From the streets to ‘The Wire’
by J Blair Brown
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Michael Giovanni of Harrisburg, PA, was working at a shoe store in the mall when two guys walked in. Giovanni noticed a small crowd gawking and pointing, but was un-phased by the onlookers. This was his job, where he took care of customers’ shoe fittings, rang up their orders, and went home to his family. So he did what he does best: he focused on the men before him, striking up conversation and even sharing a laugh or two.
Later, one of the guys asked Giovanni if he knew the man he was taking care of. “Yeah, sure,” Giovanni answered back. (He lied.) It was then that he realized he was speaking with someone ‘special,’ some guy named Michael Kenneth Williams from a TV show called The Wire.
“Seriously, I didn’t even know what The Wire was,” says Giovanni, “because when you live the life that I was living at that time, there is no room for TV.”
But clearly Williams was impressed by the man’s demeanor. He suggested that Giovanni audition for the series (which was filming in Baltimore), but Giovanni, thinking that “the life” was all he would amount to, needed more convincing. As the men left the store, Williams’ suggestion went out with him.
Fast forward several weeks later. Williams is back in the store and asks Giovanni if he was able to make the audition. This time something resonates and before long Giovanni would find himself on the set of one of TV’s most prominent series. Soon after he enrolled in legendary acting coach Mel Williams’ TFANG Acting School where his skills flourished, opening his mind to other possibilities.
“Those experiences allowed me to see another side to life,” he says. “I didn’t know a guy like me could pursue such goals… I didn’t know those goals were realistic. That’s when I decided to pursue acting as a profession.”
Giovanni followed up with feature appearances on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Dark Knight Rises before developing the web series Hamilton Street, Harrisburg’s first web series. The purpose of the series was two-fold: to help other hard-working actors in the Harrisburg (and surrounding areas) become union eligible; and, more importantly, to bring the reality of the street life to communities across the globe thereby starting a much-needed discussion on drugs and violence.
“In my years as community volunteer, I’ve seen the devastating effects of homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and all sorts of elements that destroy our communities. We wanted to tell those stories – the real way and not the Hollywood Pretty Woman way, and that’s what we accomplished with Hamilton Street.”
But that’s only half the story: In addition to working alongside series writer and co-director Nathan Gadsden in developing Hamilton Street, Giovanni also set another precedent by becoming the first Latino in the capital city to become a member of SAG-AFTRA. It is a badge that he carries with honor. “Not for me,” he says of the notoriety, “but for those who come after me. I would just like others of my culture – people who look and speak like me – to know that it can be done.”
Now in post-production on his latest project, a short film called Care, Giovanni will tackle the issue of bullying, a subject he’s more than familiar with. “I’ve experienced bullying in my younger years. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to go through, but you can’t just sweep these things under the rug or bury your head in the sand as if they’ll just go away. And if you’re not part of the solution you could very well be part of the problem. So it’s important to use one’s abilities to give back. I’m excited to be a part of something meaningful, something bigger than just me… and maybe I can help someone else in the process.
“I owe this all to one man: Michael Kenneth Williams, a man who walked into a shoe store and saw something in me… something that I didn’t see in myself. It gave me the drive and the courage to move forward in my life. It opened up possibilities that I never imagined. And even though it was just one small act it opened the way for me to go after my dreams… and opportunities for so many others.”
Michael Giovanni serves as a leader of volunteerism in his community where he spends time each week counseling men deemed less fortunate.Tags: Actor, Entertainment industry, Hamilton Street (web series), Harrisburg PA, Hollywood, J Blair Brown, Mel Williams TFANG Acting School, Michael Giovanni, Michael Kenneth Williams, Television, The Wire