A strange fire burns inside Michael Cyril Creighton. Not the heartburn or acid reflux kind; this fire is born out of determination and talent. The 31-year-old currently writes and stars in the award-winning web sitcom, Jack In A Box, about a disgruntled aspiring actor who regularly seeks comfort from a cupcake and cigarette and most recently quit his thankless job at a theatre box office. While Jack can’t catch a break, Michael stars in critically acclaimed off-Broadway shows and has played everything from a stoic policeman in Buddy Cop 2 to a Bible-thumping grandmother in MilkMilkLemonade (he was nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award for his performance as Nanna). While Michael is content with his career, there is a lot more that he wishes to accomplish… and he’s not grabbing the fire extinguisher anytime soon.
When did you know that you wanted to become an actor?
Pretty early on. Probably in high school, because I realized that I wasn’t good at any sports and I didn’t really know where I was going to belong or how I was going to meet friends or whatever. I was very nervous about it and really insecure, but it ended up being the right place to be.
Do you still feel any of those insecurities, or do you now feel embraced by the acting community here in New York?
I think you’ll always feel insecurities if you have them inside of you deep, deep down. That said, I’ve come to terms with my insecurities and tried to use them to my advantage.
Tell us about the early stages of your careers and how you eventually started producing, writing, and acting in your own show, “Jack In A Box.”
I was first a writer for VH1, where everything was very quick: that was on-the-fly, right in the moment, trying to write jokes about TV shows that were on that night. And I’ve done a lot of writing previously as far as solo performing and comedy and storytelling stuff. Jack In A Box is the first time that I’m writing for other people (guest stars include Queer As Folk’s Randy Harrison and Addams Family: The Musical‘s Jackie Hoffman), which I find really exciting and super satisfying. I was scared of it because I know how to write for myself, and I wanted to see if I could write for other people’s voices. I think it’s working out okay! [laughs]
It is! Congratulations on just winning Best Web Series at the 2010 New York Television Festival. People often see an actor and his character as one and the same. How are you and Jack alike?
Well, Jack has the balls to quit his job. I wish I did. You can put that in the interview, I don’t care. [laughs] No, I do like my job a lot. I think the difference is that Jack is certainly not optimistic. However, I like embracing the sadness and the dark side of my real self. Jack definitely is an extension of me, but a fictional one… if that makes sense.
Even if they have never worked in a box office, why do you think people identify with Jack?
That’s one of the things that I was pretty clear on from the beginning. I wanted it to be something that was a very specific situation that also had a very universal feel, and I think being stuck in a job that you don’t like is a very universal thing. It could be theatre, it could be banking, or it could even be law.
Jack tends to make fun of his BFA degree a lot. Do you feel like acting is something that can really be taught or is it kind of an inherent talent?
I have a BFA. I wish I knew more about other things. I wouldn’t trade the BFA for anything because it definitely gave me the confidence that I needed and some skills that I needed to perform the way I perform and know how to do the work I want to do. For me, getting a BFA was basically a big confidence builder.
Because of your teachers?
I had great teachers.
Is that where you really started learning more?
I think all people inherently have a certain strange fire inside of them, but college made me want to push my boundaries and pursue my acting career as opposed to making me want to stop and become an accountant.
How would you describe yourself as an actor?
I watched this interview recently with Madeline Kahn, who is known for being one of the funniest people in movie history. She said that she always tried to find the darkness underneath comedy, and that’s very inspiring to me. I try to do that. I don’t ever try to find a joke. I try to find the real situation behind what’s happening.
You’re not necessarily trying to make people laugh?
I don’t like easy laughs… I keep coming back to sadness underneath things, but sadness is funny! The desperation behind some of the things Jack does is funny to me. The fact that he has a terrible, shitty audition, says it’s a terrible script, and then says, “God, I hope I get it!” is so sad and so funny to me because that’s exactly how I think.
Would you mind sharing some of you future goals?
I am doing another production of MilkMilkLemonade at the Astoria Performing Arts Center. I also have to write season three of Jack In A Box and shoot that. And I just want to work with people I like working with! I’m happy right now. I would love to see bigger things for Jack. I would love to see bigger things for Michael as well. [laughs]
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Watch my web series. Spread it around if you respond to it, and if you don’t respond to it, spread it around too. [laughs] I don’t mind hateful comments. Follow my website, jackinaboxsite.com, and find me on Facebook if you like what I do.
Update: Michael has been nominated for a 2012 Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Achievement in Writing Original New Media. Winners are announced February 19th, 2012. Check out the Variety article here.