Michael Trucco in real life, and as “sexy Ned Flanders” in Midnight Mass. Photos: PR / Netflix
As moustachioed, slubby dad Wade Scarborough, Michael Trucco stepped way out of his comfort zone for Netflix’s latest horror sensation Midnight Mass. His square-jawed, leading man looks hidden under intense prosthetics, he earned himself the nickname ‘Sexy Flanders’ after Homer Simpson’s hi-diddly-ho-ing neighborino.
“My first instinct and my insecurity was: I gotta change that. I’m so grateful they gave me this this part, but this is just not me,” Trucco says, on video call from his Los Angeles home. “I mean, my God, I couldn’t be farther from this. But I did the right and proper thing and I decided to alter and adapt myself to fit the story.”
And what a weird story it is. Coming from the twisted imagination of Mike Flanagan – who has previously given us The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor – Midnight Mass brings miracles, madness and copious blood-letting to the Catholic faithful of the (imagined) small fishing community of Crockett Island.
Despite having been released on the same day as uber-hit Squid Games, Midnight Mass achieved the increasingly difficult task of cutting through in our crowded media landscape – becoming at least the second most talked-about show in the world.
Ahead of the release of his next film, thriller Disappearance at Lake Elrod, Trucco joined The Big Issue to discuss religion, politics and the tricky question of whether is harder to make audiences afraid or amused.
The Big Issue: Disappearance at Lake Elrod is a debut feature for director Lauren Fash. What was she was like to work with?
Michael Trucco: This did not feel like her freshman effort at all. She’s extremely comfortable behind the camera. She’s really comfortable with her with her cast and crew. And that’s the sign of a good leader. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next. Because if this is her directorial debut, we’re in for some good things from Lauren.
That would be good to see. There are still too few women directing films…
I’ve been doing this for 20 plus years. Women are integral in every facet of filmmaking. But when it comes to right there at the pinnacle, at the directorial level, it is still just dominated by men, largely white men. Why are we not lending a voice to the female directors? It’s sad that in 2021, we’re still having this conversation. Lauren has every business and every right to be standing behind that camera as just as much as anybody else I’ve ever worked for.
Midnight Mass has been a huge hit since it came out last month. How has that rollercoaster been for you?
Yeah, Midnight Squid Games Mass. That’s the one thing… Our producers were half joking… like, ‘Damn it, Netflix! Really? Did have to put Squid Game and us on the exact same day?’
This is a really fascinating time in media and entertainment. In the last five years, the channels, the explosion of entertainment, and avenues for new content to appear, are endless. That’s created a whole bunch of noise. So for anything to rise above the din, to capture the attention, to be talked about, is such a gift.
We had to go on a four-month hiatus during the shutdown due to the global pandemic, come back in July, start back up in August. We were one of the first productions to go through all the PPE protocols and all the Covid protocols. To be able to push through all that and deliver the product that ultimately came out on screen is such a relief. It feels so good.
Right at the start of the series, you’re introduced to this unique, isolated, island community. How did you get yourself into that mindset? It’s a million miles away from you in LA…
That community was super important for me to represent and to get right. That was the scaffolding of the character. It’s based on a real island that’s off the coast of Virginia called Tangier. There is a fishing community there. There’s book called Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island.
I read that book, cover to cover. I just absorbed it. And I went a deep dive into YouTube videos and interviews with people from that island. So I can understand the mentality, because this character and these people are very specific. The way Mike and his writing team wrote them is very specific.
I’m really proud of what we collectively made. There are people who actually think there’s a Crockett Island. It was shot outside of Vancouver. The majority that took place on this ranch that they hired and built these elaborate gorgeous sets. I mean we built an island!
I’ve never played a character like this, ever. And if it wasn’t for my relationships with Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy, I don’t know that I would have ever even got an opportunity to play a part like this.
You went through quite a physical transformation to be Wade [as seen in the timelapse above]. I hear that it earned you a nickname on set…
Ned Flanders! Or as Kate Siegel [Midnight Mass’s Erin Green] puts it, Sexy Flanders.
How did your wife [fellow actor Sandra Hess] feel about the look?
It wasn’t her favourite look, let’s just say that. I didn’t see my wife for five months. I was in Vancouver and because of the pandemic, we were not allowed to travel back and forth. Our only lifeline was FaceTime. I’d call from the set when I had a break and go, ‘Hey, baby, it’s me’. She’d go, ‘Oh, Jesus. Oh, honey, I can’t talk to you like that. Can you take the moustache off? Or the glasses?’ It’s not a wardrobe that I’m bringing home for sexy time.
Like director Mike Flanagan, you went to Catholic school. Did that help you understand Midnight Mass?
All of the detail in Midnight Mass that Mike put in – all of the ritual, the consecration of the bread, the wine, the opening the Bible, the crossing your of your forehead, your lips, your heart – all of that came rushing back. It was visceral. We had an actual Catholic priest as an advisor on set. And it would be really awkward because we’d all be in the in the church and we’d be going, has he read all the scripts? Like does he know where this show goes? Man, this is a pretty intense look into Catholicism.
As well as horror, you’re well known for comedy roles on the likes of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Which is hardest to pull off? Is it harder to make people laugh or scare them?
It’s much more terrifying to do comedy. You feel like you’re fighting for your job every week on every episode of a sitcom. I find the process really stressful. When I look back on my experience, I had fun on How I Met Your Mother. Big Bang Theory – what a blast. Disjointed was incredible. I really like doing comedy, I don’t want to paint the wrong picture, but it scares the hell out of me.
As a viewer, what do you think is the key to a really good scare?
Call me simple, but a jumpscare. I love a great sting: loud music, loud noise and in the moment you don’t expect it. That’s the dopamine that I seek out when I’m seeing a horror show.
How do you feel about the reported reboot of Battlestar Galactica? [Trucco played Samuel T. Anders in the acclaimed 2000s sci-fi series.]
It’s bittersweet for me. Just leave it alone, I think. Let it rest in peace, where Ron [showrunner Ronald D. Moore] left it. I would have preferred that they brought us all back into some form. I have this fantasy idea that I’ve bounced off of Mary McDonnell [President Laura Roslin in the series] a few times – let’s do a six episode limited series. I mean, could you imagine the stir at comic con?
Ron really created this beautiful universe in the show. And now it’s just sort of being bandied about as a hot property, a catchy title. It feels a little disingenuous to me. And you know, I’d be lying if I if I said that it didn’t bother me.
You’ve a great picture on your Instagram of you wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Give a Damn’. What do you wish more people would give a damn about?
Not to sound too utopian, but: each other. I just wish people would give a damn a little bit more about each other, and about communication. Because I think there’s a huge breakdown in communication. We’ve lost the human touch. It’s easy to hide behind the keyboard of this device that I’m speaking to you with, and say, and write and do whatever I want. The kind of vitriol that I see that comes across this medium – nobody would ever say that face to face to one another.
It’s okay to have differences of opinion. But we are getting pushed to a breaking point. And particularly my country: we’re in this sort of cold civil war, for ideological reasons. This tribalism is terrifying to me. But I choose to see the glass half full, and I choose to be an optimist, and I choose to believe that we can care. We can give a damn about each other.
Disappearance At Lake Elrod is available to download or stream from AppleTV, Sky Store, Virgin Media, Amazon and Google Play now, and available on DVD.