Michael Judson Berry
Photography: Ryan Baker & Curtis Brown
Words: Amy Bell
Logo Design: Rhys Anderton
Growing up in Syracuse New York, Michael Judson Berry began his acting career at the young age of six, when he got his first comedic role as a Prince in a local production of ‘The King and I’. Michael recieved a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University and an MA in Classical Acting from the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. e recently completed his first feature film. ‘Milkwater,’ opposite Molly Bernard and Robin De Jesus. The film can be seen at film festivals such as Atlanta Film Festival, Brooklyn Film Festival, and Indie Street Virtual Film Festival. ‘Milkwater’ recently won “Best Screenplay”
Bored one day during quarantine, Michael decided to create a TikTok account and started a new series called; 'QuaranTeaTime with Moira Rose'. He began to receive millions of views and followers, even Catherine O’Hara, has acknowledged and praised Michael for his impression of her Schitt’s Creek character Moira Rose.
Hi Michael, thanks for talking to ReVamp, how has lockdown been for you in terms of acting?
What started out as a very bleak moment has become an unexpectedly exciting and creative time for me. Strangely enough, I can’t remember the last time I acted this much…except these days instead of acting on a stage, it’s alone in my kitchen in front of my phone.
Since the entertainment industry was on hold, I did something I’d never had the confidence to do, which was to create my own work. It’s been a fabulous learning experience; equal parts liberating and challenging. I love creating content that I’m genuinely passionate about and proud of, but at the same time, I’m always trying to come up with new material and push myself as an actor and a writer. I never thought I would do so many impersonations, especially people like Britney Spears or Patrick Stewart. I suppose all of my dialect and clown training from LAMDA has come in handy!
Your acting career started at the age of 6, how did you get into acting, and when did you realise you had a passion for acting?
The first time I had a strong desire to perform was after seeing a production of Beauty and the Beast in Toronto when I was six years old. I remember being completely awestruck and told my Mom that one day I wanted to be the Candlestick! Soon after that, I was in a production of The King and I, closely followed by a production of Oliver. It was Oliver that did it. I remember sitting in the spotlight belting out Where Is Love and feeling more at home than any place I’d ever been. From that moment, I was hooked! Thankfully I have a very supportive family who agreed to schlep me to rehearsals, voice lessons, dance lessons and attend all of my opening nights.
What has been your favourite acting piece you have done?
My favorite role I’ve ever played was Richard II, which I did when I was getting my MA at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). I was going through a very difficult time, both professionally and personally, and decided to go to grad school, which turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. LAMDA was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life…although I was terrified when I first got there! I had primarily done musical comedies, and here I was, attending a prestigious drama school to focus exclusively on classical text. It was a wee intimidating, to say the least. But, right off the bat, I was cast as the titular role in Richard II, and not only did it make me fall in love with Shakespeare, but also renewed my sense of confidence and sense of self. Richard II is a gorgeous play and will always have a special place in my heart.
During quarantine, you decided to put your comedic acting skills on TikTok, in order to bring some happiness into the world, what made you decide to begin TikTok?
I’m a little old man when it comes to social media. Honestly, most people’s grandmothers are much more tech-savvy than I will ever be! When we first went into
lockdown I only had Instagram and Facebook, so that’s where I first started posting videos. But once they began to take off on Instagram I thought, “well, Snapchat still confuses me, but all the kids are doing TikTok, so let me see what that’s all about”, and I started putting my TeaTimes on TikTok as well. In the beginning, I had many people tell me I was doing TikTok wrong because I didn’t do any of the trends and barely understood how hashtags worked. Despite my naivety, I inexplicably did really well and my videos began to get hundreds of thousands of views! Now I LOVE TikTok. I’m definitely guilty of staying up far too late scrolling through home renovations and funny cat videos.
You began to write and act out, Schitt’s Creek character Moira Rose and decided to call it ‘“QuaranTeaTime with Moira Rose”, What drew you to her character?
