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An Interview with Thomas McCarthy, Star of The Headmistress

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2023

Films starring Thomas McCarthy on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie The Headmistress - in a few words, what is it about, and what can you tell us about your character in it?


In a simple sense I would say The Headmistress is about a young woman (Mara) who is knee deep in debt and is quite stressed about her financial situation. However, she inherits a lakefront inn from her father where she in turn takes a group of potential buyers to visit the property in the hopes of putting those said financial worries behind her. Unfortunately, she learns of a terrible secret that is tied to the property, and it is a grave threat to the entire group. As it pertains to Donovan, let's just say he is a bit unlikable to say the least. He's the smartest guy in the room and if you don't believe me - just ask him! Donovan is a successful commercial real estate professional who is all about himself while severely lacking empathy, compassion and couth along the way. He is homophobic and misogynistic but most of all Donovan is all about the mighty dollar. He simply wants to get in quickly to buy the property while steamrolling everyone and anyone in his path.


What did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much Thomas McCarthy can we find in Donovan?


While I have many, many flaws in the real world, fortunately I don't have too many of the traits Donovan possesses. So you won't find too much of Tom McCarthy in Donovan. At least I'd like to think you won't!! Here's a quick story that ties into your question about how much of my real life characteristics are found in Donovan. Back in the fall of 2021 directors Chris Micklos and Jay Sapiro [Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro interview - click here] held a private screening for the cast, crew, family members and close friends at a theater in Madison, WI. Afterward we all had a few drinks at the bar downstairs in the theater to catch up and talk to some of the people that came to support the movie. During the 1 hour or so we were socializing 3 separate and complete strangers came up to my wife Christine in a light-hearted manner and said they "wanted to meet the person who was married to Donovan in real life" to confirm if I indeed was a somewhat normal and decent person in the real world. My wife was quick to say I'm a complete 180 from Donovan personality-wise. However, she got quite a kick out of those 3 encounters! One of the things I drew on was the fact I do like to try and be funny with quick-hitting oneliners with my close friends and family. While much more crass in nature, Donovan has many moments where he throws out crude comment after comment and almost pauses for effect. So that felt extremely organic to me.There are some things from my past that bubble to the surface now and then, which I won't get into here, that really allows me to dig deep when I have to express anger. These same things from my personal past also allow me to tap into a condescending side that you saw in Donovan. I can only speak for myself but I do get the sense actors like to play against their true personalities. I definitely feel that way. Never in a million years would I say 95% of the things Donovan said in the film. I'm quiet when you first meet me, a bit insecure and passive in nature overall. Therefore, to be able portray someone like Donovan where you just "let it rip" in terms of what comes out your mouth without having a care in the world about the consequences made playing him an absolute blast. I felt this sense of freedom in a way. It was the most enjoyable character I've played in my career to this point because of how different Donovan is from Tom McCarthy.


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


I was doing my daily audition submissions as an actor and perusing the various websites I subscribe to. I came across the breakdown for The Headmistress on the Backstage website. I submitted for the project and the roles of Pete and Donovan because both their character descriptions interested me and in turn drew me to the project. Much more so than the fact it was a horror movie. Pete was described as "salt of the earth" in the breakdown and Donovan as "aggressive, arrogant and an Alpha male". Initially I was asked to only read for the role of "nice guy" Pete. After reviewing that audition Chris and Jay asked me to read for the role of Donovan instead. I guess they preferred the jerk side of Tom McCarthy versus the nice side of me!


To what extent can you identify with The Headmistress's approach to horror, and is horror a genre at all dear to you?


I probably shouldn't admit to this since I've been in a few horror genre feature films over the years (Creep Van, Torment: A Love Story, Irrational Fear), but horror is not remotely near and dear to me at all - but here it goes... I never watch horror films. Ever. The simple fact is I don't like to be scared or sit on the edge of my seat. This goes back to when I was just a kid up until now. I am waaaaaaaaaaay too anxious of a person to put myself through that torture! As an actor I really enjoyed the approach the The Headmistress took (i.e. Chris, Jay and Glenn). They made things feel very, very suspenseful with many of the camera shots they chose along with many of their decisions as it pertained to lighting. The lack of gratuitous killing in the film was also something I loved. I am not a blood and guts guy as I just stated. But man oh man... did one ever get the sense something awful could happen at any second. I loved that.


What can you tell us about The Headmistress's directors Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro, and what was your collaboration like?


Chris and Jay were awesome! They were always very open to any thoughts or comments I had as it pertained to any scenes or takes we were working on. They definitely knew what they wanted but they were very open to hearing my thoughts and not making me feel afraid to expound upon them. Case in point, there was a scene in the film where we were having a heated group discussion. Then things became a bit personal between Donovan and Pete (Tom Dacey Carr). I asked before one particular take if I could go off script for a line or 2 because I had a thought as to what I might say if this was me in a real life argument with Pete. Chris and Jay said no problem and trusted me. It was just a small thing and nothing fancy but I wanted to say it on an earlier take. After I received the greenlight I blurted out "F**k you pizza boy", and the line made the final cut. My point is I was not afraid to ask to improvise just a bit and that's because of their collaborative nature. Chris and Jay are both very patient guys, that's for sure, and they like to laugh as well which always helps keep things relaxed on set. I find that extremely important. History has shown me throughout my career that walking on eggshells on set while shooting a movie is a recipe for poor performances. Period. Chris and Jay also put up with me and my "did you get what you want?" nonsense after many of my takes which drove them up a wall I'm sure. But they still talk to me to this day so I guess I wasn't too annoying!


