Michael Harney has an extensive career working both in TV and Film. His credits include “NYPD Blue”, “Deadwood”, “True Detective” and “Erin Brockovich”. Michael currently stars in Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black” as prison counselor Sam Healy.
So let’s start by talking about “Orange Is the New Black”. I’m always intrigued by Healy because, in a show filled with very complex characters, he is one of the most complex ones, as he is sometimes the villain and sometimes the hero for the women of Litchfield. Why do you think his behavior changes so drastically? Do you relate to him at all?
“I think anybody in life sometimes does things one way and sometimes another. Sometimes they are helpful and involved in life-affirming things and sometimes they’re not. And Healy is no different. I think one of the main messages with Healy is, you know, we all have clay feet. He’s a counselor, he’s trying to help people, but there are a lot of wounded healers out there. And sure, there are certain parts of the character that I identify with. I have to personalize everything that I’m doing. I’m a very different person than Sam Healy, but I have to find parallels in my life that I can use in order to live truthfully through the scenes.”
I’m guessing your childhood wasn’t quite like Healy’s childhood either?
That little glimpse into his backstory was funny in a disturbing way, but also very sad. What were your thoughts when you got the script for that?
“I think it makes complete sense, because of his difficulty dealing with women. Jenji (Kohan, the showrunner) and the writers are really top-notch, so they are really looking into causative factors as to why characters behave the way they behave. In some ways, they are analysts. They are able to come up with a lot of things relating to psychological and human behavior that are pretty right on.”
Yeah, it definitely made sense to me too. The other curious thing that happened in Season 3 for Healy was that he and Red almost got together. What did you think of that subplot?
“Oh, it was great. We had a great time shooting it. Kate and I are good friends and we love working together. It’s a privilege to be able to work and share an artistic space with her. I don’t know where they are going to go with that, but we really enjoyed it.”
Do you watch the show at all? I’m always curious to know if actors watch their own shows.
“I don’t, really. I watch certain performances of other people sometimes. I used to watch everything, but because I’m not directing at the moment I don’t watch it. For this particular project I’m not, I’m sort of living it through from the inside out. If I watch it, I’m kinda watching myself living it from the inside out, so it’s kinda like a Salvador Dali painting.”
You are known for playing “tough men with complicated interior lives”. How similar to that are you in real life?
“I don’t think I’m a super tough guy. I mean, I grew up with tough guys but I’m not really that tough, I’m just kind of run-of-the-mill. But I’ve lived a lot and seen a lot in my 50-whatever years. I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt, and the complexities have to do with the work that I studied for a long time. I studied for 7 years and taught the work for 8 years. I just really devoted myself to it for about 15 years in New York. You get to a point where it just becomes second nature to bring stuff up.”
Are there many differences between working on a regular TV show and working on one that is intended for the Internet?
“Not really. Because that is the wave of the future now. That’s going to be the way things will be done, you will open your laptop and watch whatever you want to watch. The machine, if you will, the way the production works is really just shifting to that modality. The TV machine is shifting to the Internet machine.”
Do you have any other projects you’d like to tell us about?
“Sure, I have a film opening pretty soon called “Bad Hurt”. It was written and directed by Mark Kemble. I’m really proud of it, we worked really hard on it and it’s a story about special needs kids and their families. It’s also got veterans just back from war and how their families cope with those situations. And I just finished a movie called “Soy Negro”, directed by a wonderful director I actually became friends with, his name is Rafi Pitts. He kinda set things up the way I imagine John Cassavetes setting things up. He just kind of let me out of the cage, and filmed it, it was very free.”
On that note, do you think you get the most freedom when working in Film or in TV?
“It totally depends on the director. Television is very fast, you only have time to get a couple of takes, so it really depends. I think the freedom comes within the given structure of the day. I always do a scene a few different ways, so there is freedom in that. On “Orange Is The New Black” they give me a lot of freedom to really explore things. This project with Rafi was just off the charts, though. I called him because I had a great idea for this backstory for the character and he just said “great, let’s go with it”. I must have added 5 pages of dialogue to the script. It was awesome. I hope to work together again with him.”
Michael’s next film, “Bad Hurt”, is currently touring the festival circuit.
Season 4 of “Orange Is The New Black” premieres on Netflix in 2016.