What would you call a four-year who stole the show by tap dancing on a coffee table, doing impressions of Alfred Hitchcock, Ed Sullivan and Judy Garland at her parents’ party? You can only call her Michelle Danner, a supremely accomplished actor, director, writer, coach and mom.
I had a delightfully inspired telephone interview with Danner where I learned about her exciting, if atypical, childhood, her varied education and subsequent career choices. Tracking this woman, one can see that she lives by the very credo she teaches her acting students: “In order to be passionate, you have to keep expanding, you have to keep growing, you have to keep pushing yourself.” This mantra explains why Danner never rests on her laurels, but keeps moving towards the next project that will stir her passion and resonate with her raison d’etre.
Growing up in a show business family certainly imprinted on Danner, and when her father opened the William Morris Agency in Paris, the family hosted dinners and parties that included actors and musicians. A favorite memory that left a lasting impression on this young girl was the evening a Brazilian singer came to the home. She made paella, played piano, told stories and laughed a lot. Danner knew she had to have parties like these when she grew up.
In school, Danner read extensively and was especially enamored of Greek mythology. She also took acting classes at the Conservatory of Paris at Versailles. During this period, Danner cast her classmates, and the aspiring thespians put on the play Antigone. As high school students, they rented a theatre and advertised their production. 500 people attended and made donations. After the show closed, Danner told me they returned to her house to divvy up the proceeds. The troupe went on to create a lot of productions. These experiences taught Danner that this craft required dedication and hard work, which she witnessed first-hand by visiting the backstage of every venue. Meeting talented stars “from Julio Iglesias to Count Basie Orchestra to the Harlem Globetrotters” revealed the dedication and commitment great performers require. The behind-the-scenes experience is a tradition that Danner has carried on with her own two sons.
Danner credits her skills to excellent teachers and her fascinating life experiences. As a teenager in New York, the evolving actress studied with Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Herbert Bergdorf, William Esper to name but a few. From each of these greats, she gobbled up their pearls of wisdom and then made a synergistic blend all her own. Her eclectic approach is an unique and effective toolbox that not only provides the technical acting tips, but blends in life lessons to round out this progressive education.
In 2000 Danner moved to Los Angeles. While walking on the beach contemplating her next step, an organic shift occurred and Danner was fielding requests to coach actors and direct films. Danner has witnessed how her “Golden Box” has enhanced the actors’ craft and led many to great success! Those who’ve benefited from Danner’s ingenuity include Christian Slater, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Chris Rock and James Franco. With this new chapter she turned down seven acting auditions and pursued her next starring role as acting teacher, coach and director.
Drawn to socially relevant and topical stories, Danner’s films take aim at these actual events. Her last film The Runner was triggered by a news story of a high schooler who went undercover to assist police in breaking into a drug ring. Hello Herman was in response to a school shooting. Danner has also directed comedies and documentaries.
Danner’s current film is Miranda’s Victim and stars Abigail Breslin, Luke Wilson, Ryan Phillippe, Emily VanCamp, Mireille Enos, Enrique Muriciano, Brent Sexton, Josh Bowman, Sebastian Quinn, Taryn Manning, Nolan Gould, Dan Lauria, Kyle MacLachlan, Andy Garcia and Donald Sutherland. The film relates the horrific true life kidnapping and raping of Trish Weir at the hands of Ernesto Miranda. This case led to the creation of the Miranda Rights and opened the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Danner’s older son is following in her filmmaking footsteps and has won awards for his short movies. Danner’s younger son, an athlete, helped her do the research for this one! Danner told me that she gathers everyone she loves around her and puts them to work!
I asked Danner if film festivals had a function. “I’ve just returned from WorldFest in Houston. They had a Directors panel where they were incredibly supportive, generous and exuded great energy. Festivals create a community and offer a forum to directors. It is the biggest classroom in the world.” This director especially loves the way the film festival connects people. Another feather in her cap: Danner’s feature just won the Grand Remi award at Houston World Fest!
With her multinational background, and her ability to speak several languages Danner is never at a loss for words or stories. After watching Schindler’s List, she learned a few more stories that she’d not been told previously. It turned out that both her maternal and paternal grandfathers were Jewish and perished in concentration camps, along with her uncle. Like so many who experience survivors’ guilt her father did not talk much about this, but impacted by this film, Danner called him and learned that she is 70 percednt Jewish.
This dynamic woman is a wonder to behold. Between teaching at Michelle Danner Acting Studio and the Los Angeles Acting Company, Danner keeps her creativity streaming through acting, coaching and “mommying.” She believes that she will always teach because it is essential to give back and she is eager to share the wealth of her lifetime of rich experiences.