Best known for his high octane action-oriented roles in Arrow (Deadshot) and Ninjak vs The Valiant Universe (Ninjak), Michael Rowe has shifted gears for his latest film, Crown and Anchor. Created with his brother Andrew, Mr. Rowe works alongside the talented Matt Wells (Designated Survivor), Natalie Brown (Saw V), Robert Joy (CSI : NY), Stephen McHattie (Orphan Black) and Ben Cotton (The X-Files) in bringing this raw and unrelenting story to life.
“Crown and Anchor follows James Downey (Michael Rowe), who is living a disciplined and straight edge lifestyle as a result of growing up with an abusive alcoholic father. His estranged cousin Danny (Matt Wells) is drowning his own trauma with drugs and booze. When their lives are forced to intersect once more, they each begin to unravel as the past returns with violent and tragic consequences.”
Pushing his killer instincts aside, Michael successfully puts forth a profound portrayal of his character James Downey, diving deep to drown his afflictions. Fan Fest News was fortunate to chat with Michael about the challenges he faced as well as the passion and hard work surrounding this unique project.
Linda: Hi Michael. I watched Crown and Anchor yesterday. Pretty intense.
Michael: Yeah. You think?
Linda: It was great. How did the movie come about?
Michael: I got into acting because of my younger brother, Andrew. Growing up, we were all into music. We all played in bands, and stuff like that, but he was a huge film buff, so we’d have movie nights at my house. I have four brothers. A bunch of friends would come over [and] watching movies kind of became our thing, but Andrew was on a different level. He really informed me a lot when we watched certain movies and turned me on to old movies, stuff like that. So, he sort of was one of the reasons why I fell in love with films. After my band broke up, he encouraged me to get involved with what he was doing, which is writing, and directing short films. He encouraged me to start acting. We collaborated on a bunch of stuff, and then that led to me getting an agent, which led to Arrow pretty quickly. The second or third audition that I did, I ended up hooking a job.
Michael: So, it all happened kind of quickly. It all came out of me searching for something, a creative outlet to throw myself into, the way I always did with my band. I was in my band for a long time. It broke up. I felt a little bit lost. I was really lucky to have my younger brother there. I moved from the east coast to the west coast and I put a lot of time and energy into creating these things with him, and it felt like a new band, in a lot of ways. I ended up getting involved with Arrow, doing that for a few years. When that kind of slowed down, we started working on a couple of projects, but this one [Crown and Anchor] we were able to get some funding for.
“I realized after being in the industry and auditioning for a lot of things, I was like, man, holy crap. My younger brother is such a talented writer.”
The stuff he was writing was way more … definitely personal to me, because we grew up together and stuff like that, but just really smart, and really different, and challenging. It’s such a crazy thing. I thought, the best thing I had was right in front of me the whole time. So, it was really exciting to be able to get some private investors to invest in us, and do what we wanted to do, which was create a film that we were fans of, that was becoming harder to come across in the industry, just the trends that were happening. So, it’s kind of like a throwback to nineties indie film style, and just letting you sit with these characters, and just holding up a mirror to gross parts of life, and not having to have a hero in the movie, and stuff like that.
“Life is messy, and things happen, but there’s always a reason why.”
We wanted to just let you sit with these characters long enough, to show you, eventually, why they are the way they are, and not really tied up with a nice, neat bow at the end, like a happy ending, or definitive ending. That was what we wanted to achieve. I was just so lucky that I got to do it with my best friend Matt [Wells], who used to play in the band with me, and my younger brother Andrew, who was sort of the reason why I have a career in the industry.
Linda: That’s amazing. It sounds like you really get along with your brother.
Michael: I think that people, when they hear that I have four brothers, and we’re all pretty close in age, they were like, “Oh my God, what a nightmare. Your poor mother.” Yeah, of course, there’s a lot of testosterone in the house, and a lot of shenanigans going on, but we got along pretty great, and still do. When you’re really comfortable with somebody like that, you sometimes say things, they just come out, you don’t have a filter all the time. So, me and him had to kind of find that in a work environment, but it wasn’t really that difficult. When you’re crafting something like this there needs to be this trust, especially between the director and the actors.
He knows me so well and was able to write the character for me. We were able to contact each other night or day, about questions, or ideas, and develop the script together, have a more of collaborative energy, and then just ultimate trust that we share the same vision, and if I want to try something, he’s gonna let me go for it. And if he tells me to try it a different way, I’ve got to trust what he’s seeing in the camera.
