GVN Talking Comics Interview: Actor Michael Nathanson for his upcoming Lionsgate Sound Podcast: ‘Playing Dead’

Michael Nathanson

When talking to actor Michael Nathanson, you realize one thing really quickly. He is geek just like us. His enthusiasm for film and television comes through with very little effort on his part. Perhaps it is what makes him so easy to talk to. Of course, the fact that he was a part of the popular Netflix Marvel’s The Punisher series made it easy for fans of the MCU to gravitate to him. But it also made it sad for them when his character Agent Sam Stein met his demise in the series.

Making Death Work for You

However, in the classic example of “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” Michael decided to put his character’s death to work for him. Coming up with the premise of a new Podcast that examines the iconic and memorable deaths in television and film. He would bring in the performers and behind the scenes talent that brought these memorable deaths…to life (so to speak) to discuss their roles and how they “killed it.” Thus, Playing Dead was born.


Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael, who was in New York filming a television show. We discussed his work on The Punisher, how his new Podcast came to fruition, and what fans can expect when it debuts on November 29th. So, let’s welcome Michael Nathanson to GVN Talking Comics Interview.

The Acting Bug

GVN: Thank you so much for sharing some of your time, Michael.  So, before we get into all things Dead…or “Playing Dead,” and since this is our first opportunity to talk to you, I want to start first with a bit of your background. When did you first consider getting into acting and who were your inspirations that made young Michael Nathanson think, “Hell, I can do this!?”

MN: Oh My Gosh! I’d say the acting bug hit me pretty early when I was a kid. I was always performing for my family and my friends. I was always getting thrown out of class for making jokes and being extremely disruptive. And I thought, “Maybe I can get paid for that someday.” I did a bunch of high school theater and then went to college to do other stuff, but then found it (the theater) again in college very early on. I then decided that it was where I was meant to be.

80’s and 90’s Geek Era of Film

But I was always a lifelong fan of the cinema. Even when I was a super, super young kid. I think the first movie I ever saw in the theater was “Return of the Jedi.” I think I saw it around 17 times the year it came out. I think Star Wars and that whole 80’s and 90’s Geek era of film and TV had an indelible impact on me and all of my work. But being in the world of Marvel and in the world of the comic-cons and that place that I tend to drift in and out of feels like that’s something totally connected to my childhood and all the things I loved back then.

The Punisher

GVN: I had mentioned The Punisher and needless to say, the show was a huge favorite of the Geek Vibe fandom, especially our head writer Tia who loves Jon Bernthal and was crushed when the show was cancelled. You played Agent Sam Stein on the first season of the show. So, how did that role come about, were you at all familiar with the comic book version of the Punisher going in?

MN: Yeah, everyone loves Jon Bernthal (laughs). I definitely had read some of the comics growing up and being a Marvel fan and kind of a geek, I knew the Punisher and all that stuff. At the time, all the Marvel shows were under strict NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) and had code names. So, no one would know what was being made. I think ours was called “crime.” That was the sort of pseudonym we were working under. But when I got the audition, I wasn’t supposed to know it was The Punisher. But the casting director was saying, “You kind of know what this is, right?” “Yeah, I get it.”

Auditioning for Micro-Sam

Initially, they give you a set of dummy sides. Which are written in the “style” of the scene they want you to play, but it is not part of the actual script. Since they don’t want any part of the actual script out there and being leaked. The first character I went in for was actually Micro. I recognized it because of the dynamic between the two characters and what they were talking about. I was like, “This is an audition for Micro.” And they’re going, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”

Getting the Part – Now Keep it to Yourself

I think initially, they were looking for a certain kind of Micro and I think I was the kind they were looking for. But then, they adjusted the idea of the character a little bit (Micro, of course was a character from the comics) and came up with this new character Sam Stein. So, I said, “Wait, there’s ANOTHER geeky, Jewish guy your introducing?” So, I did the audition for Micro but didn’t hear anything until the Casting Director called and said they had decided to go a different direction with that character. But there happens to be another character, so I was given ANOTHER set of dummy sides, learned it, came in and got hired. But I couldn’t tell anyone for two months.

Death is Near

GVN: So, it’s 2017 and you just got a reoccurring character on NetFlix’s Marvel’s The Punisher, life was good and then you find out your character Sam Stein is getting killed off. So how do you internally deal with that? You’re thinking, “I just got this great job…but now I don’t.”

MN: Yeah, I actually knew I was going to die before I even got the job. So, it wasn’t something that came as a surprise. It was something I was bummed out about, since they contract you for a certain number of episodes. So, you could see by the number episodes you had…and the fact that the show is called The Punisher, that there would be very few survivors by the end of season one. I think there were three actors at the end of Season One that survived.

