Ink Master's Season 7 winner Anthony Michaels is a phenomenal tattoo artist. Despite the fact he won $100,000 on a reality TV show filled with grandiose egos, Michaels is soft spoken and humble. I recently spoke with Michaels at 7:30AM Arizona time after he had already been to the gym and had just dropped his children off at school.
Dan Lorenzo: I feel like your children are cutting into our time as potential friends.
Anthony Michaels: [sighs] Bro, they cut into everything. They're like that boss that you never see. It's like the boss you always hear about at your job, but you never get to see him, but they're running everything. They're running shit. [laughs]
I like to goof on people even the first time I meet them. When I first met you in NYC and I told you I lived in a lily-white, gated community that doesn't allow black people in — why didn't you hit me?
Because that's something that's out of my control man. Let's say that was really a thing. It is what it is. What can I do about it? What can this one black guy do? [laughs] Then on top of the fact I'm super gullible. I didn't know you, so I was like, "Shit — is he being funny? I don't know if he's serious or not. Fuck it." [laughs]
I live in New Jersey and Ink Master is filmed in New Jersey, and you told me you assumed all of New Jersey was like that [top secret] town?
No! I'm not an idiot! [laughs] Every state has its parts. When we were driving to the studio, I was like "OK, we're going through an industrial part, but we're just driving through it." Then we got to the studio and I saw this is where we're staying. And then at night, outside, there were people outside arguing and fights, the cops were coming by and I was like, "Why the fuck are we in this area?" Then we got outside [of the area] to do the challenges; it was beautiful.
I know you're a happily married man, but I always hear you're totally locked in when you're filming Ink Master. Do they ever allow conjugal visits or are you really locked in there for months?
Fucking locked in there. I was talking to my wife and we were trying to figure out all kinds of angles. I don't like to lie, so I went to the executive producers and I was like, "Look. What's wrong with my wife coming up here? She has to go to the East Coast to film some commercials. She can't stop by?" And they said, "No. We'd love to have you guys interact, but we can't run the risk of someone not coming back or someone wanting to get home." I get it, but I think you have to use your judgment. I wanted to hold my wife and kiss her and hug her. What's the big deal?
I know you're a baller. Who are your favorite NBA players?
I was always a Jordan fan. I always admired Clyde Drexter, James Worthy, and guys like that when I was younger. As I got older, I was a big Kobe fan. I didn't care too much for his attitude, but once he matured and he played with his team, he didn't complain as much and talk out the side of his mouth. He was the shit and I respected him more. I'm one of the only athletes you'll meet who doesn't follow sports. I'll turn on Sports Center and I'm pretty old fashioned. When I find something I like, I stick with it, but I know there's tons of talent out there.
And you played in a Mexican basketball league in Mexico?
Yeah. There's two leagues down there. You have a league called CIBACOPA and that's professional, but it's like a minor league profession. And then you have LBA, Latin Basketball Association. That's their equivalent of the NBA and I got a chance to play in that a little bit. People are like, "What? Mexicans don't play basketball!" It's not just Mexicans. There's 7 footers everywhere and I was among the shortest on my teams.
Really? You're tall. How tall are you?
I'm 6'5". So it was a big deal.
I live in NJ. I've been to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. You live in Arizona. Yesterday you told me you haven't been to either?
[laughs] I knew that was coming! You know, I'm upset at myself for... as I've grown older, I've really learned to appreciate the finer things in life. Your environment is also a product of who you are and where you're going. I really wish I would have taken a trip to Sedona to get in touch with what Arizona is about. I live here. I don't like to make excuses but... basketball, work, my family and I just never made time for it I guess.
I was at the live finale and it was very difficult to hear, but when the judges first saw your back piece they thought it looked unfinished, right?
So did you think you blew it?
Yeah, I blew it! I'm not an actor, I'm the next Ink Master, not the next Denzel Washington! I left my actor pants at home and said the wrong thing. I wanted him to have a white spine and a white beard and I accomplished that, but I wanted to spend more time on that Japanese dragon piece. For the time I had, I did what I could do, but once [Chris] Nunez asked me about time, my brain just started shouting, "Shit, is he looking at the beard, what is he seeing?" and I just said, "Yeah, I ran out of time." I'm not as good at the performance aspect of being on the spot. I blew what I wanted to say, but not the dragon.
You grew close to Christian Buckingham during the season. I thought his final work would get him the win. You seem like a modest man. Do you have any winner's guilt?