This character, he really holds his cards close to his chest. It’s more about what he doesn’t show. It all has to be in there, but there’s a lot of times where I felt like I wanted to do more, and I really had to trust that. He [Andrew] was like, “Stuff it down, man. Just sit there. Just don’t show anything. He’s not comfortable showing any emotion unless it’s anger, and even then, he’s not [showing] anger, he just becomes immediately violent, but you do not show any signs of anything. You’re uncomfortable with any type of emotion. That’s just the way you’ve shelled yourself over to survive, because of how you grew up.”
That was really difficult, to do less, and sometimes I felt like I was doing nothing but just sitting there bubbling over, but that’s exactly, I think, what the character needed. That trust, if it was a different director, I don’t know how it would have went, but I trusted in my little bro, and how he saw it.
Linda: That inner turmoil, that angst really came across. You could feel that in the character, I was really impressed.
Michael: I had my doubts. I can’t say I didn’t have my doubts after we filmed it, but when I saw it back, I was like, yeah, he was so right. And it’s a great positioning between the two main characters. One is so sloppy, and energetic, and wears his heart on his sleeve, and the other guy is just so still. They’re almost like the two halves of the same coin.
Linda: Life isn’t always pretty. The movie is very raw, very deep and emotional. Was this your brother’s concept? Was the whole thing a collaboration?
Michael: The idea actually came from Matt Wells, who plays Danny. He was working on a script, and it was loosely based on his family history. His grandfather’s name was Gus. He plays James’ father in it. He was into some stuff in the small town where it all happened, Saint John’s, Newfoundland. Matt grew up not knowing a lot about his grandfather. His grandfather died under mysterious circumstances. He was abusive, he was an alcoholic, so this is a real personal story for Matt.
Then, we took what he was working on, and Andrew completely reworked it and rewrote it to flesh out the characters more. He stripped a lot out of it and added stuff like the soundtrack, and little things like my character being ‘Straight Edge’, and stuff like that. So, he really nuanced it, and he completely rewrote it, but the parts, the ingredients, are all the same. He just sort of cooked a different dish out of it.
Linda: Do you personally share similarities with your character?
“Yeah. You’ve got to find those places in you, where you connect to the character, no matter if you’re playing a serial killer, or a super-villain, or someone like James. You got to find those things you hide away in yourself.”
[I] definitely connected with certain parts, like the rage that he sort of can go into quickly. When I was a teenager, I was kind of, not really troubled, but that was the emotion I was most comfortable showing, which is probably common for a teenage male going through that part of life. Yeah, anything could set me off, and maybe that kind of stayed with Andrew, because he was younger, seeing me kind of be a dick, or have a bad temper. Maybe that’s something that, whether he knows it or not, sort of was there.
But, I’m more forthcoming [now]. If I have a problem, I go right to the person, I talk about it. I’m always sort of the pivot point, whether it’s in my group of friends, whether it was in my band, whether it’s in my family. I’m like, “There’s something going on here between these two people. Let’s talk about it right now.” I’m really quick to deal with these things, so the opposite of James, in that way. I think it’s a blessing, and a curse, growing up with a lot of brothers, because I was very antisocial outside the house, because I had my people I was so comfortable with, that I didn’t need to seek out new groups. You know what I mean?
Michael: I can see now, looking back on my life, I replicated that. Four brothers, and then I had five band mates, and then I had four best friends in high school. So, I was recreating that pack of wolves throughout my life. But, since I moved away from home, and since I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, and just bouncing back and forth between Vancouver and LA, and doing Comic Cons all over the world, and stuff like that, I am a bit of a loner, because I still … that instinct comes back to ‘don’t show them’, so I’m a bit of a James that way.
Linda: Understandable. I’d be remiss not to ask you, because I’m also a personal trainer, about the physicality involved your characters. You look amazing! What training was involved? Did you have to do a lot more in comparison to your roles Deadshot and Ninjak? Watching you do those handstand pushups, I’m like, “Oh my God.” Crazy.
