The Untold Truth Of Michael McKean

Some actors like to think they live their lives on the edge, but has anyone turned it up to 11 quite like Michael McKean? While he might be best known for being the lead singer of the fictional English rock band Spinal Tap in "This Is Spinal Tap," McKean has established himself as not only a talented actor but also a total package in entertainment. Seriously, one would need to look far and wide for another actor who is also a successful comedian, screenwriter, composer, and musician. What's even more remarkable is how he has managed to reinvent himself and not be stuck to one singular project at any point.

For decades, McKean has entertained us, but how much do we really know about him? Aside from the personal details he has opted to reveal in interviews, there's more to his career and life than meets the eye. From his love for superheroes and Turner Classic Movies to his unexpected firing from "Saturday Night Live" and a lawsuit involving Spinal Tap, here is the untold truth of Michael McKean.

Michael McKean was approached to appear in Breaking Bad

Playing Chuck McGill, the older brother of Jimmy (aka Saul Goodman), Michael McKean threatened to steal the whole show in "Better Call Saul." His performance was so good that Vulture declared him "the best actor on TV," and he garnered an Emmy Award nomination in the Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series category (via Emmys). This pitch-perfect casting, however, might never have happened had McKean accepted a part in the "Breaking Bad" universe years earlier.

In a career-spanning interview with Esquire, McKean discussed how he had known "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan from his time on "The X-Files." When asked if he had been approached to appear on the award-winning drama about Walter White's journey from high school chemistry teacher to fearsome drug lord, McKean said: "Yeah. Without elaborating too much, it was one of those situations, yeah. And I was on my way to Broadway with something, but, boy, I'm glad it worked out this way." The only question here is, which part did Gilligan have in mind for McKean initially? Could he maybe have been eyed for Saul Goodman before Bob Odenkirk?

He didn't leave SNL by choice

While Michael McKean has proven himself a more than capable musician and dramatic actor, he is also renowned for having the comedic chops to have the audience in stitches. Most people will point to his performance as David St. Hubbins in the mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap" as his most hilarious moment in the genre; however, he also had a stint on "Saturday Night Live" in the mid-'90s. As per Entertainment Weekly, it was the second time he had been approached to appear on the show, since he'd turned down the opportunity a decade earlier.

However, his stint on "SNL" didn't last as long as some might have expected, including himself. McKean joined the cast in 1994 and departed a little over a year later. Chatting to Recode Media (via Vox), McKean revealed that he didn't leave on his own terms but was pushed out with everyone else. "No, they cleaned house, but the main year I was on, it was ... Not all the elements were gelling," he said. "Let's just put it that way." McKean added that there was a New York columnist who would write a weekly article criticizing the show and asking for it to be canceled, and it struck a nerve since it was disheartening to read such negative reviews on a regular basis.

Michael McKean always knew he wanted to be an entertainer

Childhood affords us a period to dream unconditionally. It's a time when we imagine becoming whatever we want to be — nothing is too big, too small, or out of reach. That said, no child wakes up thinking they want to become an accountant or manager; however, life often has other cruel plans for us. For Michael McKean, he knew from an early age that a traditional career path simply wasn't on the cards for him at all.

Speaking to Slate, McKean admitted that he wasn't sure if he wanted to be an actor in high school, but he knew that his heart lay in the arts in some way or the other. "I didn't know," he said. "I was also learning the guitar. I thought maybe I'd be a songwriter. I didn't know. I just knew that I wasn't going to be a damn lawyer or something you'd need a lot of schooling for." Ultimately, McKean combined all of his passion and managed to do a bit of everything in his career.

He admitted the team tore up the script for This Is Spinal Tap

One of the best parts about "This Is Spinal Tap" was how it parodied the self-seriousness and overindulgence of the rock 'n' roll genre. It poked fun in the right kind of way as the actors nailed down the prototype for the mockumentary genre that would become the template for future films. What was particularly impressive was how it relied on the actors' improvisation skills to carry the film and cement the cast as legitimate comedic talents — but would this have been entirely possible with a by-the-numbers script in place?

