When Michael Whalley reminisces about growing up, some of his fondest memories revolve around his parents taking him to see movies and theatre shows. He recalls every bit of joy and excitement that would run through his veins when he immersed himself into each new world with every new story he explored. As he got older, and realized that the characters in the films that he admired so much were real people, just like him, he knew he had to be a part of it. He was determined to become an actor and promised himself that he would do everything in his power to honor the dreams of his childhood self.
Since embarking on his acting journey, Whalley has done a commendable job of refining what skills he gained naturally, whilst simultaneously acquiring new methods and techniques wherever possible. Through auditions and word of mouth, he has landed himself a number of integral roles in films and television shows from various different genres. For instance, just this year, Whalley played a lead role in The Pretend One, a film that portrays the heart wrenching story of a young girl who creates an imaginary friend to counteract the loneliness she feels when her mother passes away. In the film, Whalley plays the young girl’s imaginary friend and as they age together, they must face the realities of growing up, falling in love, losing their innocence, and more. Whalley’s ability to master the personality traits and emotions that his audiences will relate to is profound, and he is known for his ability to make his audience truly feel every emotion he challenges them to feel.
For anyone who has witnessed Whalley in action, it comes as no surprise that he has earned a reputation for the caliber of acting that he produces and with that, has won several awards for the quality of his work. For instance, Whalley won the award for Most Promising Newcomer at the Wellington Theatre Awards in 2007, Best Newcomer at the Sydney Gluggs Theatre Awards in 2012, and the Media Super-Kicking Your Goals Award in 2017 for all of his achievements throughout the year. A mere glimpse at his work would leave no questions as to why. His acting abilities are so vast that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes Whalley such a remarkable talent. He is versatile beyond measure and for that reason, it is difficult to define who he is as an actor. When asked about how he defines himself as an actor, Whalley had this to say:
“My style and game changes from job to job – although, I always try to infuse my sense of humor into my work. I find it to be a true and useful part of my presence and it serves well for my enjoyment of a role. The range of performance style that I have to call on keeps me on my toes and constantly challenged. I get to work on all sorts of projects, including large and small-scale musicals, funny television commercials, dramatic and comedic theatre works, film and television.”
The highlight of Whalley’s career thus far came in 2014 when he landed himself a role in Slow West. When he heard that two of his idols, Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn, were coming to his homeland of New Zealand to film a script, Whalley was determined to get himself an audition. Upon learning of the role of The Kid, Whalley was certain that could be the man for the job and he was confident that he had what it would take to act alongside such prestigious, high performing actors. He submitted a quirky, improv tape as his audition and his humor, acting abilities, and dark infusion won the producers over. Whalley says the phone call notifying him that he had won the part of The Kid as being one of the best moments of his entire career, and he was committed to doing his character justice for the better of the film.
Slow West is an 1800’s Western film that follows the story of a bounty hunter who keeps his true motives a secret when he offers to serve as a Scottish teenager’s bodyguard while the youth searches for his beloved in Colorado. In the film, The Kid is an outlawed underdog bursting with ambition and is determined to do everything in his power to work his way to the top of the proverbial food chain. Payne, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is the leader of The Kid’s group of outlaws and holds the position that The Kid ultimately wishes to obtain. In order to excel in his role, Whalley made note of Payne’s character traits and the way in which Mendelsohn played him, in order to adopt and mimic his traits as The Kid would if the story were real. For Whalley, it was an honor to play The Kid and to hold responsibility for telling this story as it was intended to be told. He grasped the underlying messages that the film delivered and was energized by the opportunity to challenge his audience to consider the possible repercussions of reckless ambition.
“John McLean, who also wrote the film’s script, managed to write so many of the satisfying prejudices we have with Western films in the past and littered them with his humor, shock, and intrigue. Slow West illuminates the human condition, with all of its humor, mystery, and darkness. It reveals to us that good people do desperate, terrible things to survive in difficult times. It shows us how toothless and broken souls can have the wherewithal to be overly aggressive, but still nurturing. At the end of the day, it is circumstance that turns us toward or away from paths of good or evil,” told Whalley.
After filming and screening Slow West, Whalley received a large amount of praise for his mastery of The Kid and for the essential role he played in the success of the film as a whole. When faced with a difficult task, Whalley rises to the challenge and he never loses his sense of professionalism and humor along the way. He is a dream to work with for directors, producers, and actors alike. You would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated, humble actor in the industry today. In fact, Slow West’s Executive Producer, Rachel Gardner, was extremely taken aback with Whalley’s portrayal of The Kid.
“Michael’s audition tape was sent to us from Australia and immediately impressed not only myself, but also our film’s producer, Conor McCaughan, and Michael Fassbender, who both starred in and executive produced Slow West. The three of us knew that Michael was the man to fill the boots of The Kid based on his unique and striking take on the character,” emphasized Gardner.
Slow West went on to receive nominations and win awards at high class film festivals and award ceremonies across the globe, like The Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Australian Guild of Screen Composers, the Sarasota Film Festival, and several others. It won awards for everything from cinematography to Best Film; however, above all else, it generated important conversations amongst audiences all over the world. Whalley could not have predicted a more fulfilling outcome and he takes great pride in knowing that he was directly involved in making it the success that it was.
Photo by Johnny Nicolaidis