Morristown man to star alongside Burt Reynolds
Michael Abbott Jr.
For as long as he can remember Michael Abbott Jr. has enjoyed entertaining others.
The Morristown native and West High graduate of 1996 will have his chance take his love of acting to the big screen after being cast in a starring role alongside Hollywood heavyweight Burt Reynolds in an upcoming film “Elbow Grease.”
Abbott’s journey into acting began early on when he got hooked after being a part of “The Wizard of Oz” as a fifth grader.
“I knew it was what I was born to do,” Abbott said. “When I lived in Morristown, I was heavily involved with the Theatre Guild and the Rose Center Summer Players. Through those outlets, and my involvement with drama and forensics at West High School under Suzanne Wolfe-Terry, I was able to fulfill my need to perform while preparing myself for what would later become a career in the arts.”
Abbott went on to attend the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts, which is one of the top drama conservatory programs in the country.
“Many people claim to be an actor, but few take the time to put the work into studying the ins and the outs of what it really means to be an actor and fully immerse yourself in a character. It is a constant learning process,” Abbott said.
After college, Abbott moved to New York City and was signed by an agent to work in theatre.
In 2007, he landed his first major role in a film as Cleaman Hayes in Jeff Nichols’ “Shotgun Stories,” starring Michael Shannon.
Abbott said the experience made him fall in love with film acting.
“I learn so much watching other actors work. That’s probably the most rewarding part about it for me,” Abbott said.
Abbott had a small role in this year’s highly acclaimed film, “Mud.”
“The opportunity to watch my friend, writer and director Jeff Nichols demand these unbelievable performances out of actors like Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon and Ray McKinnon … to me it’s just as much about the process of making the film as it is the end result,” Abbott said.
With his initial films being heavy dramas, Abbott was looking for a comedy role.
In July, Abbott was sent the script for “Elbow Grease” from co-producer Matt Zboyovski.
The writer and director, Jason Shirley, wrote the script for the film back in 1999 so it’s taken almost 15 years to come to fruition.
“When I read ‘Elbow Grease’ the first time I knew I had to play the role of Randy. I fell in love with the guy. He’s a former semi-pro wrestler who paints water towers in small southern towns, drinks beer, watches ladies and longs for the day he can have a re-match with the one man who defeated him in the ring,” Abbott said.
Abbott and his manager sent some tapes to the director and then went to South Carolina to audition for him and the producers in person.
“I wanted the role so bad and committed to the audition so fully that I broke my hand in the audition and didn’t realize it until two weeks later when I went to the doctor for an x-ray,” Abbott said.
After landing the part, Abbott was happy to learn he would be acting alongside Burt Reynolds, who plays his father in the film.
“I grew up a huge fan of films like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and ‘The Longest Yard’ as a kid. As an adult I was in awe of Burt’s performances in films like ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Boogie Nights.’ He is a legend in every sense of the word and I can’t tell you what an honor it is to have the opportunity to work alongside him,” Abbott said. “Sometimes I feel like I need to pinch myself when I think about the fact that Burt Reynolds is playing my father. I think people are really going to love his performance in this film. He’s proven himself over and over again as a powerhouse and this performance will be no exception.”
Abbott said “Elbow Grease,” set in the mid to late 90s, is a sincere look into the humor and craziness that is the everyday life of the Barnes family as they come to terms with each other.
In the film, Abbott’s character’s brother, Billy’s marriage is on the rocks and chaos ensues when Randy (his character) arrives and spreads it not only through the family but also to the neighbors and the entire town of Guppie, South Carolina as it prepares for its annual festival.
Abbott said he is excited about the film and was honored to be a part of it. “Elbow Grease” is set to debut in theaters in 2014.
-By Chris Phipps, Tribune Staff Writer