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An Interview with Michael Mili, Actor, Writer and Producer

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2014

Films starring Michael Mili on (re)Search my Trash


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First of all, why don't you introduce yourself to those of us who don't already know you?


My name is Michael Mili, I’m a working actor, writer and producer. Ultimately, I enjoy being a storyteller who loves to write about the tiny details that comprise our everyday lives, often drawing on my own life experiences. I was born and raised in the city of Detroit, Michigan to Greek Cypriot American parents. Though my father was a factory worker he was also an artist and sculptor like my grandfather Michael Kashalos, a famous Cypriot Artist. My mom was a nurse but was a writer and artist in her own right. Acting, music and art lessons weren’t hard to come by, even though my parents were far from well off. At a very young age, I had gotten cast on a couple of commercials and did a couple of kids’ shows. I attended Henry Ford College where I studied Graphic Arts and Marketing, and the Detroit College of Business. I worked for many years as a commercial artist, but amongst other endeavors I was always pursuing the film biz. It wasn’t till I was in my forties that I received my first lead role in a feature film, a hit man in Daniel Casey's The Death of Michael Smith, which won the Excellence in Filmmaking award at the Slamdance film festival in Park City, Utah. I’ve appeared in more than 30 films since, both small and large since 1980. Though I’ve worked as a writer & panel cartoonist for many years, it wasn’t till 1990’s that I was introduced to the world of screenwriting. With a little training at from the Academy of Television and Motion Picture Sciences, I penned my first screenplay with my wife Miki and Johnny Anton called Five Years in the Pit. The story memorialized my time at Pharoh's Golden Cup, a Punk Rock Club & coffee house I owned outside of Detroit. I have since written and co-written, a couple dozen screenplays. Finally, I teamed up with longtime friend and actor-writer Rich Goteri. Together we've co-written several screenplays including being hired by Frank Roche of Roche Productions to co-produce and re-write his story The Italy Boys. The Mafia action film is currently in pre-production. I’m a life time member of The Michigan Actors Studio and Detroit Ensemble Theatre. I also write and illustrate a weekly cartoon called Tasso that can be found in various publications and the web.


You recently played the lead in Demon Exorcism: The Devil Inside Maxwell Bastas - so what can you tell us about that movie and your character in it?


I play a Greek American man named Maxwell Bastas who makes a living as an actuary (a person who analyzes statistics) whose very organized life begins to unravel after his wife and son are tragically killed. Max is pissed off at and blames God for letting this happen to him. This opens the way for the devil himself to take over Max’s soul in a battle of Good versus Evil. Max’s anger is so intense that it starts to consume his soul as he’s actually being tortured by Beelzebub himself, plaguing Max to commit suicide to end his torment. God intervenes when Max is hit by a drunk driver whose wife comes to the rescue by bringing a Priest, Minister and a Rabbi. The holy trio try to kick the devil out of Max through an exorcism. Thus the battle for Max’s soul begins as he’s chased by demons and devils leaving a path of dead bodies in its path pointing to Max as the blame – real light-hearted stuff, huh? lol!


What did you draw upon to bring Maxwell Bastas, a definitely less than perfect character, to life?


The character of Max was a Greek American, so I had that covered, he lost his wife and son so I imagined how I would feel and reacted accordingly. Dealing with daily conflicts is a normal part of life, if you are normal. But, dealing with a horrific event, especially if your screw is a little loose can be devastating to yourself and everyone around you. I’ve experienced many things in my life both good and tragic; it was not hard to reach. For the several weeks we shot I put myself in that crazy angry place, and drew on those things. It was hard to shut off at the end of the day, much to the chagrin of my family. I was glad when we wrapped and I was done with Max.


How did you get involved with the project in the first place, what drew you to it?


I had a small role in another one of Richard James films called Shadow of Crime. He said he wrote a film with the lead role specifically written for me. I was very honored, read it and liked it. But, then I told him I couldn’t do it because it was a non-union project, a year later they made it union and I did the film.

You have to really admire Richard James and Melanie White’s dedication [Richard G. James and Melanie White interview - click here], to work, strive and raise the money and go the extra mile. It was humbling.

They are great Folks! A great creative team who’ve produced together and worked and saw their goal completed.


What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


It was high paced but overall a fun and creative set. The most fun on the set was working with Rich Goteri (my boss in the story) we got to improvise and discover our characters. We got to scream and yell and fight. Not to mention Jamie Wheatly (Beelzebub) was a riot to work with. FUN STUFF!


