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Leading man in motion picture started locally

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on March 01, 2011 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky

There is always linkage.

Michael Joiner knows his starring role in a nationwide movie, “The Grace Card,” released last weekend is linked to his growing up in the Miller Beach area.

Then he was off to U.S. Steel, as were so many young men of that era. But he hated it, so he arrived at Valparaiso Community Theater.

Then to Hollywood … and more, but eventually, back to Hollywood.

Connecting the links is a sincere belief in God.

Nothing, he said, would have happened without God in his life.

Before the movie, in fact, he was better-known as a stand-up comedian. A clean one, delivering a subliminal Christian message along with the laughs.

“Journey is the right word,” he said.

“Looking back, without cutting my teeth in the Valparaiso Community Theater, I wouldn’t have continued on any stage.”

The next stage, after that, was a first foray into Hollywood.

“It was from 1986 to 88,” he said. “I went out to L.A. because I had talked myself into it. I didn’t know anything.”

But he did land work, sometimes as a photo double for Bruce Willis.

“He told me I should get into acting,” Joiner added.

Joiner came back home and back to Valparaiso for Christmas of 1988.

“I learned some chops there,” he said of the community theater.

He also started developing his stand-up routine.

“The nightmare days of that are over,” he recalled thinking. “I can make a full-time living doing stand-up.”

But he liked acting, he said, especially drama.

He met his wife, Michelle. She is from Kansas City and the two moved there and produced their own trio, Dustin, 13, Jack, 11, and Max, 7.

“Dustin is a stand-up already,” Joiner said. “He has his own act.”

He wanted to get back to L.A.

“Nine years ago, we sold our (Kansas City) house and moved to L.A.,” he said.

“I knew it was time.

“I started working with acting coaches, found some incredible teachers and learned some incredible techniques,” he said.

“I worked with John Swanbeck, Kevin Spacey’s acting coach. He’s a private coach and I worked with him twice a year.”

The big trick in Hollywood is just getting noticed. If you have had no films, no A-level agent will work with you.

“Getting an agent is a really hard thing to do,” Joiner said.

“I had more than 40 roles in TV and film, mostly in commercials. Casting agents love the comedian actors.”

Then, as happened to all of us, the economy tanked.

“As a Christian man, a praying man, I knew God had my back,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I called God all kinds of names in the toughest times. It was like acting was so close then ripped right out of my heart.

“But I’d see a lot of people are worse off than me. This break helped me re-establish my priorities, putting family first even as I was losing my grip a bit.”

There was still the stand-up circuit and regular work. They moved back to K.C.

“By the time we got to K.C. you know, I was ready to say ‘God’s got something for me.’ I told my wife it would be alright,” Joiner said.

“Even if I didn’t handle it well at first, I repented; I knew ‘God’s got good stuff yet for me.’”

Sure enough, two months later, he got the call for “The Grace Card.”

“I talked to producer and director David Evans (profiled in the Feb. 23 issue of The Chronicle).

“He had cast this movie almost completely. I saw ‘Low-budget, Christian film’ and I said ‘No Thank You,’” Joiner recalled.

“We have all seen low-budget Christian films. They don’t want quality. Most of them have a preachy message.”

But, he said he had learned to listen to messages from his beliefs. So he read the script anyway.

And he said, “Yes, thank you.”

On such decisions do more links lead to another level of life. Soon after, he heard Academy Award-winner Lou Gossett, Jr. had come aboard in a supporting role to his own.

“Had that happened first, I would not have hesitated,” Joiner said as he laughed, knowing the chance to work with stellar talent is better than any acting coach.

He said Gossett revealed he has 60 years in the business. “And he got hooked by this film,” Joiner said.

He found the author to be Howard Klausner, who had written “Space Cowboys” for an all-star cast.

“When I read the script, I was in tears. I read it again. I was in tears,” he said.

It was off to Memphis, Tenn, where Evans lives and produces passion plays for the stage for his hometown church.

“Memphis was great,” Joiner said.

“Everyone there bought into it, as extras, as providing cars for us. Someone lent us a helicopter for overhead shots. A hospital let us have a wing for a week to shoot.”

Now the movie is out. Joiner and his wife walked the red carpet for the Hollywood premiere and they did the same in Memphis.

Reaction has been immediate.

“A guy came up to me in Hollywood,” Joiner recalled. “He said ‘You tricked me.’ This is a guy who goes to premieres and writes them up.

“He said he had low expectations when he saw ‘Christian film.’ At the end, they stood up and applauded.

“This guy told me he had tears in his eyes. He said I sucker-punched him. That’s what everyone has been saying.”

Joiner is now living a Hollywood-style life.

He has been to pre-screenings and he has been to Chicago’s opening (the hometown of a co-star).

“You may not have high expectations, but when you love what you are doing, making a film and working 10,11,12 hours a day, when you can see Louis Gossett every day on a set, working seven days a week is not so much,” Joiner said.

“I could not think of a better place to have my first lead role.”

The life links continue, life lessons and otherwise. He has his own page on the Internet Movie Database, which lists all actors and presentations nationwide and historically. He has another film in post-production.

“One thing I learned in Hollywood is how to quit acting and make it conversation. Gossett has that. And he is not afraid to improvise, so you’d better be ready.”

Oh yes, there is also a murmur of a real L.A. agent for Joiner, though for now, he is sending out his business cards.

“One of Tom Hanks’ movies, ‘That Thing You Do,’ the guy who played his father has been working ever since,” observed Joiner.

“One movie. That’s all it took. A-list agents, the way it goes, is no one wants someone whose movie is coming out. Once it is out …“

Joiner said “The Grace Card,” in its own genre, is the highest-grossing faith-based film, as it was in the pre-screenings.

“After the premiere, I found I had gotten to the other side,” Joiner said. “It continues to affect me. In Hollywood, the notice after the premiere …”

Besides his faith, he credits Michelle with keeping him grounded.

“She always knows how to keep me level-headed,” he said.

“I learned so much, and with God, I know who I really am.”

He would love to come back to the stage in Valparaiso and suggests the stand-up route might be best.

“Because I can do the show and then just talk to the audience,” Joiner said.

“I owe a big thank-you to Valparaiso.”

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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