Posted by: Becca | March 24, 2008

Why We Like Mike: A Glimpse of Michael Irby


By Rebecca Bryan

If there is one character on CBS TV’s, The Unit, who provokes more discussion than others, it is that of “Charles Grey”.  Michael Irby, who plays “Grey”, is an accomplished actor with many outstanding performances in his background.

 If you’ve seen “Pinero” or “Flight Plan”, you will know what I mean.  He is a chameleon of an actor. He is able to change his look and disappear into the scene. That is no different for his character Charles Grey on CBS-TV’s The Unit.  Grey is the Unit’s master of all trades.  Dress him in the native costume of whatever country the Unit is sent to and he fits in.  He is able to master the art of building bombs, rewiring electrical closets and treating the wounded all the while, provoking us to question some of his motives.

Meet Michael Irby. The actor describes Grey as the Unit’s “lone wolf” and a “playa”.  Sexy, handsome with eyes that speak more than words, Irby is a soulful man who challenges viewers to think outside the box. Read on to see why we like Mike. It’s a blast.

Q. What was the deciding factor for you to take this role?

A. All of the obvious reasons of course; the opportunity to work with David Mamet, Shawn Ryan and Eric Haney.  Great people and great at what they do.  Also, the chance to help develop and mold such a complex role really excited me.

Q. What characteristics do you and Charlie share?

A. Fearlessness, the love of life and a good scotch.  I like to have a little fun.

Q. How long has Charlie been in the Unit? He seems to know just what to do in certain circumstances.

A. Grey has been in the Unit about 6 years.   Through home work and back story he has become the very efficient demolitions expert and electrician, not to mention the “playa” of the Unit.

Q. In Force Majeure, Bob wrote the weight down for each person who could have boarded the chopper. One of your fans saw 138 beside your name. Is that accurate?

A. 138 is a little light.  I tend to live between 145-150 lbs.

Q. What motivates Charles to occasionally top Jonas?

A.I believe for the most part we execute the missions without question, however there are some things that that do not sit in the black or white, which is part of my challenge as an actor and a testament to the great writing.  I think we all wish we could step out of line once in a while.

Q. We are wondering since Charlie has defied mission parameters before, if he will get booted out of the Unit or just reprimanded.  What will happen to him?

A.Let’s hope not.  A good scolding is always fun.  We can only wait and see.

Q. We’ve seen Charlie build bombs, dismantle bombs, and work as a medic. What is his MOS in the Unit?

A. I’ve said before “where it is brown, I ‘m down.”  No one really can tell my ethnic back ground, so I am used an under-cover operative quite often.  As I mentioned before, they use me as technical expert (electrician and demolition) so I guess a few of the writers talked to old friends or saw something in me.  I’ve always had a thing for fireworks. 

Q. Charlie seems to be the happy single guy in the Unit. Any plans for him to hook up with anyone?

A. Who is happy and single?  There’s gotta be someone out there.  I am sure there is something in the works, but we will all have to wait and see.

Q. What is Charlie’s code name? We’ve been batting that question around for a while.

A. “Betty-blue, Betty-blue” right from the pilot

Q. Clearly, it must be easier for the single soldier to deploy on such short notice. They don’t have to worry about anyone at home. What challenges do you think the single soldier has vs. the married one?

A. For myself anyway, there is a LONE WOLF mentality, which I am sure is dangerous for those around you who have someone waiting at home for them.  Also, even though the wives are not totally made aware of what we do, there is no denying the support they give their husbands.  That must be nice for the married types… Charles Grey would not know.

Q. David Mamet is a very well known producer. What’s it like to work with him?  He seems to be the person everyone wants to work with. I know I would.

A. David Mamet…wow… the name alone.  It is quite the experience working with someone so passionate.  All I can say is be ready for ANYTHING.

Q. You grew up in Cabazon, CA, which is in the desert, right? What was there to do as a kid there?

A. I played a lot of soccer and had a group of friends that I kicked it with.  We did all of the normal stuff… but then again what is normal?

