Better Call Saul Star Michael Mando On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry
An Interview With Yitzi Weiner, Edited By Kelly Reeves
…”it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s actually human and cathartic to be vulnerable. It’s a good sign of leadership. There’s a difference between being vulnerable and being weak. They’re not the same. Vulnerability opens the gates for compassion, empathy, understanding, and listening for communication.”
I had the distinct pleasure to talk to MICHAEL MANDO. Michael stars as fan-favorite ‘Nacho Vega’ in the season 6 return of AMC’s Emmy-nominated series “Better Call Saul.” The prequel to “Breaking Bad” has had worldwide critical and commercial success, earning multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including two SAG Awards Nominations for Best Ensemble.
Mando is known for his role in the science fiction television series “Orphan Black,” which began airing in 2013. He played ‘Vic’, an abusive drug-dealer and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for his work on the series. Michael has also been teased as super-villain Mac Gargan aka The Scorpion in Marvel’s blockbuster Spiderman franchise.
In 2012, he starred in Far Cry 3 where he voiced and inspired one of the main villains: Vaas Montenegro, a vicious and twisted antagonist who arguably became the main face of the video game. Mando co-created a character which led to international stardom. His iconic motion-capture performance of Vaas went on to be considered as one of the greatest in Gaming History.
Mando was born in Quebec City and spent most of his childhood growing up in Ghana and the Ivory Coast then moved to Beirut before returning to Canada as a teen. He speaks four languages: French, English, Arabic and Spanish.
Thank you so much for the time and for doing this with us. Our readers would love to get to know you better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Quebec City. My mother tongue is French. My parents moved back to Africa after I was born, and I grew up mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast. I spent some of my childhood in the Middle East and in Europe. We moved back to Canada when I was an early teenager. So I had a very eclectic upbringing, and I got to see a lot of different sort of cultural dynamics.
Can you share with us the story that brought you to this specific career path as an actor?
It’s a bit of a sad story. My mother was shot in a carjacking incident that left her paraplegic. I was studying international relations at the University of Montreal at the time and took some time off from school to care for her. Unfortunately, I was shot in the knee in an unrelated incident requiring about two years of rehab. During that time, I was reading a lot of spiritual books, and this acting thing kept coming back into my life. I was about 23 years old and decided to see where it would lead. I fell in love with it. It was the first time I heard the word ‘humanity’ being discussed in a classroom.
So, you probably have a lot of interesting experiences. Can you share a story of one of the most interesting experiences that you’ve had in your career?
The most interesting one to me is the phenomenon of something going viral. My career really crossed over to the international level through a monologue I did for a video game called “Far Cry 3”. It was full motion capture, so it was a body, face, and voice — literally me inside the video game. I co-created the character as well, which made it even more fun.
It was the type of contract everyone overlooked. We didn’t think it was going to lead to anything and it ended up being displayed at the E3 Convention in Los Angeles. Within a week, it had over 5 million views. That really changed my career within a week or two. I went from an actor in Canada doing guest spots in Montreal and Toronto to someone who had his work seen immediately in a very viral way. That was a really interesting experience and it was the beginning of my international career. No one knew it was going to have that kind of effect. It just goes to show with the right exposure, you could take something relatively unknown and realize that there’s a market for it and people love it. It’s like that little singer singing on the street corner. Sometimes with the right exposure, that person’s a star. That’s the only difference.
Amazing story. So it’s been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a mistake that you made and then the lesson you learned from that?
Yes and a very recent one. Yesterday was the second year anniversary of my father’s passing, and I unexpectedly caught myself crying. I called my brothers. I wasn’t sure why I felt as if my dad’s spirit wanted me to call them. I realized it’s because of the lesson that I was teaching myself or the universe or whatever your beliefs are that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s actually human and cathartic to be vulnerable. It’s a good sign of leadership. There’s a difference between being vulnerable and being weak. They’re not the same. Vulnerability opens the gates for compassion, empathy, understanding, and listening for communication. It’s an important quality.
You have been blessed with success in a career that could be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on a similar path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure.
