By Carl Begai
Anthony J. Mifsud has worked hard at being an entertainer for over 20 years. He doesn’t live a rags-to-riches existence, subscribing instead to a process of shedding blood, sweat and the occasional tear to get to where he is now. His efforts have finally paid off.
Better known simply as Mif, he drew attention to himself as the frontman of Toronto’s legendary late ‘80s metal band Slash Puppet, cutting a demo (‘89) and one official album (’93) before calling it quits in 1995. By this time Mif already had a few acting gigs under his belt, but it was his appearance in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues in 1994 that got the ball rolling in earnest. Mif’s resume is nothing to sneeze at, as it also includes appearances on TV shows such as PSI Factor, Relic Hunter, Once A Thief, Due South and FX as well as credits on films starring Sylvester Stallone (D-Tox), Dolph Lundgren (Detention) and Ryan Reynolds (Foolproof). In the last two years, however, things have become decidedly busier with a pivotal role in the Gina Gershon film Just Business (2008) and a recurring role as the evil Dr. Necros on the new Disney XD program Aaron Stone, the latter of which Mif considers the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I began getting into acting when the grunge thing started happening around 1993, because the music scene wasn’t benefitting people who were in bands like Slash Puppet,” Mif explains. “It wasn’t a question of leaving the band to become an actor; the style of music that Slash Puppet was doing was definitely taking a back seat. After our cross-Canada tour I told the guys that it just wasn’t happening anymore. We’d gone from playing to as many as a 1,000 people a night in a bar to 200 or 300, and it just felt like it was dying. I didn’t want out of Slash Puppet but I couldn’t control the music industry, so I decided I was going to get into doing some acting. Ultimately I did leave the band to concentrate on the acting and did about two-and-a-half years of work mostly in commercials and as an extra.”
Looking back on those trial years – click here for a career overview – Mif credits the late David Carradine for giving his career a shove in the right direction. He explains:
“I got onto the set for Kung Fu: The Legend Continues as an extra, and David Carradine – God bless him – picked me out of a crowd. I was on the show doing nothing special, just playing the part of stiff in a group of people, but I happened to have my full regalia of jewelry on my face from the Slash Puppet days. The nose ring, two earrings on one side, one on the other, the shaved head, and at one point between scenes he basically pointed over towards the crowd and starts gesturing with his finger, ‘Come here.’ I’m pulling a DeNiro in my head: ‘What? You talkin’ ta me?’ (laughs), when it became very clear that he was pointing and talking to me. I slowly walked over in a state of euphoric shock feeling some trepidation, as the on set rules for the lowly extra actor are very clear: ‘Don’t speak to anyone important unless you’re spoken to first…’ and even then this could still be a potentially job ending scenario.”
“Anyway, I took the chance. I go over and Mr. Carradine starts telling me how much he digs my look, and that conversation turns into him telling me about his son who’s a marketing executive in L.A. and that the hair on one side of his head is purple and the other half is yellow. ‘He’s got rings, too, but I can’t tell you where..,’ that kind of thing. So there I am treating David Carradine like the legend that he is – he was the first big actor I’d ever met – and about a month or so later I was on set doing my first speaking scene as the ‘Bardos Bartender’ with none other than the legend himself.”
“I can never be absolutely sure that our previous chance conversation had anything to do with this, but I genuinely believe in my heart that it may very well have. Regardless, it was my first taste of true acting and apparently I must have done a pretty good job for them, as I recall being pleasantly shocked to see that the executive producer of the show, Michael Sloan, had given me a single slate credit that read ‘And also co-starring as the Bardos Bartender – Mif’ much to my delight and amazement. I got a call later on from Michael Sloan to go in and audition for a major role in some project he was putting together. I can’t help but believe that in some way Kwai Chang Caine, at the very least spiritually anyway, had a hand in launching my career as a professional actor. It truly saddened me to the point of tears upon hearing of his recent passing, as I always wished that some day I would be on set in some project with him again so that I could thank him.”
