If you aren’t familiar with actor Michael Willett you may have glimpsed him while channel surfing past “United States of Tara” and “Joan of Arcadia” reruns. Now Willett, 24, is starring in MTV’s new quirky comedy “Faking It” and is about to show that he’s no fake.
Born and raised in Fresno, Calif., Willett caught the acting bug at a young age. He performed in numerous community theater productions until he landed an agent at age 13 and began traveling back and forth between Fresno and Los Angeles. Soon after he scored his first acting job in a commercial for Little Debbie singing “My Girl.”
From there Willett went on to appear in popular television shows including “Joan of Arcadia” and “Without a Trace.” His breakout role would be in the Showtime series “United States of Tara” as Lionel Trane, the aggressive gay teen who starts an LGBT advocacy club at his school and later dated the title character Tara’s gay son Marshall. The role garnered attention for his comedic chops. He says comedy came to him naturally and wasn’t a learned skill.
“Comedy is like music. You either hear it or you don’t. I like characters that can be intense and emotional as well as funny,” Willett says.
Willett’s knack for comedy led him to one of the leading roles in “G.B.F.,” the story of a popular girl clique’s competition to find their “Gay Best Friend.” Willett played quiet gay teen Tanner who is chosen by the girls as the ultimate prize. “G.B.F” placed Willett alongside notable actors including “Orange is the New Black’s” Natasha Lyonne and Megan Mullally.
His community theater roots left their mark on Willett as he still enjoys stage acting. But he admits there is a difference between acting on stage and acting for the screen.
“I would like to continue to do both. You get something different when you’re performing live. For film and TV you can be more settled.”
“Faking It” is MTV’s newest scripted series, a high school-set romantic comedy that debuts Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. and depicts two high school best friends, Karma, played by former season nine “American Idol” contestant Katie Stevens, and Amy, played by Rita Volk, who are mistakenly outed as lesbians. Their popularity soars because of it and the pair decide to keep up the charade. The catch? One of the friends is actually secretly in love with the other.
Willett plays Shane, a gay teen and the most popular boy in school. Willett says Shane holds his popularity status because he is witty and has a great sense of style. He says that Shane is a “more idealized” version of himself.
At this high school, popularity is based on how different a person can be.
“The more unique you are the cooler you are,” Willett says.
Shane decides to nominate Karma and Amy for homecoming queens. They end up winning and have to kiss in front of the entire school. It leads to one of the girls realizing her feelings may be deeper and more complicated than she realized.
“It’s an opportunity to see high school in a different way. It deals with a lot of issues people deal with like figuring out who you are,” Willett says.
Willett is gay and says he didn’t have a big “coming out” story. He also believes his sexual orientation has been a benefit to his career.
“My family just always knew,” Willett says. “Sexuality isn’t a black and white thing. Everyone is on the scale. Being out has given me the ability to be different and I’m happy to be representing the community.”
But Willett hopes that playing gay characters won’t have a long-lasting effect on his career. He is prepared to take his acting skills as far as they can go and stretch beyond the “gay best friend” role.
“I would like to believe I’m not typecast. I would like to try science fiction and action. Whatever is needed of me,” he says.
Willett, who lives in Los Angeles, has kept auditioning for other roles on hold to focus on “Faking It.” However, his ambitions go beyond just scripts. He is also a musician with an upcoming debut album titled “Diapason” with his first single “Burning Desire” to be released soon. He describes his music as “glam-rock but poppy” and likens it to psychedelic rock duo MGMT.
Despite his excitement over his new music Willett is still passionate about people watching “Faking It.” He hopes the audience will connect with the show.
“There isn’t another show like it. It’s both funny and meaningful. The characters are human and believable.”