Mirandas Victim - Mireille Enos, Abigail Breslin, Emily Van Camp

Michelle Danner: A Lifetime of Acting, Teaching, and Storytelling

Michelle Danner
Michelle Danner

Michelle Danner stands out in a league of her own, boasting a multifaceted career as a performer, teacher, storyteller, entrepreneur, and expert. As the legendary acting teacher and founder of the Creative Center for the Arts and the Los Angeles Acting Conservatory, Danner has also made her mark as a successful film director.

Her recent directorial project, “Miranda’s Victim,” features a star-studded cast including Abigail Breslin, Luke Wilson, Ryan Phillippe, and Donald Sutherland, among others. The film narrates the harrowing true story of Trish Weir (portrayed by Breslin), whose kidnapping and brutal assault by Ernesto Miranda led to trials that ultimately established the Miranda Rights.

Danner’s upcoming project is the comedy-romance “The Italians,” featuring Matthew Daddario, Rob Estes, and Abigail Breslin. The film is currently making its rounds in the festival circuit across the country.

In addition to her film endeavors, Danner is a dedicated mother of two, with one child pursuing a career in filmmaking. She continues her “day job” managing the faculty of the Los Angeles Acting Conservatory and teaching her weekly acting class. Having privately coached notable actors such as Christian Slater and Salma Hayek, Danner applies her eclectic approach known as “The Golden Box,” which integrates a variety of acting techniques.

Raised in a show business family with a profound appreciation for all performing arts, Danner also oversees the boutique “Cinema at the Edge” film festival. She is currently preparing to direct Norris, a new one-person play by Bonnie Culver starring Anne Archer, based on the memoirs of Norman Mailer’s widow.

Please enjoy DirectSubmit / NYCastings’ exclusive interview with Michelle Danner!

You raised quite a few eyebrows with your direction of the film Miranda’s Victim, which is about 18-year-old Patricia Weir who is kidnapped and brutally raped. What enticed you to take on this project which has such a powerful message?

The moment that the movie was offered to me I realized that there had been a gap in our history. No one had ever told the story about how the Miranda rights came about. I had done several movies where characters had been read their rights and I never questioned it myself. I found the story fascinating on every level. It wasn’t just a story about justice, but justice that came full circle in the most riveting way.

On a totally different note, your current film is the comedy romance “The Italians.” What are the similarities and differences between working on a drama vs. a comedy?

First of all, I like both genres, dramatic stories and comedic ones. But I think it’s important for a filmmaker to understand the tone of how the story is told. Drama and comedy possess different rhythms and different ways of laying out the plot. But what’s similar is that you have to go after the truth of every moment, whether you’re looking to get a laugh or to move audiences, the truth of the moment is what matters.

Even though things are progressing in the show business world with regard to minorities, do you feel there’s still a long way to go? How do you get your cast and crew to take you as a serious, female director?

I personally have always risen to the challenge and the moment that I am told that something is difficult, I want to find a way to overcome the obstacles. I know that there is so much room for more women directors to direct films and we are on the way. I personally don’t feel it has been a challenge for me. Maybe because I teach as well, I am told that I put forth an air of authority that people seem to respond to.

NYCastings-Michelle-Danner-Anne-Archer-at-the SAG-foundationYou’re preparing to direct a new one-person play, Bonnie Culver’s Norris, starring Anne Archer, based on the memoirs of the widow of writer Norman Mailer. How do you see the future of acting evolving, especially with the increasing integration of technology in film and theater?

I love theater. I was rehearsing with Anne during Covid and we showed it as a virtual theater, it ran for several weeks. For me, nothing will ever replace the live experience of being able to be in the theater with other people and witness a story that can only be seen in that moment and that can never be duplicated the same way. I was recently in London watching Enemy of the People with Matt Smith, it was absolutely brilliant. There was a part of the show where a mic went around the audience and they were asked what they felt was wrong with the world and everything that was said was so powerful and you knew it would never be said like that again. That’s the power of Theater. That connection we all felt witnessing that brought us together as people. AI will not and can never replace that.

You yourself are a longtime student of Stella Adler and Uta Hagen. With all of the different acting techniques available, it could very blurry for up and coming actors to understand the different techniques. Taking this into consideration, how do you explain the techniques you prefer to use?

I think it’s very important for inspiring actors today to really understand all the techniques available to them in depth, to read Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Sandy Meisner, Stanislavski, Michael Checkhov, Lee Strasberg … and know that they’re compiling a tool box for themselves to apply to movies, television or theater. That toolbox is unique to the particular artist and I call it The Golden Box of tools in my workshop that I teach all around the world.

NYCastings-Michelle-Danner-teachingAs an acting teacher and founder of the Creative Center for the Arts and the Los Angeles Acting Conservatory, how do you adapt your coaching to fit the needs of actors at different stages of their careers?

Because I am a filmmaker as well, when I coach and teach, I am able to bring those experiences to my class, workshops and one on ones. There is nothing like the experience of being on set and understanding what it takes to deliver a performance.

You’re a real trooper, having raised two children while working in show business. Do you have any advice and regrets for actors who want to raise a family?

I am a great believer in showing your kids that you can pursue your dreams, because it holds up a mirror to them so they can go after theirs. Balance is the key and I try to find that for my children. I also include them, bringing them to set with me, they are very familiar with the backstage of a theater. They have traveled all over the world and, I think, those journeys will serve them very well in their lives moving forward.

As a director, what do you look for in an actor during auditions, and how can actors better prepare to meet directors’ expectations?

I look for actors to embody the character, understand the world that is around them and to take risks. An actor has to be willing to play and try things, making strong choices is key.

Michelle Danner & Christian Slater
Michelle Danner & Christian Slater

Please discuss how the emotional demands of acting can impact performers, and what strategies you recommend for managing these challenges.

Showbiz on all levels is not for the faint of heart. You don’t know when the next job is going to come and when it does you don’t always have a lot of time to prepare. Whether you’re a filmmaker, an actor or you work on set, it’s always a rollercoaster of emotions. I recommend working on your relationships, creating a rich creative life around you so that when they say “cut” on set, you have a safe place to go to.

Are you more of a “day to day” type person, or do you plan years ahead? How have your choices affected your career?

You have to be spontaneous and in the moment but also look ahead so you can fulfill the vision you have for your work and your life. I’ve always made choices based on creativity not on what could advance my career. I always want to stay true to the art, wherever that leads me and that’s what I will keep doing.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I am a great believer that to be a creative artist you don’t have to be a tortured soul, you can have a serene life filled with everything that you want it to be.





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