Michelle Danner is a legendary acting teacher and co-founder of the Edgemar Center for the Arts and the Los Angeles Acting Conservatory, as well as a successful feature film director. Her upcoming film The Runner is an action thriller and true-life coming-of-age story that stars Cameron Douglas and newcomer Eduoard Philipponnat as a troubled teenager forced to go undercover to expose a drug kingpin. It premiered at the Cinequest Film Festival and is set to premiere internationally at the Ferrara International Film Festival.
Michelle Danner Discusses Her Career and Upcoming Film The Runner
Maggie Lovitt (ML): Looking at your childhood, you grew up exposed to so many incredible experiences and under the tutelage of so many profound acting teachers. Are there any precise moments that you can pinpoint as throughlines to today? Perhaps, a performance you saw as a child that has shaped how you teach and direct today?
Michelle Danner (MD): As a teenager, I was inspired by Stella Adler. Because she demanded that we paint and created the world of the character, asked our imagination to conjure it, and by doing that she made me a more playful and versatile actor. For that, I will always be grateful for her teachings.
I can pinpoint 2 performances that were life-changing: Going to see Kathy Bates in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Marsha Norman “Night, Mother,” her moving performance blew me away. Another one was Jennifer Holiday in Dreamgirls when she sang at the end of act one, “And I'm telling you I'm not going”, literally the theater shook, my whole being shook.
The depth of their pain that resonated with me really taught me the degree that an actor needs to be brave and risk in their work.
ML: Most people are familiar with the Adler, Meisner, Strasberg, and Hagen methods, do you teach with a combination of these methods or is there a special Danner method utilized to teach your students?
MD: I have studied with Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, the Meisner and Stanislavski Technique, and with many other teachers. I'm a great believer that all these methodologies are valuable and essential to contribute to an actor's toolbox. Each actor should form their own Golden Box where they pick and choose what concepts work for them from all the different techniques.
I rebel against dogma. Everybody is not the same. Each person is unique and therefore their toolbox needs to be customized to the artist that they are.
ML: The film industry and how we consume media is constantly changing. Has that changed how you teach? Have you found any of your methods evolving?
MD: I think that acting has evolved throughout time to be more and more real. I love this year's Oscar contender Nomadland because although it had wonderful veteran actors such as Frances McDormand and David Strathairn the rest of the cast were regular people improvising and speaking their truths
ML: Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of TikTok influencers make a turn for mainstream film and television roles. What advice do you have for performers looking to make a splash as an influencer to break into the industry?
I have worked with several influencers from TikTok that have a large following but ultimately if they don’t know how to act and they want to act, it doesn’t matter how many followers they have, they will get panned. So it behooves them to understand that there is a craft to acting that needs to be mastered and fine-tuned.
ML: Outside of teaching, you’re also a director. What sort of projects are you drawn to? Are there any specific things you look for when choosing a project to direct?
MD: I am drawn to projects that spark a conversation. I love different genres, from romantic comedy to thrillers to horror. I’m drawn to movies that have a message and that will move people to have conversations and take action.
ML: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming film The Runner.
MD: I was lucky enough to shoot The Runner right before the lockdown. We were gonna push a month and if we did, we probably would have never shot it. I was very affected by a news report that I saw about high school students being recruited as informants to bring down big drug dealers. I wrote a treatment that I gave to a friend of mine, the wonderful writer Jason Chase-Tyrrell. And I was lucky to get a great cast of actors to make it come to life.
We are doing the festival circuit right now. The movie premiered at Cinequest last month and is winning awards. I am looking forward to people's feedback about the movie. To date, of all the movies, I have directed, this is the most personal one for me.
ML: Do you have any projects planned now that the industry is getting back on track after last year?
MD: I’m very thrilled to be working on a romantic comedy called Starstruck written by Billy Khoury with a unique twist that’s never been done before and another comedy The Italians written by Lisa Visca. That’s what always draws me in, something that’s different. You always wanna ask yourself, why do I need to make this movie and there always has to be a very good reason for that. After the year we’ve had, it’s comedy time!
You can watch Michelle Danner's Bad Impulses on Amazon Prime Video.
Maggie Lovitt is a writer at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery.
In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.