Michelle Renee Arthur began life in Indianapolis, Indiana, with English, Irish, Scottish, German and Cherokee ancestry. Inspired by her uncle, a former Columnist for the LOS ANGELES TIMES, she earned a BA from Indiana University's School of Journalism with Business/Fashion minors. The day after graduation she moved to Manhattan where she pursued a magazine career initially. Those publishing years in editorial, advertising, and modeling brought her in close contact with the Hollywood industry and took her to California. There she studied at UCLA, Actors Edge Studios, Artist Theatre Group, and Studio 4.
Making appearances in TV shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and films such as Path to War, Michelle's interest in acting grew with her first move to LA. That ignited in 2014 when she returned to the City of Angels, after more magazine projects in NYC, and advanced from Background Artist to speaking Actress working side by side with some of the most legendary filmmakers of our time.
Michelle enjoys behind the scenes or being in front of the camera. With a passion for storytelling and filmmaking, she has produced, directed, written, and acted in multiple award-winning films.
Please tell us about yourself. How did you start your career, and how did you get into the world of cinema? What did you work on before making The Wisteria Manor?
I had hints of Hollywood playing a bigger part of my life when I was a child. I remember seeing my second cousin Todd on TV at my paternal grandmother's house in Southern Indiana. Todd was the stage name of her nephew, Frank Miller Jr, who was a Tap Dancer/Actor. He performed in the Oscar-nominated Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, Fred Astaire's Silk Stockings, Doris Day's The West Point Story, and a list of other classic films. I was mesmerized by his footsteps and they were one of several eventually leading me to California. With a 4-year journalism degree from Indiana University in hand, however, I started with a media career in New York City. In those jobs I was surrounded by the entertainment business, especially when I moved to Los Angeles.
One day I had to step through a set for a national commercial in order to get to a magazine advertising meeting. I literally bumped into a man who was going to a shoot for the TV series Family Law the next day. Although he was a Background Artist, he invited me to attend. I wasn’t on the Assistant Director’s list when I arrived but, fortunately, he let me stay, put me through the Wardrobe department, and in the show! I’ll always remember how he watched me from afar, and when we wrapped he said, “I think you’re going to like this kind of work.” He was so right.
There were hints throughout the years that Hollywood was calling — synchronicities that kept lining up to those shining lights. Not only were there celebrity-driven overlaps in my first career, but prior to that with famous actors who had left their mark in my home state. For example, my former high school boyfriend is a cousin of the late Actor James Dean. We attended Junior Prom together in Indiana where Dean was a native.
Another example is with Marilyn Monroe. The name of one of Marilyn's ex-husbands is my last name and late paternal grandmother's maiden name -- Cordia Miller Arthur as in Arthur Miller. Both of our maternal grandfathers were born in Indiana and worked for a railroad. Mine worked for the B&O Railroad while Marilyn's grandfather, Otis Monroe, was also a painter from Indianapolis and worked for the Pacific Electric Railway Co. In the premiere for the TV show Feud: Bette and Joan with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, for which a commercial aired at Super Bowl LI in 2017, I was featured as a Golden Globe Awards Actress who, while everyone else is seated, strolls past “Marilyn Monroe,” portrayed by Alisha Soper, as the iconic figure goes to the stage to accept her trophy in 1960. More coincidences are listed in the “Trivia” section of my IMDb page -- http://www.imdb.me/michellerarthur
As a Producer, Writer, Director, Actress today, I see how all of the pieces of my life puzzle have come together to bring me to this point. They have shaped what I present in other TV shows or films or with the ones I am creating with my own casts and crews.
Acting, screenwriting or producing classes I took along the way, combined with acting in other people’s productions, gave me enough confidence and experience to try my hand at making my own films. Before The Wisteria Manor I built the short film Fate’s Shadow. That folded into the feature Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story. While the FS feature was in post-production, I made an animated short entitled V & F. All four of those films have won numerous awards around the globe. I am very grateful they have been recognized and thankful to those who joined me in these endeavors.
As an artist, who or what are your influences? In other words, what made you fall in love with cinema and with telling stories?
Touching on the work of those in showbiz, life coincidences all played a part in nudging me onto this path. Two men in particular though influenced me directly.
The Actor Daniel Craig was on social media for a short time. Whether that was the real him or an imposter, I’ll never know. Regardless, he would provide encouraging comments when I discussed the biz. That inspired me to go to a Broadway play of his. Seeing his performance in person impacted me greatly. I wanted to jump on stage and be his acting partner!
Another strong influencer was James Franco. As a former student of his acting school, Studio 4, he wishes me the best. He did not participate in the making of my films in any way, but he has watched their progress. Franco brilliantly directed or produced other films I've been on, such as The Disaster Artist, Tenn, Dark Hours: Roxana and Dark Hours: Typee and more.
