Michael Papajohn – Team Player

Actor Michael Papajohn. Photo taken on-location by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverely Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos

Actor Michael Papajohn. Photo taken on-location by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverly Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos

Michael Papajohn has one of those faces that is instantly recognizable, especially to avid moviegoers. A veteran stuntman and talented actor, he was kicked in the jaw in Charlie’s Angels, fell out a window to his death in Spider-Man 3, and was even pumped full of lead courtesy of a gun-totting Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. During the past 20 years, this former college baseball player has appeared in dozens of TV as well as feature film roles and can currently be seen in four major motion pictures. Having worked with director McG on Charlie’s Angels, the actor was offered a role in Terminator Salvation, where his skills as both an actor and a stuntman served him well.

“I play a renegade, I guess you could call him, who has been surviving in the desert for three or four years and has probably had a bit too much radiation,” jokes Papajohn. “He encounters this beautiful woman, played by Moon Bloodgood, and in that scene my character tries to have a relationship with her in one way or the other.

“My experiences as a stuntman absolutely came in handy with this job. That’s one of my assets and I always try to play to my strengths in this business. I come from an athletic background, so I love physical roles, and I think directors like to work with me because I feel comfortable handling the dialogue along with the physicality of a character. So they don’t have to cut away to a stunt double. I mean, if I was directing a movie, I would love to be able to hold a shot for the entire time instead of worrying about cutting away and putting in a stunt double. Believe it or not, after we filmed the fight scene for Terminator, they brought us back to make it even more violent and intense.”

Papajohn and Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website.

Papajohn and Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website.

Papajohn was pleased to be directed once again by McG for this film. “I know when walking onto his set, that he’s going to be passionate about the work and he also gives his actors a lot of freedom to play,” says the actor. “When I worked with McG on Charlie’s Angels, he took me aside right before a scene I did with Cameron Diaz and said, ‘Hey, Papajohn, film lasts forever, so have fun.’ That freed me up insofar as my acting. When I subsequently showed up on the Terminator set in New Mexico, I brought that story back up to him and said, ‘I’ve always remembered that and use it on every movie that I do.’ All actors have their own ways of doing things, but I know that if I’m free in my body, then I’m free to play as an actor. Again, having an athletic background I work with my body and am always in tune with it, so that was a valuable piece of advice.”

From radioactive renegade to estranged parent, Papajohn plays Cal, the father of Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Although his character never appeared in the first Transformers film, there was a history established in the movie between father and daughter. The actor made sure to use that to his advantage when trying out for the 2009 sequel.

“My acting coach, Larry Moss, taught me a great deal about biography,” notes Papajohn, “so when I auditioned for this movie it wasn’t about how many lines I had in it, but rather my character’s background with his daughter, their experiences together and how he felt about her. I worked very hard on that, and when I showed up on the set, I was able to look at her [Megan Fox] and, without saying a word, you know that our characters are related. Cal has been in prison and hasn’t seen his daughter for a long time, so he has all sorts of questions for her and I enjoyed playing the ups and downs of that relationship.

Papajohn in the 2005 film The Longest Yard. Photo courtesy of Michael Papajohn's official website

Papajohn in the 2005 film The Longest Yard. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

“Like McG on Terminator [director] Michael Bay also allowed me a lot of freedom with my work. He gave me some good dialogue choices on the set and also the chance to improv with Megan, which was fun. It’s been interesting to be part of such big blockbuster franchise-type movies like Transformers as well as Terminator and Spider-Man. The best part for me now, though, is that I have a 14-month-old son and it’s exciting that I can actually share all these experiences with my family, which means a lot to me.”

Hot on the heels of Terminator and Transformers, Papajohn worked on Land of the Lost, a big screen version of the 1974 Saturday morning live-action children’s series. “When I first saw the set I couldn’t believe it was a soundstage because of the big redwoods and water,” he says. “If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean. Brad Silberling is a cool director and just a real pleasure to be around and work with. They actually asked me to come back on the very last day of shooting to do some CGI [computer-generated image] work with a green screen When I walked onto the stage, I had the opportunity to watch Will Farrell [Dr. Rick Marshall] ride a 70-foot dinosaur and whip it like a rodeo star. Now that was something to witness,” enthuses the actor.

Rounding out Papajohn’s summertime film appearances is his role of an FBI Techie in producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s 3-D movie G-Force. In it, a specially trained squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire from taking over the world. “It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, so naturally when we filmed this military-type scene there was plenty of action,” he recalls. “They did a close-up shot following me and there were explosions and all this other stuff going on behind me. When I watched the playback I thought, ‘Wow, it really looks like there’s a war going on in the background.’

Michael Papajohn. Photo taken by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) on-location at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverly Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos

Michael Papajohn. Photo taken by Dimitri Halkidis (UPA) on-location at The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs, CA; men's grooming by Barry/The Salon at The Beverly Hills Hotel; wardrobe by John Varvatos

“I play a good guy in the film and I don’t get killed. This is something that I’ll be happy to show my son one day, and to top it off it’s in 3-D, so I can’t wait to sit on the couch with him, put on the 3-D glasses and watch it together.”

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, the actor graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in 1983. Two years later, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers, but instead of signing with the team, he accepted a baseball scholarship to Louisiana State University. In 1987, the cast and crew of Everybody’s All-American came to Baton Rouge for location shooting, and, while still attending college, Papajohn was chosen to play Dennis Quaid’s stunt double in the movie. He had no idea that this would forever change his future.