Sadly, the aforementioned audition with Michael Sloan didn’t go as well as Mif had expected or hoped.
“I was supposed to be a Russian spy or something like that, and I was excited about it because I do the Slavic accent really well, but I had what was probably one of my first breakdowns during that audition. I was still a little green, so I went in anticipating a director or maybe some other people, but it was a one-on-one with Michael Sloan himself and I got really nervous. I wasn’t as equipped to deal with auditions then as I am now, so I couldn’t get it done. That could have been a huge step forward faster, although that learning experience was invaluable as I went on a serious run shortly thereafter, and between 1997 and 2001 I started landing guest starring roles on many of the TV shows being shot around Toronto, not to mention commercials and a lot of voice work. I’d caught my stride as an entertainer and all I did was live decently off of my acting work.”
Progress halted abruptly, however, as an unanticipated slowdown hit Toronto in 2002, but that had to do more with film industry financial woes than Mif’s acting abilities. Beyond bit parts there wasn’t much on offer for a Canadian actor with his resume.
“There was a period of about four years where things were really, really lean; the dollar went up, SARS hit Toronto, an ACTRA strike that lasted for months… a whole bunch of things were going on and it just tanked the industry here. I suffered as much as every other actor in Canada did. Now, not only have things come around finally, but things are starting to pick up.”
An unusual take on things given the media sharing sites and illegal downloading that has taken a huge chunk out of the music industry. One would think the film and television branches of the entertainment industry are feeling the squeeze.
“I think for the film industry it’s been more positive than negative,” offers Mif. “I don’t feel there’s as much piracy going on, or perhaps the outlets for film and television – like Disney for instance – are really, really protective of their product, making sure that their stuff isn’t getting up on You Tube if they don’t want it there, that sort of thing. There is a lot of piracy going on, of course, and I think it’s as equally rabid as it is in the music industry with burning and ripping, download and torrent sites, but I don’t believe it’s impacted the film industry as much as the music industry. I know that people may not be going to the theaters to watch films as much as they used to because they’ve got the technology at home. Plus they don’t need to go and buy the DVD if they want to wait a month or two to rip the film. But, you still get these blockbuster movies bringing in blockbuster money in the theaters.”
“Not to mention – and this is where the film industry distinguishes itself – you have several different outlets of runs. In other words, when a good quality film comes out it goes to theaters first, then to DVD, a product for rental or purchase, and then you find it in cheapie bins at Wal-Mart. There are four tiers where films can make money, which is something they don’t have in music.”
For Mif the film industry turnaround saw him snag two very important roles in terms of his career. In 2008 he starred opposite Gina Gershon in Just Business, playing a pivotal role in the film, and although it went straight to DVD it got Mif’s name back into the public eye. A year later he found himself playing Dr. Necros in a new Disney XD program entitled Aaron Stone, a recurring role that he enjoys immensely.
“I went into Just Business not knowing what kind of a budget they had, but I knew it wasn’t a huge one,” he says in discussing the film’s straight-to-DVD release, which is often seen as the kiss of death for any movie. “I’m trying to get myself some stability in the film industry, which could very well be an oxymoron even to think that when you consider all of the potential pitfalls one can encounter within the realms of the entertainment industry.
“The rule becomes this: You have to take whatever work you can get in order to survive as an entertainer. I wasn’t disappointed that it went straight to DVD. I would have been more disappointed if I’d done a bad job on the film. I think I did a very good job with the character on that film, it did garner me some attention, and it’s a good step forward for things to come. In retrospect, it kind of led to the whole Aaron Stone thing because I was in the top five cast credits for the film. I was hoping that something else would come along and shortly thereafter it did. To this day, Aaron Stone is probably the most expansive and most impressive thing that I’ve done. This is huge for me because it’s Disney and it’s international.”