What I tried to do was not think about it. Act as if I didn’t know. Although it was funny, I did NOT tell my on-screen partner about it (Amber Rose Revah). I did this on purpose because I didn’t want HER to think about it and anticipate my death. I wanted it to come as a shock to her and the audience. Yeah, the death thing is just a very strange thing, when you know you’re going to die. I think it forced me to enjoy every single second that I was there. Soak it up and live out that little boy fantasy of being part of it.

Playing Dead

GVN: So, this is all leading up to your new podcast, Playing Dead. Did you come up with the concept (which is a great idea, by the way) and how did you piece it together for what you wanted to do?

MN: Yeah, I did. One of the things I was thinking about as my time on The Punisher was approaching was how can I stay in the MCU. What’s a way I can continue my journey in this and be involved in the Comic-Con and Geek world that I love so much. So, the idea just kind of popped into my head when I was on set. I then talked to Amber who played Dinah Madani and told her about it, and she said, “That’s a really good idea. You should think about that.”

Originally, I was going to do something with Marvel, and then I kind of changed the IP on it and was going to pitch it as a TV show. But I couldn’t quite figure out the best way to do it. Then I decided that a Podcast was really the best way to do it, I ended up pitching it to LionsGate and they were very excited and supportive about the idea, so we partnered up, and Playing Dead was born.

Choosing Which Deaths

GVN: So, going in, how did you decide which “deaths” you wanted to look at for the premier episode and as you put this together?

MN: I was sort of like a kid in a candy store in the beginning of this whole process. I was looking at the pantheon of great deaths in movies and television, but I decided to focus on movies. Let’s put television aside. Perhaps that’s for season 2. But I needed to start whittling down the scope of it. Because you could go back to the beginning of film. I then decided that this was inspired by my own love of geekdom and my experience in a Marvel show. Since I died in a Marvel show, that I might as well interview OTHER people who died in similar sci-fi, superhero stuff.

GVN: In your initial discussions with the actors about their roles and characters, have you learned anything that has surprised you about what went into a certain scene or perhaps, how many times it was shot to bring it to fruition?

MN: Definitely. I got to talk to some really cool people who were working behind the scenes or in front of the camera. On many movies that you probably love, and there were some stories that totally took me by surprise. Little anecdotes and there were quite a few things that I had no idea of what went on. The dynamics behind the scenes and the creators. There were some great stories about Jim Henson, George Lucas from the people who knew them really well. Lots of little tidbits.

Hopes for the Show

GVN: That, my friends, is called a “teaser.” At this point, how long do you hope “Playing Dead” will go? Are you in it for the long haul or is this just a limited series until you see what the response is?

MN: If it’s successful, I would love to do it for as long as I can. I’m someone who loves conversation, to tell stories, and I love to hear stories. I’m a fan. At heart, this is kind of like my own personal Comic-Con line. But instead of going to a comic con, waiting in line to get an autograph, I get to hang out these people for a couple of hours, having these intimate, awesome conversations. So many of them are icons of my childhood and there are hundreds of others I would love to talk to. If I can get through all the people I would love to talk to, it should take me about 10 years.

Well, we are looking forward to listening to Playing Dead and I really appreciate your time today, Michael. So, before I set you free, when can fans find the first installment of Playing Dead and do you have any other things in the hopper to promote it?

MN: The first episode releases November 29th, and it can be found on ALL the Podcasts platforms. From there, it will release every week and we’ll see how it goes. As for promotions, we’re doing a big launch event for the Podcast at the LA Comic Con on December 4th. We’ll be doing a big live show on the main stage at 12:00 pm and I do believe that William Shatner is going to be appearing right before me. So, it will be the first time I can say that William Shatner opened for me. Actually, I would love to have him on at some point to talk about Kirk. But that’s another White Whale.

The LA Comic Con appearance will be a live interview with a very special mystery guest, that I am very excited about. He was definitely on my “hit list” of people I wanted to talk to. It will be recorded and released as a special bonus episode. If you go to the LA Comic-Con website, information on my show should be up there soon. Maybe even announcing who my special guest is. Until then, I can’t say.

GVN: Excellent. I almost forgot, where can fans follow you on social media?

MN: You can follow me at Michael_Nathanson on Instagram, Twitter, wherever you want to find me. I’m all over that and I usually try to answer as many DM’s as I possibly can. It’s fun to reach out and talk to other fans like me. Because at the end of the day, that is what I am, I am a fan. You’re a fan and you’re doing this show, I’m a fan and I am doing my show. Sure, I’ve been in stuff too, but this world is in my blood, so I can’t wait to start this journey with the Podcast.

Be sure to check out Michael’s new PodCast Playing Dead from Lionsgate Sound on November 29th.  Look for it where all great Podcasts are found. Like Below:

See also
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This is an edited version of our conversation. You can check out the full interview for you audiophiles here, or the video version here.


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