Early in quarantine my roommate and I did an “impersonation challenge” on Instagram, where he played David and I played Moira. A bunch of our friends thought it was hilarious, so I thought it would be fun to keep doing them. My roommate wasn’t interested, but luckily, he let me borrow an old wig he had from a Halloween costume. So, one day I plopped the wig on my head and started filming. I thought it would be funny if a few times a week Moira Rose sat down a cup of tea (since she drinks tea all of the time on Schitt’s Creek) and gave her a very specific perspective on life in quarantine. I never expected it would ever become as popular as it has! But I think working on characters from Schitt’s Creek was actually somewhat therapeutic. I know many people who binged Schitt’s Creek during lockdown because the world they created on that show was so kind and comforting. So just stepping into that world, even for a few minutes, is a very soothing experience. Even I impersonate a character created by the great Catherine O’Hara, the majority of the videos were written by me and are often a reflection of how I’m feeling at that moment in time. After my second video, my Mom said, “if you’re going to do this, keep it positive”, which I took to heart and always try to do.
What has been the hardest tiktok you have done in terms of writing and performing these skits, and how do you prepare to record/write these skits?
The hardest TikTok I’ve done was when I did a Halloween video with the whole family (including Stevie) singing the Banana Boat song from Beetlejuice. I had five different costumes, three wigs, and used clips from the original Harry Belafonte song as well as from the soundtrack of the Broadway adaption of Beetlejuice. Since I am perhaps the least tech-savvy person I know, it took hours to edit together the song clips with all of the short video cuts that I created for myself. Even though it was an absolute nightmare to edit together, I am incredibly proud of how it turned out! Honestly, that is one of my favorite videos I’ve ever done.
When I’m not lip-syncing and splicing together many video cuts, TeaTime normally just takes a few hours to create. Usually, it takes me about an hour to write a sketch,then maybe an hour to film it, and another 30-40 minutes to edit it together. I don’t often plan very far in advance when I’m thinking of ideas, which helps keep things fresh. I usually wake up and see what feels inspiring that day, then see where my whacky brain takes me.
You have received praise from Catherine O’Hara, who plays Moira Rose, how did that make you feel knowing that someone who you look up to for inspiration, has seen your tiktoks? And what was your first reaction, knowing she had acknowledged your talent?
I freaked out! I nearly walked into traffic when my manager sent me that article. In all honesty, I was waiting for a representative from PopTV to send a cease and desist but instead, I got a wonderful compliment from the great Catherine O’Hara herself! She not only said that my impersonation was “really good” but that my writing was also very good! Catherine O’Hara has been a comedy hero of mine for many years, well before Schitt’s Creek. I grew up watching movies like Home Alone and Beetlejuice, and of course, the Christopher Guest films. I’ve also been down many an SCTV rabbit hole on YouTube. So, to receive praise for impersonating a character that she created was truly incredible! I’m very rarely at a loss for words, but for once in my life I was speechless.
Lastly, what is next for you in terms of TikTok and acting?
Thankfully I haven’t run out of ideas for TikTok videos yet. I’m having a great time exploring the app and trying new things (like making Moira the voice of a GPS). I think I still have a lot of ideas in me, and a lot to learn about social media in general. So, even though life is changing, and things are reopening, I’m still going to keep making videos.
Along with writing TeaTime sketches, I’ve started writing other projects as well. Currently, I’m working on a pilot with an actor in London. Before creating TeaTime I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to tackle writing a pilot and crafting a whole series, but now I’m learning it’s not just possible, but a lot of fun!
In terms of acting, as things reopen, I’m thankfully getting more and more auditions. I think many of the auditions I’ve gotten have been a result of my TikTok success, which is wonderful! I shot my first feature film right before lockdown entitled Milkwater, which won a bunch of awards at film festivals last season and was recently released on Amazon. I had a blast making Milkwater, so I’m excited to hopefully do more film and TV work now that more productions are up and running! And hey, if you know anyone at SNL, feel free to send them my links!