Hearing the Disney name quite naturally conjures up images of Mickey Mouse and his crew on the one hand and commercial success dollar signs on the other. Put a metal singer in an actor’s chair under those circumstances and he’s automatically labeled a sell-out by the fans. As much as he appreciates his musical fanbase Mif ultimately doesn’t care what people think, and his enthusiasm for the Dr. Necros role and the Aaron Stone series is readily apparent. He recaps how he won the role of Disney’s charismatic new bad guy.
“It’s amazing. They came up here to shoot the series, and the main man on the series is Bruce Kalish. He’s the executive producer on the show and he’s done lots of different shows – Mork & Mindy, The Fall Guy, Power Rangers – so people know who he is. He had previous experience shooting in Canada with a TV series called The Famous Jett Jackson, which a lot of people liked, for three seasons. The fact that he was familiar with the Canadian crews – which are top notch – and that he’s back to getting at least an acceptable budget against the dollar, I guess he decided that he wanted to shoot up here. So, they brought the lead roles up from the States and then filled the secondary roles with Canadian actors. That’s how we make our money here, being part of that whole ACTRA trip. There was a call for an audition and I went in with no clue that it was a recurring role.”
“I figured it was maybe a daily thing, maybe a couple days for one episode, which is what I usually do,” Mif continues, “and you know how you hear actors talk about how they got their big break around the time they were just about to give it up? This bodes true for me, because the acting thing had slowed down and I had taken on a bartending gig to more or less save my home. It got to a point with the job where I told myself ‘If I don’t quit now I’m never going to get the fuck out of here.’ That was about two years ago. In the summer of 2007, just after finishing filming for Just Business, I just said ‘Fuck it’ and I quit. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t have another job lined up, my truck blew up on me three weeks after that so I had to use the money I’d saved from Just Business to buy a new vehicle… and I got an audition call.”
At which point things went from potentially fruitful to nightmarishly stressful…
“I had four days before the audition. My agent sends me a page-and-a-half of dialogue, piece of cake, plenty of time to study it. Two nights before the audition my agent calls and tells me she’s sending eight more pages of dialogue. This is telling me that I should just quit. I had four days off to nail it, and now I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do. So I ranted and raved at my wife, and she’s like ‘Well, you just quit your job, you got this audition, acting is what you’ve wanted all your life, and now you’re telling me you want to fucking quit?!’ I told her I couldn’t take it anymore, that I couldn’t even get a straight audition, I didn’t know what was going on, and my wife got up in my face. God bless her for that.”
“I spoke to my agent about it, and she asked me ‘What are you going to do if you’re on a movie set one day and the director decides the scenes you shot were shit and that he needs eight new scenes? He lays 20 pages of dialogue on you; are you going to quit the film?’ She put things in perspective, and between her and my wife I went and did the audition. Nailed it in front of executive producer Bruce Kalish and it worked out. And then I get the call saying ‘By the way, Mif, it’s a recurring role.’ My first one!”
By no means does Mif take this victory for granted. On the contrary he’s working harder than ever at being an actor and enjoys making the effort. Call it payback for the years spent in the trenches.
“Aaron Stone has taught me that as confident as I may come across, as confident as most entertainers come across, we all have our insecurities,” Mif admits, “especially when things slow down and the creek becomes a trickle. The show has absolutely lit a fire under my ass because things are going on now. I’m exposing myself to more directors within the confines of each episode, I know now how complete I feel when I’m working as an actor, and without being obnoxious by saying this, I’m good at what I do. Aaron Stone has convinced me that it would be a stupid move for me not to continue doing this after putting so much time into my acting career.”
– Aaron Stone poster and Dr. Necros photo featuring Mif (Dr. Necros) and Ho Chow (Souljacker) by Disney Enterprises, Inc.
– Mif (live shot, “pray” and “model” poses) by Ron Boudreau.
– Just Business photo: Jonathan Watton (David Gray) and Mif (Tony Bloom).
– Aaron Stone poster: Kelly Blatz (Aaron Stone) and J.P. Manoux (S.T.A.N.).