Michael Nardelli is an actor, filmmaker, writer and producer; he wears all of these hats in his latest project, Dark/Web. The web series is comprised of eight anthology segments, each dealing with different dangers of the tech age, connected by a serialized narrative that uncovers the mystery behind the disappearance of Molly Solis (Noemi Gonzalez).
I got the chance to talk to Michael about how he got into acting, what made him want to create Dark/Web, what it was like wearing multiple hats at once on this project and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into acting.
I first got into acting the usual way, which was through grade school theater and high school theater. But I guess the other big thing was [that] I was always making short films when I was a kid. I would always ask my teachers if I could do a short film instead of writing an essay or doing a take home test. Sometimes if they were cool kind of creative teachers, they would let me do that. I grew up a huge film buff and was always watching TV and theater and [reading] books and just loved storytelling. So it was always there from day one. It was either that or being an astronaut and I knew there was too much math with that so I was like, “Nope. Not gonna happen.” [laughs]
You just talked about loving storytelling from a young age, but was there any specific person or experience that you had credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to make your career out of?
I would say my mom was always supportive of it. She’s the one that introduced me to a lot of Hitchcock films and the old classics when I was growing up. We’d watch old Marilyn Monroe movies and Doris Day movies and Dick Van Dyke and [The] Bob Newhart Show and everything on Nick at Night. When I started doing high school theater and all that, she was always supportive of it. When I started to talk about coming to L.A. or going to New York to audition, both my parents were oddly very supportive of it, which I know I’m really lucky to have because I know it’s not the normal case for parents to be like, “Go pursue this crazy career in entertainment where anything could go wrong.”
Right. So over the years you’ve had a lot of different roles on a lot of different mediums. But do you have a personal acting bucket list of roles that you still want to try out in your career? If so, what are some of the things on that list?
I so badly want to do something more physical, like action-related or playing a spy. I love fight scenes and choreography. I just saw John Wick 3 recently and I was like, “Oh my god. I would kill to be in John Wick or something like that” because I’m actually a pretty physical person, which I guess most people don’t always expect. But I love working out and hiking. I do a lot of kickboxing and weapons training and all that stuff. So that’s for sure on my bucket list. Also, I would love to do just like a crazy screwball stoner comedy because I trained at the Groundling and I love sketch comedy and improv and I haven’t had a chance to do that on screen yet, only on stage.
Very cool. So moving on to talk about Dark/Web, for those who haven’t heard of it, what is it about?
Dark/Web is an eight episode anthology series with a twist because, unlike Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, there actually is a storyline that connects all of these separate anthology storylines. So it sort of deals with the modern world that we’re living in and how people around our age are navigating this new digital landscape where we’ve invited basically everyone into our home through the world wide web. It deals with a lot of those things like how does that make us feel? What are the new fears that we have? What are the things we should be more cautious about? You know the dark web is a real place, so a lot of the storylines and some of the things you’ll see on the show are kind of inspired by real life happenings on the dark web. That’s everything from black market organ transplants to cyber terror and human trafficking; there’s also obviously drugs and weapons sales. It’s a pretty deep dark cesspool of nefarious activity, which I guess fortunately makes for good storytelling.
You’ve been part of this series from the inception. You helped create it.
Oh yeah. It’s my baby, for sure.
So what made you want to create this series and do a story about the dark web?
I had this initial idea, again, because I grew up loving The Twilight Zone and things like that. I love anthology shows. I love how they touch on sort of hot button issues or relevant things that we’re talking about in society and as human beings but they do it in a twisty, scary, interesting, sci-fi or genre way. So I knew I wanted to kind of dip into that, but I wanted to do something different which would be to have this sort of connecting storyline that would be a little bit more satisfying if you watched all of them; you would get a little bit more out of it more than just the sum of its parts.
So I started talking to Mario Miscione, who directed Circle which was the film we did in 2015, and my brother [Tim Nardelli] and I was like, “I want to do this kind of structure and I want to sort of talk about people our age who are now further removed from college and high school and sort of reassessing where they are in their lives.” In Dark/Web, it’s specifically because one of their high school friends has gone missing. But I felt like that was a relatable thing. I love this movie The Big Chill, but it sort of deals with like 30 somethings who are sort of reassessing where they are versus where they thought they would be. Then we decided that we would use the dark web as the backdrop for all of that, because it gets real and it’s happening. Our tagline is “we’re all part of it”. The scary fact is we all are part of the dark web; all of our information is on it. If people want to find you, it’s easy to do so. So we wanted to use the show as a way of exploring some of these things that are happening on the dark web and the positions that we put ourselves in as Americans and human beings who have embraced the Internet, technology, social media and exposing so much of ourselves on a daily basis.
You mentioned that it has this twist in that, unlike most anthologies, it has like some sort of through line. But can you still watch one episode, like a typical anthology, and be satisfied? Or do you need to kind of see all of them?