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The on-set atmosphere was awesome for some of the reasons I listed above in the previous question. What I haven't mentioned yet and ties into this question is the cast themselves. The cast was an absolute home run to work with and hang out with! Yes, we definitely worked hard on set but we also had our share of laughs and great conversation as well. My fellow castmates absolutely crushed each of their respective roles in my opinion. There were so many instances in real time right after I was in a scene or watching a scene, as it pertained to a fellow castmate's performance, where I thought "Wow. Damn. That was flipping good." After watching the final cut of the movie my "suspicions" regarding everyone's performance was accurate. I was truly blessed to work with such a talented group of actors. Better yet, and more importantly, I was also blessed to work with a bunch of very nice, kind, positive and supportive actors. I was fortunate beyond belief.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Sure! I am wrapping up a couple feature film projects this summer. I'm one of the lead actors in a movie called Phoenix Reborn that's shooting in Michigan. It's based on the true story of a high school baseball phenom from the mid-1980's who severely injured his knee and almost died from the injury due to a blood clot. It's a story about love, perseverance and resilience. I play the father of the star player. I am also coming down the home stretch on a feature film that shoots in southern Indiana called Comfort Zone. It's a psychological thriller set to the tone of addiction, guilt and loneliness. I have a supporting role where I play a very dark, disturbed and cunning doctor.


What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?


I actually stumbled into acting later in life. I never had any dreams or aspirations of being an actor when I was a child or during my younger years. Zero. Zip. Zilch. I had no interest in acting whatsoever. I never had any formal acting education or training until I was in my early 40s. I was a suit and tie guy in corporate America right out of college and worked in that arena for almost 20 years. I graduated from the University of South Carolina and moved to Chicago shortly thereafter. I was in financial services right out of school until I was 35. Then I changed career paths and started working in commercial real estate in The Loop (Chicago). I decided to take an acting class in my early 40s to try and improve my confidence when speaking or presenting in front of people. I was immediately bitten by the proverbial acting bug and here I am at age 55.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Headmistress?


The focus for much of my career has been independent films. Even though I live in a great theatre town like Chicago I've always leaned hard toward the camera side of things. Part of the reason is I am a bit of an introvert. I'm pretty quiet and shy until you get to know me - then I'll definitely open up. Those 2 characteristics led me to filmwork where playing things a bit smaller or "minimizing" things was something I've always been more comfortable with versus playing things bigger, which is often required in stagework. In theatre , as the saying goes, you must project and play to the back row. I was never very good doing that. I play and project much better to the first row! I have done some theatre and after every production I always feel like I've improved my acting mettle per se. It scares me to where when it's over I feel stronger and a bit more confident. My path in the filmworld has been pretty straight forward. Meaning I started doing student short films and then moving into non-student short films and eventually feature length films. There hasn't been a particular overall film genre I've pursued or favored. However, over time I have noticed the roles I've been getting cast for in film the past 4-5 years have leaned heavily toward those that have been mean-spirited, evil, abusive, corrupt, angry and cunning. 


How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?


In terms of how I would describe myself as an actor, and I think most would agree, I am a rather tall one. I 'm 6' 3". Rimshot! OK. I guess I'm not a funny one apparently. My nonsense aside, I describe myself as being on the more dramatic or intense side of things. I tend to play things toward the heavier side of a character versus the lighter side if all things are equal in a sense. I think part of the reason why is that I like to joke around in real life so I prefer playing against myself as I mentioned earlier in the interview. It all depends on the character I'm playing and what the role entails as to what techniques I use to bring them to life. I'll most often use my imagination when developing a character. Although I will also draw from my personal experiences in life as well as bringing physicality into a role. Especially if my character has a minimal amount of lines.


Actors (and indeed actresses) who inspire you?


I'm a fan of the well-known actors who have a certain gravitas in the way they carry themselves. They often play things low key while coming across as truly being themselves on camera. I love guys like George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt  and Kevin Costner. Those are the actors that I truly admire and aspire to be like.


Your favourite movies?


Although I love acting, I am not a fan of watching movies. I do study my craft for sure in terms of watching clips of certain actors or certain scenes. But I don't watch many movies where they serve as entertainment for me. I've never seen movies such as Star Wars, Titanic, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, any Marvel or DC movies. However, at my wife's urging, I finally watched The Godfather last fall and man oh man was I missing out! Outstanding! I would say my favorite movies of all time in no particular order are Airplane, Caddyshack, Hoosiers, Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction.


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


I deplore any and all science fiction (see Star Wars) or adventure/fantasy type films like the Harry Potter movies. I've simply never had any interest in those genres. As a kid I struggled to keep up with the plotline in both genres so I'm sure that had something to do with my lack of interest. Lastly, my family and friends know this about me and think I'm weird for this, but I also will not watch a movie with horses in it. They shake their heads whenever this comes up and I can't say I blame them! Again, it goes back to when I was young. I always associated horses as being part of a "period piece" film that tied into Western frontier or medieval-themed movies most times. Thus, as a youth I definitely "deplored" those 2 time periods when it came to watching films where either one was featured as the backdrop for a story.


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


I'm all set! I'm pretty sure I said everything I had to say... and then some! Thank you Mike for your questions and the opportunity to talk a bit about myself and The Headmistress. I appreciate it very much. I truly enjoyed it. Best to you going forward and enjoy your summer!


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.


There's No Such Thing as Zombies
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry


directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke


now streaming at


Amazon UK





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