Michael Eklund is one of the hardest working actors around. Along with starring on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Wynonna Earp, he’s a familiar face to movie fans. The Vancouver-based Eklund has been featured in Chokeslam and The Sound (with Rose McGowan) in 2017 alone. He’s currently starring as the lead in Stegman Is Dead, a new crime film directed by David Hyde and co-starring Michael Ironside (V, Total Recall, The Machinist). In Stegman is Dead, Eklund plays Gus, a low-level criminal hired by Don (Ironside) to retrieve an incriminating video tape.
I first discovered Michael Eklund’s work in 2011’s The Divide, where he stole the entire film about survivors of a nuclear holocaust. When I had the chance to talk ask talk to him over email about his work, I jumped at the opportunity. Eklund is smart, articulate and passionate, and in possession of outstanding acting abilities. On that note, here’s our interview:
Andy Burns: You, sir, are one of the hardest working actors I have ever seen. Before we even get into Stegman is Dead, talk to me about why you like to stay so busy, and how you stay organized?
Michael Eklund: Well, that is nice of you to say. However, I would disagree. It seems to me that every time I turn on the television or see a film there are more and more extremely talented actors and film makers creating and displaying amazing work. It is a very exciting time right now for artists as well for the audiences. There are no more excuses. If you are not working then you can literally pick up a camera and create your own work. Write something. Shoot something. Create something. Art can be created anywhere. And it isn’t limited to anyone or any kind. The work that is coming out from all territories of the world is inspiring. The bar is being raised at an accelerated rate like no other time I have ever seen. It just keeps getting better and better. The gap, or rather, the road block in the way of working and creating and being permitted to work and create has been closed and removed. You seriously have no reason or excuse nowadays to say that opportunities are not there. We live in a time with the technology present that we are able to create our own opportunities and if you are not then you have no one else to blame but yourself.
I know I could be doing more. Creating more. And if I don’t someone else will. And you don’t want to be caught sleeping at the wheel, because if you are you can be sure that the next artist is going to run you off the road. If I don’t stay busy then I will find myself rolled over in a ditch with my hazard lights on and help isn’t on its way because everyone else is too busy to stop. So being organized is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. If you don’t have your stuff figured out or don’t have your shit together than you better do it quick and you better do it now because in this business no one owes you anything. It no longer is a question of how you do. It is an answer of you must do.
Andy Burns: Stegman is Dead—what appealed to you about this particular film and the role of Gus?
Michael Eklund: Here’s the thing about what appeals to me and what doesn’t. It hasn’t changed much since the beginning. First the story has to be there. That’s a given. Without that what do we have and what are we doing? You need to have a clear vision and direction or the whole thing runs off the road and you have a big mess on your hands and no one wants that. And you also need to have the opportunity and the experience to pull the thing off from all ends. And what I mean by that is that from the bottom to the very top everything and everyone has to be ready to go. There are so many pieces to the machine that have to be running smoothly that if one nut or one bolt isn’t in place (and believe me it takes a lot of nuts to wanna make this work) that if it doesn’t than the entire machine falls apart and you are left with a handful of bolts and a broken heart. Stegman Is Dead had all those pieces in place.
I had worked with the producer Juliette Hagopian before on a movie called The Divide. And that movie was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences I have had making a film. And it turned out beautifully. I knew she had that experience needed and she created the opportunity. So I was secure in knowing the film was in good hands. This was my third film that I had shot in Winnipeg Manitoba so I knew the crew was solid and in place and ready to rock. The last bolt, and probably the most important nut to keep this machine on the road, was the director. And thankfully we had David Hyde taking the wheel. David also wrote the script alongside with Stephen Kunc so I knew he also grasped the clear vision we needed to tell this genre-styled, quirky crime story filled with colorful characters and its humorous but warm-hearted premise.
