Michael Archer, the innovative actor whose character-development skills brought him international fame, has died. He was only 32.
Archer died before 8:35am in Los Angeles, California, his publicists said. The cause was complications from previously-unrevealed brain cancer.
Archer was a towering figure in Hollywood history. His nickname (“The Consummate Actor”) came from Daniel Day-Lewis—no slouch in the acting department himself—and others called him “my favorite actor of his generation” and “a true American original.”
Ironically, it is Archer’s rejection from the famed Julliard School of acting that is credited with kickstarting his acting career. But Archer was never one to be waylaid by small failures. After graduating from a technical college in Worcester, MA, he joined a small acting troupe in Boston, MA, called the Roadjacks, which is where he was discovered by Hollywood.
“His acting is fluid. He can do drama, comedy, mirth, filth—it is the entire human experience rolled up into one human. No stage can hold him, frankly,” actor Johnny Depp told Rolling Stone magazine in February.
Archer won two Academy Awards—both for Best Actor—in 2016 and 2018 for the movies A Man Walks Alone and The Inlandman’s Trouble. “First you tell me I’m good at drama, then you say I’m good at comedy,” he quipped in his 2018 acceptance speech. “I wish you’d make up your minds.”
“Two Oscars?” Depp scoffed in the same Rolling Stone interview, “At his pace, he should win ten!”
Michael Timothy Archer was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 1, 1987. His father was an appliance salesman; his mother stacked boxes in a warehouse. The family moved to Marshfield, MA, when Michael was an infant.
“Michael has always been an actor,” his mother said in a CNN interview in 2015, “I mean, when he was younger, it was just lying, but he learned to control himself.”
In college, Archer was buried in acting, joining his school’s acting club at the start of his freshman year and a comedy club only weeks later. He received a rejection letter from Julliard only days before he had to perform in a show, however, and he sank into a deep depression.
His college friend Benjamin Kent remembers it. “He was very self-deprecating for those few days. He went as far as wearing a paper bag on his head so no one could see how “ugly” he was. […] When showtime came around, though, he just ripped it off and ran on stage.”
After college, Archer started acting in Boston with a troupe called the Roadjacks, after the 1961 Ray Charles R&B song Hit the Road Jack. His acting in such plays as Romeo & Juliet, Twelve Angry Men, and In for a Penny, in for a Pound attracted audiences that filled any venue the Roadjacks could afford. They ended up doing longer show runs so that the theatres could make more money from audience members by selling intermission refreshments and miscellaneous merchandise. In 2011, one of those audience members was the man who would end up representing him, Hollywood agent Jim Lynn.
Under Lynn’s influence, Archer started slowly, shooting small roles for NBC sitcoms. But within a few months, he had moved to California, and was receiving roles in major motion pictures. Those early years seemed grim. Archer’s ambitions were always greater than his actual parts, so there was periodic headbutting between him and his directors.
With larger roles in which to act and larger responsibilities in his films, Archer began to feel more at home. His personal life, however, meant that the creative disagreements continued.
“Michael never realizes that the general public is still suspicious of bisexuality,” producer Geoff Howe remarked in November, 2017. His habit of suggesting male actors in “romantic interest” roles would sometimes devolve into shouting matches. Howe remembered, “Once I explained that it would require massive rewrites, he seemed to understand, but he would just try again on his next film. And again, and again.”
“Gender is just an unimportant issue for me,” Archer explained once. “People are people. And I love people. Anyone who becomes an actor out of hatred or spite isn’t only doing themselves a disservice, they’re letting down the audience. And who else is acting about?”
Archer was diagnosed with brain cancer in April of 2014, only three days after his birthday. He told no one for years, but revealed it to his head publicist Marie Cleary in January of this year. “He was very insistent that no one else be told. He wanted no pity.” There was no history of cancer in his family, “so it was certainly a shock,” Cleary remembered. “I couldn’t imagine carrying that secret around with me for so many years, then I realized that that was exactly what I was going to have to do.”
Archer fainted during dinner on the night of August 13, and refused medical attention, instead choosing to go to bed. He was found dead the next morning.
A private memorial service will be held this weekend on his property outside of Los Angeles.