This interview originally appeared in the August 20, 1991 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
The portrait of the young Irish artist — brooding, restless, haunted by the past — is part of Ireland’s cultural history. It is a tradition from which Michael Easton draws profusely, though respectfully, for his artistic inspiration.
Born in Inglewood, California, but reared in a seaside village in Northern Ireland for eight years, Easton exposes more than a trace of ethnic pride in discussing his admiration for Irish culture. “You look at [George Bernard] Shaw and [William Butler] Yeats, maybe the greatest poet of the twentieth century. You look at [James] Joyce, whom many consider the greatest writer, and Sean O’Casey. Then there’s all the music — U2 and Hot-house Flowers. You know, we’ve produced a lot for such a small, small country. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Easton’s portrayal of Brian Scofield’s maverick brother, Tanner, on DAYS OF OUR LIVES is only one of his creative interests, which include theater, music and his greatest passion, writing.
“I had this really weird idea,” reveals Easton, “that I was going to be a writer and acting was only going to be my supplement, which was a really twisted theory now that I think about it. But I always knew I wanted to be some form of artist.”
Ironically, Easton’s heritage proved to be an obstacle. Specifically, the problem was his parents, who are Irish-born professionals (Dad is an engineer and Mom is an architect). “My folks are very…uh, how do I put this delicately?” he asks with the sincere intention of being fair in his judgment. “When you’re from an immigrant family, when you come to another country, you have to have the skills that make you accessible to get a job, because that’s just the way it is. At least, that’s the way they perceive it. I admire my parents, because they came here and were able to build a very good life. But, for a long time, when I said I wanted to go into acting…you just didn’t say that. My dad understands it now, because I’m getting a paycheck. But I was the black sheep for a few years.”
Dressed in tattered blue jeans and a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt, Easton recounts the Bohemian activities of his not-too-distant past. “In between high school and college, I went to Europe for a while and missed the first quarter of college. That was the best experience I ever had,” he fondly remembers.
“Five months of hitchhiking around. When I came back, I finagled my way into UCLA. I didn’t know what I was doing there, but I liked living in Los Angeles. I loved that school, but you didn’t really have to go to school there. [Parents, please take note.] It’s, like, six hundred people were in the class; they never took roll. You had one test at the end of the year, and that was your whole grade. So, for two weeks you cram and the rest of the year you were out and about,” he admits.
For Easton, being out and about during college meant “bumming around the country.” I went to New Orleans and New Mexico,” he relates. “I met these two girls from Sweden, and they wanted to see part of the country. So we packed up the car and went. I don’t know if your readers want to hear that, but it’s the truth.”
After college, “I kind of drifted around for a while. A friend of mine was working at a bar in the Cayman Islands, so I went there to tend bar for six or seven months.” His spare time was spent reading, writing and playing drums. “I started with the clave and then worked my way over to the congas. Now I’m learning timbales. In the islands, playing the conga drums is a spiritual thing,” he notes.
Easton’s freewheeling odyssey eventually returned him to Southern California, where he found instant solace in the offbeat arts scene of Venice. Life at the beach was a contrast to the middle-class world he’d left behind. In his apartment, he recalls, “There were supposed to be six people living there, two girls and four guys. But it turned out to be, like, fifteen people. Everybody was in the arts, in bands. Somebody would be doing a play, and everybody would come back and crash. It was wild. I slept on a mattress in the middle of the living room.”
His dad’s response? “He didn’t like roommates with dreadlocks or girls who looked like spare-time mud wrestlers. It was hard for him to understand.”
Although daytime was not Easton’s first choice, it enables him to act on a steady basis. Until DAYS, his performing was limited to plays, often ones he wrote himself: “Real absurdist kind of stuff, like [Samuel] Beckett. They were pretty bad, actually.” There was also an unreleased film directed by YOUNG AND RESTLESS alumnus Wings Hauser, which Easton considers “some of the best work I ever did.”
When he auditioned for Tanner, the character was vague, which allowed Easton some creative input. “I kind of created a history for him,” the actor observes. “The fact that he’s just been drifting around the country for a couple of years proves he doesn’t understand himself. He’s not this tough kid that everybody thinks he is. He’s trying to find himself.”
Sound like someone we know? “I went through a lot of the same thing,” Easton agrees. “So, in a sense, it’s very real to me. But with soap opera, I think you have to draw from yourself to make it work, because a lot of times you’re put into a situation where you have to improvise.”
Robert Mailhouse, who plays Tanner’s brother, Brian, comments. “Mike is a good guy; we hang out a lot, go to hockey games, dinner. When you know another actor, it helps so much. It’s like playing with athletes on a team — you can rely on them to follow certain patterns and be there in a clinch.”
Easton draws from more than just his experience in giving Tanner an identity. “I only wear my own clothes for the show,” he reveals. “I haven’t worn one thing from the wardrobe department just because it’s more personal. If you watch, you’ll see these jeans, this jacket.” You’ll also see a lot of skin peering through the holes of Easton’s notorious collection of ripped clothing.
“I used to have this big hole,” he says pointing to an area on his pants that’s been sewn. “I always had to wear boxer shorts on days I wore them on the show, or else you would just see skin. For a long time, I was getting boxer shorts sent to me. A couple of them were a little funny. I had one with little bears and balloons. I wasn’t going to wear those, but I also had a couple of really nice Victoria’s Secret paisley ones. That was pretty cool.”
Neither the actor nor his character is involved in a serious romance. Easton feels commitment can drain relationships of spontaneity. “I like someone who can just go on the spur of the moment. That’s the one problem I have with long-term relationships. It’s a fact that somewhere along the way that edge is lost, that real craziness. This is not to knock marriage; it’s just that it seems to happen. It’s happened to so many of my friends. Like now their big thing is where they can rent Ghost from the video store on a Saturday night.”
Easton’s direct approach with women has gotten him into a few jams. “I was never roundabout; that’s why I had problems in high school,” he observes. “I got beaten up a couple of times by guys who were on the football team, because I wouldn’t ask around to see who was going out with whom. I’d just go up to a girl and ask her out, and then I’d usually get pummeled by somebody.”
Such are the spoils of audacity. Now that Easton is on DAYS, do his parents accept his profession? “There was something about me in one of the trade papers and I sent it to my folks. My name was printed on the page that listed castings as well as what was going on around town, and I was in the same row as Johnny Mathis, who was singing at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Well, my mom thought I had arrived because I was listed alongside Johnny Mathis,” laughs Easton. “That’s made all the difference.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthdate: February 16, 1966
His Recording Career: “I cut a really bad demo tape one time. I play it whenever I start considering not being an actor and going back to music.”
His Nose: “My nose has been broken about three times. I actually had this deviated septum fixed up last year, because I used to not be able to sleep at night.”
His Motorcycle: “I have a ’62 Harley-Davidson Electra Guide, but I’m looking around for another bike, I had a big thing about buying American, so I bought the Harley. But now it’s become one of those things where you’d rather not have everybody know that you ride one.”
Fan Mail: “I answer it myself. I’m not that busy seven days a week that I can’t take a few hours out to do that stuff.”