“As a baseball player, whenever I made a game-changing play I would get a high. When I doubled for Dennis for the first time, [director] Taylor Hackford said, ‘Action!’ I did the stunt, hit my mark, and they said, ‘Cut,’ well, I experienced that same type of high,'” says Papajohn. “I’ll always be grateful to Taylor Hackford for staying true to his word. At one point, he pulled me to the side – I was 22 at the time – looked me in the eye and said, ‘Hey, Papajohn, you’re an athletic guy and you’re very well-liked on the set. I think you should pursue a career in this business.’ Not much later, when I decided to do just that, I phoned Taylor, he took my call and then hooked me up with some quality people in the industry to kind of watch over me.

Papajohn up at bat in For Love of the Game. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

Papajohn up at bat in For Love of the Game. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

“Now years later, all these great things are happening with my family as well as my career and it’s because of him. I get chills just talking about it. I don’t mean to sound cheesy or anything like that, but when I stop to think about it, I’m doing what I love to do and it’s because of someone who maybe saw something in me and stayed true to his word. It just foes to show how powerful words can be, especially when they’re backed up with action.”

Titanic, Starship Troopers, The Waterboy, Enemy of the State and Starsky and Hutch are just a few of the movies in which Papajohn worked as a stuntman and/or stunt double. It was after playing Tucker Kain in 1994’s Little Big League that he decided to make the jump from stunts to acting. “That’s not an easy thing to do in this business,” he explains. “I continued taking acting classes and studying with various teaches in Los Angeles, but I kept hearing about [acting coach] Larry Moss. I tried to get into his class but it was proving impossible, so I called his assistant and told her that I just got a really good role in a Denzel Washington movie and wanted to meet with Larry privately.

“That afternoon I went to his condominium, walked in and said, ‘Hi, Larry.’ He said to me, ‘Hey, Michael, congratulations. Let’s hear about your part and start working on it.’ I admitted, ‘Larry, I didn’t get the part. I just wanted to meet you and talk about acting.’ The two of us then went on to have an hour-long conversation that totally changed my life. He told me things I had to do and I did them. Larry is also a man who stays true to his word. It was another moment in one’s life when you look at someone and trust in whatever they say.”

Papajohn stunt doubling for Adam Sandler in Waterboy. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

Papajohn stunt doubling for Adam Sandler in The Waterboy. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

One of the actor’s most memorable film roles is Dennis Carradine a.k.a. The Carjacker, who he played in the first Spider-Man movie. Much to the actor’s surprise, he was asked to reprise the role in Spider-Man 3, but this time around there was more to the part than even he imagined.

“Grant Curtis [Spider-Man 3 producer] called me to say that they were bringing me back in the movie, but he wouldn’t tell me anything else,” says the actor. “Three weeks later, my wife Paula and I were at a charity event and I saw [writer/director] Sam Raimi. I asked him, ‘Is it true, Sam? Am I coming back?’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re coming back, but you can’t tell anyone.’ I said, ‘I won’t. What’s going on?’

“Sam said, ‘We’re going to show that your character didn’t kill Uncle Ben [Cliff Robertson].’ I looked at him and said, ‘You mean I’ve been carrying that on my shoulders for four years and you’re just telling me now.’ Then I looked at my wife and said, ‘Hey, honey, now we can have kids,’ and Sam just about busted a gut laughing,” chuckles the actor. “Working on Spider-Man 3 was awesome, and it was the first time that my wife got to sit on-set behind the monitors with Sam Raimi and watch me work.”

Playing a baddie in Spider-Man 3. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

Playing a baddie in Spider-Man 3. Photo courtesy of Papajohn's official website

Besides his film roles, Papajohn has guest-starred on such TV series as Without a Trace, The Shield, CSI:NY, The Unit and Castle. His fans can look forward to seeing him in an episode of the HBO cable series True Blood, which is in its second season, and the made-for-TV movie Dark Blue. The actor is also a documentary filmmaker, and his most recent project spotlights his friend and former NFL player Bo Eason. “Bo wrote a one-man show called Runt of the Litter, which he took to New York,” says the actor. “What I want people to see in my documentary is the work involved in properly putting on a show for the theater while having to deal with everything from rejection to family members getting sick along the way. Larry Moss directed the stage show and both he and Bo opened their lives up to me. I shot over 200 hours of footage over 10 years and we’ve just started the editing process.”

Looking back, Papajohn has no regrets about trading in his baseball bat and pursuing his dream to become an actor. “I love what I do, and I know so many people that may be in a business or make a lot of money, but they don’t love their job,” he says. “And I know, too, that when I’m hired to play a part, it’s not about me, it’s about telling the story and me making the best [acting] choices to do that. Also, it’s really gratifying to know that I can help tell a story that can change a person’s life. Believe me, I don’t say that arrogantly, but rather as a way of pointing out just how powerful storytelling is. It’s terrific to be a part of that and, in the process, affect people in a positive way.”

To find out more about Michael Papajohn and his career, check out his official website @ www.michaelpapajohn.com

 Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos either courtesy of/copyright of Dimitri Halkidis or courtesy of Michael Papajohn’s official website, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!

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