In an interview with Slate, Michael McKean discussed how the plans for "This Is Spinal Tap" were originally far more traditional in nature. "We actually started writing a screenplay, because the company paid us to write a screenplay," he said. "I think we got about a page and a half into it, and we just said, this is really boring. This is not going to yield what we want to show. And we said, well, let's really do it documentary style." Good thing that they trusted their intuition here since the film became a cult classic and is set to receive a sequel in 2024, as per Variety.

Michael McKean almost played a different character on Smallville

"Smallville" featured a host of famous actors showing up as popular DC characters throughout its 10-season run. One of the appearances that made most fans stand up and take notice was Michael McKean as Perry White, the editor in chief of the Daily Planet. Not only was it an iconic part for McKean, but it also allowed him the opportunity to share the screen with his real-life wife, Annette O'Toole, who portrayed Martha Kent on the show.

However, McKean revealed to KryptonSite that he was approached for a much different role to begin with. "They ... talked about me playing some other part, something involved with the high school, not the principal, I don't know," he said. "But then I don't really exactly know how it came about [to play Perry]. They wanted to get me up there with Annette, and I thought it would be fun to work together, because it always is." When McKean found out that the part would be for Perry, he was instantly excited since he had been a long-time comic book fan, as per Flickering Myth.

He only missed one scheduled stage performance in his life

There is a saying that "half the battle is showing up every day." Most successful people attest to this, believing that consistency and reliability are the two most important ingredients for a long career. Considering Michael McKean's decade-spanning experiences across film, television, music and theater, it's safe to say that he's the poster child of showing up — and he agrees, bar that one time when the choice was taken out of his hands.

In an interview with Esquire, McKean revealed how important his stage shows were to him and how he prided himself on always appearing, until an unfortunate instance forced him to miss a scheduled show for the play "All the Way." "I had been one of those guys who had never ever missed a curtain until May 22, 2012, when I was hit by a car," he said. "That's the first time I ever missed a curtain. The string was broken anyway, so it was very difficult to leave ['All the Way']. I think I only missed five performances total." Talk about total commitment to the cause.

He believes comedy should embrace the dark side

A show like "Better Call Saul" is best described as a dramedy whereby it contains a splash of a humorous element but also holds a deep and powerful emotional resonance. While it might be hilarious to watch Jimmy's ingenious schemes come to fruition and to see how slippery he can truly be, there have been tragic moments on the series such as the horrific death of Chuck and how he never managed to repair his relationship with his brother.

There are some people who believe that comedy shouldn't venture so far into the abyss of darkness; however, Michael McKean isn't one of these individuals. As a bona fide and successful comedian, he's someone who should know a thing or two about what is and what isn't funny. Speaking to The Big Issue, he said, "Comedy can be dark. It can be jet black. And that's kind of wonderful. Look at 'Monty Python'! A lot of laughs, but it is terribly dark. I don't think that's much of a line to cross."

David Tennant was starstruck by Michael McKean on Good Omens

The first season of "Good Omens," the television adaptation of the fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, featured a stellar cast. From the likes of Michael Sheen to Michael McKean, there was no shortage of talent as there was a star in every role. In the series, McKean portrayed Sergeant Shadwell, the last of a witchfinder army.

Despite there being a famous face in every scene (and lest we forget, the four horsemen of the apocalypse), that didn't stop David Tennant, who played the demon Crowley, from succumbing to the nerves of sharing the screen with McKean, an actor he deeply admired. "It's not very helpful being starstruck," Tennant told The Sydney Morning Herald. "I was very starstruck by Billy Connolly a few years ago and it takes you a couple of days to relax. Really, it's not helpful because you don't do your best work when you're slightly in awe of the people around you." As long as Tennant didn't ask for a selfie while McKean was filming a scene or waiting for him outside of the bathroom, it's unlikely that the veteran actor would have been too bothered about Tennant's enthusiasm for his body of work.

