May 7, 2014 Interview with MICHAEL CARUSO, creator and star of DEVANITY. The hit web series is nominated this year for Best Web Series at the Daytime Emmy Awards. This show -- full of dysfunctional family drama, sex, drugs, murder and a dazzling array of guest stars -- has been on the internet since 2011. With its third season up for a nomination, OutTakes talked with Michael about this series. Radio interview available at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/outtakes/2014/05/09/michael-caruso-creator-and-star-of-devanity
OT: Congratulations on your Daytime Emmy nomination for DEVANITY. Are you planning on attending?
MC: Absolutely. Are you kidding? (laughs) It’s not every day you get a nomination like this so it’s not one of those events where you say, yeah, I was gonna go but I decided to stay home and wash my hair. My wife and I will absolutely be in attendance with several other people from our cast and crew. We’re very excited about it. It’s a tremendous honor; and I’m still kind of recovering from the shock of it all. I don’t know if that has necessarily happened yet. But we will definitely be there.
OT: Have you been to the Daytime Emmys before?
MC: I’ve never been. We’ve watched it on television in the past. At this point, I have a lot of friends who are on daytime. So I watch all the interviews and the red carpet stuff. I’ve never actually been. It’s crazy because the ceremony is in downtown LA where my wife and I actually both live and where we filmed DEVANITY. It is right up the street from us. So it couldn’t be more convenient.
OT: So how did the idea of this web series come to you in the first place?
MC: We started DEVANITY in 2011. The honest answer to this is that I always wanted to be on a daytime soap opera. God has given me many wonderful gifts in life, but being an Abercrombie & Fitch model is not one of them. So unfortunately it just never really panned out that way. I realized that if I wanted to be on a soap, I was going to have to create one for myself. We live in the jewelry district of downtown LA. So we would walk by all of these beautiful windows with all of these amazing creations. I turned to my wife one day and I said, “You know, nobody has ever done a show about this.” I think ultimately a great soap at its core has to be about typically family – and something for that family to fight about. That’s kind of where the genesis of DEVANITY began. It’s about a family that runs a very dysfunctional jewelry empire. That was kind of the birth of that whole idea.
OT: That’s cool to create your own content. That if you couldn’t get in a soap, you would make your own.
MC: Yes, absolutely. Honestly, I think that is where this industry is going; and not just with soaps…but movies and television. A lot of people are now realizing that they need to reclaim their careers and the kind of characters that they’d like to play. More and more people are doing that. That is what is so spectacular about this category – and what is so spectacular about this online movement – is that it is really giving people this incredible chance to create, tell their own stories and do their own thing.
OT: When I interviewed DEVANITY cast member Gordon Thomson, he was saying how DEVANITY was similar to DYNASTY, except with an edge. Being able to do stuff that you couldn’t do in the 80s on ABC. Did you watch a lot of primetime soaps as a kid like FALCON CREST or DYNASTY? Were those influences for you?
MC: When those shows were on, I was a little too young to get them. My grandmother’s favorite show was FALCON CREST; and the whole world stopped whenever it was on. And then my mother and my aunt loved DALLAS and DYNASTY. I believe DALLAS was originally on Friday nights on CBS. I remember sitting on the steps in my parents’ house in New York, watching my whole family watch DALLAS. Obviously we were in no way allowed to watch shows like that when we were kids. I didn’t really discover DALLAS until many years later when I was in college. There was a channel that doesn’t exist anymore called TNN which is The National Network; and they reran the entire series. I pretty much fell in love with DALLAS; and I didn’t see DYNASTY until many years after that. I’m a huge fan of those shows. I find them captivating. I love the concept of the high drama and high glamour. It was not my intention to set out to duplicate either of those shows in any way, but I think it is such an incredibly flattering thing when you’ve got one of the major stars of DYNASTY comparing my little web series to this iconic television series. I take that as a huge extraordinary compliment. Working with Gordon has probably been one of the coolest things to come out of DEVANITY. And we’ve actually become very good friends post-DEVANITY. It’s been really great.
OT: Speaking of DALLAS, also a congratulations for Charlene Tilton who won Best Guest Star at the Indie Series Awards this year…
MC: She did! Charlene is a firecracker. She is so full of life and energy, so enthusiastic. I have to give her props. She joined us in Season 3. She was supposed to return for Season 4, but there was a scheduling conflict; and she was not able to solve it and do the scene that I had written for her. When I reached out to Steve Kanaly who played Ray on DALLAS for 10 years, he wasn’t familiar with the whole web series world. He reached out to her. And she said, “Steve, you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this show.” So she helped me get him on Season 4 of DEVANITY which was just incredible. Sheree J. Wilson joined us in Season 4 as well as a guest star. So we’ve got a little DALLAS contingency on DEVANITY which has been pretty exciting. I was so proud of Charlene for winning that award. She absolutely deserved it. She did a phenomenal job. A total dream to work with.
