By Becca Bryan
Michael Clinton Irby, the man, the husband, father and artist is the kind of person you get to know and want to keep in your pocket to pull out when you just need a friend to listen to your troubles. Or when the time is right, get the most anticipated interview the fans of the now cancelled TV show The Unit want. As the saying goes, I saved the best for last.
The conversation was an animated one, on both ends, with much laughter, passion and the kind of deep down earthiness one would expect of this very well grounded and private man.
In each role, he reached deep and pulled out some aspect of himself to give the part an honest performance. As “Charles Grey“ in The Unit it was the passion to portray a Special Forces soldier as realistically as possible. As “Enriquez” in The Last Castle, with a heavy hitter Robert Redford, it was to volunteer to be set on fire in a prison rebellion scene. In the webisode Who Cut The Cake?, to be a wedding guest with more than average admiration for news anchor Matt Lauer. Or the many roles he’s played on stage after graduating from the prestigious Academy of Dramatic Arts school in New York .
The same is said about this interview. Always the one others on The Unit set called “energetic”, Michael is a fast talker leaving me with the thought I should have taken shorthand in school. You can almost see his signature big, bright smile as he answers fans questions and listens to their rant about the show’s cancellation. Yet he is often hard to spot in the various productions where he’s been cast. He blends in seamlessly in any background. That’s the way a true artist plays the part.
HQ: Do you see yourself as an actor or an artist?
MI: An artist.
HQ: I knew you would say that. We’ve read that you’re artistic. You’ve written some poetry, and play the guitar. Having gone to the prestigious Academy of Dramatic Arts school in New York and performed in such iconic and much debated plays like “Corpus Christi ” from Terrence McNally, is there a chance we can see on the stage soon?
MI: Maybe at an acoustic bar playing guitar.
HQ: What about plays or what if something comes up in New York or someplace else?
MI: If I’m passionate about it and it’s a believable part, then yeah. I’d go back to the stage.
HQ: Both you and your wife (Susan Matus) are busy working artistic people. How do you juggle home and career when you’re both working?
MI: Delicately, with a lot of communication. You make sure you communicate with each other at a high level. You go the extra mile. Make a Valentine’s card instead of buying one. Water the plants if they need to be watered. Do the things at home the other one does when they aren’t there. You juggle things delicately. Everybody needs to feel important. And you just got to listen.
HQ: That’s good advice. Fans can be very observant when it comes to watching their favorite actor. And several of them noticed the tattoos you have. Any chance we can ask you about them? We know you went on a USO Tour with some others from the cast. Each one of you came back and got a tattoo commemorating that. We noticed that you sported a new one on your forearm. What’s the meaning behind that one and your other tattoos?
MI: They’re little signs or periods of my life. I always try to understand life and love. On my forearm, is the tattoo I got when I got back from Iraq . It’s the word Freedom. A picture of it. On my back is the Native American sign (on my father’s side) of my spirit protector. Someone’s always watching my back. On my stomach, is God’s House. I feel I am the creator. I make it happen. I’m speaking only for myself and how I feel about it. We don’t know everything. We’re all in this together. (The tattoos) are all about freedom. It’s all about freedom.
HQ: I could not agree more. It’s hard to appreciate the freedom we have until it’s taken away and for most of us, it’s never been taken away. And speaking of soldiers, a fan who is very observant noticed that there was a yellow ribbon the fridge in Hector and Grey’s apartment. Was this an homage to the original meaning of the yellow ribbon or a wink to the fan’s campaign to bring The Unit back in 2007?
MI: Ya know, that was the first time I ever saw that apartment. We were saying ‘Hey! We got an apartment that we share!’ It was the first time I ever saw it! I have no idea where that yellow ribbon came from. But it wasn’t done without thought.
HQ: The show had many fans who were very observant of those little details. I admit that I could not take my eyes off the action and didn’t see it. We miss the show a lot. We’re burning holes in our DVDs trying to get our fix. It just stinks that the show was cancelled and CBS dumped 10 million of us, those 10 million that were counted. Not to mention those of us who were NOT counted.
MI: I feel the fans were broadsided. You were slighted. I felt like the show connected to the fans on a human level.
HQ: We did! And the good part about being in this side of the TV screen is that we can tell the network what we think and not have to worry about losing our job or not getting another one. So we did. We were rather vocal about it too this year.
MI: I can tell you that the cast really appreciates that. We always appreciated when the fans spoke up for us.
HQ: We felt like we were part of your Army family. And now the family has been broken up. When I visited the set back in February, everyone made us feel like were part of that family. That was so great. We met everyone, except you, because you weren’t there that day. Where the heck were ya?
MI: I was working on the film I was in- Law Abiding Citizen.
HQ: So tell me. How big of a part do you have in it? You play Detective Garza. It’s a murder mystery kind of film. But what I want to know is how much of the movie are you in?
MI: I had a great supporting role and the opportunity to work with some really fantastic actors. I hear that it tested well and should be coming out soon.
HQ: What other projects are on your plate?
MI: Bolden! will be out next year. There some other things, but nothing concrete.
HQ: Finally Mike, I asked Eric Haney, who wrote the book The Unit was based on and who had written many scripts for The Unit, to give me a comment about you. I want to read you what he sent me:
“Michael is my dear brother. He is what the Irish call: ‘A lovely man.’ As an actor he is superb. He can give you more with a look than most actors can give with two pages of dialog.” I completely agree with that last sentence. I would agree with the first, but I’ve never met you.
MI: That just warms my heart.
The pleasure of watching Michael Irby perform, whether it be on the stage, TV or film, is also the challenge of trying to spot him. You’re not watching Michael Irby The Celebrity act, you’re watching a true artist disappear in his character. And that’s the way it should be.