It’s been a tough year for us all, and like an overwhelming many of us, actor Michael Judson Berry took solace in the ray of light and positivity that is Pop Network’s Schitt’s Creek. So after popping on a cheap wig from a Halloween costume for an improvised video impersonating the ever iconic Moira Rose, the viral hit “QuaranTeaTime” was born on TikTok. Putting the effervescent Catherine O’Hara character into a variety of wild situations like trying her first beer to reacting to the royal family, Berry’s TikTok segment has been popular since the beginning, even garnering praise from Miss O’Hara herself. Over the top and completely charming, Berry’s persona has only grown this last year.
As a comedic actor, Michael Judson Berry has been on the stage most of his career. But with the pandemic putting theaters in dire straights, Berry took the last year to make the daunting transition to the screen with not only his social media following, but his first feature length film project, Milkwater.
The Untitled Magazine caught up with the rising star to talk all about his viral fame, new movie, and just where he gets all his ridiculous Moira wigs. Read the full exclusive interview below.
We love your Moira Rose impression that’s blown up on TikTok! I take it you’re a huge Schitt’s Creek fan. What about that show’s cast, particularly Moira, made you want to impersonate them?
Oh yes, I am definitely a fan of Schitt’s Creek (Could you imagine if I wasn’t!?). What I love most about the show is how positive it is, I think that’s why a lot of people watched it during lockdown. The characters definitely have their flaws, but for the most part, they’re all so friendly, loving and kind. There’s something really comforting about the world that they created.
I wish I could say I gave a lot of thought into creating “QuaranTeaTime,” but it was a pretty impulsive thing. I had heard that I could do Moira well, so I thought she of all people would be a lot of fun to parody, and to give her very specific views on life in lockdown. I love that Moira is never one to shy away from being brutally honest, but she still has a heart as big as her vocabulary (which is saying something).
Where did the idea for “QuaranTeaTime” come from?
My roommate and I did an Instagram “Impersonation Challenge” early in the lockdown. He played David and I did Moira. A bunch of our friends thought it was hilarious, so I thought it would be fun to make a YouTube or Instagram show. My roommate wasn’t interested, so I decided to just to do it myself (luckily, he let me borrow an old wig he had from a Halloween costume). So, I plopped the wig on my head, set up my phone, and improvised my first TeaTime. I had no idea that it would become so popular, it was just something to do that afternoon. But after the second video got a few thousand views, I realized this could actually be a thing people would watch. So, I started crafting more specific scripts, adding in other characters, and collecting more and more wigs. Now over 100 episodes later it’s become this wonderful, life changing thing.
What makes the Moira impression so great, besides nailing her wildly inconsistent accent, are all your crazy outfits and wigs. Where are you finding all of those ridiculous outfits?
When I first started, I borrowed most of the clothes and jewelry from my sister and my mom, along with a few friends. Eventually my friend, Jake Egan, who is a costume designer, sent me a box of amazing outfits. I’ve also been given a lot of fabulous jewelry from Leela Grace designs and Susan Yosca. Also, every time I pass a vintage clothing shop, I pop in to see if they have any fun black and white outfits.
Obviously, you’ve gone viral a few times now on TikTok, but what has the general feedback been like? Do you interact with your fans a lot?
I’m really fortunate that I tend to just get positive feedback. I think because Schitt’s Creek is so beloved, and now people associate me with the show, they tend to just say really nice things.
I do respond to every DM I receive, and I try to my best to say thank you to everyone who shares my videos. Personally, I love when people reach out! I’ve actually made a lot of new friends from all over the world that I never would have otherwise been in touch with. Meeting new people and hearing about their lives has been the most rewarding and gratifying part of this whole process.
What was it like when you found out that Catherine O’Hara not only saw your impression, but loved it?
Amazing! For the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words (one thing Moira and I have in common is that we are quite loquacious folks). I have been a fan of Catherine O’Hara’s since well before Schitt’s Creek. I grew up watching films like Home Alone and Beetlejuice, and, of course, the Christopher Guest films. So, to have a hero of mine say such nice things about this parody of a character SHE created was truly mind blowing!
Do you have any other celebrity impression specialties?
I’ve always been a character actor, I love doing bold physical work and goofy voices, but I’m still new to doing impressions. Since starting “QuaranTeaTime” I’ve now done impressions of a lot of people, not only the Rose family, but also people like Britney Spears, Cher, Sir Patrick Stewart, Henry Cavill and Peter Falk. Impressions have become so much fun to do! They really challenge me as an actor and as a writer. It’s fun to think about how a particular person would phrase something and how they would interact with Moira. So, who knows, maybe I’ll come out of this with more go-to impressions I could do at bars or cocktail parties.
Congratulations on your first feature film Milkwater! What can you tell us about the movie and your role in it?
Milkwater is a beautiful film about a young woman named Milo (played by Younger’s Molly Bernard). Feeling abandoned by friends living more adult lives, Milo rashly decides to become the surrogate for an older gay man she meets at a bar. As the pregnancy progresses, she must contend with the implications of their evolving relationship. I play the boyfriend of George (one of Milo’s best friends, played by Broadway star Robin De Jesus) named Teddy. Teddy is a very sweet, simple guy, who is mostly just happy to be included. The nice thing about Teddy is since he’s just outside of Milo’s close friend group, he becomes an occasional voice of reason…he also has an affinity for very short shorts.
