Role of a Lifetime: Mike Boyle Carves Out Careers in Acting and Carpentry
By Kelly McCarthy
Mike Boyle in one of his theatrical performances and, at right, backstage getting ready for a performance.
Sometimes you can look at someone and you just know what he does for a living. For Mike Boyle, he remembers a time when people would look at him from across the room and say, “You should be an actor.”
Except that at the time, Boyle wasn’t an actor. He was working in the trades in Sea Isle City, where he would learn carpentry and eventually base his highly successful business, Boyle Finish Carpenters.
You might know that Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter before making it big in Hollywood, and early in his career might even have worked at his trade between acting gigs.
Now, Mike Boyle does not look like Harrison Ford. He looks more like Jimmy Cagney. He’s got the square jaw, that map-of-Ireland face, the swagger. The way he moves, rhythmically, you half expect him to break out in a tap dance and start singing, “I’m a Yankee doodle dandy.”
But how does a guy from a small New Jersey town – where he has no mentors, no point of reference – become an actor, one who has a feature role in a film that will be produced this fall? All he had was this dream that he was embarrassed to admit to anyone.
So, what’s his story? Well, for Boyle, it all started in a darkened living room, where only the light of the television set illuminated the outlines of the figures surrounding him: his mother, and his father, a funny man with great natural timing.
“My dad was always a singer in the house,” Boyle says. “He was funny, extremely funny, and through osmosis, not him teaching me, I would learn timing from him. If we went into a restaurant, or we’d go anywhere, and he’d work the room.”
His siblings also sat in that dark room, watching the movie. It was his sister Kathy, next to his mother, who became his biggest supporter once he’d found the courage to get up on a stage, connect with an audience, and fulfill that inner need. Whether you call that destiny, or luck – whatever that is, years later, Boyle would walk into his purpose with an I’m-all-in mentality. The seed of that was this movie, randomly playing on TV, “All Mine to Give,” a 1957 film about an immigrant family in Wisconsin in the 1850s.
“We watched this movie,” Boyle says. “We were all in the living room and the lights were out and everybody was crying. Everybody. I said to my mom, ‘What’s this?’ And she said, as she’s crying, ‘It’s just a movie.’ But, you know, it was a tearjerker. I found that fascinating. ‘I want to do that,’ I said.”
Mike Boyle with actors Mimi Hines and Jack Carter.
That was the spark, but Boyle didn’t know how to grab onto the fire that had been lit within and turn it into anything tangible. The concept of a high school drama club was virtually nonexistent then, unlike today. So early on, he was mostly self-taught.
“I didn’t know any actors, but I would watch movies all the time,” he says. “And I’d find myself in a social situation talking in a monologue, but a monologue coming from truth. The way I would do it, I thought, ‘Where did that come from?’ And I would do it again. I would do it softer … I was making choices, and I didn’t even know what I was doing.”
Next, he began seeking people out, people like Tom McCarthy, a steady working actor from Philadelphia who managed also to be married and raise a family. Boyle looked up to him and soaked up any and all advice McCarthy had to give.
While Boyle yearned for a life on stage, he still needed work to support himself. He was fortunate to have a great carpenter named Don Lewis teach him.
“Without that knowledge, I wouldn’t have been able to open this business I have today,” Boyle says. “He was the best. And so many people told me, ‘You are so lucky to be working with this guy.’ But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be an actor.”
Still, back then, Boyle yearned not for stardom, but just to be a working actor. For him, it was all about honing the craft of acting, something he saw in McCarthy’s career, and what he wanted for himself.
Around that time, he confided his desire to work onstage to Jim Maher, a good friend who was a graduate of a music school in Philadelphia. To trust anyone with his secret was a big leap.
“Part of me was always shy,” Boyle says. “I think a lot of actors are shy, but when you get up there it’s a different thing. And growing up I was kind of uncomfortable to say I wanted to be an actor, I mean there was baseball and football, and I coached hockey for 10 years, I mean, I played those sports, but I didn’t think I could share my dream of a life in the theater with the guys.
Still, he couldn’t resist taking a shot at the business. So, he went and auditioned for “Guys and Dolls” at the 400-seat 76 House Dinner Theater in Swainton. He didn’t have a professional headshot, no résumé, because he’d never acted, he was just a guy who had jobs working with his hands, like making things with wood, like baking bread at Mazzella’s Bakery.
When Boyle went into the audition room, he sang the song he knew best, the song that always seemed to be playing on the jukebox at Braca Cafe, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
“I got called back,” he says, “and then I got cast in the show.”
Once cast, Boyle never looked back at his previous insecurities. Instead, he took all of that energy to learn the craft. The 76 House became his school. In four years, he was cast in all 12 shows. And, whenever he wasn’t in a scene, he was watching the other performers from the wings. “That was the best education,” he says.
The rest, as they say, is history. Boyle went on to have a successful acting career and joined the professional acting unions: Equity, SAG and AFTRA.
One of the highlights of his busy career was the time on the road in Peoria, Ill., in the role of the second comic in the musical revue, “Sugar Babies,” starring Mimi Hines and famed burlesque comic Pinky Lee. When Lee fell ill, Boyle was recast in the role, and after that, doors kept opening.
In addition to “Sugar Babies,” he also toured all over North America in such productions as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Damn Yankees.”
He accumulated an impressive résumé in a short amount of time, especially for someone who didn’t step onto a stage until age 25. Unfortunately, by the time he was 35, the business was changing. Bigger-name actors were getting the roles that had been going to the working actor on the street. Boyle got married, moved back to Sea Isle, and eventually back to his trade. Today, he has one of the top two finish carpentry businesses in Cape May and Atlantic counties.
“It’s creative,” he says. “It’s like any other art.”
And that’s OK with Boyle, who says that carpentry, like acting, is just another way of expressing his artistic talents. So, when he’s not in his office, listening to piano jazz on the radio, or maybe working on a bookcase or a fireplace, he might be reminiscing about his time onstage, forever in his history.
“I was a carpenter before I was an actor,” he says. “But I always wanted to be an actor, and that was always the most important thing … and I still miss it so …”
But just as Michael Corleone, Al Pacino’s “Godfather” character, famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” Mike Boyle is dipping his toes back into the business. He will have a feature role in an independent short film, “Undertaking Jessie,” which will be produced in Hammonton this fall.
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