Before the Coronavirus, an ongoing quarantine, and the recent economic fallout became front-page news, and a daily worry at the forefront of everyone’s mind, one of the biggest topics causing debate was women’s health, and more specifically the right to have an abortion. The word abortion is seldom ever heard on television, especially not on a major network, and especially not on popular TV. Still, the CW’s Roswell, New Mexico not only says the word, but they also show the main character make the decision and go through with it without regret, and with the support of her family and friends.
Roswell, New Mexico is that type of show. They treat significant subjects like race relations, xenophobia, women’s rights, and sexuality with intelligence and courage in a time when all of those topics are under fire from the highest power in the government. The fact that they do it under the backdrop of a story about literal aliens is just a bonus. On a show with so many deeply complex characters, there is one character whose story has had a significant impact on an entire community. That is the proudly bisexual alien cowboy Michael Guerin, played with nuance and depth by Michael Vlamis.
When it comes to the character of Michael Guerin, it would be so easy to get it wrong. Play him too cavalierly, he would come across as insufferable, too much melodrama, and he would come across as false. But although Michael Vlamis is pretty far from Guerin (they are two different species after all), it’s his willingness to find solidarity, and absorb this character to his very core that allows Guerin to come alive.
The heartbreak permeating Guerin’s story this season just happened to coincide with one painful experience of Michael’s own, and he wasn’t afraid to use that in his character. That’s what makes this performance so unique. As Michael said when chatting with me over the phone while we were both quarantined in our homes, “He has cracks in his armor, and I have always been someone who has cracks in my armor too. I just have to take those cracks and let them show.”
Michael is a surprisingly complex character. When you first see him in the first season, he has this kind of sexy outlaw thing going on, where he’s focused on only looking out for number one. But as the season progresses, he’s sort of stripped of all of his armor. Now in season 2, he’s in a more vulnerable position than ever. Did you know where this character was going to go when you first got it or were you just as surprised as the viewers were?
I had no idea, and that was the most fun. I’m the type of actor who enjoys not talking about where my character is going with the writers. I trust the writers, and I know there will be growth, but there is something interesting about reading a script and acting out a scene from just what you already know has happened. Once you know what happens in the future, It’s hard not to play that. It comes across as more believable if you don’t know, and it’s fun to surprise yourself every week and surprise yourself in the moment. Plus, often, when you have that surprising moment, it can sometimes influence where the writers decide to bring the character.
I think a lot of the flashback in Season 1 Episode 6, and how interesting it was to know that Guerin wasn’t always this armored person. He was excited and living for love and planning on going off to college. When we did that episode, the writers did have to communicate what they wanted and tell me to play this character way differently than I had been. It’s been an exciting transition for him, he went from no armor to armor, to no armor and now in Season 2 he’s back in prison and fighting and he’s got the armor back on again.
It’s interesting because, in a way, the relationship drama that Michael is dealing with in season 2 seems like it shouldn’t be as relevant as a lot of the other plot points going on. Still, I think that the way that Michael is portrayed as an openly bisexual character is so unique on television these days, even though it shouldn’t be. It also allows the viewers to see a lot of his vulnerability. Did you feel a responsibility in portraying this aspect of Michael?
Yes. When I got into it, I didn’t know a lot about the bi community. I knew about heartbreak and love and loss. In the pilot, I was coming out of heartbreak and channeling that. I just thought of Alex Manes as someone I was in love with and honoring what a strongly committed love that is. I brought that in, and when we did it that way, that was when the LGBT community started reaching out and saying how much I was affecting them with my work. They would dm me and say that my relationship with Alex gave them the confidence to come out. I didn’t realize that responsibility until we started affecting people. I think Tyler Blackburn (who plays Alex Manes) being bi, he knew more of what was going to happen. I hadn’t been on tv before or portrayed anyone who wasn’t straight, so I wasn’t expecting this. Now I know how important it is to continue to take this seriously, and that motivates me.
Tyler is so empathetic, and he has such empathetic eyes, everything I do is just playing off him, the strength of the characters comes from the relationship between the two of us. Without him, I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know if these characters would be as compelling without him.
Roswell is a really special show in the way that it weaves these real-world conflicts of xenophobia and the fear of otherness into a fantastic story about aliens living on earth. Your character represents so many of the difficulties inherent in being someone different. Can you talk about where the show is taking these sorts of conflicts this season, and maybe where they might affect the direction of your character?
I think the way they’re taking the show is with the idea that even though we are different, we are also human. Our morals and what we believe in and how we affect others and how we want to be loved is special. Even though we are from another planet, we have the same values. We are so vilified in the flashbacks with the military but, none of the aliens wanted to hurt anyone until they had to defend themselves. What’s important with our show is that we are all one, no matter what your origin is. We can continue to grow to adapt and be better. We shouldn’t be vilified for what someone distantly related to us did.
We are the outcasts, but because of our skin color, no one questions us. Now all of a sudden we are the bad guys because people have found out about this big secret. The most vilified characters are the Ortechas, somewhat because of what happened with Rosa, but also because of race. The racial tension has protected the white people in the community who are also the people that the military is trying to hunt.
What are the ways that you relate to this character? Do you ever take anything from your life and put it into the role? On the same note, does his story ever bleed into yours?