I definitely have winner's guilt. That's one of the things that Christian and I talked about - he told me, "Do not feel fuckin' bad, you EARNED it." I saw Christian standing at the end, and going into the finale, I thought there was no way I was going to win. Cleen, he got robbed last time. They're both exceptional, at least I made it this far. Christian knocked it out of the park. I saw why they voted for me based on the technical stuff they pointed out during the finale. The reason why I did the stuff I did was because I wanted to show what I could do. I'm not as fast as those guys, and I won't let quality collapse from trying to work too fast. I do feel guilty, but I don't want to discredit myself. But those guys earned it, too! We lived together for months, cooking together, working out together, laughing together, and only one of us can win. It still hasn't sunk in. I came home and went right back to work, but I love those guys. I definitely feel guilty, but I've got to back the title up. I don't think I did something WRONG, but those guys were just as good as I was.
Not as far as artists, but as far as people: Who were your other favorite people from last year's contestants?
Everybody. I have a hard time when it comes to favorites outside of food and limited personal things. I can't choose one. I saw everybody as equal, I had a different relationship with everyone in there. Even the staff, production, people you only see behind the scenes, the judges, the cast, the camera crew. I honestly cannot say there was one I liked more than another. I was very close with Christian, Cleen, Jimi, Sausage, Matti.... those are who come to mind, but really because they only stayed the longest. In the beginning, Alex and Picasso, they both struggled and it bothered me to watch them struggle with the pressure. Everybody was really great.
What made you decide to attend the United Ink convention in Long Island this weekend?
The energy! The opportunity to watch other artists I look up to - work, to pick up on things they do and see if I can apply it. Meet more vendors working with the industry with new innovative things... everyone I've come across on the East Coast and New York has been really phenomenal. Maybe there's just tons of good people out there? New York, the East Coast has just been fucking cool as hell. I love Arizona, I've been here my whole life, but out there it's good times. The food, the shopping, everything's amazing.
On social media outlets I've seen you and a few of the other cast members refer to the original 8 as "The Wolfpack." What is that about?
Oh man! They didn't let us run with that because of copyright stuff and other people may feel like that term is something they own. The first day, St. Marq came out, and we were all freaking out. We all do our tattoo, go upstairs, and Christian and I are talkin' and EVERY WEEK, a veteran who almost won this whole thing is coming back. We need to stick together, like a wolfpack! I have a thing with werewolves, and what that means to me... it's what I'm about. I told Christian about that and he really dug it, so we decided we were the wolfpack and we were going to come together to beat the veterans. We wanted to make sure that in the end it was us, battling together, just like it was in the very beginning.
I've seen a lot about you and werewolves, too! Can you talk about that?
As a kid, it was... probably late 80's or early 90's. I saw [An] American Werewolf in London and I was just in awe at how this dude transformed into this fucking monster. That's what intrigued me at first - the whole transformation. What really floored me in a positive way, not a sick way, was that he went back to normal and was a normal human being, there was blood all over his clothes, he was freaking out, he was an ANIMAL, but then he came back. That always stuck with me as a kid, and it translated into how I feel about my personal life. When I was faced with a struggle, I did everything I could to come out on top. Respectfully, of course, not by cheating or anything but by putting my best foot forward. And then I move on, I'm back to normal. Then there was a sponsor at one of my basketball games who said that when I was playing [and] a win was on the line, [I] play like a man possessed. That was the first time someone really noticed the mindset I go into when I have a goal. It's not an emo thing for me, but it's a metaphor for how I apply it to challenges - parenting, going to the gym, tattooing, dealing with uncomfortable situations... I do things with the best of my ability, and when I"m done, I gave 110%. I go on about my business and keep it moving. It's a weird thing that keeps me pushing forward.
What's coming up for you in the immediate future, and in the long term?
The next few months are pretty hectic with travel, so I need to get through that. Once the dust settles, I want to focus on getting a house for the wife and kids. I'm tired of paying rent. I just need to continue to work to get better. I'm extremely far from where I want and need to be as an artist; I don't have time to sit and think about and brag about being "Ink Master." That's not where I am anymore. I need to continue to build a foundation for my family and myself, and I've got five little ones watching. I need to build a legacy, so they know how things are supposed to be done. I hope I can have the opportunity to tattoo for a really long time. I know some guys and gals' careers get longer, they go on and get old and they seem to want to do the newest thing... I fear plateauing. I need to stay on top of things, sixty years down the road I still want people lined up because I do quality work.