OT: You also had some great daytime actresses on the show like Andrea Evans and Arianne Zucker. How did you manage to get all of these amazing people?
MC: Rewind to back after Season 1 had ended. Season 1 was a very exploratory season for us; and we were really testing the waters. If you had asked me when we started if we would have been in Emmy territory four years later, I never would have thought that in a million years. We were just trying to create something and see where it went. After Season 1, I realized that we really needed to step up our game. I wanted to bring in some name talents. Kyle Lowder, who used to be on DAYS OF OUR LIVES and BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL – he and I actually went to college together. He’s a couple of years younger than I am. One of our other cast members, Erin Buckley (who played my sister Jackie) was going to the Daytime Emmys years ago. I said to her, “Well, if you happen to see Kyle Lowder there, tell him I said hi and see if he’d be willing to have a conversation.” And she did. And he was. We brought him on in Season 2 as a guest star, which was amazing. Kyle’s great; and I always love working with him. In Season 3, he came on as a series regular. One day, we were talking on the phone; and he said, “Hey, do you think you might have something for Ari?” And I was like, “Uh, yeah! Are you kidding me? Of course I do!” I had to twist it up a little bit…so I wrote her character as his character’s sister (which was kind of gross because they were married at the time). Ari Zucker, I would say, has to be one of the nicest most down-to-earth women I’ve ever met in my life. She is absolutely the girl next door. She came on set; and she acted as if she had known everybody for a million years. She couldn’t have been cooler and more go with the flow and just happy to be there. With Andrea Evans – typically what I do is I just reach out to agents and managers, that’s how I hire people or ask people to work with me. I have their characters already written so they get their script; and they get to decide whether they want to do the show or not. We’ve been very blessed that the show does have a very good reputation in the industry. I haven’t had a lot of problems getting the people that I’ve sought after. We’ve just been very lucky in that regard. And Andrea Evans is another one. This is just daytime royalty sitting in my living room. The most normal down-to-earth kindhearted person you could ever hope for. We were talking about our love for animals; and she was telling us about her daughter. Just a really normal lovely sweet lady.
OT: How was it acting in a series that you were writing?
MC: In the plus column, with the introduction of DEVANITY, I become so immersed in the world that I very easily slip into the role of Jason DeVanity. He’s kind of like a second skin to me. The bigger challenge is that not only am I acting in it, but I’m also the producer and the set designer and the costume coordinator and the crazy person that has to order lunch for the cast and crew and whatnot. So I don’t think it’s necessarily the acting part that’s the challenge but the fact that I wear probably 15 to 20 hats. In addition to that, I’m very fortunate that my wife is the co-executive producer; and she’s right there by my side. And we’re working together. I have a wonderful team of people. A very small crew, but they are incredibly dedicated. My director, Kelley Portier; her husband, Rod Portier, who is our cinematographer. Everybody chips in. Kelly has always been really great at saying “OK, Michael. Now you get to just worry about being an actor.” So we tried to make sure everything was squared away so when it was time for me to be in the scene, that’s the only thing I have to focus on. Which is really nice to be able to do.
OT: I love the beginning sequence with the jewelry and the classical music. Was that what you created?
MC: I picked the theme music years ago that has always been our theme. The wonderful composer, Vivaldi – a far more creative genius than I could ever hope or aspire to be. It’s actually a program that I licensed. I licensed the actual program; and then you slip in the moving images and screenshots of people. We basically paid for that. Rod puts it all together and adds the names. So you have your great big opening title sequence. I am a very big fan of opening title sequences from those shows from the 80s. I think it really helps to get your audience churning and burning. It gets them ready to go. And it really sets the scene for what we are going to expect. What is the kind of story that we’re going to tell?
OT: So sadly this was the last season of DEVANITY. Why bring the show to an end?