You can watch one and be satisfied. I mean in every episode, you jump into an anthology segment that is totally self-contained, done by a different director; we had different guest writers and directors that came in to do them. So you can totally enjoy that. But if you’re watching all of them, you’ll see through lines; you’ll see recurrent symbols, easter eggs and certain names of characters that pop up. By episode 8, which is our season finale, it is all connected and you’ll see how it does all make sense, we think. Hopefully, people watching will think that too. But yeah, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can just watch one if you want to, but we’d like to watch all of them if you have time.
So on the show, you play James Woodsley. What is he like? How does he fit into this whole story?
With James, we were trying to do relatable characters that you wouldn’t necessarily see or expect to see in kind of a tech/sci-fi/horror anthology thriller. So when we meet James, he’s actually back at his old grade school as a substitute teacher. Of course, we get into what he wanted to be doing; he was in the Peace Corps and he had kind of this adventurous lifestyle, but due to the situation a lot of people find themselves in, he’s out of money, his mom is really sick and he’s had to move back home to take care of her. He’s making ends meet by going back and teaching grade school with these bratty kids who are so invested in their phones and he’s lost control of the classroom. It is sort of dealing with the realities of the life that he thought he was going to have versus where he is now.
He sort of gets drawn into a larger world of danger and intrigue and mystery when his high school friend Molly Solis goes missing and starts sending out these cryptic messages to some of her high school friends, basically as a call for help but they don’t know at the time if it’s a warning or a call for help or a threat. But that’s kind of what draws them into the action of the dark web and you sort of find out more about her history and what she was involved in and how she’s been spending her time since she graduated from high school and college, which is a little bit more exciting than what he’s doing.
Did you always intend to star in this or was that kind of the result of not finding anyone else you liked for the role? How did that all work?
I co-wrote most of the show with Mario and I wanted to act in it for sure. We started writing it and there was tons of characters, either in the main storyline or in the anthology segments that we have. So it’s like, “Okay surely there’s got to be something in here I can play because I’m an actor and I’m writing it and I would love to be a part of it.” As we developed it, it was James that I was leaning into the most. I really liked what he had to offer and I felt like, more than any of the other characters I’ve played, people could kind of get to see me through to this part. He is a little goofy, he can also be really serious. It’s not the most showy part in the show, but I felt like people could get to see me. He has kind of a nice, subtle, but interesting arc about growing up and speaking up for yourself and you know finally settling into that feeling of, “Okay, I’m an adult now. I’m inheriting issues that the world has sent down for me, from one generation now to mine.” So yeah, I just related to him and I liked him. I thought he was funny and interesting and not necessarily somebody you would normally see in this kind of thriller.
Yeah. So like you mentioned earlier, not only did you star in it, you also produced it and you co-wrote a couple of episodes. What were some of the challenges of wearing all these different hats at once?
Oh it’s crazy; the entire process was crazy when you’re wearing that many hats. The biggest challenge is just figuring out how to spend your time. If you’re shooting next week, it’s like, “Oh my God. Ok I have to deal with the line producers. I have to talk to whoever is directing that episode and the DP.” You have to organize the set and then you’re also like, “Okay, but I’ve got to learn my lines and I’ve got to make sure I’m present. I’ve got to make sure I’m in James’ shoes and when I’m on camera that I’m not drifting off thinking about everything else.” So time management is probably one of the trickiest parts. And then we just had so many moving pieces on this one, with all the different directors, different crews and different actors and everything. So it was a whole new set of problems that we had to equip ourselves for, compared to working on an indie film or acting in somebody else’s show.
I know this is a project that’s been in development for the last couple of years. So now that it’s finally coming out, what are you most excited for viewers to see?
Yes, it’s surreal. We were in post-production for a year and a half because there were so many visual effects on it. So yeah, we can’t even believe that it’s coming out next week; it seems like a fantasy. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale. So I’m hopeful that people will watch it and kind of think about the place that the Internet and social media and everything play in their daily lives. I’m [also] just excited to see how the younger generation relates to it and the older [generation], because Mario and I, we talk about a lot about – and there’s even lines in the show – the fact that my generation was the first one that’s grown up in an analog world and kind of remembers what that was like, and now we’re in this digital landscape and we know what that’s like. We’re going to be the last generation that remembers the analog world. So I’m kind of just interested to see if it provokes any kind of discussion or thinking or excitement or concern about this world that we’ve just kind of adopted without even asking any questions about it, if it’s good or not.
So my last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have some kind of inner-nerd, so what is something you are currently nerding out about?
Okay, I mean jeez, so much. I’m still nerding out about Twin Peaks. I loved that last season of Twin Peaks so much so I’m still nerding about that even though it was two summers ago at this point. I’m also excited for Comic Con. We’re going to Comic Con next week.
You guys are doing both a panel and screening, right?
Yeah, we’re doing a panel on Friday and then we have a two night premiere Friday and Saturday night at the Hard Rock. So I’m excited for that, but I’m also excited to hear what all the new Marvel movies are going to be and see the big shows that are there.
Featured Photo Credit: Ryan West