I met Mike Boland by chance while I was attending a short film festival at a Norwalk, Connecticut theater I didn’t even know existed. The venue itself was a historic treasure, a turn-back-time movie house that stirred nostalgic memories of days long past, when dashing, mustached leading men won back their lady loves with a wistful smile, a stolen kiss and an impromptu waltz under a staged starlit night. The reverie it induced was palpable, the romance it suggested equally so. It was a pinch-me moment that transported me back to a simpler time and place, when a velvet-draped stage had the power to make my heart beat faster in anticipation of what would be revealed when the curtains went up.
I admit it. I am a die-hard romantic, a writer smitten with fairy-tale dreams that start sweetly and end nicely. And as I’ve been reminded time after time, heartbreak and conflict sell, keeping audiences on the edge of their seat with tears, jeers or cheers at the ready. It was with this mindset that I watched several creatively made short films, some engaging, others amusing, all entertaining, and one that touched me deeply and took me in fully in a span of just five minutes. Dubbed Yo Andrea, it unfolded with a vulnerability and sensitivity I hadn’t expected given its title.
But you can’t judge a book or a film by its cover. Or a chance meeting that may have been just the opposite. Mike Boland wasn’t just a guy who was an actor in a film vignette that caught my eye. He was also a fellow writer, an exceptionally gifted one at that, and he was dating a colleague I had always admired but hadn’t seen in years.
Michael Boland was born and raised in Fairfield, where he brawled, bartended, batted and boxed to his heart’s content. To hear him tell it, he lived a contented life in a town that was truly home. No matter how far and wide he wandered, no matter how many times he strayed, he always came back to his roots because this is where his heart stayed.
He hadn’t thought about acting as a career, he told me. He accepted a job as a sports writer for a community newspaper right out of college, which suited him just fine at the time, moving up the ladder to bigger newspapers as his writing garnered the attention it rightfully deserved. It wasn’t until he was between jobs, or rather rethinking his future without any particular direction, when his mother casually suggested, that with his personality, he consider acting.
“That was the dumbest thing I had ever heard,” Mike remembers thinking at the time. “People are born into acting. They don’t just walk onto a stage,” I countered. “My mother then asked me if I was afraid to try. And that did it. The next day I happened to see a little notice in our hometown paper about a play our community theater was doing, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and they were looking for actors. No experience required.”
So he auditioned, got a part and played the Chief, after reading for four different roles. He was the biggest guy in the room, after all, Mike explained, so he fit the part. It didn’t take him long to get bitten by the acting bug, and soon tried out for every play he could find all over Fairfield and New Haven counties. Was it happenstance or fate that he stumbled upon an open casting call for a role at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, one of only a few regional theaters in Connecticut at the time where prominent plays often head off to Broadway?
“The cosmic tumblers were all falling into place because when I read for them, they hired me on the spot,” he said, acknowledging that he almost didn’t go to that audition because he thought it was a long shot. He appeared in four shows that season and never looked back. Armed with a promising resume and an official Union Card, Mike became a professional actor at the age of 32.
To see him on screen is to believe he is actually playing himself, so natural and at ease is he on stage. Apparently, casting directors and audiences think so too. Since that first role in 1997, he has played Officer Krupke in a national Broadway tour of West Side Story, starred in Twelve Angry Men, touring with a superstar cast that included Richard Thomas, now a good friend and mentor, George Wendt and Kevin Dobson, and more. A role with Matthew Modine in To Kill a Mockingbird enticed him back to a Hartford stage, before he made his way back to New York City, first in an off-Broadway production of The Orphans’ Home Cycle, then under the big lights on Broadway in An Enemy of the People with Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines. Taking acting classes along the way, it took Mike just 15 years to go from the familiar streets of Fairfield, where he played to a hometown crowd, to the best address in show business, the Great White Way, where theatre royalty upped the audience.
What happened next is right on script when the hero’s journey takes a turn that may change the course of his life forever. Mike went from hobnobbing with big Broadway stars who hugged him with their praise to appearing in The Blacklist on TV and other myriad productions to returning to first love and dabbling once again in writing in a way he never expected.
To put it into context, Mike had the opportunity to meet playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote of To Kill A Mockingbird fame, when he was acting in his play, The Orphans’ Home Cycle from 2009 to 2010. While he may not have recognized it at the time, that meeting had a big impact on Mike – and his future.
“Horton Foote is probably one of the most overlooked, unbelievable writers for the theater that’s ever lived. I was cast in his epic 3-play drama The Orphans’ Home Cycle, tracing the lives of a Texas family over the course of three generations. It was a nine-hour play that ran in three parts. It’s probably the first time I really felt like a real actor. It was so beautiful, it was almost spiritual. His writing was magic. He knew exactly what needed to be there and what didn’t. When you saw his plays come to life, it was like the skies opened up and people would leave that show in tears, sobbing, and hugging people in the lobby. The New York Times wrote this unbelievably glowing review with my picture in it and the next day the whole run was sold out. Every single night from then on, for the next seven months, the show was completely sold out.”
It took a few years, but that experience inspired Mike to start writing again and write he did.
“I always knew that I was going to come back to writing in some way. I thought maybe I would write a feature on people I met on the road during our national tours, doing freelance writing, blogs or something like that. But when I was on tour, I decided that I was going to learn how to write screenplays. I read tons of screenplay books and software and just started to practice writing scenes. My first act was 100 pages long and it was pretty good, but way too much. Then I started writing some short scripts about two city cops named Frank and Ernie that were really funny and I put them online where thousands of people clicked on them. It was great.”
His first draft of Yo Andrea, a love story, followed shortly thereafter.
“I was doing another production of An Enemy of the People at Yale Repertory Theatre when one of my cast mates, a Golden Gloves boxer, came into the dressing room. I told him that I used to box and he invited me to come to his gym and train with him. I was 50-something at that point. I said, ‘no, I don’t think so,’ even though he kept pressing me to work out with him. Then I started thinking, what would it take for me to actually go back into the gym and accept punishment like that again. I would have to be in love with someone enough to prove my courage,” he explained. “And that’s where Yo Andrea started.”
He wrote the scene I watched in his short film in 2017, capturing an amalgam of real-life feelings and distilling them into an emotion-packed few minutes with incredible staying power. That he cast himself with actress Tonya Cornelisse, a long-time friend he met in an acting class some 20 years ago was brilliant, as their undeniable on-screen chemistry is at once intimate and intoxicating, leaving his engaged audiences clamoring for more. To date, Yo Andrea, directed by Brian Russell, has premiered in 13 film festivals, won numerous awards including in the Best Romance Short, Best Male Actor and Best Writing categories, and earned nominations for many others.
With plans in the works to produce Yo Andrea as a feature film, Mike has his eyes on Hollywood next. But lest you think he will forget where he came from when he earns his mustache as the industry’s most lovable and dashing leading man, think again.
“This movie was written for Connecticut and I wrote it in Fairfield. This is a New England story, modeled after a real Connecticut town and the people who went to school here, work here, and love living their lives here. I want to shoot scenes in local places and cast people who care about me and this project because I care about them and their lives too. It’s important to me,” Michael said.
I wanted to wish him good luck but wished him well instead. Michael Boland did not get where he is today by happenstance. Heart and hard work, with a good measure of humor, humility – and not a few hard knocks – took him right where he was meant to be. ☐