Mike Hatton played George, a bass player, in the Golden Globe winning, and current Oscar-nominated film Green Book. The film is an eye-opener to understanding the injustices done to blacks in the Deep South. Hatton shares his experience working on the film and his earlier career.
ATM: What are the similar skills that an actor and a bass player possess to carry out each profession’s responsibilities?
MH: You have to know the songs as a bass player. Obviously, as an actor, you have to know your lines or at least what you are accomplishing in the scene if it’s improvisation. So, I think there are a lot of similarities between being a musician and an actor. The performance is most important in how well you can do what you need to do to get through the performance. Fortunately, for me, they needed someone who could do both. Peter Farrelly has an amazing eye for detail, and he wanted to make sure everything was accurate- Right down to the instruments. He knew when you make a movie everything is timed. It has to be done correctly. They knew it would be critics out there watching it. He wanted it to be close to the truth as possible. So, he put real musicians in the roles.
ATM: In the film, when you saw how some white people treated black people and also did not let them play in certain places, what did you observe about the white people who opposed this harsh treatment?
MH: Doing Green Book was a real eye-opening experience. I did not even know what the Green Book was before doing the movie. Seeing the way African Americans or blacks were treated during these days was heartbreaking for me to imagine. It was terrible seeing what they went through being recreated. I knew about segregation growing up. We learned about it obviously in school. We learned about Dr. King and his teachings. I was not raised during this time, but I was taught that everyone was the same, black or white, no matter your ethnicity or religion. It wasn’t just a school thing either… it was taught in my home. To step back, recreate it, and see it as it was in the movie, it truly hurt. As a white person, I didn’t truly know what went down back then or think about it that often. Being in that bar scene when Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) was getting beaten just for the color of his skin was very emotional for me. I hope it’s emotional for everyone who sees it to see how awful it is. Let’s be honest, far worse things have happened than that. But maybe seeing a character that they can grow to know and begin to love as a human going through the situation can inspire people to be better. To “do better,” as Dr. Shirley says in the movie.
It was not that long ago. I hope the movie will open up the eyes of a lot of people, not just white people, to look back and see what happened- because they don’t know. The point of the movie is to show and remind people that even though we have come far in this society, maybe we have not come that far. These things are still happening today. It’s ridiculous. It’s a poignant reminder of how the world is. Not necessarily, just white people, but its people of any color, races, and creeds should watch Green Book. Hopefully, they take away that beyond the surface and the color of our skin there is a person in there that wants, needs, and loves. We are all the same. This is the message of Green Book. Hopefully, now that people have watched this film, they get a little bit of a history lesson.
The audience will get to see this story unfold see a bond between two human beings that come out of a heartbreaking situation, turn into something beautiful that created a life-long friendship. Their situation and commonality made them drop their differences and unite, forging a beautiful friendship that went beyond prejudice.
ATM: It does remind us it was not long ago. If anybody of any race can look at this film and say there are still some similarities that are presented in this society today, then it makes us see that we have not moved forward as we might think.
MH: At the end of the day, they are trying to make a good movie that people can walk away and feel good after seeing. It is just a coincidence that we are in this current political climate. Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly wanted to make this movie for a while. Nick had been working on the story for over 30 years. I don’t think there’s an intention to change anyone’s political views, but the intention that is certainly there to change people’s point of view. Though it is a coincidence that the timing of this political climate is there, Green Book is telling everyone to step back and to say “We are all people, and we should get along. We should all love each other and be friends.” Why does anyone’s beliefs or skin color matter? It does not matter. You hope one day we can get everybody to start getting along and stop fighting.
ATM: In what ways did you break your character down, seeing what was on the inside of him?
MH: George is a fun and loving musician. He was a touring musician. So, he had to be a little bit fun, and hey I am having a good time type of guy. The reason I thought to take him in this direction. We took it in this direction because my counterpart Oleg who was the “serious, maybe stuffy, Russian guy.” Oleg and George were friends, but Oleg comes off mostly in the film as a “stick in the mud.” George needed to be a more approachable guy. Tony did not have anybody to talk to outside of Don. He did not have anybody to go to. So, we established George was the friendly guy in the band that Tony could go to so that it wasn’t “all Don all the time.” Tony had to vent to someone, so it became George.
We see over time George trusts Tony before Oleg. When George goes out to the bar and sees Don Shirley getting beat up, he goes right away to get Tony to help. He knows this is Tony’s job to go in there to figure this out. I tried to make George the guy that has the touring musician attitude. He is having fun; he likes the ladies and drinking. He is having a good time. Truthfully, this is a departure of who I am in real life. I am a dad with three kids and a wife. I try not to leave home for extended periods unless I am doing a movie. It is a completely different person than who I am. I tried to make him have a little bit of a slouch too. That helped me step into character.
ATM: Do you believe George and your real-life self as a family man would have anything in common?
MH: We have a ton in common! I used real feelings to create this atmosphere. There are ways I am taking pieces of myself trying to turn them into character points. George is the comedy straight man because Tony is such a strong character. So, in a lot of my lines I tried to deliver as an audience member would think them… dry. Also, I made George a little nervous when running outside of the bar. I was purely taking on the emotion of not wanting to get into a bar fight. Peter Farrelly spotted in my audition that I seemed like the guy who would get into a bar fight. He was right… I’ve been in a few! So, George needed to be scared. I did not want to leave my friend by himself. I ran and got Tony, and I tried to be this nervous guy. Plus, in the bar scene, I was truly scared for their lives. In that situation, I needed to make sure we get Don out of there, and that Tony and I didn’t get shot in the process. So, I just stood there having Tony’s back, but not engaging because that’s Tony’s job. On stage, I used George’s confidence, smiling and having a good time. I try to take some real aspects of myself to put them into the character.
I am still quite different than the character. We are human beings, so George is someone I want to exist. There are emotions that we share. So, I do have some things in common with him. As different as Viggio and Mahershala is from Tony and Don. There are certain things about them that they share with the character. All actors need to share some basic human feelings with their character even if they are nothing like their character. Luckily, for me, George was not a bad guy, but a nice guy. He was excited to be where he was. I was excited to be on set shooting a movie this special. So I used that excitement in my performance. We have this in common.
ATM: What new inspirational thoughts went through your head when this film won a Golden Globe?
MH: I was the guy running around on set saying “This movie is incredible. This movie is going to win awards.” It was funny because people would laugh and dismiss me. I was truly excited to work on it. I knew right away; it was going to be awesome. I also know there is a lot of politics and a lot of things that play into winning these awards. I was not surprised that we won. It makes me extremely happy that we won. I felt like the Hollywood Foreign Press made the right decision in giving it to us. I hope the Academy follows suit. I hope that we win the Oscars. We should win the Oscars. I know I am biased because I am in the movie. If it just came down to no politics, nobody trying to create any controversy, or it just came down to what is the best movie of the year.
I have seen all the movies. I do not think any of them are better than Green Book. I think Green Book is the best movie of the year. So, when we won the Golden Globe, I was extremely proud but not excited because it was well deserved. I liked Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Roma, all fantastic, but I am looking at what is the best movie of the year. I do not see these movies being better than Green Book because they are not.
ATM: Aside from politics, it should be about what continues and has started a conversation. Not saying that this was Green Book’s initial purpose, but this should be the question to determine it.
ATM: Who was Mike during the adolescences stage in the 80s and 90s era?
MH: I was always trying to be the fun kid. I was always trying to be the funny guy. My background is not just in acting, but also in comedy. I was trying to make everyone laugh as a kid. I was always dancing and having a good time. I always thought my main objective in life during the 80s and 90s was to make people laugh. As you start to grow up, you have to get a real job and figure things out. If you do not lose this desire to keep making people laugh, then you figure out how to do it for a living. I grew up outside of Chicago, in the Indiana suburb area. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan because he was from Gary. Seeing someone from the town next door become the biggest star in the world. You have in the back of your head the questions “Can I chase that dream? Can I be an actor or a comedian?” You lose things along the way and go “Aw, man maybe I should get a regular job?”
