Every once in a while, Whitpain Township resident Michael J. Lyons gets a “you look familiar” from somebody he’s never met.
Maybe it’s the Advil TV commercial — which aired so many times that he says it single-handedly paid for his son Michael Jr.’s college education. On the Netflix political drama series “House of Cards,” Lyons played the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (The producers have since cast a woman in the role). Or it could be that you recognize him as one of the scenario cast members of ABC’s Friday prime time, hidden camera show “What Would You Do?” By the way, some new episodes are due to start airing June 23, Lyons said.
Emmy-winning “What Would You Do?” host and ABC correspondent John Quiñones wrote the forward for Lyons’ first book, a roughly 122-page, homespun pep talk published by Outskirts Press titled “Set Yourself Free: Daydream It ... Believe It ... Achieve It!”.
“Mike spent more than 40 years juggling his day job, family commitments and other obligations while keeping alive his desire to make a living as a full-time actor, motivational speaker and writer,” Quiñones wrote.
Opening an app on his phone, Lyons points out the residual payments he still gets for a brief speaking role he had in a scene toward the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.”
Acting on the side since 1990, and doing speaking engagements since 2009, it was in 2014, at age 63, when Lyons decided to take the risk of stepping away from his senior-level position with trade show management company Reed Exhibitions to, as he puts it, “set myself free,” to go after any and all the acting jobs that interested him.
Lyons, who grew up in Newtown Square, first got a taste for acting during the three years his family lived in Paris, France. “One day (my father) came home and said: ‘They’re looking for a kid (to cast) in a commercial.’ It so happened I looked like Ron Howard (who became famous as a child actor in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’),” he recalled.
Although a life-long daydream to work for himself by pursuing his passions as an actor would often get deferred, he said that just like J.K. Rowling or Richard Branson, he never abandoned that daydream.
“You don’t just give up; you adjust the sails. This book is about whatever you daydream about, because we all do it ... and then you snap out of it,” said Lyons, who also performs a “Mike Sings Frank” Frank Sinatra tribute show around the region. “I wrote this book to encourage and inspire people to pursue their daydream. You daydream about it, but you have to take action. Don’t tell me you’re too old. Don’t tell me you’re too depressed. Don’t tell me you’re too young.”
According to Lyons, “Set Yourself Free” is a summer reading assignment for some students at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Delaware County, with a future follow-up discussion with the author in the works.
Some of the book’s chapters are titled “Excuses, Excuses,” “The Procrastination Trap,” “Work-Life Balance,” “The Brand of You,” “Just Do It!” (“My three favorite words of all time,” he says) and “What’s Your Legacy?”.
Keep your day job for as long as you can, he advises, but “put a stake in the ground and say: ‘Three years from now ...’ or ‘Two years from now ...’ Follow your heart, but keep your head.”
He also said to expect failure. For example, Lyons started and failed in at least three entrepreneurial businesses. Also, it took a year of pounding the pavement in New York to get his first audition. But it’s ultimately paid off, as Lyons’ TV acting credits include speaking roles in “All My Children,” HBO’s “Veep,” WGN America’s “Outsiders,” plus more than 350 live appearances on QVC.
“My wife’s great because she never says: ‘Why do you keep going to New York?’,” he said, adding that he’s developed “a hard skin” from frequently reading for distracted casting directors.
Lyons is already working on his next book — “Connecting the Dots” — about staying relevant in your field of choice.