Michael: I’ve always been a bit of an athlete, and I was a drummer in a really heavy punk rock hardcore metal band. So, I was always trying to improve my fitness. It’s just still even, just an ongoing experiment. I had a trainer just before we started filming, within that year, because I was getting ready to do Ninjak as well, so I trained with a guy down in Hermosa Beach, California…. UFC fighters, and stuff like that, and he’s all about functional fitness. So, he got me to do a lot of just bodyweight stuff, and going for speed, and balance, because I wanted to feel like I was evolving towards ninja status. (laughs)
Linda: Right. (laughs)
Michael: So, handstand pushups is something I just challenged myself to try to do, on my own. I started doing handstands against the wall, and then, in my mind, I wanted to get it to the point where I could just, in the middle of a room, be able to do one handstand pushup. I can bust out probably a couple, without a wall now, but everybody thinks that that’s a fake move… “You didn’t really do that. Who was holding your legs?” I’m like, “No man, I worked so hard on that.” It’s like, remember back in the day, the Rocky one-arm pushup. Everybody was like, “Oh, he’s doing that against the wall,” so nobody believes. I’m glad that you liked that.
Linda: I believe you!
Michael: That little montage, Andrew was like, “We need you to work out in the kitchen, and we need you to do some stuff that makes you look like a maniac,” and I was like, “Well luckily, I’ve been training like a maniac, so I got some stuff,” like those jump up pushups onto the blocks.
Michael: This is all stuff that was brand new to me, that this trainer, Nick Curson was challenging me to do. One day he goes, “All right, 10 clap pushups.” I was like, “No problem.” Then, he’s like, “All right, now clap behind you back.” That’s impossible. He was like, “No, it’s not.” So, I tried to do it, fell right on my face, I almost broke my nose. I’m like, “Man, that’s insane.” The next day, next time we trained, all right, ten clap pushups, and 10 superman pushups, where you kick up your legs and put your hands out in front of you. He’s like, “All right, now clap behind your back.” I’m like, “I can’t do it. I tried it last time.” [He says}, “No, do it.” Anyways, the third time he challenged me to do it, I did five.
Linda: All right!
Michael: I could just see that having a trainer just made me evolve that much quicker. I kind of miss it. I’m out in Palm Springs these days, so I don’t have access to Nick, but I really enjoyed it, man. He’d make me train like old school until I felt like I was gonna puke. The room with really famous UFC champions, and a pro surfer, and Muay Thai girls that were so much more fit than me, that it pushed me to a whole new level. So, that’s why I was at peak shape for that film.
Linda: I wish I had people doing that, it would be amazing! I know what it takes, so impressive.
Michael: I find it really fun to train. I also, was always the hey look at me kind of brother, like a bit of a show-off, and I was a bit crazy. After I started acting, I had to stop snowboarding, because I would injure myself snowboarding every year. So, I was like, “Man, people need me to show up, and do these stunt scenes, or choreography for fights. I got to keep myself in shape, but not beat up.” So, I had to tone it down a little bit, but it’s still in me, so I just save it all for these stunts, and these fight scenes. That’s just naturally in me, and I really enjoy those moments I never had any professional training for fighting, or anything like that, but I grew up again, me and my brothers, with a healthy love of professional wrestling. So, we would just kind of re-enact our favorite matches growing up. I had a wrestling club in school, when I was in grade four, or something like that, but I thought wrestling was real back then, so it was like a fight club.
“My parents were like, Finally. You were such a out-of-control maniac, now you’re able to use it for something.”
So, it’s kind of a skill I didn’t realize that I had, and I love it. I love doing it, I got to say. And I think the drumming, and the music, because every fight choreographer asked me if I was a dancer, because I can get the moves really quick, the timing. I’m like, “No, but I’m a drummer, and they’re like, “Interesting.” So, then we start conversing in rhythm, and beats. I’m like, “Do you want a pause, like a boom-boom, ba, boom-boom, or do you want like a baboom, baboom.” And so that’s how I learned these moves is, I put a rhythm to them.
Linda: I love the fact that you were a drummer too, and I do think it helps with choreography. It makes sense.
“Yeah, it was so good to see that all of the things that I enjoyed in life, that always were viewed by society, or my parents, or people who were mentoring me, to be a bit of a waste of time, I was able to find a job where I can throw them all in, and they come in handy.”
All these random skills, I feel come in handy for playing these characters. I didn’t do it for that reason. I didn’t know I was going to end up here. I didn’t even start acting until I was over 30 years old. But, it wasn’t a waste of time to do all those extreme sports, or all the training, and fitness, and athletic things that I was doing, or the drumming. It felt like, now, looking back on it, it all led me to this, and it was really handy to have all that stuff in my back pocket.
