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  • Annette Dawm

Getting to Know Mike Manning

Mike Manning has been part of the film and television industry for over a decade. More recently, he has become known as an Emmy Award-winning producer for his work on the online series, The Bay. He also portrays Caleb McKinnon on the show. Currently, Mike can be seen as Charlie Dale on Days of our Lives (also stylized as Days of Our Lives). Additionally, Mike plays Townsend Ellis in the upcoming film, Son of The South which premieres in select theatres and on all digital platforms February 5, 2021. However, there is a lot more to Mike than what people see on screen.

In 2015, Manning co-founded Chhibber Mann Productions with fellow actor, Vinny Chhibber: “I produce documentaries about certain social causes that I really care about. I produced a documentary called, Lost in America about homeless youth. I produced another documentary, An Act of Love, about marriage equality and stuff like that. So, you know, I’m not just an actor. I also like to tell stories behind the camera as well.” Speaking of his partnership with Chhibber, Mike claimed that, “Vinny is a Cinephile. He has seen every movie. He has watched film festival movies or obscure movies. He’s like an encyclopedia of movie knowledge, which is great when we’re in meetings because he’ll rattle off like, five different directors that we should work with. I’m more of the workhorse. If I put my mind to something, I don’t sleep. I work really hard until it’s done and I think we balance each other out really well.”

As a producer, Mike explained, “There’s kind of a joke in Hollywood that like, ‘producers do everything but nobody knows what a producer does’. That’s really what it is. For me, a producing job has been different on every single project. Sometimes I’ve been on set organizing things, or helping with the budget, or helping with schedules or helping oversee things. Then sometimes it’s packaging a film, casting, working on the script or working with the writers to get the script to a certain part, and hiring the director. You know, it’s different every single time so I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked on a bunch of projects and each one has been a different adventure.”

2020 was a strange year for everyone, including Manning. Looking back on his experience, he said that his two dogs (and comfortable clothes) definitely helped him “get through the pandemic and being stuck at home” while he was unable to work.

“Actually—fun fact—I found out about my job on Days in March. I auditioned in like, January/February and then I found out about it in March. Then I signed a contract and three days later, the pandemic happened and everything shut down. So I spent all of quarantine not knowing if I had a job. Then when it was announced that we were all coming back September 1, I was thinking to myself like, ‘Crap! I haven’t been on a set in awhile!’”

“They told us in July that we were going to be coming back in September. That same week in July, the producers of The Bay called me and said, ‘Hey, Mike, we’re shooting season six at this secluded ranch. Do you want to be a part of it?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ It’s like, I haven’t been on a set in six months, you know? Like, please give me something to work on before I jump into Days, especially! It’s been rough for a lot of people, but it gave me time to work on things that I’ve been putting off. I’ve been spending time with the dogs, spending time in nature, going on hikes and stuff like that. Plus, I won an Emmy! I’ve actually been joking with everybody. I was like, ‘2020 was bad. The first part of 2020, we can erase it, but we have to keep July because July’s when I found out I won an Emmy for my work on The Bay!’…. Season six just aired and I’m really proud of the work I did there!”

Mike credited his experience in theatre with helping him work through the fast-paced environment on Days of our Lives. Although he said that The Bay is a similar production to Days, “they don’t move quite as fast”. Days of our Lives also happens to be the first soap opera he’s ever worked on. “So with this one,” he continued, “coming out of a pandemic and jumping straight into work—on a new show for me, with a new character, in a new world where everyone else knew each other—I sort of had to just jump right into it. So I’m really grateful that I’ve been doing theatre since I was little because this show is very much like theatre to me. You go get one or two takes and that’s it.”

Charlie Dale is a complicated character, but Mike wouldn’t have it any other way. As the audience knows, Charlie quickly developed from a good guy to a bad one. It has been revealed that Charlie was the one who raped Allie Horton (Lindsay Arnold), not his half-brother, Tripp Dalton (Lucas Adams). He also seems to be the son Ava Vitali (Tamara Braun) never wanted.

“I think for me, the most important thing above all was to—and I’m really grateful the writers gave me material to work with—was to not just be a one-dimensional villain, to not just be ‘the bad guy’. I want people to understand why Charlie is the way he is and where he’s coming from. I think that working with Tamara was great because Tamara is the same way. She is a villain but you feel sorry for her. Also, she has that motherly love and humanity—not for Charlie, but for Tripp, and you see that! So that’s really what I wanted to work on with Charlie…".

Regarding Charlie’s glasses, Mike confirmed that they are a prop and that he doesn’t wear them in real life: “…I think that Charlie wears his glasses as a defense mechanism, when he’s trying to hide from something or when he’s trying to put on an act. When Charlie is being himself 100% and doesn’t need to put on the act or to play that game, he takes his glasses off and he gets real.” He added that it was fun being able to pick “when Charlie is being himself and when he’s putting on an act. He sort of uses the glasses to signal that”.

When asked if he were to write the story and what direction he would like the character to take, Manning replied: “You know, that’s a good question and that’s tough because Charlie did something awful. Regardless of his reasons, he sexually assaulted somebody and that’s awful. Allie Horton is such a kind, nice character that didn’t deserve that. So it would be hard for me to say, ‘Oh yeah! Charlie should be redeemed! It’s going to be great!’ ….Now, I don’t even know completely what’s going to happen next for Charlie. I have an idea of where the writers are going to go but I’m not sure 100%. But if I were writing it, I would really have to do it a certain way to not make light of what he had done. It would have to be tasteful. You would have to do it a certain way because there have been sexual assault stories in the past (on any soap) that are sometimes handled with care and sometimes they’re not. When they’re not, I think that’s bad for everybody.”

