OBSTACLES

with MICHAEL ELSTON from Gjusta 

by Ryan O

I’M ABOUT TO SIT down with Mike at a sports bar in Culver City when his phone rings, it’s a blocked number, might be his grandfather he says, so he steps out to take the call. He comes back a few minutes later with a sheepish expression on his face, it was a casting director, but one of the bad ones according to him. “They try and get you to join Scientology or some cult shit, man.” So is life for a prospective actor in Los Angeles.

Mike feels like he’s treading water nowadays, keeping his head above it by bussing tables and running food at Gjusta. On the side there’re small gigs; you can see him in the back of a few music videos for a former Vine star whose casting director has taken a liking to Mike’s “look”. Or sometimes in the audience of a few of your favorite gameshows. None of it big – yet – but some of it’s paid. It’s enough to keep the lights on at his Highland Park residence and his metro ticket stamped when he treks across Los Angeles four times a week for work. It’s an obstacle, true, but obstacles are something Mike’s used to getting around.

At 18, Mike found himself fending for himself. With a mother who practiced “tough love” and nieces and nephews who were taking his spot at home, the expectation was to move out and find his own way. For the next four years he tried to do that. Living with his brother, working full time, it got him by but it didn’t lead anywhere he wanted to be. Stuck, Mike turned to acting as a way out. He fell in love with the craft and decided he wanted to pursue it full time by going to school. The obstacle being the money side of things, the solution for Mike was the G.I. bill. With a signature his next four years were set, and his life was in the hands of the United States Navy. A 22-year-old Mike touched down for his first deployment in Manama, Bahrain, and he didn’t touch dry soil for the next three months. Instead he was crammed into a small Mine Sweeper, a self-explanatory and now decommissioned piece of our nation’s military might. Helicopters have taken over the job since then, but at the time the ship’s duty was to float around on its own looking for explosives to retire. Not that it found many worth writing home about. Most mines nowadays have been deactivated. Mike was more concerned about the day’s meals. Assigned below deck as a line cook, a profession that began to take on notoriety for its unruly cast of employees, Mike found himself in the middle of some of the lesser spoken about military woes.  Whether it was drunken lateness, or sleeping on the job, the other cooks began to be discharged one by one, leaving Mike to run the line. “I don’t want to play the race card or anything but all the cooks were minorities and the rest of the ship were kinda… rednecks. When we started to get a bad reputation from all the firings I definitely had to overcome that.”  Still though, working 10 and sometimes 12 hour shifts he found time to watch three movies a day, a habit that he attributes to picking up actors’ subtleties and mannerisms, which he uses now. He continued the habit for his next three deployments which, thankfully, allowed him to live off the ship in apartment style housing where he discovered that Bahrain was not so different from home. Lots of American women around, large night clubs, DJ sets by Wiz Khalifa, etc. When he describes his time there you get the sense that he never really felt homesick.

After four years Mike was discharged and sent back to America where he moved to LA and enrolled in The New York Film Academy, where he’s since earned a bachelor’s degree. Here he made some of the work he’s most proud of; producing, directing, and acting in as many student films as he could handle.

Since graduation Mike’s been jumping around jobs and auditioning for rolls. When I first met him he had just gotten new headshots done. He’s also enrolled himself in Bartending School. It’s not all acting all the time, he estimates 20/80 split of his time at the moment, the lesser being acting, though he says it’s his goal to flip that in the New Year. What you get out is what you put in; that’s Mike’s philosophy on the whole thing. With the hours of movies watched and years of school work put in, Mike is hoping it pays off sooner rather than later. But if more work is needed, if more time needs to be spent, you can find Mike grinding away somewhere in LA, catching Ubers to auditions or the metro to a set. More obstacles just mean more work, and Mike’s happy to do it for the dream.