You've recently also been involved in the series Adventures in Speed Dating in various functions - so do talk about that series for a bit?


I am co-producing the series through Crazy House and distributing through Amazon. The story is about an overly dramatic church lady named Claire, who has a propensity for wearing too much cheap cologne and she’s a bit of an airhead. That being said she’s raking in the bucks and owns and operates a popular speed dating service called Love Is in the Air. She fills her pockets with lots of cash by selling hopes and dreams to lonely people looking for love. Two of her employees, Dan and Seton reluctantly smile and do her bidding for a paycheck, while gossiping behind her back. I play Plato, a drunken Greek bartender serves the daters while lamenting about his sorrows openly. John (Rich Goteri), the bell ringing referee, can’t wait for the dates to be done so he can ring his bell and stop the misguided match-ups that Claire has brought together. An ex-con sanitation engineer, a speech impaired school teacher, a sex crazed speed dating addict and a scarred mama’s boy are just a few of the characters that make this series.


How did the show come into being in the first place, and where is it heading to?


It was born out of the Michigan Actors Studio and the brainchild of Rich Goteri and Rachel Bellack, who brought me in as a co-producer and writer. As far as where it’s heading I’m not really sure where it will lead to, though I remain optimistic. I am very excited about the new markets like Amazon, Netflix, Google and other streaming VOD.


Do talk about your partner on Adventures in Speed Dating, Richard Goteri, for a bit, and what's your collaboration like?


We have been writing together for years. Rich is more like family then a writing partner, even our wives and families are friends. We have written a boatload of scripts together. When we write, it isn’t like we are two separate people, we become one mind. Not to mention we have worked in many films together.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


We have been contracted by director Jason Hull [Jason Hull interview - click here] to co-write the feature film Krampus 2 and we are in development for another film called Nickel and Dimed to Death. We are also about to start pre-production on a film called The Italy Boys, that we are co-producing and writing with the talented Frank Roche. The mafia epic is sure to make some noise.


Let's go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I had done a couple of commercials and a role in a TV movie in 1980 and then I stopped for a while. I went to school for graphics and opened a couple of businesses. I dabbled in and out of the business gathering credits along the way until the year 2000 when I worked on the HBO movie 61* directed by Billy Crystal. Since then I have been working steadily in the industry. My training was and is still with Detroit Ensemble Theatre and the Michigan Actors Studio.


Can you still remember your first time in front of a camera, and what was that experience like?


Nyaaaa! It was for a kids’ show and I was only six and the star, a drunken clown verbally abused and tried to choke me. Lol! Since then I’m not a fan of clowns. I kind of don’t blame the poor clown; after all I asked him on live television why he smelled like my uncle's liquor cabinet… He snapped! It was also the first time that I got fired.


I believe you played your first lead in The Death of Michael Smith - so obviously you have to talk about that movie and your character in it for a bit!


It was absolute honor to play the role of Michael Smith. The director Daniel Casey who’s brilliant beyond his young years, first came to me with his script about three men with the same name whose life intersect. The part I played was a hitman with issues of guilt and remorse. At first I thought Dan was asking me to gather some of my acting friends who look like hitmen but much to my surprise he wanted me to play the role. He directed me with a sense of realism not as a Hollywood hitman but more realistic. I used people from my own life that lived in that world and was able to show the glib nature of their lives. The film went on to win numerous awards including Slamdance in 2006. Unfortunately, awards don’t get distribution.


Besides acting, you have also written quite a few screenplays, right? So what can you tell us about those, and your approach to writing?


You write, you option and hopefully you produce. When Rich and I write we try to method write, trying to get into the characters heads while we create them and the world they live in. That means using the words we write and the characters to their fullest extent to present a good story. Deepening every character, scene and making it as real and interesting as possible.


Any other past films of yours you'd like to talk about?


It was great working in Tim Crockett’s Intent with Eric Roberts due out this year. It was great to play in several scenes with Eric and Brett Rice of We Are Marshal and Forrest Gump. I loved working with Fifty Cent in the movie Setup, we trained half the day for an articulate fight scene that after the editing was about 30 seconds. He was a very cool guy to all of us. My favorite experience on set was To Kill an Irishman – with a huge cast of characters. I was hired as a featured extra and bumped up to a principal role and back to a floating head… But I got to spend fourteen hours with Christopher Walken. He was great, what a blast!