No, I just kept going. Luckily, for me, there was an improvisation and improv comedy. This was a place where I figure to put my desire to make jokes for practical use. I started doing it from here. It has been good. I am still fortunate enough to be the funny guy. I have a couple of great moments in Green Book where I get to laugh. I am pretty excited to have to put a laugh in a Peter Farrelly movie is every actor’s dream. Every comedic actor’s dream is to make people laugh in a Peter Farrelly movie. I had a couple of good ones.
ATM: So, this part of you has never left.
MH: No, it has never left. I do have a little bit of a Peter Pan syndrome even though I have a family, career, and responsibilities. I still try to be the fun guy.
ATM: How does the quote “Everything you have every wanted is on the other side of fear” fit into your life or career?
MH: This quote fits into my career because there were many times, I am afraid. I was afraid to make a move. I had a stabled job as a Reporter. I was afraid to do it. Just circumstances pushed me to say you know what there is nothing to be afraid of. A similar quote is “The only thing we have is fear itself”- Churchill. I said “I am going to do this and figure it out. I do not know what I am doing.” I moved to California with no contacts. I did not know anybody. I took a CBS affiliated job. I got lucky along the way. I met some people who were very open about the fact I wanted to be an actor, filmmaker, director, and producer. I told everyone I wanted to do it.
I figured this is half of it. A lot of people are afraid they want to get into this business. They are almost ashamed to say they want to do this, and it is a mistake. I have never been ashamed of it. This is one thing I have never feared. “This is something I want to do even if I have to work a day job to pay the bills.” I have been for the last many years. I have only done this business for the last decade. It has been pretty great, and I am blessed. The only reason I am blessed is that I worked my butt off. I did free work. I did projects that maybe I should have said no to. I did them because I wanted the experience and it on the resume. The one thing to tell aspiring filmmakers and actors is not to be afraid to do it. Here is the thing. You do not learn anything if you do not fail in life once in a while. Not everything I have done has been a massive success. Green Book is the biggest highlight of my career to date.
ATM: In the future, you are going to look back at this moment. You are going to say wow. Something else will take this position.
MH: I hope something else takes this position. This has been an incredible experience. I am so grateful to have been a part of it. I want to keep making movies that people care about. I want to keep making content and the content I want to make. I will continue to do small independent films and projects. I have a new respect for how magical doing one like Green Book could be. It is intoxicating because you want it again. I want to figure out the next movie and the next and hope one day I’ll make one even bigger and better than Green Book. I say this knowing that Green Book will go down as one of all time greats, but it doesn’t stop my aspiration for more.
ATM: Some people are afraid to admit they want to be in this industry because they are afraid of failure. They kind of tiptoe on the idea. So, if it does not work out, then they can say well I knew it was not going to work out. They stay on the surface of self-doubt. They say, “I was not interested.” But you were. You gave your time and energy to this industry. People need to realize when you first enter this industry you are not going to be the same either in a good or negative way. It will impact your life in some way.
MH: Right. This is the thing. I think people are afraid of failure. As human beings, we are afraid to fail. Look at the Wright Brothers. They did not figure it out immediately how to fly but eventually got it after they kept working at it. People also want to get in the business for the wrong reason. If you are looking to get in this business because you want to go to red carpets, want people to scream your name and go to parties, and do the things that come along with working – If you only want to pursue it for this reasons because you want the spotlight, then I think this is the wrong reason. This is why so many people get in this business and do fail.
They are expecting immediate stardom. I have done red carpets before. I have done more appearances for Green Book than I have done in my entire career. There was a five year period when I did not even do a red-carpet premiere. Though I was busy the entire time. I was working doing indie-films, shorts, and sketch comedy. Honing my craft. Doing what I love acting. The parties are a lot of fun, and they’re the reward of hard work, but it’s on set, or being on stage that matters most to me. I got into it because I love making people laugh, entertaining. I did not care if it is in 2500 theatres around the nation, or if it is in front of the stage with 25 people in the room. Either one is fine with me. As long as I can do what I love.
