Michael Shulman
(© Joaquin Sedillo)
Michael Shulman
(© Joaquin Sedillo)
If visions of Leo Bloom dance in one's head upon first meeting Michael Shulman, he quickly hastens to correct the image. "I didn't want to be a producer and I really want to do someone else's project," says the 26-year-old actor, who was indeed both co-producer and co-star of the recent Off-Broadway play, White People, and the upcoming film, Sherman's Way, which gets a theatrical release on March 6 after generating buzz on the nation's festival circuit.

While he's been away from acting for a while, he's hardly an unknown. He appeared on Broadway as Gavroche in Les Miserables -- after which his father, Julius, founded Broadway Kids -- and Four Baboons Adoring the Sun, as well as the original Off-Broadway production of Assassins. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 1997 for playing a terminally ill child in the HBO special Someone Had to be Benny, and is fondly remembered for a brief run as Artie Baum, Lacey Chabert's love interest on FOX's hit drama Party of Five. But sometimes one has to make one's own opportunities.

He's definitely in adult mode in Sherman's Way, which co-stars Chabert, Tony Award winner Donna Murphy (who earned an Emmy for playing his mom in Benny), James LeGros, and Enrico Colantoni. The film features Shulman in the title role: an over-privileged, over-educated son of a high power New York lawyer (played by Murphy), who has mapped out her son's life as well as his career path.

The idea for the movie came about when Shulman and director Craig Saavedra -- who met when the teen-aged Shulman appeared in Saavedra's directorial debut film, Rhapsody in Bloom -- were searching for a first project for their producing company, Starry Night Entertainment. "Craig is in his mid-40's and living in L.A. and I'm in my mid-20's here in New York, so we're a good match to balance film and theater," Shulman explains. "We looked at about 300 scripts to find something in which I was to have just a small role. But nothing clicked, so we decided to take a road trip and talk it all out. I flew to San Francisco and we're driving down the Pacific Coast Highway through Napa with all this amazing scenery, and my cell phone doesn't work, so I'm stranded and wham, we both go, 'This is the movie!' A New York guy on a road trip to nowhere in particular, a buddy flick where the buddies don't really like each other -- plus a sort of a love story."

The film is quite different from White People, a trio of interlocking monologues in which Shulman -- who grew a goatee to look older onstage -- played Alan, a young father and college professor trying desperately to prove he's not a racist, even after he and his wife are attacked by a gang of African-Americans in a local park. It was a character he knew he could draw on in some ways. "I grew up in New York, lived on Madison Avenue and 89th, went to Dalton and Yale, and I now live on the Upper West Side. "So I've known guys like Alan all my life."

So, what's next? Starry Night is already working on a new Broadway musical for next season. Way to go Sherman, er, Shulman!