Q. What made you want to move into the city?     

A. What city are we talkin’ about?  I went to New York when I was about nineteen.  I had grown bored of the West coast and needed a serious change of scenery.  I’ve been in L.A. for about 5 years.  So far so good.  I really just came here for the work… I heard there was more of it here.

Q. How big is your immediate family?

A. My parents are happily married and I have two brothers

Q. Where do you fit in there? Oldest, youngest, middle kid?

A. The middle kid… wouldn’t you know it?

Q.  I read in your bio on the internet movie database that you like to read poetry. It also said that some of your poetry is incorporated into the storylines sometimes? In which episodes did they incorporate it?

A. Not the same show. That was HAUNTED.  I did that show a few years ago with Matthew Fox of LOST.  Matthew’s character would have visions of murders that had taken place, and the visions were clues which I could help him understand.  I guess it was good for both of us that it did not take off. 

Q. What was it about?

A. A lot of poetry I was writing at the time was about struggle, about questions of love and freedom, and at what cost those things are achieved.  Mainly, just observations on society as a whole.  It is something I have always done.  A form of therapy almost. 

Q. How often do you get the chance to perform your poetry?

A. Not as often as I’d like.  There are so many great places, but I don’t always take the opportunity.  Writing is different than performing.  I’ve done both.  I’ll never stop writing.

Q. Is there anything that stood out during your audition for the Unit?

A. Yeah, David Mamet told me before the audition to go in there and let everyone know in no uncertain terms that “I did not need this job!”  I took his advice and said just that… I guess they did not believe me.  Oh yeah… Eric Haney… I could tell this guy was not from Hollywood.

Q. We’re having a nice discussion about on about your ethnic background. Will you please set us straight?

A. My father is African-American and my mother is Mexican-American.  Interesting mix I guess.  I was just born this way.

Q. Also, the fans are inquiring about how tall you are. Would you square us away on that one please?

A. Grey and I both say “it is all the same when you’re layin’ down”… but for those of you that must know… I’m shorter than Dennis.  5’6” actually…but I walk TALL. 

Q.  Do you lend your time to any charitable causes? Which ones?

A. I prefer to make chartable donations and give money to the homeless. 

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

A. The down time can be hard.  I mostly try and stay creative and curious… about everything.  At the end of the day I am still an artist.  It is so easy to forget that when you’re not working.

Q. When you got out with friends, are you recognized?

A. It is starting to happen more and more.

Q. How do you deal with it when you’re recognized?

A. I’m pretty comfortable with myself and I like people in general.  You know, a lot of time I don’t even notice.

Q.  I heard that the definition of a successful actor is one who is always working. Judging from your bio, that’s you. What do you contribute your success to?

A. FOCUS.  Like I said, I grew up playing soccer and I relate the business to that of the game.  Being considered an ethnic actor there seems to be fewer opportunities, so when the door is open… even for a moment… you have to be ready to take your shot.  There was a time when I used to say yes to everything.  Even an ugly goal is a goal. 

Q. You have a growing fan support base on  We keep demanding MORE CHARLES PLEASE!  What is your opinion about fans in general?

A. I have fan…really?  No, honestly I fully appreciate the support.  Your opinions do not fall on deaf ears, so keep letting them know.  The fans are what keep the show on the air.  But really, at the end of the day I am just working a job like everyone else.

Q. And how they relate to you? Do you run into any of them?

A. The fans are always very cool with great things to say about THE UNIT, or other project that they have seen me in.  It has all been pretty positive.  I am fairly laid back about the whole thing actually. 

Q. Have any men in the military made any comments to you about your role?

A. Yeah, they seem to genuinely like the character.  It is an honor really, when you take the time to consider what they do, as opposed to what we do.  I try and bring things to that role that provoke thought and truth.  Keep you guessing… so to speak.

Q. I have to ask this question because some fans requested it.  And they will beat down the walls of the Forum if I don’t.  Are you married, single, single and dating?

A. Happily married… sorry ladies.

You’re da bomb, ”Betty Blue”.




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