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UNH Alum Mike O'Malley Gets Emmy Nomination

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
August 4, 2010

Mike O’Malley sounds pretty casual—not to be confused for one minute with cavalier—when talking about his Emmy nomination for his role on the with-this-kind-of-acting-why-is-everyone-so-surprised hit “Glee.” He says something like this: you prepare and prepare and then, when you’re given the chance, you show up.

Preparing means studying your craft. The chance is getting on a show with stellar writing. And showing up—well, that’s what the UNH alum (’88) says he did with his portrayal of Burt Hummel, the widowed tire mechanic-father of a gay son trying to unveil his true self despite his fear of rejection.

O’Malley’s not trying to be falsely modest. Or glib. He’s a writer as well as an actor; he knows the importance of good writing. And that’s what “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy gives his characters—characters like Hummel, the role that earned O’Malley an Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

“As an actor, you study, you push yourself. You’re waiting for someone to give you the opportunity,” O’Malley said in a recent telephone interview from his home in California while his three young children played in the backyard. “You have to be lucky enough to get on a show that’s well written so when it finally becomes your moment, all you need to do is be in the scene.”

“It takes everybody else taking a chance on you,” the Nashua native continued. “As an actor, your risk was taken a long time ago, when you decided that this would be your course.

“The thing about being an actor is, everyone tells you how hard it is and you’re kind of flouting accepted wisdom—kind of saying, ‘I’m different.’ After a while, you find out you’re not very different. They don’t want you. They don’t want that project. If you don’t have great people in your life when that happens, people helping you while you doubt yourself, you’re in trouble.”

O’Malley’s lucky; he has great people: his wife, Lisa; his parents, who still live in Nashua. And friends, good friends, many of whom he met while he was a theater major at UNH. Friends who, after graduation when he moved to New York City, traveled down to see the off-Broadway plays he’d written. Who supported his efforts during his early years when he was working at working as an actor. Friends who did what friends do when times get a little tough.

O’Malley was UNH’s 2006 commencement speaker. In his speech, he talked about two things that he had defined in his life: failure and friendship. Comparatively now, the failure deserves scant mention—a primetime television show (a “fall on your face flat-out bomb of a show, ” as he called it in 2006) that didn’t make it. The friendships did.

They “circled the wagons.” Stood by him. Flew into town to stand by him.

“That’s one of the reasons why my UNH experience was so strong,” O’Malley said. “Because when you leave your hometown, and leave your family identity behind, and go off on your own, what comes to define experiences for you is friendship.”

Recent news articles about O’Malley’s Emmy nomination have quoted from that 2006 commencement speech. They quote the funny parts. And that makes sense: funny man, funny quotes. But what hasn’t been repeated are the parts that speak to the person of depth portrayed in Burt Hummel—the person of depth that is Mike O’Malley.

“The truth of the matter is, some people won’t be able to see me as a complex person,” O’Malley said. “They’ll only see me as the guy on Nickelodeon’s ‘Guts.’ But anyone who knows me, and is in my life, isn’t surprised at all by my portrayal of Burt.”

Here’s something else he said in that 2006 commencement speech that makes the person-of-depth point: “Be a good person, be a good person, be a good person. You know what that means.”

And it’s true. We do.

O’Malley started his television career as the host of Nickelodeon game shows. He moved on to sitcoms--“Life with Roger” (1996-97); “Yes, Dear” (2000-2006). From there he had several guest appearances on “My Name is Earl.”

He’s done movies: “Deep Impact” (1998); “Pushing Tin”(1999) with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton; “28 Days” (2000) with Sandra Bullock; “The Perfect Man” (2005) starring Heather Locklear and Hilary Duff; and “Leatherheads” (2007) with George Clooney and the same year, the Eddie Murphy film “Meet Dave.”
And he has a role in the new movie “Eat, Pray, Love,” a role written for him by Murphy, who wrote the movie’s script.
O’Malley’s play “Certainty” has just been made into a movie, and he is writing for a new John Wells (“ER” and “The West Wing”) television series, “Shameless”, airing in January.

All proving that Winston Churchill was correct: failure is never fatal.

So now there is success. It comes in part, O’Malley says, from having teachers that really cared about what they were doing. Who took an interest, and were interesting. Like English professor Tom Newkirk.

“I had no conception of writing when I took freshmen comp, I just knew it was something I had to take,” O’Malley said. “I was 17 years old, and here’s Tom Newkirk, having such a love of novels, a love of reading, and it changed my life.”

As did, he says, his theater professors: John Edwards, Gay Nardone, Carol Lucha Burns and Gil Davenport. “I’d be nowhere without them.”

The beginning of that Churchill quote is that success is never final, something O’Malley has lived firsthand. He talks about balance. Working hard is really important, he says, but if it’s all you do, you’re missing out.

His best gig—today and forever, he hopes—is being a dad.

“I’m most interested in having a relationship with my kids,” O’Malley said. “What I want most in life, for the rest of my life, is to be close to my kids.”

No acting required.

The 62nd Annual Prime Time Emmy Award show airs Sunday, Aug. 29.


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