So with all that in place all ready and without worry, what really appealed to me about Stegman Is Dead was that it was fun. It’s as simple as that. I wanted to have fun. I had been traveling the road of darker-themed work for a while and even though those films and projects are very rewarding and challenging in their way, I wanted to reward myself the allowance to the challenge to just have fun. The work is the same. A lighter-styled film isn’t any less difficult just like a darker-styled film isn’t any less fun but there was wave of inspiration I was feeling at the time that was infecting everyone who read David’s script. And that infection is what I found appealing. And that infection is what plagued everyone we got in the film as well. We all knew it was going to be a lot of work but we also knew it was going to be a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. We had one of the top casting directors in Canada, Jim Heber, assemble an amazing cast and a talented and equally amazing cinematographer in Ousama Rawi, who we were very lucky to get. We had all the nuts and bolts we needed to make this movie work. And then finally there was the role of Gus.
A father and husband down in the dumps who was being pulled in one direction to be a husband and even more: man who provided for his magisterial and overpowering wife played by Andrea del Campo. And pulled in the other direction to be a father and good role model to his beautiful, quick-witted and on-the-lookout daughter played by Linnea Moffat. It was exciting and fun. And sometimes you just want to have fun and that is enough. And then there was Ironside!
Andy Burns: There’s a great cast in the film, but one name in particular caught my eye—Michael Ironside. As a card-carrying fan of V, I’ve loved his work for decades, and he has the right gravitas to play a crime boss. What was it like working with him? What did you learn?
Michael Eklund: You and me both. I grew up watching Ironside as I was the ultimate fanboy of the original V phenomenon. I still have the 10-part mini series and full episode series box set of V on my shelf. It sits right beside my 12-inch removable face and retractable tongue visitor action figure doll. It’s Ham Tyler, man! Having Michael Ironside on board just sweetened the pot. He is an icon. We were extremely fortunate enough to have him in the film and to play alongside him was a childhood dream come true. I have also loved his work my whole life. He would tell me stories about working on V and I just tried to soak it all up. Listened to every word when he spoke. Starving for any crumb of knowledge or wisdom he might bestow on me. Ironside is a pro. There was no doubt he was going to climb into the skin of the character of the crime boss Don.
What you learn from Ironside is that when it is time to roll you better be prepared and you better have your work thought out because if you don’t and haven’t done your homework, he will call you out on it, because he cares. He wants the work to be good. He wants you to be good. He wants everyone to be good. Because he wants the film to be good. He clearly has done his homework because that is what professional actors do. found working with him pretty fun. He always has ideas. Choices he wants to make. Unafraid if they will work or not. And THAT is what a very experienced and instinctual actor does. And at the same time he loves to play. He is still having fun doing it. I remember asking him one question, and I won’t ever forget what he said. I asked him “Do you ever get bored of this, do you ever get tired and feel you have lost the love for it at all?” He didn’t even have to think. His answer was “No, never.” As an actor and as artist if you want your work to be good, if you want to stay working and if you want to stay alert and happy in this business then you must never lose your love for it. Protect it and keep it safe. That is what I learned from working with Michael Ironside.
Andy Burns: You’ve been a lead actor and you’ve done supporting work. At this stage of your career, do you ever feel intimidated as a lead? How does the size of a part change how your prepare?
Michael Eklund: Intimidated, no. You can’t. Intimidation on any level is a tactic to induce fear in order to convince someone or some thing to do something you want them to do. That kind of fear doesn’t serve you. It destroys you. It holds you back. It stifles your instincts and robs you of your confidence. Now do I ever feel pressure that I put on myself or feel doubt? Of course. Every actor, or more realistically every person, no matter who you are, will feel doubtful of their own skills or even their own worth when they are faced with a new challenge of some kind. , That’s normal and even healthy to feel doubt. Who wouldn’t? You are simply feeling the uncertainty and the unknowing of something new and something that doesn’t feel comfortable yet. And what happens when you jump into the unknown and the unknown becomes comfortable and less unknown because it is now known? Doubt vanishes. As it should.
The responsibility of the role, whether more dominant or less, in the overall story being told for me doesn’t change the level of doubt I carry with me. A supporting role can feel more unknown to me than a lead role. The more unknown to you the more doubt you place on yourself. The cool thing about doubt is that it can be controlled. You can start exploring that unknown on your own before you actually have to jump into it for real. And with enough exploring you can start to even feel excited at the same time as you feel doubtful depending on the risk or stakes involved. And when it is over you may even feel doubtful still but it is less doubtful then you were feeling before, and you take that level of doubt with you into the next unknowing experience but a less unknowing new experience because now it is less foreign to you. Now do you want to show your doubt? Heck no! You have to cover that up by being the best actor you can be. Probably playing the most challenging role you will ever have to play. The role of the confident stranger lacking any doubt. Doubt is for yourself and for yourself alone.