That’s all I do in my work. It gets me in trouble, especially now that people are reading my writing. People will be like, “you stole what I said to you.” If it wasn’t said, it wouldn’t matter enough to be shared. The truth is so important. I always find ways to pull from my life. Unlike Michael, I come from a great family. I come from a family who loved me and supported me. My dad was always leaving work early and coming to my games, but he was hard on me, and I felt like perfection was something I was always trying to achieve. As I get older, I realize perfection doesn’t exist. Achieving greatness through your values and being the best you can be, is what matters. When I was a kid, I was overweight, and for a while, I was always getting hurt and going through all these surgeries. Adversity would arise in my life, and then I would have to learn how to deal with it.
With Michael, he feels like things are working so well with Maria, but then Maria finds out he’s an alien, and he’s pushed aside. All of those ebbs and flows of what life throws at you go into the show. I was the fat kid in school, and now I am on the CW, but I remember what it was to be 12 in love, and no one sees you. All of those moments pushed me to be funny as a kid, as a defense mechanism. That’s in me, no matter who the character is, the cracks in the armor are there. I put that into Michael.
One specific thing this year in the show is that I lose Max. in the offseason, I lost a childhood friend while I was with him in person. It was this horrible experience, and it was so weird, and I was sitting there trying to make sense of things, but what made sense was that this guy supported me so much. So I took the feeling of loss and put that into what Guerin feels when Max is gone. In tonight’s episode, I channeled my buddy and made it real. I was haunted this season and maybe even a little too hard on myself, but I wanted to honor my friend. That is a tragic way I incorporate real life into my work. But I’m tipping my hat to my friend. Hopefully, he’s watching and proud.
So, apart from your work as an actor, you are also a producer and a writer. Are you working on anything right now? Does having that diversity of experience make acting easier and vice versa?
Definitely. You understand a set, and if I’m producing my own film, I know what goes into that, and if I’m writing for a kid character, I know that they need chaperones and tutors. Being on set shaped me as a writer and producer. Last year, I wrote a film with Kyle [Anderson] about the late rapper Mac Miller called Blue Side Park, And it made the 2019 blacklist of best un-produced scripts. Once that happened, it opened the door for me to do more work. I have a script at McFarlane’s company and another tv show, where Dan Lagana is the showrunner. Having these projects moving has been keeping me busy. We’re getting close. Now I’m writing my next movie, which was initially going to be a thriller, but during the quarantine, it’s been hard to write this dark story, so we (my writing partner and I) made it into a comedy. I produced my first film last year that won the best ensemble cast at the LA indie film fest, called 5 Years Apart. My roommate co-wrote and directed that, and we’re getting distribution. I’m staying busy.
The first episode of MAKING IT, a digital series that was the first thing I ever made in LA while trying to "make it," is now available. I predicted the future with it. You'll see… https://t.co/qB1IxtnoBh
— Michael Vlamis (@MichaelVlamis) March 25, 2020
What is the deal with your digital series Making It?
That was when I was an actor not booking anything in 2014; I wrote, directed, and produced a 3 episode digital series as a satire about how I was an actor doing all this stuff, and nothing worked. I made fun of myself and took Hollywood to this absurd level. In the pilot episode, I did an audition for the CW, and in the pilot, he gets the audition, but he can only get the role if he has a six-pack. Now I’m playing the guy with the six-pack in the CW. In the pilot, I wore a cowboy hat, and now I am playing a guy wearing a cowboy hat on Roswell, it feels like I manifested this stuff. I never released it because we put so much time into it, I held it so precious to myself. I was like If we release it, it needs to be seen. In this quarantine, I was sitting around, looking at old content, and remembering my beginnings. I was thinking of ideas, and I came across this, and it felt like the right time. It deserves to be seen. It took six years to release, and it’s been ready for release for 4. It was the first thing I ever directed or wrote or acted in.
How do you think Guerin would deal with this quarantine we’re in right now?
He would love it, as long as he has whiskey and nail polish remover and his ability to access his layer and work down there, he would be happy not talking to anyone. We are different like that.
We talk a lot about music here at EUPHORIA., what are you listening to right now?
I could talk for hours about that, that gets me through my day. There is this guy named Petey who sings this song called called “Apple TV Remote,” and he just released another song called “More To Life Than Baseball.” It’s a metaphor for losing someone and a tragically beautiful song, but it’s also pretty relevant, considering we just lost baseball this season. Frank Ocean just released his single. I found this song by Julesthewulf called “Come Inside,” and I recently listened to Lil Uzi Vert, “The Way Life Goes” and “P2” has been on repeat while doing prison workouts. I also have to give a shoutout Alex Toth who was on NPR today, so, his album and, of course, Mac Miller.
Wait, prison workouts?
I’m doing that for these thirst trap cards that I wanted to make. I’m giving the fans something extra. Season 1 of Roswell I did no carbs, sugar, or alcohol, I was like this guy needs to be the sexy guy, and I’ve never felt like the hot guy. Right now, I am actually in the best shape of my life because there nothing else to do but go on runs with the mask on. My sister saw a selfie of me on Instagram with my shirt off, and she was just like, what is going on?
Do you believe in aliens?
I do, but a big reason I do is that it feels egotistical to believe we are the only beings in the galaxy, was there really no other big bang anywhere else? Something is out there, and I would rather believe that.
Who is your favorite well known alien?
The first thing that comes to mind is the guy at the pawnshop in Men in Black who keeps growing back heads after his gets chopped off. He is so funny.