"Days of our Lives continues to air and I’m really proud of the journey that Charlie is taking. The fan response has been really, really great. I was terrified! I thought that as soon as it was revealed that he was going to be a villain, they would turn against him. I think that nobody has discounted what he’s done, but I believe now we understand why he did what he did, [considering] what happened in his past. I think people can sympathize with that a little bit. At least enough to not come after me! Luckily, I haven’t gotten a ton of bad [comments]. I’ve had a few that have been strange but most people understand that it’s just a show.”

Aside from seeing how Charlie’s story plays out, Mike is looking forward to other projects: “On the producing side, there’s a film that we just produced that we’re in the process of selling right now called, Slapface. With that one, it’s sort of a story about a monster in the woods. Our lead is August Maturo. He was on Girl Meets World and he was in The Nun. He’s such a phenomenal actor! …He just gave me so much to work with! I’m really, really proud of him! I’m really proud of the movie. So that’s the next project we’re going to sell and release out into the world.” In addition to producing the film, Mike plays August’s older brother. Slapface will be released at some point later this year. In the future, Mike would also love to land a role in “the sci-fi realm” especially as a superhero or someone from the comic book world. This has always been one of his childhood goals.

As previously mentioned, Son of the South comes out on Friday. Unfortunately, this movie depicts a time in history that is more relevant than ever today. The film is based on Bob Zellner’s autobiography. Zellner was the grandson of a prominent Ku Klux Klan member. When he was a young man, Bob broke the racist family ties in order to join the Civil Rights Movement.

“I think that what’s nice about Son of the South is that it’s based on a true story. It centres around a young group of college students that are sort of becoming activists without even knowing it—just because it’s the right thing to do. I think that made it special because I think we’re seeing that nowadays. We’re seeing young people being more politically involved than ever and really standing up. You know, going to protests and going on social media and standing up for what they believe in. This is one of those movies that you watch and you think, ‘Wow! We’ve come so far! I’m so proud of our country!’ And then you think about it and you’re like, ‘Maybe we haven’t come as far as we thought.’ It serves as reminder to not stop pushing until everybody is treated equally. That’s just how it has to be.”

There are a number of notable names attached to this movie, including director, Barry Alexander Brown and his long-time collaborator, Spike Lee. Lee is credited as one of the executive producers. The late Brian Dennehy portrayed Zellner’s grandfather. Prior to Son of the South, which would be one of his final acting credits, Dennehy was known for his countless achievements in theatre, along with his role as Chris Farley’s father in Tommy Boy, among many other things.

Mike fondly recalled his time on the set:“I mean, having somebody like Spike Lee behind it is great! Our director, Barry Alexander Brown actually knew the writer of the book and had grown up with him. So it had a very personal connection for a lot of the people in charge of the film. That sort of transferred down to the actors and to the people telling the story. I think that we all gathered knowing that we were going to make something special and we were really determined to do it the right way."

"I think with Brian Dennehy, it was amazing because when we shot it, he was an older man. There would be certain times where he would be leaning up against a cane, or a chair or something, and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘He’s an older man. He’s had a wonderful career, but why is he still doing this?’ He loved it and when the director would yell, ‘Action!’ he would transform. He would stand up straighter! He would look dead into the other actor’s eye! He would say his lines and he was laser-focused. It was that moment where I was like, ‘This is why he does it, because this ignites his soul. This really feeds his soul!’ I made a promise to myself. I said, ‘As long as I can still do that, I’m going to still act and pursue a career’, because you could just tell that that’s what he lived for!”

When it comes to what feeds his own soul, Manning said that would have to be his work with various charities: “Boo2Bullying is a charity that I’ve been involved with for years and years and I think that work is so important. I think that young people are so influenced with everything on social media….” Normally, before the pandemic, the organization would have attended school assemblies or other community events in order to encourage youth not to bully and how to give and receive help if needed.

“Also, Thirst Project is one that I care about. My friend started that organization over a decade ago and I’ve seen it grow and grow and grow! Now I’m on the board so I get to see behind the scenes of what they’re up to. What they do is they essentially build wells for communities in Africa—and other places, but mainly Africa. The transformation that happens in communities when they finally have access to clean drinking water is just so profound. I think access to clean water is a human right, so to be a part of that is just great!”

Throughout his career, Mike has maintained a positive attitude. However, he admitted that this was no easy task: “I’ve learned to really work hard and to put my mind to things. Like I said, I’m a workhorse. I will work harder than anybody else to get things done. But at the same time, one thing I’ve learned within the last couple years is to not take things so personally. If an acting role doesn’t work out, you just move onto the next one. If a producing role doesn’t work out or if a film doesn’t happen, or if a script isn’t made, there are only so many hours in a day. There are only so many things that I can control personally. So if it doesn’t happen, I just have to move on and try to find the next thing because I don’t want to get dragged down from the sadness of thinking, ‘It could have been this! It could have been this!’ It’s like, ‘Well, Mike, it’s not. So move on.’”

In terms of advice for others, Mike Manning would love to see more people be their own biggest cheerleader: “…There are so many aspects of this industry that are difficult and that try to break you down. It’s not a coincidence that so many people quit and move back home. I would say, acting or entertainment in general is hard enough as it is. Don’t be against yourself. Be your biggest cheerleader and really go at it with the belief that you can do it. If you work hard, you can do it…. I think if people work hard enough, eventually they will get the opportunity that they want. It’s a matter of being ready for that when it comes.”

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Photo Credit: Tim Sabatino.

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