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Michael Seater started acting long before he landed the lead role on the popular TV show Life with Derek. Sunday dinners were his first stage and Grandma was his biggest fan. He has grown in many ways since those first years of acting at home for family and friends. Life with Derek now airs in more than 130 countries and he has held lead roles in a number of other TV shows. In recent years he has ventured behind camera, moving into roles as a writer, producer and director. We sat down with Michael and his brother Graham while they were in Muskoka filming Water’s Edge, a short film that they wrote together. The brothers have been coming to Muskoka for as long as they can remember and it seemed like the perfect setting for their first film. Michael may have outgrown his role as a childhood star long ago but he will never outgrow his love for Muskoka. The following interview took place on July 13, 2012.

MS: Michael Seater
GS: Graham Seater

MM: When did you start acting?

MS: My acting career really started at family dinners when I was a kid. I was always performing for my Grandma at Sunday dinner. This passion for acting led me to an open casting call for Beauty and the Beast on stage. I got a call back and my Mom asked if I wanted to give it a shot. In the end, I was too big to fit in the box so I got recommended to an agency instead and started auditioning. In a couple of years I did a ton of commercials and then got my first lead on a series. That led to many opportunities on different shows and I’ve been doing this acting ever since.

MM: Was there one point that you can pinpoint as your “big break” into doing this as a career?

MS: Landing a lead role on The Zack Files was huge, even though it was a kids’ show. At the time, I didn’t realize that this was the beginning of my career. Three years later I looked back and thought, wow, it really was the beginning of my career because that was when I started spending half of every year working on set. There are also different moments and big breaks as my career evolves. You move through different chapters as you grow. Yesterday was a huge milestone for my brother, Graham and me. We’re up here in Muskoka producing our own film, even if it is a short one, and directing for the first time. It can bring out a lot of nerves. I doubted whether it would all come together but as everything keeps moving along we’re like, HEY – we’re doing it! It’s really exciting and a huge moment in both of our careers.

GS: There’s a big difference between writing for a show and then having someone else produce. This was something completely new for us. We wrote this short film for us to produce. We have had to wear every single hat through out the whole process, which has been a big learning curve. From an actor’s perspective or writer’s perspective you think you know what goes into the films but once you actually sit down and do it yourself you realize there is so much that goes into all the little details.

MM: You started acting very young. Did you finish  school?

MS: Yes I did actually. I graduated high school from Etobicoke School of the Arts.

MM: Tell us about your involvement with the anti-bullying campaign with Family channel?

MS: I travelled around to a lot of different schools. I think what made that really successful is that the kids got excited that personalities from their favourite TV shows were coming in and talking to them. It lands more than when a person with a doctorate says the same thing. We always had somebody really well educated come along with us to speak and the kids were engaged with them because we were. It was really effective to get kids thinking it is cool to stand up and not bully. The documentary Bully that just came out was a huge reminder to me of how big an issue it is. Graham actually works in a school and he sees more than I do during the day.

GS: Bullying is talked about daily in school and you can see kids eyes glaze over when teachers start to talk about it. I say this as one of those teachers who talks about it. When you have people who they don’t think of as an adult lecturing them but someone who they are going to automatically engage with, it has a totally different effect on the kids. It’s really cool to see.

MS:Neither of us had written professionally before that. We were sitting around at a Sunday BBQ talking about ideas for the show. At first I feel like they didn’t really take us seriously. You know, they’ll

let the lead of the show and his brother write a script because they can always go back and rewrite it. I think they were surprised when it actually turned out well. They ended up using the script and that was the launch of Graham and I working together on the writing side of things. Flash forward a few years and here we are in Muskoka producing our first short film. We also have multiple scripts in development for future projects.

MM: Can you tell me about the film you are producing now?

MS: Water’s Edge is a bright and colorful tale about a lonely guy. His isolated world changes when a bright-eyed gal paddles up and moves into the tiny shack next door. While it’s not set in Muskoka in the traditional family cottage sense it is filled with lakeside nostalgia. There are Lorne Jewitt’s owls and a huge fiberglass ESSO tiger that always sat on the rock in front of our old cottage on Moon River. The main idea for the film is for it to be a calling card for me as a director and for us as a production company. It’s more business oriented but we will probably put it into some festivals.

MM: Which do you prefer, acting, writing or directing?

MS: Even though it is only my second day doing it – directing.

