Acting in Appalachia: There’s a Place I Belong

Article by Miranda Woody

“I hate it when the phone rings after eleven. It’s usually bad news. But I answered it and it was my daughter. She said, ‘he’s Humperdinck!’ I’d never seen The Princess Bride. I had no idea what she was talking about.” Michael Martin, on meeting Chris Sarandon.

Michael smiles as he tells me this story, chuckling and taking sips of coffee between segments. His precisely styled silver hair and clear speaking voice are indicative of his professionalism, and he has the resume to back it up. Throughout his larger-than-life career as an actor he has worked with Jodi Foster in Silence of the Lambs, George C. Scott in Coal Miner’s Granddaughter, Chris Cooper in Matewan, and many more. Michael Martin is a SAG-AFTRA actor, known by his stage name “Michael Meredith”, and his life has been one wild ride after another.

Michael Meredith Martin was born and raised in the small town of Mount Hope, West Virginia. He would go on to be the mayor of Mount Hope later in life, but before all that Michael would tour the California coast during the hippie age, hang out at the infamous 1969 Woodstock festival, live in both D.C. and New York City (making his living entirely as a working actor), develop his own Mark Twain inspired one-man show (and tour across the country with it, no less), go to the Academy Awards in Los Angeles with his grandson, and so on. Michael is a kind, humble man, but his quick wit comes as no surprise. He tells me, in all seriousness, when I ask about his time in California: “As much as I went to the West Coast to pursue a career in film and on stage, I went to figure out what the devil was going on over there in the sixties.” Michael, on living in CA in the 1960s

Michael Martin and his daughter Rebecca, with Chris Sarandon

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Michael Martin on the set of a commercial for The West Virginia Lottery

Michael Martin working on stage with Theatre West VirginiaI asked Michael how exactly he became an actor, being an ordinary boy from Mount Hope, and that sparked an interesting story in and of itself. After attending Concord College (now Concord University) for one year and dabbling in their theatre and stage productions, Michael decided to leave West Virginia for good: “I left WV at a dead run and swore I would never look back. WV wasn’t big enough to hold me.” Michael smiles, remembering his youth fondly, and goes on, “When I got to Haight-Ashbury (a neighborhood in San Francisco), I was traveling with a friend. Well, he was an escaped convict, actually. We were hitchhiking. I still don’t know his real name, but I called him ‘Opie’. Who knows what his real name was. Anyway, we got there (to California) and we didn’t have a place to stay. We tossed our sleeping bags on some cardboard under a bridge in San Francisco, and we went to sleep. Opie got up earlier than I did the next morning, he wanted a drink. In San Francisco you could get a drink any time of the day or night, it didn’t matter. So he went to a bar and he ran into a fellow who said, ‘The theatre company I work for is in some real trouble. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Shows start tomorrow and we just lost our male lead’. Opie, knowing I had some experience in the theatre, told the guy, ‘Oh brother, are you in luck,’ and he got me a job. Just like that. Basically, I got my first professional acting job while I was sleeping on some cardboard under a bridge in San Francisco. That’s a fact.”

The adventure didn’t stop there. Michael would go on to experience Woodstock in 1969, and (almost) book a gig with Arena Stage in D.C. a matter of years later. Alas, Michael did not complete his job with Arena Stage; instead, he chased a woman whom he’d fallen in love with up to Buffalo, New York, and stayed there awhile. Somehow, though, Michael found himself back in California, then in Cumberland, Maryland, and then back in… West Virginia? Michael tells me: “I came home to Mount Hope for a visit with my parents. At that point I had two daughters, and was in the midst of a divorce from my first wife. I called my folks first to be sure it was okay to come around; I wasn’t even sure I was welcome in their house. I was told, of course, that it was my home. So I went. When I got there, I saw the grass needed mowing. Naturally, I mowed the grass for them. And as I did that, it felt more and more like home. So, I’m still here. I’ve not left yet.” Michael laughs a little as he tells me the last bit, and reiterates something he’d said earlier in our interview: “Like I said, I left West Virginia at a dead run. I had no intention of looking back. But, there’s a place on this earth that I belong, and it’s right here.

michael martin article 4Michael would remarry during his time in West Virginia, and he is still married and living in Mount Hope (the town in which he served as mayor for many years before retiring from that position) with his wife, Nancy, to this day. Michael continues to act (he most recently shot a film this March in Athens, Ohio, with a female Iranian director), and he is now a proud grandfather to three grandchildren (one of whom has starred in some films with him, including the Student Academy Award-winning film that sent him to Los Angeles, Down in Number Five). Michael plans to return to the stage this summer with Theatre West Virginia, starring in their annual production of Hatfields and McCoys.

As Michael and I finish up our interview and wrap up our discussion of his latest project in film, he tells me something quite charming: “You know, the best work I’ve done in film has been directed by a woman. Female directors often produce the best work. The best work I’ve done. Now, I’ve worked with some damn good male directors… Somehow, I respond better to female direction.” Michael Meredith Martin, or Michael Meredith as he is known in the acting world, is a wise man indeed.
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Miranda Woody
Miranda Woody

Miranda Woody is a Concord University student originally from Beckley, West Virginia. She is pursuing a degree in English. She spent the summer of 2016 living in Brooklyn, New York, and has visited seven countries in her lifetime. She is twenty-one years old, and plans to graduate from Concord in December, 2017. She enjoys writing poetry, rock climbing, and traveling. Check out her other work on goodmorningmiranda.com.
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