I once heard Joseph Campbell say: “Life is an opera and we can all play a part, but the flip side is if you try to play, you will eventually get hurt.” And I agree. I would say pursuing your dreams tends to be difficult because dreams are usually very hard to attain. We really put them up there, but I would say the journey is worth it. Just know that there are going to be significant highs and lows and you have to learn to manage the lows. I think for me, the best way to do that is to be able to take a macro approach and realize we’re very beautiful creatures, but we’re also just little tiny ants on a little tiny rock. That’s like a grain of sand in the universe and if you can keep those two in perspective at all times, and you stay level-headed, you can take it with a smile and realize it’s all temporary anyway.
That’s a really profound answer. You have some really impressive work. Can you share with our readers some of the exciting projects you’re working on now and in the near future?
Right now, we are looking to develop, produce and co-create with writers and directors. I’m very interested in taking the position of co-producer. We’re interested in attracting young, up-and-coming writers and directors or established writers and directors who are interested in collaborating and working closely.
We are also looking to transition my career into being a leading man and to do so both on and off camera. We are looking into action drama thrillers and sci-fi-genre cinema. I feel I’ve learned so much with “Better Call Saul” over the past six years, both behind and in front of the camera that I can’t wait to apply all of my knowledge to my future projects and make the most of it.
That’s great. So as you know, “Better Call Saul” has been one of the most popular shows over the past few years. In your opinion, what was it that captured people’s attention about the show, and what was it that hit the zeitgeist?
I believe it was the deliberate and thought-out storytelling process the show offers. We’re in a world where everything moves so fast, and we don’t have the luxury of slowing down and placing things very carefully, and the show does so with the written word. Its structure, especially with the camera, sound, and music work is so meticulous and deliberate. Everything comes from a place of intention.
When we’re watching the show, we have a feeling that we’re looking at the inside of a universe that makes total sense. I think that’s fascinating because one of the biggest questions we have in our lives is: Does this world have a specific meaning, or is it just chaos? But when we look at arts in that way, we realize, oh, wait a minute. Things could make sense and have meaning in every small or big detail. I believe that’s the appeal.
Are there lessons you think that we could take from, the motifs of the show to our society today in 2022?
Well, it’s a lawyer show at the core of it and lawyer means law, and law means justice and then you push justice further, and you ask about morality. I think it’s a show that juxtaposes what is the law versus what is moral. Vince and Peter do a wonderful job showing us that those two are not one in the same and that opens up a bigger question of how should we live our lives? What is morality in this case?
My character makes a bad decision to join the cartel at a very early age. His intelligence and charisma make him an asset to two sociopathic corporations. The harder he tries to get out, the harder they make it for him to the point that they take his father hostage and promise to kill his father if he decides to leave. He has this moral dilemma at the end of his arc of what is the right thing to do. He ends up being sort of a tragic romantic heroic figure because he ends up choosing the ideal versus the corrupt path.
So, this is the signature question that we ask in nearly all of our interviews: Do you have five things you wish someone had told you when you first started out as an actor and why?
- The first one is, have no regrets because we always do our best with what we know.
- The second one is to believe in yourself because no one sees inside your heart and no one knows how capable you can be.
- Number three, I would say, learn to first have a conference with yourself before seeking answers from others. You will realize that you ask better questions and could have answered half of them.
- Fourth, I would say trust yourself.
- Five, learn to build long-lasting relationships with like-minded people, based on respect, transparency, and win-win situations.
So this is our final question. Because of the role you play and the position that you have, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea can inspire.
I would say education. The better you can educate people about themselves and how we function as a living organism, the more we can understand our moods, diet, exercise, and sleep. Also, the the necessity of community. The more we have an understanding of ourselves and realize that we’re all the same creatures, the better we can then process our thoughts and live and function in the world. Educating ourselves on who we actually are and what we can do. A fish knows immediately how to swim and what to eat and what not to eat. It’s the same with birds, but with humans, it is very different. We could do almost anything. We need to educate ourselves on the complexities of what it is to be human a little bit better.
Amazing answer. So, Michael, how can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m on social media. I try to be as interactive on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and answer as many questions as we can. I just did a Reddit a couple of days ago, and that was a lot of fun.
Well, Michael, I want to thank you so much for your time. These answers and stories were honestly very profound and extremely impressive. Thank you so much for these insights, and I wish you continued success in your career.
Thank you so much, Yitzi.