Previously Known For: As D.J. Conner in Roseanne
|Currently Known For: As Antonelli in Undrafted and as D.J. Conner in Roseanne|
“I love being an actor. As a kid, you know black and white, anger and happiness. Kids usually don’t have the life experience to paint all the shades of gray. I was a happy kid living a dream surrounded by great people on Roseanne… I’m stronger personally and professionally from all my life experience.” The middle of three children, Michael Aaron Fishman was born on October 21, 1981 in Los Angeles, California where his father worked as a jeweler and his mother was a college professor. With his older sister, Robyn, already taking advantage of their proximity to Hollywood and going on a handful of auditions, Fishman found himself tagging along to her auditions where he soon decided that acting looked like fun.
“My sister had been auditioning for a while, and I decided I would like to try it too,” Fishman said of his early interest. “I signed on with an agent but it was 1988 during a writer’s strike and there was no work.” Although his parents didn’t want him to take anything long-term in television or film, they couldn’t say no when Fishman was invited to audition for a new sitcom called Roseanne. “My parents initially said, ‘no thank you,’ until the agent insisted, ‘Don’t worry, they want someone with experience. He will never get it. It’s just good experience,’” Fishman recalled. “That started a seven-audition process spanning six months that turned into nine incredible years.”
Although the pilot had already been filmed, Fishman impressed the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, so much during his early audition that she invited him back. So, what about the six-year-old caught Barr’s eye? When she asked him to tell her a joke, without hesitation, Fishman said, “Why did the turtle cross the road? …chicken’s day off.” Barr was impressed and fought for Fishman to win the role as her on-screen son. By then, ABC had already picked up the sitcom and, much to his and his parent’s surprise, Fishman found himself as part of the main cast on a series that would run the next decade and become the most watched television show in history.
“Roseanne and I connected immediately at my second audition,” Fishman said of his early experience on the set and with the cast. “When many in the world have walked away from me, she has been my champion. I hope to repay that now as an adult. John Goodman is a mountain of a man. Reserved off stage, effervescent on it, he has been truly kind. Laurie, who plays Jackie, was the perfect mom. Her daughter Zoe and I grew up running around the studio lot. As much as Jackie is neurotic, Laurie is authentic and dependable. Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene, has one of the best hearts. Smart and strategic, she is a quiet powerhouse. Lecy, who played Becky, is truly a free spirit. Hopefully, I am the loyal empathetic admirer who supports them all encouraging their greatness.”
Making a home on Roseanne from 1988 to 1997, Fishman grew up in front of the cameras as the show welcomed special guests like Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds and Bruce Willis. Always the professional, Fishman remained focused and embraced his role as D.J. with a dedication that earned him a Young Artist Award nomination in 1989 and 1991. He took home the Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor in a TV Comedy Series in 1995 and, in 1997, was nominated one last time for a Young Star Award.
As the youngest of the cast, Fishman struggled through the Roseanne finale, knowing that it would mark the end of an era and his return to high school. “The end of the show was one of the hardest times of my life. I was devastated,” he said. “The cast and crew were my family. I’ll always love so many of those people. They shaped me as a person and made me who I am.” Using that experience to push him forward, he enjoyed a handful of small roles on Seinfeld and Walker, Texas Ranger but ultimately chose to focus on finishing his senior year at Orange County High School of the Arts. He returned to television to cohost The Roseanne Show in 1999 but then turned his attention to producing, writing and directing, which led him behind the scenes and introduced him to his wife.
“I decided if I wanted to be a producer, writer-director, I needed to know more so I went behind the scenes to expand my knowledge and skill in the business,” Fishman said. “My sports and production skills brought me to Sports Science. Then I became a dad—that changed everything. I had a new top priority which is working hard to take care of my wife and kids. I spent the next few years playing baseball, then coaching and giving back. Over the 16 years, I have coached baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and hockey. All the while, I have been making notes, writing down names, sketching out stories. I always knew what I wanted. I just thought it would take me a little longer for the opportunity.”
Despite his transition behind the scenes and his family-focused lifestyle, Fishman returned to Hollywood in 2006 and has spent the last decade designing sets, assistant directing and operating the cameras as he perfects his talents as an actor through classes, improv events and stand-up. In 2007, his hard work paid off when he earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Production Design and Art Direction for Sport Science. “I have been building toward my dreams while supporting my kids in theirs,” Fishman said.
In 2017, Fishman’s dreams came true when he was asked to reprise his role as D.J. Conner in the ABC network revival of Roseanne, which is set to premiere in March 2018. “I loved playing D.J., that’s part of the reason I am willing to come back,” the 36-year-old Fishman said. “My beautiful experience playing D.J. helped shape who I am today. I wouldn’t trade that experience for a little easier path now.”
As for how Fishman has remained humble after all these years despite being part of one of the greatest television shows of all time, he says it all comes back to his parents and his television family. “My humility started with my parents,” he says. “It was shaped by our crew who never let me be a star. Truthfully, I expect fame. I expect success because I work hard every day, but I don’t see myself as special. I see it as I have a more public job when I act and know what it is like to do manual labor. With Roseanne coming back, I’ll be thrust back into a more public existence. I’ve stuggled enough I don’t think I can forget. My real fear is I’ve seen fame change others from sports, music, and entertainent. My hope is my kids are old enough now I can keep it from altering them.”