If you had a normal first conversation with Michael Benzaia, he would tell you that he is just a regular Italian-American guy from New York. However, as someone who is both an actor/television personality and a CT/XR Technologist at Resolution Imaging in Santa Monica, he is living the LA life in a most unique way.
“I might be the only CT/X-ray tech/actor in the world,” Benzaia said. “It‚Äôs very LA.”
With the ever-burning passion to create, Benzaia always wanted to be an actor, either on stage or on screen. His parents advised him to take up a side career for stability, but he could not go the same route as most aspiring actors in the industry.
“I am honestly the worst waiter you‚Äôll ever meet,” Benzaia said. “I‚Äôm a terrible bartender. I‚Äôm a terrible waiter. I did it for like, two weeks, and I got fired.”
Benzaia was inspired to go into medicine after his mother‚Äôs tragic breast cancer diagnosis, back when he was in the eighth¬†grade. Seeing his mother struggle with cancer made him want to learn as much as possible in the medical field as a way of advocating for her. She later died shortly into his freshman year of college at SUNY Orange, but he felt at peace with it.
“It was almost like she knew I was going to be okay,” Benzaia said. “I was enrolled in school and on the right track.”
Shortly upon earning his X-ray tech certification, he worked to become a CT-tech, which he got after graduating with a degree in radiological sciences at Manhattan College. He finally topped it all off with a masters degree in health care administration at Nyack College in Hudson Valley, N.Y.
Medicine and acting serves as the perfect balance for Benzaia. Medicine represents¬†the mind and acting/creating represents¬†the heart, with it all swirling around and having the¬†LA environment cultivating the soul.
“My heart is in the acting world,” Benzaia said. “That‚Äôs where my passion is. I love creating and in the medical world, you don‚Äôt create. I don‚Äôt go, ‚ÄòMaybe I‚Äôll do it this way.‚Äô No, this is the way you do it or else this person is going to die.”
Benzaia had his fair share of roles in medical shows including playing a doctor in an episode of the Mindy Project ‚Äì also a double for Chris Messina and a resident doctor on the show. He was also on CBS‚Äô “the Doctors”, which he considers to be the medical role that brings out the most pride because he was host that brought actual knowledge for the viewers about the world they lived in.
But for every one of those gold stars on the IMDB, there are many more medical dramas that just drove him crazy watching it. Medical dramas as a genre are insufferable to watch for Benzaia, who was on set for a few of them with TLC and at one point saw the X-rays upside down.
Even though he is on scholarship at the Stellar Adler Academy, Benzaia has also had work in the grimy, pyrite world of reality television. Those who consider themselves as serious actors look down on the realm of reality as the bastardization of their craft.
Benzaia however, entered that realm with youthful and reckless abandon ‚Äì one of the few to do so with a Stella Alder scholarship. He saw the benefits of playing with reality pour in from powerful connections in entertainment to a social media following which led to signing an agent to, most importantly, money to pay off student debt and pay for acting classes. That includes competing in an effort to win the big cash prize in survivor shows like USA‚Äôs Summer Camp.
“I went there to win,” Benzaia said. “Acting classes are expensive.”
While working on both scripted and non-scripted projects, Benzaia created a way to separate himself from the two realms. His scripted work, like his cameo as a pink shirt-wearing bowler in a funny episode in ABC‚Äôs Modern Family, gets the first name “Michael”. His unscripted work gets “Mikey”.
“I always know how people know me from,” Benzaia said.
Never let the roles in reality fool you and make you question Benzaia‚Äôs passion in acting. He can sometime be seen in public working on monologues and building his character without the care in the world that he looks like a psychotic person, with the level of crazy usually reserved for the hobos stalking the streets of Santa Monica Boulevard.
He sometimes also does it while working out at the gym. Imagine walking into the steam room at your local gym and being greeted with a guy wearing nothing but a towel reciting a monologue.
“I go over my characters backstory and people watch and learn behaviors and take what I want for my own character,” Benzaia said. “I build the character at the gym and on the street.”
Benzaia‚Äôs life is a life similar to that of Mayim Bialik who plays the role of Sheldon‚Äôs equally nerdy girlfriend in the hit TBS sit-com, The Big Bang Theory, but in real life, is also a neurobiologist. Benzaia said that through his run of interviewing celebrities as an After Buzz host, Bialik is his favorite to interview because of the similarities they share in both science and acting.
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.