Mike Manning has come a long way from his days on ‘The Real World: DC,’ since then Manning has had a successful producing career through his company Chhibber Mann Productions that he runs with a partner, he has received a courage award from LifeWorks for his dedication to the youth development and mentoring program, and has had a pretty successful acting career appearing on ‘Cloud 9’, ‘Hawaii Five-o,’ ‘Youthful Days,’ and now a movie called ‘Love Is All You Need?’ directed by Kim Rocco Shields.
This film takes on your typical “taboo” topics such as sexual orientation and bullying. Prior to the film’s debut, Manning sat down exclusively with us to discuss his background and the importance of making films like this one.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved in acting?
(laughs). Oh wow, we are going that far. Well, it sounds cliché but I am going to say it anyway. I have always loved it. I started doing theater when I was young. I was always doing musicals, plays, and acting competitions in Colorado. I knew I always loved it, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it. It’s different acting in Colorado than it is in LA or in NYC. So, I was always felt that acting was a hobby. Then in college, I went to school for business and I remember thinking I don’t want a job in business. I had done about 30 plays by this point. The very next week after I graduated a manager in Los Angeles (who had seen some random stuff that I was in over the years) reached out to me. He told me to give LA six months. I packed up my car, drove out to LA, and went for it. That was almost six years ago now.
How long after you moved to LA did you get your first role?
Well, it’s interesting. My very first audition was for ‘Power Rangers.’ I went in and I got a callback and then I got another callback. Then I met with producers and I signed a contract. It was between me and one other actor. Of course, I didn’t get it, but I thought wow this acting thing is easy, everyone makes it sound so hard and at my first audition, I almost booked it. (laughs). Then for the next four months, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I called my parents and told them that I had given myself the six months and nothing was happening so maybe this isn’t for me. I told them I would call them the following week and have my brother fly out to LA and come drive back home with me. The very next day (after that phone call), I received a call that I booked a movie and then it was a domino effect. Granted it was small indie films, but it was work.
Well, you made a great decision because you have been working pretty steadily since!
I have been really, really lucky. I honestly do not take that for granted because I know there are so many people, talented people who are out here trying to make it in this crazy industry. I am just lucky that I’ve gotten steady work. I also treat this like a 9-5. I never stop working. My friends will tell you, I will be the guy who steps out and takes a call at work. It’s kind of annoying sometimes, but I never stop working and I never stop trying to setup meetings and so I think that that probably is part of it.
In the past two years, you have done a short and you have four movies in pre and post production. So you have been working like crazy. One of them is called Love Is All You Need? and I would love to talk about. So, it started out as a short film and then became a full-fledged movie?
‘Love Is All You Need?’ is a wonderful story for some many reasons — both for the film and for me being involved. [Kim] Rocco Shields is the director and I met Rocco about two years ago doing a music video. She was telling me about this film and told me the premise and the idea. I told her it sounds amazing and to keep me updated. She sent me the script and I loved it. She worked so hard to make this film happen. So when she actually got it funded and it became time to make it, she called me up and said, Mike, I want you to be a part of this film some way. I went in, I auditioned and I got it. That was my involvement. It was just me and Rocco and loving the story and then going in and putting in a good audition.
What is the movie about?
Well, it’s really cool. On the movie side, ‘Love Is All You Need?’ started out as a short film about a girl getting bullied. It’s actually hard to watch. The short went viral with millions of views. It has been translated since it’s release into dozens of languages around the world. People are always reaching out to Rocco saying, ‘this is so powerful. This needs to happen!’ So she used that momentum to make it into a feature film. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story flipped on its head. I saw the latest cut last week and it’s really good. It’s entertaining, but it has such an important message about equal rights and about anti-bullying. It’s one of those projects that you know is 100% going to change lives.
For someone who might have seen the short film, how does that differ from the full-length film that is going to be coming out?
The short shows the nucleus of the message about LGBT discrimination and that is very much in the feature film and expanded on. But the film does a really good job of using a love story to shed light on the greater issue of discrimination. It’s truly a love story and you see how these two characters [a male journalist and a female quarterback] deal with the fact that their love is not accepted in society and all the different reactions from all sides including their own.
What drew you into playing Benson for the movie?
I did talk to Rocco about it. I have always played like the nice guy. I have never played like a real villain (laugh) and I told Rocco that. She said, ‘well let’s try it! I want you to be one of the bad guys,’ and I said, ‘okay.’ It was a really fun character. I play the nephew to the Reverend who controls the town and she is the puppet master behind all of the hateful things that happen and I am one of her I minions that does her bidding against this couple. I’m also a Youth Ambassador for a wonderful anti-bullying organization called Boo2Bullying, so it’s an issue that’s close to my heart, and I knew this film would help raise awareness for that as well – along with actress Cassie Scerbo and actor Blake Cooper Griffin (who is also in the movie).
It’s coming out on March 5 at Cinequest in San Jose. Everyone can go online and go to loveisallyouneedthemove.com and can see where they might be able to go see the film. Cinequest gave us such a great spot and a great screening time. We screen over the weekend and it’s almost sold out so that’s really exciting. Some of the cast are going to be there so this is going to be a lot of fun.
Check out the trailer for the movie below:
You are also working on a film called, ‘An Act of Love,’ which deals with marriage equality and equal rights in the Methodist Church. Why was that documentary so important for you to executive produce?
I love working on projects that have an impact on society. For the past several years I have been producing documentaries. This movie premiered last October and we have been doing the film festival rounds for it. We are trying to get it in front of as many people as possible before the United Methodist Church General Conference. It’s cool because the message between these two films are about equal rights. This is a documentary that surrounds the ideas of marriage equality and about love superseding discrimination.
Right, because you basically follow a Reverend who gets put on trial by the Methodist Church because he officiates his son’s same-sex marriage.
Absolutely. So in a nutshell, it talks about a father choosing love over rules. He is choosing his family over what his religion says he can and can not do. People have to remember, this Reverend has been doing this for his entire life, this is his job. He has a family to support. He is going against everything he has been taught for the love of his son. We want to get this in front of as many people as possible before the United Methodist United Church conference in May.
Check out the trailer below. To find out more about the film click here.
It’s pretty impressive how much you have accomplished and what you are working on. Is there anything you want to say to your fans that have been following you throughout all of your projects?
I just want to say thank you so much. None of this would be possible without my fans or people being interested in the work that I am doing. I am truly blessed. I also just had a movie called ‘Folk Hero and Funny Guy’ accepted into the TriBeCa Film Festival! Tickets for it are available through the TriBeCa Film Festival.
Also, because we are TNWU, what are you nerdy about?
I love ‘The Flash,’ and I am also a huge comic book nerd. I could not be more excited for the new Batman vs. Superman movie. (laughs).
How can fans get in contact with you?
I am pretty active on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. So if anyone wants to message me I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. For all of my social media sites, I am just @MikeCManning