ATM: This is why you have succeeded. You saw the bigger picture. You were not in it for the stereotypes or to fulfill any stereotypes. You were in it because you loved it. You can see this through your work.
MH: If you get into it because you like and love it, then this is one thing. If you get in it for the wrong, then this is why I see so much failure out there. It is the universe trying to say you are not doing this right.
ATM: What nostalgic feeling when going back to a previous set for a film you visualized?The moments on set and the memories of people.
MH: I have shot at the same location here in Los Angeles multiple times. It is always nice to return to these locations. There are several locations here in LA that were used for other movies. I act in most of what I produce. It is nice to go back there because you receive a nostalgic feeling. I have experienced this on a local level but not around the world yet. Maybe Armenia would get me back there. Hopefully, we can get it materialized.
ATM: In what ways, did the different responses and experience when you worked on Jimmy Kimmel has educated you about life?
MH: People have been very excited. Everyone has been great. I have never hidden the fact that I wanted to get into this. There were years where everybody watched on my social media. I would be on projects and some movies that were not very good. You make the art because you like it and you want to do it. This for them to see me get to this level and do this big of a project. I know they are very proud. I just did an interviewed in Terre Haute, which is where I went to college in Indiana. To be on the phone with them and talk to them about a movie they want to see in the theater – it is a big deal. Most of my projects end up on cable. We have done things that ended up on HBO, Showtime, and Syfy Channel. I can say, “Hey you can go to my movie in a theater. It has been great.” Everyone is excited for me. It is a great feeling to get your friends to say you did it. I am still just me. I have never changed.
ATM: How does your project Triumph embody the definition of the word and still puts a theatrical view on the word?
MH: Triumph is written by a gentleman named Michael Coffey who has cerebral palsy. To see what he was able to do with this movie, to get it written, and as far as he has have gotten it – is a triumph. Getting a movie made as an independent is a little miracle, and Michael Coffey was able to do it by connecting with the right people. He wrote the movie, found the first part of the funding for this movie, found an amazing director for the movie. Brett Leonard, the director of The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, came on and directed the film. He and Executive Producer Michael Clofine found me through my colleague, Jessica Uberuaga and asked my company to board the film. I did it because this movie is going to be special. I have seen what Michael Coffey has done and I’m impressed. To see that he wrote a great movie, got it to cast, got a huge director, got the money to finance it, and got name actors to board this thing was so inspiring.
We got United Cerebral Palsy, which is one of the biggest charities in the United States to partner with us. They are going to receive a percentage from the film. To see what he has done with Triumph is a triumph in itself. The movie is about a high schooler played by the incredible RJ Mitte of Breaking Bad who has cerebral palsy and wants to be a wrestler. To see his journey on screen is very similar to the writer and the producer’s journey. It is going to be great to see where this movie goes. I am proud of what this movie is going to become. This is the next project I am shooting. We are going to be shooting the last bit of it in March.
ATM: Would you agree that this is the beginning of the triumph stage in your life?
MH: I would agree with this. I am excited that the opportunities that have been unfolding already because of Green Book and the work I have done in the movie. I am proud to be a part of it. Every actor dreams to be a part of a movie like this. I have dreamed my entire career to be involved in a movie like this. Something that people can see is proud of and win awards. I know it will not be the last.
ATM: You deserve it.
MH: I still do not feel this way. I never look back and go I deserve this. I am always like I have to do this and figure this out. I appreciate hearing it, but I do not know if I believe it. I’m just me. I’m just a guy from Indiana who likes to play pretend.
ATM: If you dream a dream, work hard, and this dream comes true, then you deserve all that comes your way. You truly do.
MH: I love hearing this! I liked your questions too. It was very thought-provoking stuff. Some of it was stuff no one has ever asked me. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!