GS: He’s being modest. Even though it’s technically his second day, he’s grown up on set and you learn a lot by watching. He’s seen the pros and you absorb a lot by seeing them in action.

MM: When did you start spending time in Muskoka?

MS: We’ve been coming up here since we were little. We had a family cottage on Moon River in Bala.

GS: My mom worked in schools and had the whole summer off. We would all go up for the summer and my dad would come up on weekends. We’ve been cottaging in Muskoka forever. We eventually sold that cottage to our neighbour’s and continued to rent it for less and less time each year.

MS: The last year we rented was only for one week at the beginning of summer and one week at the end and then I had the opportunity to buy the place I’m in now. I think a part of me will always miss the Moon River and our old cottage but it’s nice to start fresh in a new place. It’s also fun bringing memories from our old place here. The tiger I mentioned we are using in this short film was our Grandfathers. He worked for Esso as an ad executive in the 1960s. He brought the tiger up to cottage and we used to bolt it to the rocks. It took me almost three years to convince the new owner to give it back to us. I just couldn’t give up on getting the family heirloom back.

MM: With your busy acting career, how do you split your time between LA, Toronto and Muskoka? 

MS: I try and spend as much time at the cottage as humanly possible. When I’m back in Toronto my friends in the city get kind of irritated when they ask “What are you doing tomorrow, this weekend or tonight?” and my answer is almost always “Heading to the cottage!”

MM: How much time do you actually get to spend in Muskoka in say, one year?

MS: Last year I gave myself back one of the many childhood summer’s I missed and lived on the lake the whole summer. It was amazing. There is no better place to spend a summer.

MM: Have you ever had any of your costars up here?

MS: Yes, actually. Noah Reid is up here now helping us with the film. I did Blake Holsey High with him. He’s been up a lot over the years. There are also people who come up that aren’t necessarily costars but were the crew on shows. Make up artists, assistant directors; all the important people making things happen behind the camera. When it comes to my female costars, they seem to not want to go where the bugs are.

MM: Do you have a favourite female costar that you worked with?

MS: Are you trying to get me in trouble? I’m going to have to say no.

MM: You’ve been on TV for years and must get recognized by a lot of fans. What’s that like in Muskoka?

MS: It doesn’t happen so much anymore. The first year there were sometimes random boats that were just coming by the dock. My neighbours tell everybody I’m on Fantasy Island and people actually look on the map for Fantasy Island. That’s their favourite joke.

GS: When Mike first moved up here the kids here were much younger and they were very giggly to start with. Now, he’s just Mike, they don’t care anymore.

MS:It took about two summers to get to that point. My neighbour is a great friend and we hang out all the time. He has young daughters

and they were very excited at first. Now, they don’t care at all. They’ve realized that it’s not that special that I’m on TV and I’m really just a regular guy next door asking their dad to fix my toilet.

MM: What are your favourite Muskoka pastimes?

MS: Sitting on the dock and hanging out with my family, friends and especially my nephew Finn. My Brother has two kids and my sister has two kids. It’s so much fun hanging out with little kids up here because you remember all the things you forgot from when you were little in Muskoka. We bought these old boats from the same guy who widdled the owls. We had them as kids and now Graham’s son is playing with them all the time. We find ourselves wanting to play with them too because it’s total nostalgia.

MM: Do you have a favourite place that you like to go?

MS: We’re big fans of going to Huckleberry Trail, especially in the fall. You walk up this hike and it’s just a huge slab of granite that overlooks the entire lake.

And of course, you can’t forget Don’s Bakery for scones. We have made the hour-long trip, once you get in the boat and everything, to Bala, just to get Don’s Scones. They’re the best.

MM: What is your favourite time of year to be in Muskoka? 

MS: Such a toss up! There’s nothing like a hot sunny day of dreading your turn to make Caesers because that, of course, means you have to leave the dock. But then again, hiking up Huckleberry Trail and looking over a sea of beautiful colours in the fall is one of a kind.

MM: Do you have a best cottage moment that stands out in your mind? 

MS: There are too many; it’s the greatest place in the world! Maybe the time I was chased by a snapper? Or perhaps when we were 10 and crashed the Point Dinner on Kimberly Point? Or maybe this spring when I got up and saw my new reclaimed harbour pine floors? Those are a few that stand out in my mind. I could never pick just one!