Linda: That’s fantastic you’re tying it all in together. Going back to the movie, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but is there a message that you want the audience to take away from it?
Michael: I think that the most important thing for me, in the film, is how damaging [and] toxic masculinity can be, and also, it’s possible to break this cycle. Family violence, and definitely abuse is a big theme. We don’t really stay with these characters long enough, to see where they go, but in my mind, they figure it out, and they needed to come back together to figure it out. They’re a bit lost, and even though they claim not to like each other, they absolutely need each other, and they’re going to be okay moving forward.
Even though the parts you see in the movie are not very likable, and you think maybe James is his father, and maybe Danny can’t get past his dramas, and he can’t be a good dad, I think they are, and they can break the cycle. So, that’s a little ray of hope. And it’s really when you show the audience why these people are acting the way they are, but then, as the audience is figuring it out, the characters are also starting to figure it out, and not hide from it anymore, and that’s really what it takes. You need to recognize why, rather than just keep putting band-aids on it.
Linda: I agree, I think that’s a great message.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And also, we filmed this in Newfoundland, where we all grew up. Newfoundland is an old school place, it’s rough and tumble. I think someone did a review of it recently, who was from England, or Ireland, or something like that, and he said it reminded him of where he’s from as well. I think that the old school way is not always the best way, but it lingers.
Also, it was really important for us to film there because we grew up loving films, but it [was] not an option to make films there. But, after we all left, and did other things, like the music for me, and Matt did some shows, we ended up setting up shop there, and now there’s infrastructure to film a lot of things, and it’s very … The home town for Aquaman was in Newfoundland, and there’s multiple series … Frontier on Netflix is filmed there. So, it was really interesting to go back there and be able to work at home. It was something I never thought I’d do.
“It was so gratifying to move away, work on this, and then be able to go home, and get this victory, and also be able to film the place, the way we saw it, and the way we grew up in it.”
Michael: It’s a gritty city, with a lot of character, and we wanted you just to feel like the characters feel, kind of trapped there. It’s a bit claustrophobic, so we wanted to feel that you’re shooting in on them, in the alleys, in the streets. They’re stuck. They don’t see the cliffs, and the water, and the beauty anymore. They just see this sort of grime, and feel like they’re stuck, and feel like they’re sinking with the island.
Michael: It was important to us to just try something different. Why would you use that opportunity, to just try to do something that major motion pictures, or blockbusters are doing, and just do it with no money? Treat it like a lab, treat it like an experiment. Try some other things, and that’s what we did.
Linda: I think that’s awesome that you were able to film there, to go back. Moving forward, do you have anything on tap? Are there more projects in the works?
Michael: I really want to get that gang back together and do another project. So, we’re sourcing out what we’re going to do next. We’ve definitely created a lot of things. We’re trying to figure out what we are going to focus on next, and what we have the opportunity to develop next. There’s been a lot of talk about maybe getting back to Newfoundland again, to film something. You never know. Maybe we’ll revisit these characters in something, but there’s nothing set in stone. I wish I had more information. There’s a lot happening, just nothing I can really talk about, but yeah, we’re just getting started.
Linda: I think it’s great.
Michael: There will be another project, and I feel like I’m the best me around these guys, and I would love to do something where we didn’t have our hands tied as much, because of budget restrictions, to show what we can do when you let us run wild. That’ll be the next project.
Michael: So yeah, stay tuned for that.
Linda: I definitely will, and I want to say congratulations on this film. So well done, I hope this can continue.
Michael: Excellent. All right. I’m really glad you connected with it. We didn’t know if people necessarily would. We knew it was going to be a bit of a tough watch, and some people like film for escapism, and things like that, and we didn’t know if it would resonate with people. We kind of made it for us, and I’m really glad that it’s connecting with people.
Linda: Yeah, for sure. It’s not an easy watch, but I got drawn into it.
Linda: I really loved it, I look forward to seeing more, and I wish you guys, all of you guys, all the best with everything. I’ll catch up with you in Nashville.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely.
Linda: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.
Michael: My pleasure, anytime.
Linda: All right, perfect. Thanks Michael.
Be sure to check out Crown and Anchor on DVD and Digital July 2 from Uncork’d Entertainment!