You've also written a novel, right? So what can you tell us acout that one, and how does writing a novel compare to writing for the screen?


Writing a novel was in some ways a lot harder than writing a screenplay, but allowed me much more freedom to delve deep into my past. A script generally has three acts and is confined to 95 to 105 pages, leaving you at the mercy of the producers, investors or director who want to change the story. Whereas writing a novel you have the freedom to tell more of the story in much more detail only at the mercy of your publisher and/or editor. For obvious reasons, my novel Cigarette Money had to be listed as fiction; as I drew on my own struggles and life experiences, providing the reader a snapshot of my life in a long forgotten time gone by. I first wrote Cigarette Money as a feature-screenplay describing a bad thing I saw when hustling cigarettes to a bunch of wise guys. After optioning it a couple of times, I decided to keep it and possibly produce it myself. So in 2012 on the advice of an industry insider, I decided to expand the story into a novel. I was able to turn my script into a poignant mid-1960’s coming of age story which chronicles the life of a young boy from Detroit named Michael Paphos, and his unlikely friendship with Detroit’s underworld. The story centers around Michael and his Uncle Gus' Greektown restaurant called The Grecian. During that wondrous but turbulent decade, the restaurant was known as the “best of the best” of what Detroit had to offer. It was a hangout for movie stars, politicians, and athletes. It was a stopover for “The Rat Pack” along with the “who’s who” of Hollywood royalty. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the infamous backroom, with its private top act shows. Not to mention, it was a gamblers paradise; with its well hidden poker rooms, crap tables and roulette wheels. Add a little off track and sports betting and you've got yourself a mini Las Vegas, Greco-Roman Style. It was a well-kept secret, because even the cops, judges and politicians liked to play there on their nights off. On one night, Michael literally bumps into mob boss Dominick Parazano, marking the beginning of an unlikely friendship that lasted for years. The story follows young Michael’s introduction into Detroit’s underworld, where he witnesses some life altering events. At Dom’s request Michael and his friends Johnny & Gino start selling cigarettes to the boys in the backroom and start raking in the cash. At the same time, Michael’s home and school lives begin to clash with his life as a would-be mafia cadet. After witnessing a horrific murder, that ultimately occurred to save his life, Michael and his friends get caught up in a situation that they never saw coming. Plus, they had to deal with a maniac trying to kill him, a psychopathic teacher and his neighborhood gone mad after being destroyed by a race riot. Dominick tries to discourage Michael’s adoration of the wise guy world; while watching that Michael doesn't get burned, earning a little “Cigarette Money” - available in paperback and e-book at Amazon. In late 2014 the first graphic novel instalment of Cigarette Money will hit the shelves.


How would you describe yourself as a writer and as an actor?


As a writer and as an actor I try to make it as real as possible, I try not to act, but portray. As a writer I create for the director, as an actor I try and bend and be molded to fulfill the director’s vision of the character.


Filmmakers, actors, writers who inspire you?


Filmmakers - of course Scorsese & Tarantino, I love character actors: Ray Winston, Mark Stong, Alfred Molina, Stellan Skarsgard, Helen Bonham Carter, Ron Pearlman, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, Paul Giamatti, Holly Hunter, Stanley Tucci and Robert Downey Jr.


Your favourite movies?


Unbreakable, Sexy Beast, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, Goodfellas, Die Hard, Grandma’s Boy, Pulp Fiction, Ronin, The Expendables.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


I can’t stand boring … when nothing is happening, the camera needs to move, it’s hard to handle long and boring with no depth. Though they are needed, I am getting a little tired of political correctness and cause related films. Yes, I support anyone with a proper message for their cause, plight or need. It’s true that the best way to get an important message out is through the media. You go to school, work, church and other originations or groups where you talk about the issues at hand. You talk about the needs of others and things that you can do for your community and society to make it a better world. That’s great ... but sometimes, I just want to laugh, cry, have the shit scared out of me or just be mindlessly entertained for two hours and forget about the real world. That’s what going to the theatre and movies were supposed to be about; escaping from the real world and fly with Superman, cause havoc and mayhem with Krampus or pull off a heist with some Goodfellas…


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Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


Keep watching for new content from Rich and I and Crazy House Films. We’ve been also developing Cigarette Money for episodic television and have been talking to a couple of networks. Keep your fingers crossed. Hopefully everyone will be able to laugh, be scared or just be entertained as well.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
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and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD