In the new film Selfie Dad, lead character Ben Marcus speeds away from home in a fit of rage and is abruptly pulled over by a police officer. The scene in the original script called for Ben to get out of the car nonchalantly, but when considering the role, actor Michael Jr. (that's his full name) knew that it would have to be adjusted if he took the part.
“They had me being pulled over by the police so that I’d immediately get out of the car,” Michael says. “That’s not a reality. No black person I know would ever just get out of the car after being pulled over by the police, or be angry for that matter.”
Thankfully, Michael Jr. found that writer/director Brad Silverman was flexible with the role and worked with Michael to write the scene that would be reflective of what that experience would actually be like. Michael says that freedom made him comfortable taking on the project.
“The director and the producers, they’ve never been a 6-foot-2 black man before, so the fact that they showed that sort of sensibility was great, and it showed up in a cool way,” he says. “They were flexible, one, to listen and even want to understand that, and then two, they decided ‘OK, well let’s change it.’ They actually let me improvise the whole scene the way I would do it with a comedic tone. Obviously in real life, you wouldn’t necessarily have a comedic tone.”
Speaking his own truth through comedy is something that Michael is well experienced with. Since making his debut at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California, Michael has become a nationally recognized comedian who has made appearances on everything from The Tonight Show to Oprah to Jimmy Kimmel Live. He has crafted a unique audience by instilling Christian principles and motivational messages into his routines. Originally from Michigan, Michael has lived and worked in the Dallas area for almost a decade.
Michael’s ability to intertwine his faith with his material transitioned to the big screen when he played a major role in the successful Christian film War Room, and in Selfie Dad he takes on the lead role of Ben Marcus, a former stand up comedian who becomes an online sensation thanks to a series of viral videos.
There are many parallels to be drawn between Michael’s life and the character he plays, most significantly the idea of a comedian coming to grips with his faith and taking responsibility for his family. Michael credits Silverman with allowing him to bring his own perspective as a comedian to the role.
“He didn’t want to mute that at all, and he also wanted to make sure I was true to the character he had written, so it actually gave me a great opportunity to try and balance the two of those,” he says. “The fact that what the character is talking about what the Bible did for him as a character, that’s really true, because it happened to me as well.”
The journey that Marcus goes on in the film to differentiate his real life and online personalities is something that resonated with Michael, who has always aimed to be consistent as a person no matter what field he is in.
“Long before I was involved with social media at all, when I was doing stand-up comedy, I didn’t want to be a different person on stage than I am in real life,” he says. “I have some comedian friends that when they get on stage they sort of turn on a switch or something, and that just seems stressful to me.”
While Michael notes that he’s more aware of the power of social media than his character is in the film, he thinks that the message of not changing personas is universal.
“I’m way more tech savvy than the character is, so it was a little different in that regard, but I do understand the power of social media,” he says. “The character, he’s blind to the power of social media, so when he hears about a guy who’s making that much money putting up videos, he decides ‘Yo, I’m going to try this too,’ but not in the way he was kind of hoping for. In my own comedy career, I try to leverage that as well.”
In the film, Marcus realizes that being consistent in his personality is not only beneficial to him, but for his kids as well. Michael says that philosophy is something he has kept in mind when raising his own kids.
“What I do, it’s the real thing, and there’s no part of my social media and no part of my stand up comedy that I don’t want my kids to see,” he says. “I’ve always told them, ‘Anything I say on stage, you can watch it and you can repeat it, and if you don’t agree with it, you can have a conversation with me, bring it up to me and if there’s anything that doesn’t line up with what we do at home, please say something to me.’”
That awareness is something that Michael has used to address more serious material than Selfie Dad, as he recently posted an emotional video on Facebook discussing his own experience being harassed by a police officer. Michael says it's important to know when to talk about things completely seriously and when to utilize comedy to tell a story.
“I just posted a video on Facebook about when a police officer came to where I live and put a gun to my head, and I talk about how to forgive a scenario like that,” he says. “The feedback has been really good, so I understand it from that perspective, but then I understand comedy as well, and I was able to figure out where that line was, so I don’t cross it in a way where it can’t bring understanding and levity at the same time.”
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While the character Marcus is much more clueless of his own influence than Michael is in real life, he says putting himself in the shoes of the character was beneficial to making his performance authentic, particularly in some of the film’s final scenes.
“There’s a scene at the end when the character is doing his first video after having his big revelation on how to really get life right, and he’s talking about how things have changed, and he’s holding a Bible in his hand,” he says. “When I’m doing that character, when I’m speaking as Ben Marcus the person, I actually kind of break character and turn into Michael Jr. the person, because those truths are all ringing through about how my life was changed as a result of taking the exact same path and doing the same thing.”
With Selfie Dad scheduled to hit VOD services on Father’s Day weekend, Michael says he hopes the film will resonate with families looking to be both uplifted and entertained, and that Marcus’s journey will provide some helpful insight.
“One of the things this guy does is he runs really hard at what he wants, and once he gets it he realizes he’s losing what he needs, so a big thing people could take away is the value of looking around at what you have, and the other thing is just being ready to help people on the spot,” he says. “I think people will be very pleased when they see this movie, and they’re going to laugh too. I really believe they’ll laugh, so that should be pretty awesome.”