Australian-born actor Michael Teh has been making a name for himself since coming to Hollywood. Starring in flicks from Sharknado to hit television programs as Sleepy Hollow, he has been doing it all.
With his new film Alien Rising just out and his other TV show, The Other Brother, in development, we sat down to find out more about Michael’s growing and inspiring career, his advice to others in the industry, what he would change in the world if he could, and how he has been giving back with so much of his time to various environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Global Green, the Sierra Club, and many more.
Check out the below interview to see for yourself why Michael Teh rocks both on the screen, and off!
Why is giving back is important to you? Well, it’s not just “giving back” – it can be “giving forward” and or “making a stand” too. I support causes that I’m passionate about, sometimes those that friends are passionate about, or that invoke compassion. I think it’s easy, perhaps especially as an actor, to become self-or-career-absorbed. Giving back can really help give you the perspective one needs to live in gratitude, to not take yourself or your own problems so seriously.
Furthermore, supporting a cause you’re passionate about gives you a raison d’être bigger than yourself – a meaning in life bigger than one’s own success or glorification. I think many people who wonder “what’s the meaning of life?” haven’t identified what’s important to them besides there own personal needs. If you find a cause bigger than yourself, then you’ve just added meaning to your life. And your problems look small in comparison.
How has giving back helped you? It helps me remember how blessed I am compared to the vast, vast majority of people on this planet. I was blessed with loving parents, who in turn spoiled me with education and introduced me to the love of travel. I was raised and have lived in wealthy, free countries (Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.), and now I have the luxury of pursuing a career in the arts, which has to beat subsistence farming in a third world country. So it helps me gain perspective: my weekly “problems”, say not getting any auditions or not booking a certain job and other “first world problems” are just so petty given the challenges most people on earth face. So again, it helps me live in gratitude and stay happy.
There are other selfish reasons for giving back. Quite simply, helping others builds your self-esteem, your friendships with great people, your compassion, empathy, sympathy, and humanity.
How do you incorporate giving back into your life and your acting? To be honest, I could take on a greater leadership role in one cause, as most of my “giving back” over recent years has been “reactive”. By that I mean, reactive to a disaster (hurricane, war, famine, epidemic etc.) or reactive to a call from friends recruiting me to causes they are passionate about. And this means my giving back in time and or money has been very, very diverse. I think some actors think… “oh, one day, when I’m famous, I’ll be able to make a difference to a cause”, but I think its important that all of us contribute as early as we can, if we really want to make a difference.
Artistically, I also hope to make films or TV shows, or perform in plays that touch, move or inspire people. I think works of art and entertainment can be really powerful in informing and changing society’s views on issues. For example, I think some American TV shows have really helped cause the shift here towards marriage equality. Hopefully, they can impact criminal justice reform and help raise the alert level on global warming and a ton of other issues too.
With regard to acting, I think giving back really helps exercise the sympathy and empathy muscles that we rely on in our craft.
Which charities are near and dear to you and why? Like I indicated before, I have spread myself thinly over so many causes and charities. It’s more about which cause is most important to me, and for me, the mother of all causes is population control. What many people don’t realize is that over-population is a major cause of most of the world’s other big problems. It causes environment degradation, through rainforest destruction for farming and fuel, pollution etc. It causes scarcity of and conflict over resources (i.e. war). It seriously contributes to famine and poverty. It enables (and perhaps it “calls for”) epidemics. It results in increased demand for animal products and thus intensive farming and thus more animal cruelty, etc., etc. If we can limit and ideally reduce the number of humans on the planet, I feel like we could live in more harmony with the planet and each other.
I’m thus drawn to the many charities that help educate women in developing countries as this is one of the best ways to reduce the birth rate in those countries and reduce poverty. More locally, I think Planned Parenthood and The Population Connection do important work. I’m also a sucker for Greenpeace, Global Green, the Sierra Club and other environmental causes. And because I have so many friends passionate about animal rights, I find myself contributing there too.
Favorite food: Given I get plenty of great Japanese and Italian in Los Angeles, I’m guess I’m most missing Malaysian.
Favorite cocktail: Depends how well it’s made… a Moscow Mule or a less sweet Margharita.
Favorite restaurant: There are too many great ones to list (around the world), but the one I frequent the most at the moment is Laurel Hardware with West Hollywood.
If you could host a dinner party, who would you invite living or dead? I’ll limit myself to people who can speak some English and say Malala Yousafzai, The Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Nolan, Peter Weir, Matt Damon, a few Victoria’s Secret “ambassadors” and some close friends and family.
Favorite vacation spot: Wow! There are so many places I love, but if I have to pick one, I’d say Italy. Have been blessed to go many times and I just love the history, the architecture, the landscapes, the wine and especially the food!
Favorite TV show: Fawlty Towers. Haven’t seen it for years, but absolutely loved that show as a kid.
Favorite movie: Dead Poet’s Society.
Favorite celebrity: Cate Blanchett, just because she’s Australia’s greatest actor in my opinion. But I also love Meryl Streep, Judy Dench and Kate Winslet =).
Favorite book: Also too hard to name just one. As a teenager in the fiction realm it would have been The Lord of The Rings. A New Earth resonates spiritually.
Favorite apps: Uber.
Favorite animal: Dolphins, but I see and love dogs much more frequently.
Favorite workout routine: Hatha Yoga and Hiking Runyon Canyon here in LA.
What experience in your life are you most proud of? Perhaps turning my back on my professional degrees, and quitting well-paid, secure corporate careers to pursue acting.
How has moving to Hollywood from Australia changed your life? Work-wise, completely! In Australia (and New York), I was a corporate slave for a U.S. based corporate management consultancy working 100 hours a week in an office, and I did not enjoy that. But I had a secure income. Now I’m lucky to work 100 hours a month, and I never know when I’m going to have another paycheck. However, I get to use my imagination and I love it!
Lifestyle-wise there are more similarities. I’m from Sydney, which, like Los Angeles, features warm summers, mild winters, and surfing beaches. Both cities feature a lot of diversity too with many immigrant communities adding to the cities’ flavors. However, had I stayed in Sydney, I’d probably be financially secure, and married with kids by now. So, overall, I would say life is totally different =).
What advice would you share with those looking at getting into the entertainment industry? The entertainment field is very broad, but if you’re pursuing acting: find good teachers and learn different things from each of them. Some are better at comedy, some teach plays, some teach auditioning for camera, some teach voice, some teach “the business of acting” etc. Keep learning from different masters in their fields. If you’re not learning, you’re in the wrong class. And if you’re serious about succeeding, then don’t quit. Find ways to enjoy the pursuit and develop some passions outside acting, as very few actors get paid to do it very often.
What do you love most about acting? Using my imagination. To bring a character to life, to feel emotions I often protect myself from feeing in real life. To experience highly dramatic or funny scenes, circumstances and escapades. It’s like playing “pretend” as a child. Getting to do this while collaborating with other talented artists can be really fun and fulfilling.
What is one thing would you change in this world if you could? Instead of striving for GDP growth, it would be awesome if governments, communities and individuals, prioritized a growth in happiness, health and environmental preservation and protection instead.