Emmy Nominee in Good Company at Sunday’s Show
And the Emmy Award nominees for best supporting actor in a miniseries or special are (drum roll): Alan Alda, Richard Gere, Ian McKellen, Matthew Broderick and . . . Michael Goorjian! Michael Goorjian? Who’s he and what’s he doing in the same category with these guys?
Nominated for his performance as an autistic teen-ager in the CBS movie “David’s Mother,” the 23-year-old actor will be sitting in the audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Sunday night, possibly wondering the same thing.
Goorjian admits he was surprised when his manager awoke him at 5 a.m. the day of the Emmy nomination announcements to relay the news.
“I thought it was unusual that I was put in with them,” Goorjian says, referring to the heavyweights contending for the award. “It’s not just that I was surprised to be nominated, I was even more surprised about who else was on the list.”
Unusual? More like amazing.
Until “David’s Mother,” in which Goorjian was cast opposite Kirstie Alley, the actor says he’d mostly “stood around and smiled,” usually as the teen-age boyfriend, as he did on the ABC series “Life Goes On,” and as he will do on Fox’s upcoming “Party of Five.”
While Goorjian had longed to take on something more challenging, “David’s Mother” gave him that chance and then some, for the character was not only autistic but also mentally retarded.
Without lines to learn, it was up to Goorjian to develop a character, which made the audition not only daunting but also, as he puts it, “a little weird.” He improvised, drawing on memories of an autistic teen-ager who lived next door to his cousin when he was growing up.
“A lot of what I did was based on what I remember of him. It was really one of those things that when you’re a kid you don’t forget,” Goorjian recalls during a break from filming an episode of “Sweet Justice,” a new NBC series starring Melissa Gilbert.
Goorjian grew up in Oakland, attending Bishop O’Dowd High School, where he benefited from a strong drama program. He eventually studied at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater before heading to Los Angeles and enrolling in UCLA’s Theatre Arts program.
Goorjian did not complete his degree and instead landed a role in the Disney musical “Newsies,” where he says he made some of his most important contacts. Parts on NBC’s short-lived musical series “Hull High” and a stint on “Life Goes On” followed. Then “David’s Mother” came along.
To research the role, Goorjian spent months observing a group of autistic children in Toronto, where the movie was shot.
“I learned their mannerisms, their habits,” Goorjian said. “But a lot of what I did was working on my own, doing things that would stop myself from thinking or responding, which is difficult.”
Goorjian’s concentration was so intense that director Robert Allan Ackerman says most of the crew believed Goorjian was actually autistic, often becoming confused when, at the end of the day, the actor would let go and be himself.
“What Michael gave everybody on the set was the total belief in his character,” Ackerman says.
Currently putting the finishing touches on “Safe Passage,” starring Susan Sarandon and Sam Shepard, Ackerman has worked with three of Goorjian’s competitors: Alda, McKellen and Gere. He thinks Goorjian has a shot.
“I would love to see him win,” Ackerman says. “But regardless of whether he wins or not, any intelligent person working in this industry would see a very accomplished and committed actor playing that role.”
Goorjian hopes that the attention from his Emmy nomination will lead to “more projects that go beyond the norm. I respect people who break away from what everybody else is doing. ‘David’s Mother’ was a chance to show that I can do something that not everybody can do. I want to do something where I can say, ‘Yes, I’m getting paid for a reason.’ ”