What is your vision as an artist? What types of stories do you endeavor to tell through films?
The films I’ve created are loosely based on true stories other than The Wisteria Manor which came from Jay Scott Nixon. All five of the films I’m presenting, either in the festival circuit currently or in the production process, share meaningful messages. Hopefully the audience relates to them. I hope the words or actions they hear and see will empower them in their own lives…Or at least entertain them for a few hours! As a filmmaker you hope your work makes an impact on the viewers in a significant way. That is the great thing about film. It can make a difference with hundreds or millions of people. Once released the art lives longer than we do.
I understand that The Wisteria Manor is adapted from a novel. What made you want to adapt the story and make this film? Please tell us about the process and the decision behind it.
Jay Scott Nixon conceived this story from a dream he had about 6 years ago. When he approached me, asking to convert his first novel into a film, I jumped at the opportunity. Since Mystery Thrillers are on the rise, I hadn’t made one of those types yet, and the story is so intriguing, I could not resist. Our film carries a good vs. evil theme played out with part visual artistry and part cinematography. During production we were still in a global pandemic, and I was recovery from a surgery which prevented in-person shoots with a large cast and crew. Going with a mix of artwork and footage enabled us to create the film sooner than later due to logistics and budget. See more about The Wisteria Manor with the following link --
You play the protagonist (Mary) in The Wisteria Manor. I am sure people would want to know more about the production and your process of working both behind and in front of the camera.
Scott approached me in September 2021 when I had Rings of the Unpromised in the cue waiting for film shoots and a surgery planned for October 2021. In addition, two other films were in the festival circuit. So, I was already juggling multiple projects but knew I was facing some downtime after the surgery. At first, I was very hesitant as I didn’t want to keep the cast & crew of Rings waiting any longer. Then the idea occurred to me to tap into the Hollywood background and artistic talents of our Film Editor/Visual Artist Jeff Vernon. He’s one of those gifted types who can take a blank canvas and sketch a lion to look exactly like a lion. A fellow filmmaking friend, he’s illustrated over 35 children’s books and we made the animated short V & F come to life. With the use of Jeff’s artwork, we could tell Scott’s story without casting actors and expensive costumes, especially since it’s a time period piece. Going back to 1700s and 1800s Ohio meant heavy production design and, with all that, it was simply out of the question. With our imaginations though, I could narrate the story with some bookends in-person cinematography by Craig Purdum of just my character “Mary.” Also, I’d worked with our highly-trained Composer/Sound Designer R. Kim Shultz on the other award-winning films. Knowing his foley artwork expertise, I tapped into that too. He was able to create the sounds of missing cast members or items of a place that filled in those voids of reality. Long story short, that worked!
What is the most challenging aspect of making a film? Since you have experienced working in different fields, what were the challenges you faced?
All of the stars must align. In other words, there are truly hundreds of components in a film – location, timing, who is available when and what you can accomplish with each crew or cast member given their strengths and weaknesses or additional skills. For all of my films I’ve worn multiple hats in order to save expense and time. Being both the Producer and Director as well as Actress and Screenwriter has its advantages. For one you’re not needing to seek approval so it expedites the process and you are able to make decisions that can alter the other departments to pull aspects together smoothly. Everything must align to stay pure to the intent of the story and get it done. It takes all of my mental, emotional, and physical strength to make a film, and I love that challenge.
One of the toughest challenges is being a female. We can say we are further along with equality and diversity in our society, but certain days I question that to the core. I see firsthand how the doors open more easily depending on your gender or age or looks, etc. I’m all for supporting female filmmakers in the biz since I feel we still have a long way to go.
How was the film received at film festivals around the world? Please tell us about your festival run.
The Wisteria Manor has had 32 wins and 4 nominations in multiple categories from around the world and we’re pending on results from about 9 more festivals. Its selection rate is currently a whopping 83%! Overall it has performed better than Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story so far. But the FS Feature just completed its circuit run with 53 wins and 18 nominations. So TWM, as we call it, has some quick catching up to do to bring in a higher festival win total. I feel it will reach those heights.
What project(s) will you be working on next?
Rings of the Unpromised is in post-production. It’s a Drama Romance feature with many layers and clocked in at 1:09. I chatted with our Composer last night and we are about halfway through the first draft of his musical and sound design work. His wife Nina Kruse has a beautiful voice and sings in the film so we have a music video in it and other musical surprises! We are estimating a late February completion of the film and hope to have it ready for Oscars weekend for a cast & crew wrap screening party around those festivities. I’m excited about this film and eager to share it with everyone!
Thank you so much for giving me this space to discuss what I do and I wish everyone the best with their special interests in the new year.