Milkwater sees you in a far more toned down comedic role than what we see from you on social media or some of your stage roles. Do you prefer the more subdued roles or the more over the top ones?
I tend to go a bit over-the-top, especially when it comes to comedy. I’m definitely that guy who plays to the last row of the balcony, so I enjoy the challenge of playing a more subdued person. In those kinds of situations I really have to depend on the director to help reel in my performance to a more realistic place. I’m a pretty animated person in real life, so there is something nice about playing a character who is more toned down than me. That being said, there’s nothing more fun than going full clown when I can!
Was it a big adjustment going from acting on stage to a film set? What challenges did you face as a newcomer?
It was certainly a bit intimidating at first. I really like the rehearsal process of a play, but with Milkwater, I had very little time to prepare. I auditioned, got the role the next day, and was on set later that week. They had a very tight shooting schedule, so we would only briefly rehearse a scene right before shooting it.
At first it was really nerve-racking having to jump right in like that, but fortunately Molly Bernard and Robin De Jesus are brilliant and very kind actors, who made me comfortable right away. Also, our fantastic writer/director Morgan Ingari is incredibly patient and would let us play and try new things during different takes. Honestly, I think I got lucky because everyone on set, both cast and crew, were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m sure I would’ve been much more nervous if everyone wasn’t so friendly and welcoming.
With such a huge breakout on social media and now a film role, do you think you’ll be focusing more on screen work for now, or do you plan to keep acting on stage regularly?
Like most actors right now, I’ll be thrilled with any and all jobs that come my way! While I’ve loved creating “QuaranTeaTime,” it can be a little lonely acting by myself in my kitchen. I can’t wait to get back to either being on stage or on set and collaborating with other people. I do love the thrill of being onstage and feeling the energy from an audience, but I had an absolute blast working on Milkwater and again working recently on NBC’s The Blacklist. So, while I’m excited to get back in a theater again, I would love to do more TV and film work.
As a stage actor, did you face any major difficulties in the last year with so many theaters closing?
Oh, for sure! It was terrifying when the realization hit that theaters would be closing for a long period of time. Like everyone, I had no idea when things were going to reopen, or if they were going to reopen at all! That sense of uncertainty was awful (almost as “awful” as fruit wine)! I’m just so glad that I created “QuaranTeaTime” so I had a way to keep acting and connecting with people. Writing those sketches and creating those videos became kind of therapeutic, not just as an actor, but as a person. With every video I would try to address something that I was honestly feeling, but in a positive way, and obviously with Moira Rose’s very specific phraseology.
Of all your stage work, what have you found to be the most rewarding role you’ve played?
The most rewarding role (or in this case roles) i’ve done recently was in Florida Studio Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. First of all, Curious Incident is an absolutely gorgeous play about a teenage boy with Autism who goes on an incredible journey to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. The script is absolutely phenomenal, and it’s a true ensemble piece. Other than the lead character, Christopher, the rest of the cast plays multiple characters and even most of the scenery. Our production was much like the original London production, where the set was just a blue box, and we, as an ensemble, would have to create and convey the different places that Christopher went. Being a very physical character actor, getting to play at least seven characters (all with different British accents) and to collaborate with a group of insanely talented actors was a real treat!
Do you have any particular philosophies when it comes to comedy? What advice would you give to any rising comedic actors right now?
I always think of the Carol Burnett quote, “Comedy is tragedy—plus time.” Basically, comedic acting shouldn’t be treated much differently than dramatic acting, except the circumstances may be heightened and how you time your reactions is more specific. Whether you’re doing Hamlet or a farce like Boeing Boeing, you’re playing a real character, with real thoughts and feelings, who is living a story with real stakes. I think the funniest actors are ones who still played their characters with respect and honesty. What makes Ms. O’Hara’s performance of Moira Rose so brilliant is not just the accent and the outfits, but the heart that she brings to it. Moira is always grounded in her own sense of reality and humanity, making all of her reactions to situations not just hilarious, but also genuine.
Are there any comedic actors that inspire you and/or work?
There are so many brilliant comedic actors that have inspired me over the years! I grew up watching greats like Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Jack Lemon, Cary Grant, and all of the Mel Brooks, Pink Panther and Monty Python films I could find. I just loved watching old sitcoms and slapstick comedies, as well as listening to old radio shows from the 1930s and ’40s; shows like Abbott and Costello, Our Miss Brooks and The Great Gildersleeve. I think watching and learning from many of these older, vaudevillian style comedians really helped mold me into the style of comedic actor I am today.
Any other projects on the horizon you would like to share?
I recently appeared in an episode of The Blacklist, on NBC, which was a lot of fun! But other than The Blacklist and Milkwater (which is available on multiple streaming services), I’m just auditioning and writing as much as I can. I’ve always been someone who stresses a lot about the future, but one big thing this last year has taught me is to slow down and enjoy the present. So, that’s what I’m trying to do, just enjoy each day as it comes.