MC: I’m a very firm believer in not overstaying your welcome. Good storytelling has a good beginning, middle and end. What I didn’t want to do is to keep it going just for the sake of keeping it going and then burn out and diminish the quality. I really wanted to end it on a high note. Keep in mind that we’ve been doing this for four years without major financing, without people to cut us checks. We all do this as a passion project. I can fairly say that after four years of burning the candle at both ends, I think that everybody was ready for a break and to walk away from it. Those six or seven episodes – although the audience is seeing it in a six or seven week cycle – we’re looking at that all year. From the writing to the preproduction to the production to the postproduction, we don’t ever get a break. We all work full time jobs on top of it to pay for the show. So I think that it was an equal mix of both creative and logistic decisions that it was a good time for us to say, OK, I can end this and be happy with how it is going to end and start on a new soap opera. Work on something different. As much as I love DEVANITY – it’s like my child – I love my show but it is time to move on; and it’s time for something new.
OT: So you plan on working on more web series in the future?
MC: I do. I’m currently developing a new soap opera which I’m exceedingly excited about. It’s going to be very fun and very cool. I’ve talked to a couple of actors about it; and they seem very excited to do it as well. I’ve made a firm commitment to take a break and take the rest of this calendar year off. I’ll formally start preproduction at the beginning of next year. I told myself that the whole purpose of ending DEVANITY was to take a little time off and recharge the batteries. But you get an Emmy nomination…and it’s like Wow! If that isn’t a battery recharge, I don’t know what is. It’s all very surreal how everything comes full circle. It has always been the little project that could. I’ve always been very committed to never resting on our laurels. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve got so many wonderful nominations from the Indie Series Awards and HollyWeb and all of these great festivals. We’ve had a lot of love given to us. And that always inspires me to say…how can I be better? How can I make the next show better? How can we really dazzle and excite the audience? And tell a great story? That’s what I’m really hoping to do with my next show. So I think this is a really good thing. We’re just going to enjoy the moment and celebrate four years of DEVANITY. The truth is there are so many people that are still discovering the show. That’s the beauty of a nomination like this is that it opens up the doors to a whole new audience – that you thought knew about it, but they didn’t. They’re finding it for the first time; and they’ve got four seasons to play with. I’m very proud of that fact.
OT: It’s also exciting that ONE LIFE TO LIVE, the web series, is up for Best Drama. That’s the first time ever that a web series has been up in that category. So that just shows you how the world is changing.
MC: I think that entertainment is changing. At the end of the day, whether it is on TV or on the computer, a good story is a good story. If you create a good story and fill that story with characters that the audience cares about, the audience is going to follow those characters. The medium of either television or the computer is just a tool – just an instrument to tell those stories. The most important thing is that the soap genre stays alive, that it thrives, that it’s healthy; and now you have this influx of new blood that’s willing to try things a little bit differently. We were always the black sheep. I don’t come from a daytime background. I don’t have a soap opera pedigree. I’m not a connected person in that sense. So we really kind of came out of left field and were able to build that from scratch and cultivate that audience. Soap fans are the greatest fans on earth. They’re loyal. They’re loving. They’re passionate. And they really embraced DEVANITY. I think this is a very exciting time in soap opera history. It was a little rocky there for a while but I think that the internet has given soap operas the opportunity to transform and to have a rebirth. A dramatic Phoenix from the ashes kind of thing.
OT: When you look back on DEVANITY, do you have a favorite moment, storyline or scene? Is there a special highlight for you?
MC: I don’t know if there’s one moment in particular. I think it was the first day – and it wasn’t something that you saw on screen – but the first day that Gordon Thomson filmed with us on the set. We’re sitting there; and he’s telling us a story about working with Charlton Heston. Then he started telling us a story about working with Jim Henson. Then he started telling us about Aaron Spelling. Those are three people that I worship. These are the greats. Gordon has worked with each and every one of them, talking about them from first-hand experience. It was just this really surreal moment that an actor that I really looked up to was performing in something that I had written – and was generous enough to be telling these stories, not in a comparison kind of way, but just talking about his life and experiences – and being so grateful to be a part of DEVANITY. Those are moments that you don’t forget. Watching Gordon and Andrea have lunch and they’re chit chatting; or having Charlene or Sheree talk about their time on DALLAS. We have two pitbulls; and Maxwell Caulfield loved to play with the dogs. And I’m like, these people are in my home! This is crazy! Who does this? Who gets this? This is like a trip to Disney! That’s what I take from DEVANITY. Not just the celebrities…but all of these amazingly hard-working gifted talented people that have believed in my dream and worked with me to achieve it. It’s been this delightful collaborative wonderful process that will I never forget.
Watch DEVANITY at http://www.devanity.com/
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/DeVanity
Michael Caruso Twitter https://twitter.com/MCarusoactor