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Michel Gill: Father, Actor, Violin Prodigy? The “House of Cards” actor talks about acting, his family, and human kindness.

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Michel Gill is the son of Holocaust escapees.  He grew up traveling between New York, Paris, and Switzerland (among other numerous places), and he is best known for playing President Garret Walker on the TV show House of Cards, alongside his wife Jayne Atkinson.  Michel’s life holds many stories, and I got to sit down with him and ask some questions about his career, family, childhood, and even his dream super power.  But even though he is a screen-famous actor, almost everyone comes from (somewhat) humble beginnings.

 

 

Early Life

Gill’s childhood was spent in and out of Europe, developing a relationship with performance arts, and coping with his parents unhappy marriage.  His parents escaped from the Holocaust, and had been in hiding for a year.  “They were terrified of being Jews.  When they came to the States and I was born, being Jewish was the last thing they wanted to focus on. […]  We had a very non traditional Jewish upbringing.”  This stayed the same until Gill’s family took their first trip to Israel in 1975.  Gill’s father, who had been the most reserved about his Jewish heritage, changed completely.  “The moment he stepped off of that plane, he was home  From that time until his death, he supported Israel; he was a big Jew.”  Gill grew up in a rather lavish sense, without completely realizing it.  While his father did not come from money, his mother’s family was quite wealthy.  The young family broke away from Gill’s mother’s family and soon amounted their own wealth.  However, their money did not mean that family life was easy.  “My parents didn’t get along well at all.  They found each other because they were both pretty much cut from the same cloth.  […]  Their families knew each other.  My mother met my father when she was 13 and he was 19; she looked at him and had a great big crush.”  They didn’t have a great relationship, and it ended up putting stress on the whole household, especially Gill.  However, Gill had a very good relationship with his sisters.  “We were survivors.  We banded together over our parents broken marriage and formed a special bond.”  As Gill grew up, his family moved around frequently, which made it difficult for him to form many lasting friendships.  He switched schools ten or eleven times.  In 1963, when Gill was three years old, the family moved to France due to their fathers job in finance, and it was a very difficult year for everyone.  Most of Gill’s schooling was completed in Switzerland, but he spent time in London as well as France, which he now visits often.  Due to his extensive time spent in Europe, Gill knows many languages, but he “thinks, dreams, and lives in [the French language].”  He studied Russian, German, Latin, and Greek all in school, which have all proved useful in his career.

 

The Start to Something Wonderful

When asked if someone or something was an influence on Gill’s interest in acting, he responded “I wanted to make people feel something, which was from my friends father, Isaac Stern.  He was a great violinist […] [Isaac] made a huge impact on my life.  I remember being incredibly emotional about it.  When I found out that he was famous, I thought that you needed to be famous to connect with people like that.”  But for Gill, this would not be through music.  Gill realized that to achieve what he wanted in life, he would express himself by acting on stage.  “As time went by, whether I was forced to do a play or I chose to do one, it [was] always an area that felt comfortable and fun, and gave me the opportunity to make people feel the way that I was hoping to.”  Michel went to Tufts University for a year, thinking that he’d study international relations and languages.  When he realized that he needed to give theater a chance.  So Michel went to London for a workshop on acting and fell in love with theater, and the rest is history.  After London, Michel applied to Juilliard for acting, and was accepted.  He loved Julliard, and learned that his decision to pursue acting was the right choice.  After college, Michel was picked up immediately and offered a job and his Actors Equity card right out of school, so he was ahead of his classmates.

 

All About Acting

Gill does both screen acting and stage acting, but says it is not an easy thing to transition between them.  “You have a switch inside that you must learn to control, and luckily I have been able to get good at controlling it.”  As an example of someone who has perfected this art, Gill noted that Kevin Spacey (also on House of Cards) is incredibly good at it.  An actor of Spacey’s caliber who Gill hasn’t worked with but would like to is Daniel Day-Lewis, because of his unique method acting style.  Stage acting or screen acting aside, Gill loves all kinds of acting.  He finds acting most rewarding when “[he] finds [himself] lost on stage, completely controlled by what is going on on stage.  […]  That is theater at its most exciting stage.”  What he finds most special, however, is being able to work alongside his wife, Jayne.

 

The Things That Matter (Family & More)

Gill first met Jayne Atkinson doing a play in 1989, “The Eris.”  When Gill first walked into the theater and saw her, she expected to see his friend Thomas, not Gill.  Immediately following, they began flirting.  The two have done six plays together, at different stages in their lives and relationship, “and there is nothing like working with an actor whom you trust as much as we trust each other.”  Working with Jayne is what he looks forward to in his life.  Jayne and Michel’s son Jeremy was born in Weston, Connecticut, and the family has lived in both Weston and LA, as well as the Berkshires, where they decided to move because of Gill’s familiarity with the area, and the local Rudolph Steiner School, which Jeremy attended upon the family’s Berkshire arrival.  No matter how much Michel and Jayne travel, they make it work, and the family is very close.  Gill is a fun-loving guy, and things that make him smile are “silly stuff”, his family, funny faces, and people who trip.  He has no regrets about his life, and is glad of everything he has done because of the way that they have shaped him as a person.  And if he had a superpower, he would want “to be able to pass people, and with a wave of his hand, have them smile and make them happier than they were before they passed him by.”

 

Gill’s eccentric personality, talent as an actor, and detail-packed history and life story are not what makes him.  Reading the words off of this page don’t nearly do justice to the man that is Michel Gill, because, as those who have met him know, Michel Gill is a terrific person.

 

-Theo Burns

 

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Michel Gill: Father, Actor, Violin Prodigy? The “House of Cards” actor talks about acting, his family, and human kindness.