Growing up in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Schaumburg, Michael Roark was the typical boy. He rode his bike, exploring the neighborhood and playing with his brothers. As he reached middle and high school his interest shifted to sports and girls. It wasn’t until college that Roark took his first acting class and from there his love for acting began to prosper. Although Roark majored in Finance at Illinois State University, he added a theater minor so that he could further expand his knowledge in acting. To him there was never a specific reason for why he started, but more of the feeling of being drawn to it, like it was what he was supposed to be doing.
Like every actor, Roark did his fair share of plays, improvisation shows and anything to be under the stage lights. Eventually, Roark strayed away from the theater career path and into movie and television acting. He does think that as time goes on, he will drift back to the theater stage and “finish how he started.”
But acting has not been the only career path Michael has walked down. After finishing college, Roark decided to attend law school at the University of Florida instead of going straight to L.A. because he knew Hollywood would still be there when he finished his education. Roark said in our interview, “I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and for what’s right and wrong. I liked the idea of becoming a federal prosecutor and I was on that path.” However, the financial crash of 2009 coincided with his law school graduation and blew him back to the course of acting. Roark did not stop practicing law at all, instead as his acting career thrived, he dialed back on it and is now doing remote consulting in entertainment law.
Since Roark is an individual who has pursued two very different career paths and succeeded, I asked him what advice he would give to an individual who is struggling to figure out their own future:
“I think where the industry is today, where the world is today, you almost have to have a side hustle, a second gig. It’s easy to say ‘follow your passion’ but what if it’s not evident to you, what you like to do? Just keep trying things. Follow your nose. Watch your thoughts…where does your mind wander…pay attention to THAT and find a job or hustle in that space. Your best odds of Roark’s definition of success is ever changing, as it should be. But one thing he says has always been consistent is his belief in himself. Like everyone else, life has thrown Roark his fair share of challenges, but he says “If I needed to rest and recharge, I did it. If I needed to have a conversation with the guy in the mirror, I did that.” To me it is clear, Roark is not one to back down from a challenge and is prepared to face anything that life has yet to throw at him!
Of course, becoming an actor was no different. Roark had his fair share of setbacks from uncertainty in career prospects to moving away from his family, but in the end the biggest leap he took was diving headfirst into acting. As we all know acting is a very competitive business and without commitment, it can and will be very difficult to succeed. Roark advises that if you are trying to pursue a career in acting “just focus on getting better. There are a lot of different paths and detours and uncertainties that will arise, and actors also tend to put a lot of emphasis on their social media presence. Yeah, knowing how to PR yourself and your projects is part of the game. But your first priority needs to be becoming the best actor or actress you can be. I have always kept that as my north star. Just keep getting better. It doesn’t matter how much you are seemingly ‘liked’ on social media, when the camera comes in for your close up, that is not going to help you, only you can help you.”
What is Michael doing now?
Michael plays the lead role of “Colton Donavan” in Seasons two and three of the Passionflix “Driven” Series, based on the Driven series by K. Bromberg. Season two was released July 22, 2021 with season three set to release in 2022. Michael Roark was nice enough to share his experience of filming during the pandemic and playing a character with a difficult back story.
The filming for “Driven” was quite interesting for Michael. Not only did he have to film two seasons back-to-back, but COVID-19 threw the process and normalcy for a loop like it has for everything else nowadays. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic made getting to know his cast and crew mates much more difficult than it was pre-COVID. Due to needing to follow COVID protocol and keep social distancing, the cast and crew were not able to spend as much time together as they usually would have during filming. But for the few he was around every day, like his co-star Olivia, Roark says it brought them closer together. The making of a movie/television show is a challenging and thrilling adventure in itself, throwing in the difficulties of the pandemic, they were forced to lean on each other more to get it right, especially after being on a yearlong lockdown. Roark did say the worst part of filming during the pandemic was not being to see anyone’s face: “Sometimes at lunch I would look around and see a crew member eating, someone who I had been working with for three weeks and I would say ‘Hey! That’s what you look like’”. He attests to only being able to count on one hand how many times he had seen the director’s face!
“Colton Donavan” is a hot shot race car driver that ends up falling for a Rylee, played by Olivia Applegate. Roark’s character is struggling with a past of sexual abuse and a history of suppressed feelings with no healthy outlet. For Roark to play this difficult character, he said he had to go to a dark place within himself for “Colton Donovan” to play through him. I asked Michael how he felt playing a character that sheds light on the difficult subject of males facing sexual abuse and the social norm that men and boys are to suppress their feelings and how it could affect boys in their future. This was his heartfelt response:
“I love acting. I love what I do. What makes it even better is when I can dive into difficult subject matter and the story. My performance can help other heal, learn and grow. The highest compliment I can receive is from fans who were touched by the story, especially when they or someone close to them endured abuse. The idea that men need to be ‘men’ and should always suppress their feelings and never be vulnerable is silly and damaging to the journey in life. When a man does this, he is not helping himself and he certainly is not helping those he loves. If I can be part of the narrative that changes this and allows men to feel more free to express their feelings than I will carry that flag.” ~ Michael Roark