Michael McKean loves Batman

Who doesn't love Batman and want to be him in real life? As the self-anointed protector of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne dresses up as a giant bat, breaks all the speed limits in his souped-up Batmobile, and punches criminals in the face until they beg to be put away in Arkham Asylum.

As revealed in a Q&A interview with Warner Home Video (via Flickering Myth), Michael McKean also can't get enough of the Dark Knight. "When I was a kid, I adored the Bob Kane's 1950s 'Batman,'" he said. "I liked the 'Superman' comics and 'Justice League' and 'Flash' and 'The Atom' — nobody does 'The Atom' anymore, and that was a cool super hero — but I did love Batman. I loved the fact that they always found a way to stage the climactic scenes in a warehouse of gigantic toys, or huge oversized stuffed animals."

McKean received some time in the DC Universe as he voiced Dr. Wolper in "The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1" and the Joker in one episode of "The New Batman Adventures." And speaking of the Clown Prince of Crime, McKean tweeted his choice of who should play the chuckling supervillain in "The Batman": Kristen Stewart.

He joined his co-star's This Is Spinal Tap lawsuit

"This Is Spinal Tap" was all about the chuckles in 1984, but it was no laughing matter for Harry Shearer. In 2016, the actor filed a lawsuit against Vivendi SA, claiming that accounting related to the total income of the film and its merchandise had been misreported and not in line with the initial agreements signed by the respective parties, as per Spin. Shearer claimed $125 million in compensation. A year later, Shearer's collaborators — Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, and Christopher Guest — joined the lawsuit, raising the total claim to $400 million.

"'This is Spinal Tap' was the result of four very stubborn guys working very hard to create something new under the sun," McKean said in a statement. "The movie's influence on the last three decades of film comedy is something we are very proud of. But the buck always stopped somewhere short of Rob, Harry, Chris and myself. It's time for a reckoning. It's only right."

As per a Deadline report in 2020, the parties reached a settlement. Undoubtedly, this is also the reason that there was a delay in announcing the long-awaited sequel to "This Is Spinal Tap."

He is a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies

After a long day at work, there's nothing better than arriving home, kicking back, grabbing a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, and putting on the television to see what's on. For most of us, this involves browsing through the catalogs of Netflix, Disney+, or HBO Max for hours on end and struggling to decide what to watch — and probably settling on another marathon of "The Office" for the hundredth time. Well, Michael McKean doesn't suffer from this problem, since he knows what to do when he gets in front of his television screen.

In an interview with Slate, it was mentioned that McKean is a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies, and the actor elaborated on his love for the channel further. "It's what I do — as the TV is warming up, I hit 82, I'm going to see what's going on there, and there are some movies like if it's right in the middle of it, it's like, 'Oh s***, I'm not going anywhere,'" he said. McKean added that he gets gripped by the variety of films on offer and believes there's something for everyone of all ages on the channel. Is anyone else feeling like they should tune in to TCM tonight instead of a streaming service after reading McKean's complimentary words about it?

Michael McKean reveals which real-life band is Spinal Tap

As is clear enough, "This Is Spinal Tap" hit the nail on the head in terms of the silliness of rock bands and their antics. For years, band members had done outlandish things and behaved strangely in the press, but it had all been shrugged off as rock stars simply being rock stars. Thanks to the 1984 mockumentary, Spinal Tap became the recognizable term for these kinds of groups, especially when they were odder than otter. So which band could be considered a real-life version of Spinal Tap then?

Well, there's no one better than Mr. David St. Hubbins to answer that question. In a hilarious interview with The A.V. Club, Michael McKean opened up about which group he would consider the closest to Spinal Tap. "Well, there really is no one answer," he said. "I heard a rumor that Foghat or Foreigner or Journey ... One of those bands. I think maybe Foghat, because I don't think it was anybody as big as Journey where a girlfriend took over management of the band and was using astrology as a guide." Hmm ... the question is, what do Foghat's members think of this comparison? Maybe some bands might not want to be known as the real-life Spinal Tap.