It’s your own mind questioning itself whether you are capable of exploring this unknown and whether you will be accepted by the others around for doing so. That’s it. Its really just a version of fear of what others will think of you while you are exploring this unknown while pretending you are confident while exploring it. And once you realize it doesn’t matter what others think because they are also doubting themselves and hiding their true identity while they are exploring their own unknown. Well, then things just start to ease up and feel fun.
The quickest way to destroy doubt within yourself is to not be afraid of failing. We have all heard that before. No one wants to fail, obviously. We all want to feel proud of ourselves and worthy of something for ourselves and for others. It feels good. But if doubt overpowers and becomes paralyzing to your ability to even try to explore the unknown because of the fear it instills in us that we may fail and those watching will think less of us, then fear has already won. And fear just robbed the world of someone’s gift that we will never feel, see, hear, touch, taste, smell or experience. And that is sad. But intimidated? No, I won’t grant anyone enough power to persuade that kind of fear in me to be intimidated for their own selfish reasons. I have enough doubt inside of me to do that on my own.
Andy Burns: What was the experience like working with director David Hyde?
Michael Eklund: David, I am sure, was filled with a lot of his own doubt. Just like I was carrying my own doubt of myself. We connected immediately. We kept our game faces on hiding it within ourselves. But at the end of the day, I have to trust him and he needs to trust me. We got that right away. We gave ourselves over to each other. And when you do that you protect each other’s unspoken doubts we hold inside. If for a second I doubted him, then he would have lost a member of trust he needed on his side to do the imaginable which is to make a movie and tell an entertaining story which to a lot of people who don’t know, is not an easy thing to accomplish anymore. On top of that a movie and a story people will enjoy. They expect it. The audience doesn’t care how hard it was or how nearly impossible it felt when doing it. They have their own impossible-feeling endeavors going on in their lives. The audience wants time well spent and money well spent. Time is the most precious thing we have to give someone or take. Because it is fleeting every second and every minute. So if someone is giving their time away they want something in return.
As an audience we have seen everything, or think we have. So to entertain and challenge a desensitized audience today is extremely difficult. But you can’t let that doubt to do so paralyze you. Which means if for a second David doubted me then I would have lost a member of trust that I needed on my side to do the imaginable which is to play a character of someone’s life that I have never experienced in the situations that I have never felt with other players that are also feeling and hiding their own secret doubts of the unknown and doing the exact same thing I am trying to do.
So me and David, no matter what, knew we had each other’s trust within one another. He relied on me and I relied on him. We cheered each other on and also respected each other’s ideas, imaginations, and points of view. We listened to each other. We felt comfortable with each other. We shared with each other. And that is exactly what each other needed and how it should be every time when venturing into an unknown. David was in control. He knew what he wanted. David was also kind and supportive and most importantly, never added to anyone’s one hidden doubts hiding within. We did what we had to do and we did our best, and no matter what, we know we did the imaginable.
Because that is all this is. It’s all imagination and taking it and putting it out there for whoever is interested to see it. From start to finish. Imagining the story to the characters involved to the players imagining themselves as other people who are also imagining their own fictional doubts within the fictional story. It’s imagination at its best, man! Built with a lot of nuts and bolts, loaded with fears and doubts put on display to provide escape to an audience from their own hidden fears as doubts for a brief exchange of precious time and 15 bucks. That’s why going to the movies is so magical. It’s all make believe from whats happening on the screen to those sitting in those seats. We are all living and playing and hiding in an imaginary world. David did that and I was happy to go along with him.
Andy Burns: You recently starred with Rose McGowan in The Sound; when you and I chatted on Facebook a few months ago, you had yet to see. Have you had the chance yet, and if so, what did you think of the film?
