It is my hope that this film pushes Congress to pass a bill that begins to fix things, and we have a HUGE national campaign planned for that. The film will begin playing in the festival circuit starting next month!
The same goes for “Jinn”. The trailer has definitely generated curiosity amongst viewers. In light of our history and tradition, religion and identity are inescapable areas of an individual’s life, yet people try and evade them. What do you wish to portray through “Jinn”? Please tell us more about the project.
We just premiered “Jinn” as the SXSW Film Festival last month. The response has been very positive, and I would guess that we’ll see it in theaters some time later this year. In my opinion, religion uses the examples of others in our history to encourage us to do “good,” to help others, to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. When I see religion used as a tool for hatred, nothing is more disappointing. I think with “Jinn”, we see that everyone has a struggle, and at the core of who we are, we have much more in common than we are different.
Please tell us about your work for Boo2Bullying. How did the association come about?
Boo2Bullying was founded by a group of artists in 2011, in response to bullying found in schools, online and in the media. Now, it provides outreach, education, mentorship and support for youth and their families. I joined the organization in 2012 as an Ambassador, and am now on the Board.
We’ve been growing consistently over the past several years, and have a presence in more school programs in Los Angeles and Palm Springs than ever before. I love my B2B peeps!
Would you like to share with us your future projects or endeavors?
I just finished a mini-series for Amazon called “Six Degrees of Separation,” produced by Emmy-winner Jared Safiere, so that’s pretty exciting. My character goes through some really emotional stuff, and I can’t wait for audiences to see it. “Ice the Movie” drops on Amazon this month. I play a professional ice skater and the love interest of the lead (Maddison Bullock). I played hockey when I was younger, but nothing prepared me for skating with everyone else in this movie – professional ice skaters. I think I look convincing though. And I just finished filming “Dirt Merchants: Rebelistic.” The project is set in the 1980’s, so I had to wear a longhaired wig to play the lead. Taking place in the world of gangs and street sales, it’s loosely based off the best-selling book “The Dirt Merchants” by Henning Morales.
You can use @mikecmanning to follow the actor on the social media platforms. Have you seen any of Manning’s movies? What do you think about them? Share your thoughts via tweet @CelebMix.