Michael Cherrie

Actor| Acting Teacher | Acting Coach| Voice-Over Artist| Director

What motivated you to become an actor?

Witnessing the amazing work of actors like Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Raymond Choo Kong, Albert La Veau, Errol Sitahal and Errol Jones. Also, seeing – in the same week when I was 17 – a Baggasse Company production of David Henry Hwang’s “M. Butterfly” directed by Mervyn de Goeas and a Playhouse Company production of the late Godfrey Sealey’s “Roll Call” directed by the late John Isaacs and being completely blown away by the work in both productions. As well as the work I did when in school by the CIC/SJC POS drama club led by Peter Kelly, and the school productions there directed by theatre artists like Sonya Moze and Cyril Collier. The sign came for seeing Kevin Costner in that opening “suicide run” horse scene of his film “Dances with Wolves” – the total surrender of the moment. It spoke to me to surrender to my gift and calling.

How long have you been an actor?

Professionally – since July 1991. Counting productions in school – since February 1986

What was the first role you had as an actor?

In school (CIC) – a pirate (Act I) and policeman (Act II) in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” (1986). Professionally – Rupert, the Muslimeen insurrectionist, in the late Valerie Belgrave’s play “The Night of the Wolf” set against the backdrop of the 1990 attempted coup (1991)

What was your most memorable role?

Michael Preston in Caryl Phillips’ “The Final Passage” about West Indian immigration to England in the late 1950’s for UK’ Channel 4 (1996)

How do you prepare for a character?

Thoroughly reading the dramatic work itself, researching the character (physically, psychologically, socially) – asking myself “who is this character?”, knowing the setting, time and given circumstances of the dramatic work, doing my own inner work, creating imaginary circumstances or a back-story for my character, giving myself (my character) objectives, obstacles and stakes for every scene, finding an empathetic base to connect with the character, grounding myself in the reality of the character through costumes, props, hairstyle, setting, physical characteristics, vocal characteristics, movement characteristics, psychological motivations, psychological gestures, character likes, dislikes, joys, fears, sense memory work etc., making a deal with myself to listen, focus and be in the moment in every scene of the dramatic work.

What would you say was your most challenging role and why?

William Shakespeare’s “Othello”. There are no hiding places in that play. It is, to me, the most psychologically wrenching of Shakespeare’s plays. Not to mention the use of language there.

Tell us about your experience while working on The Mystic Masseur?

I enjoyed it. It was great working with Aasif Mandvi, Pip Torrens, the late Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. It was a long evening into night shoot – ending almost at dawn but proud of what we accomplished.

Do you have a favourite acting style/ do you prefer film or theatre?

Anything that leads to truthful, believable, convincing and committed acting, no matter the medium, I prefer to work! – be it film or theatre. Lol. Each has its demands and meeting the demands of each is such a thrill for any actor. I lean more towards Sanford Meisner’s, Lee Strasberg’s and Stella Adler’s techniques, all of whom were heavily influenced by Russian actor, director and teacher Konstantin Stanislavski.

What are your thoughts on the actors coming out of T&T?

So proud of them and the work they are doing and glad to see talented younger ones such as Stephen Hadeed Jr., Nickolai Salcedo, Charlie Reid and Red Frederick making some international waves. Not to mention, of course, Winston Duke and Paul Pryce! I think they are understanding the medium of film more and more and how to adjust to the demands of the medium. Also, so impressed with work of ladies like Kerri Tucker Lazzari, Teneille Newallo, Samara Lallo and Evelyn Caesar-Munroe. They seem to be really committing to the profession AND getting work in it at the same time – we see this with folks like Conrad Parris, Kearn Samuel, Arnold Goindhan and Syntyche Bishop. Following the trail blazed by the masters such as Wendell Manwarren, Cecilia Salzar, Richard Ragoobarsingh and Mervyn de Goeas. I think they all have a wonderful understanding of themselves and access to their personal stories which, when they utilize them, give some of the most honest and downright astonishing performances I’ve seen here. Huge examples of this are Ralph Maraj’s, Wilbert Holder’s and Hamilton Parris’ (Conrad’s dad) performances in Hugh Robertson’s film “Bim” (1974).

What made you want to teach?

Sharing all the stuff I learned – and continue to learn – as an actor, theatre artist, film professional with like-minded and like-spirited people serious about the craft and about making it a career. To me, it is a crucial part of contributing to the continuum of the arts and the building of a performing arts sector in the creative industries which includes the performing arts, film and dramatic TV. Even the ones who don’t go on to have careers, which is very much a reality, hopefully their lives will be transformed for the better and appreciate the arts and the process of making it much more. Some of the most loyal audiences have had arts education at some time in their lives. Teaching and coaching young actors has been very rewarding in such a meaningful way to me. It helps me understand my process better when I have to articulate that process to someone who cares about it – and then seeing them fly when they make break-throughs in their process – what a thrill!

How do you motivate your students?

By making them fully understand and appreciate the fact that ultimately, they have to motivate themselves. That it is all within them. So, helping them unlock that potential and when they experience what they can do and how they can transform themselves and others using the stories, tools and technology that they already know and running toe-to-toe with, the rest is up to them. But they have to be sincerely hungry for it – I can’t want it for them more then they want it for themselves, so I keep exposing them to what is possible, to the standards that are maintained by the best and to have them realize that there is no reason why they cannot reach those standards as well.

What advice do you have for young actors in the industry?

You are essentially storytellers – storytellers through spoken language and body language (behaviour). So, know stories and storytelling. Read – read plays, screenplays, novels, short stories, poetry, newspapers, magazines. Language is your best friend as an actor because you are a communicator.

You are essentially an artist. So, engage with art – visual art, performing arts, literary arts, cinematic arts. See good plays, films and television. Go to art exhibitions, concerts, spoken-word shows. Listen to good music.

You are essentially portraying people. So, study people. Observe them, engage with them, interact with them, understand them. You are a student of human moves, human motivations, the human condition as an actor. These things will seriously help cultivate the qualities you are supposed to have as an actor – imagination, focus and empathy (Sanford Meisner). I’ll add another to that – courage. 

It is essentially a craft you are doing. So, study your craft. Take classes, workshops and intensives in acting technique, scene-study, voice, speech & text, dialects, movement, dance, stage combat, acrobatics, singing.

Have your monologues prepared (at least 1 serious piece and 1 funny piece, and a song) so you can audition at a moment’s notice.

Keep yourself fit and healthy so that your body can keep up with the demands of the profession. Stuff like yoga, tai-chi and capoeira so helpful

Take up skills -vehicle-driving, horse-riding, motor-bike riding, swimming, a sport, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, puppetry, a foreign language or two.

Directing, Dramatic Writing and Producing are also extremely useful skills to gradually build in your career as an actor – especially if you want to create and produce your own work. Actors will have to be more AV literate, IT literate (especially to pivot) and business literate.

Keep humble. It’s through humility you grow and learn. But have your head on always.

Allow yourself to be affected and sensitive to things but always have a strong, pliable spine that stands up straight and tall – a strong centre.

Live. Experience Life. Know what it is to be human.

What was the best advice given to you from anyone in the industry?

“You can’t tell anyone else’s story until you know – and can tell – your own story.” – Kirk Baltz, Los Angeles, actor and acting coach

“Be good, be bad, but don’t be boring. Be interesting.” – Larry Hecht, San Francisco, actor, director, acting teacher and coach

“Humility is the foundation on which all your other qualities as an artist lie.” – Sonya Moze, Trinidad & Tobago, actor, director, drama teacher, drama coach.