Michael Eklund: Here’s the thin,g hahahaha. I seriously believe in all that movie magic and imagination stuff I rambled on about. I have to. Or what is this all about and what are we doing? I love getting lost inside stories and characters and when I’m not inside them delivering them to the ones who need them, then I also love getting lost inside them when I am looking for escape. And it’s even harder when you are trying to escape from yourself inside a movie that you are in!! HAHA! I miss the old tradition of going to the movies. It’s how I fell in love with film and filmmaking in the first place. The whole ceremony of it. The drive to the theater. The line ups to the box office. The popcorn and candy you pour onto of the popcorn. The dark theater as you walk blindly in like you are walking into a church and trying to not make any sound, the flip of the seats, the rush of the light hitting the screen, the 30 minutes of trailers building the anticipation of the movie you have waited a year to see. Even the kicking of your seat behind you and the distraction it creates while you sit there trying to decide if that was the last kick or if the next is the one that’s going to make you turn around and tell someone you don’t know to be quiet because they are stealing your escape. So no, I still have not seen The Sound but only because I am waiting to see it in the way I need to see it. I want to lose myself inside of it while I try to forget that I am actually inside of it by being in it. I am very much looking forward to turning off my lights, making some popcorn, throwing some candy on top and watching it on my pretend home theater with the exception of the kicking of my seat behind me. I am going to turn the sound of The Sound up real high and escape. I’m dying to see it as I hear Rose is amazing in it and our fabulous director Jenna Mattison created a real thinking person’s thriller. It’s the kind of film I would like!
Andy Burns: You’ve been very supportive of Rose even prior to what’s taken place in Hollywood the last few weeks. Any thoughts you could share on why she’s so inspirational?
Michael Eklund: That’s easy. Rose is my friend. Friends support friends. That’s the easy part. But what makes Rose so inspirational is because what she is doing is NOT easy. Not even close. She is doing what some people wish they were doing but are to afraid to. And the inspiring part about Rose is that she is ok with that. She is doing it anyway, for them, for herself because she is one of them, for everyone whether they understand or identify with it or not. Not because she wants to. She is doing it because she has to. It’s not a question for her. Putting everything on the line for those who have no voice or for those who have a voice but are still too quiet for it to be heard. And at the same time as all of this she is INSPIRING others to find their voices and to use them without fear. To discover their own power and confidence within themselves as individuals and to embrace that beauty and not to feel ashamed, worthless ,or useless by it. She believes we all can do better, and be better. Not just for ourselves, but for the next ones to come after us and the next. So this world can be healthy again and safe and free. And not just safe and free for the powerful.
She believes in embracing and inspiring one’s full potential. She wants to do it through personal strength, intelligence, compassion, bravery and most importantly, through love. She is not merely the voice for the unheard but also the brave spirit for the ones who carry that heavy weight around their necks with them everyday but haven’t found their own strength yet or bravery to lift that weight off of them. Until then, she will take on that weight and stand up in their place and challenge those who are hurting others. And she doesn’t do it behind their backs but face to face. All the while educating others and motivating an army of women AND men to join together in what she has already been doing for a long time now even before it was in the headlines. She is gaining nothing for herself by doing this other than the possibility of a safer world for ALL to live in. She is challenging those to think and to stand by their choices made. This only scratches the surface as to what makes Rose such an inspiration. I guess the easier answer would be just to say: Aren’t all heroes inspirational?
Andy Burns: What are you working on next? Where can we find you?
Michael Eklund: Right now I’m reading some new things and trying to decide what new unknown to experience. I am undecided which path to take. Probably the one that creates the most doubt inside. But for the time being I am very much enjoying the road I am on. If you don’t find me on the road you can find me on Season 2 of Dirk Gently which is currently airing on BBC America every Saturday night 9/8c before it hits Netflix and Hulu in December. Now that show, talk about imagination and the collaboration of imaginations spiraling through space together and colliding together creating a big bang resulting in a new universe called Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency. There really is nothing else like it out there right now.
Andy Burns: Finally, though it seems you never stop working, I’d love to know what you do to chill out and relax?
Michael Eklund: I do what everyone else does. I escape into the movie theaters to lose myself and if that doesn’t work I watch Netflix and chill. Boom!
A huge thank you to Michael Eklund for his time, and to Jen and Ingrid and GAT PR for making this interview happen. Stegman Is Dead plays the Winnipeg Theatrical Landmark Towne Cinema starting December 8th, with Michael Eklund and Bernice Liu in attendance on the Friday. It hits iTunes and VOD Tuesday, December 12th.