Charleston actor Michael James Daly’s career began with The Karate Kid. It was the first film he saw in the cinema that sparked his desire to act in films. “Growing up, I kind of lived my life through movies and TV,” Daly said. “There was something in this whole world [that made me] want to be part of [it]. I want to be part of this world.
Daly has since had a long and varied career, spanning over 20 years, culminating this year with his short film Fatal Renown, which recently won Best Comedy Short at the GenreBlast Film Festival. Daly himself also won Best Actor in a Short Film, his first professional acting award.
Fatal Renown follows Daly, playing himself, as he navigates one day in his life. The film begins in his past, highlighting some of the harsh criticism a young Daly (played by Brooks Hawkins) faced as an overweight gay kid trying to be an actor. In the present, adult Daly receives bad news from his agent before attending a horror movie convention. In front of a panel of accomplished directors, Daly is verbally abused before finally snapping and getting revenge.
The short, co-written by Daly and Charleston filmmaker Michelle Iannantuono (who also helmed the production), is an ’80s-tinged comedy-horror story that’s actually based on a true story. Although no exaggerated blood was spilled in real life, Daly was disguised by a panel of filmmakers at a horror convention in 2015, an incident that left its mark.
“The whole experience was so surreal that everything is in slow motion in my head,” Daly said. “There was definitely a reaction. I could feel people in the room looking at me. And the discomfort.
Daly went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York for college, before heading to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting. In the early 2000s, he booked musical theater gigs due to his tap dancing skills. But personal difficulties set back his film career until the mid-2010s.
Since then, Daly has worked on a plethora of film projects. His credits include short film projects like Moultrie Lake Massacre and hell screaming. He also landed a role in the Charleston-produced CBS television series. The Inspectors. But the incident at the horror convention kept coming back to him. Daly doesn’t consider himself a writer, so he reached out to Iannantuono for help writing and producing the story.
“There were so many scares that I had to go through,” Daly said of adapting the story. “When it first happened, I was so mad at him.” The writing duo created the script for Fatal Renown in 2018, which touches on much of Daly’s life before and up to the convention incident. The script was released on the screenwriting festival circuit before being shot in 2021.
“Daly was the first professional actor I worked with,” Iannantuono said. “We met in 2016 when I was a totally green writer/director with no budget who was so afraid of offending the actors that I was doing 17 takes instead of giving notes. But Michael was infinitely patient and kind, and our collaborations over the years have only grown in scope and importance.
Daly has appeared in several of Iannantuono’s previous films, including those from 2018 Live Scream and 2020s Detroit Evolution. “He’s one of the few constants in my film career,” Iannantuono said. “Helping bring its story to life in Fatal Renown was something I didn’t think twice about. I am so happy to see someone so knowledgeable, professional and with a big heart finally having their moment.
Fatal Renown really strikes a nerve with film festival crowds. The story’s setting and plot speaks to filmmakers, actors, and anyone who’s ever attended a panel. The short played at PopCon, Macon Film Fest, and Horrorhound Cincinnati. Fatal Renown won best comedy at ConCarolinas and best local horror at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival to join its GenreBlast awards.
Now being able to present himself as a writer-actor has raised his profile in the film community, both locally and abroad. “So now I have a bit more shine on me as a product,” Daly said. “Now he’s emailing those admins… [and] I hope they can see me in a different light.
Daly has an upcoming role in Sallywood, a feature film starring Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland, so his acting career is definitely on an upward trajectory. But Fatal Renown helped him face the toughest parts of his early career and gave him hope for the future.
“I was able to take all the shit that happened to me,” Daly said, “and turn it into something important. To have done that, and then to see that product be taken so graciously at those film festivals, and then winning…it’s amazing.
“That’s something that’s really important to say,” Daly added. “Now I have something that can significantly help another person.”
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