FROM PLUMBER TO TV STAR
Though actor Mike Vogel has moved to Tennessee, his neighbors in Los Angeles still phone him in a crisis. “Hey, my toilet’s backed up”. “Hey, I need help hanging this cupboard”. “Hey, we need to…”. Though he soft-plays it, Vogel is one dandy handyman. He learned the tricks of the trade from his father, a plumber. He was just 6-years-old when he started riding along on repair calls with his dad.
“I’m grateful for that. Because we didn’t have a lot, everything had to be fixed. The car had to be fixed. You didn’t have a swing-set, you had to build it. I grew up plumbing with my father outside of Philadelphia, and the years I spent digging ditches in sewers and pipe-lines, and all of that stuff is a pretty exhaustive work”, he says, seated at a round, glass table in a hotel here.
“I come home more tired after an emotional day of acting than I’ve ever had after anything physical that I’ve ever done. I find it to be a lot of hard work. And I love hard work, so for me it’s enjoyable”.
The lad who dreamed of being fighter pilot became an actor instead, something, he says, that foreshadowed itself all through school. Known for roles in Under The Dome, Bates Motel, The Help, his down-to-earth mentality and Christian upbringing conspired to make Vogel ideal for his latest role in the classic Childhood’s End, premiering on the Syfy Channel on Dec. 14.
“I was familiar with Arthur C. Clarke but didn’t realize the place in iconic fiction that this book held”, he says. “As I was doing my research looking into what this book was, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, what have I just done?”.
But he identified immediately with his character. “He was a Midwestern farmer and a very ‘everyman,’ blue-collar guy. Thank God I could relate to (him) which freed me up to really concentrate on the larger ideas of the story which are intense, incredible emotional stuff…”
After high school, Vogel decided to “Pound the pavement and take my hard knocks” rather than attend college. “I started modeling initially and started training and within six months I booked Grounded for Life, at 21. It was my first television series” .
“I still remember my grandfather passed away the same day that I booked my first job, and I almost didn’t go (to the audition)”, he sighs.
He’d instructed his agents to schedule only early morning auditions. “I’d take the train up and I’d come home in the afternoon and do plumbing till 10 o’clock at night. And I said, “There’s no way I’m going to audition”. Because they told us he’s not going to make it through the day. “So I’m not going to do it”. My father and mother said, “He would want you to go; you need to go”. So I did an audition, didn’t really care about it, and I went home”.
“The next thing I knew, “You’re the guy. We want to fly you to Los Angeles”. Tuesday I auditioned, Friday we had his funeral, and Saturday I was living in Los Angeles. It was amazing. It was one of those things where one door closes, another opens”, he shakes his head. “A baton was passed, and we were extremely close, my grandfather and I. It was one of those key moments in your life where everything changes”.
Indirectly it was his granddad who inspired him to become an actor. “I remember being with my grandfather in a screening of Saving Private Ryan. And I watched him bob and weave in his seat, in a visceral reaction that he had to something. Those feelings had been buried since 1944, 1945 and watching that happen, it did something where I said, “I have to be part of that”. I didn’t realize that really my whole life was kind of taking me in that direction”.
It was another pivotal moment when he met his wife of 13 years at a modeling convention. She was 17, he, 22. They were both conscripted to speak about their modeling experiences.
“They introduced me to this girl, Courtney. And I could never talk to women to save my life. And so they introduced us, and I turned my back on her right away. She was asking all these questions to the back of my head. Later she said, “I thought you were the most stuck-up, self-absorbed”, and really I was just scared crapless and couldn’t put a sentence together”.
Onstage he was asked to say something inspiring. “I copped out, “Oh, if you can dream it, you can do it”, and, “If you believe in yourself, it’s going to happen”. Then it got down to the 17-year-old, her, and she said, “I want to tell everyone here to hold on to your beliefs, to hold on to your morals and everything that makes you you because this business will do everything it can to take it from you. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters”.
“And I fell off my stool – along with 3,000 people – trying to get a look at this girl. I called my mom and best friend and said, “You’re going to think I’m nuts, I think I just met my wife”.
Now the parents of girls 8 and 6, and a boy, 2, Vogel says the family moved to Tennessee so the children would have a safe place to grow up strong and independent.
“The first thing I did was I walked the girls to the far end of the property through the woods. I sat them down and said, “All right, girls, go find your way home”. At the time they were 6 and 4. They said, “But daddy there’s snakes and spiders”. I said, “Of course there are”. Then I followed them home through the woods and made sure everything was fine. But they figured it out. They learned”.