(CNN) — Actor Dash Mihok first attracted Hollywood’s attention in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 take of “Romeo + Juliet.” Since then he’s had guest roles on a long list of television shows, including “Pearl,” “Felicity,” “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.” Mihok currently stars on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” as Ray’s brother Bunchy.
It’s an impressive career for anyone trying to break into show business, but Mihok makes it more impressive with his revelation: He was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at age 6. CNN spoke with Mihok in Lakeland, Florida, where he was speaking out against bullying at schools in connection with Jaylen’s Challenge. The following is an excerpt of that interview:
CNN: What was it like for you, at 6 years old, when you first started experiencing symptoms of Tourette’s?
Dash Mihok: My first tic was to shake my head violently. I was in karate class, and I was shaking violently. All of a sudden, I just started to notice that the teacher was looking at me, and all the kids were wondering what I was doing. I suddenly felt really strange.
It was the experience of knowing that you’re doing something and that you have to do it. It’s impossible to stop, and that’s very unnerving, no matter what age you are. You’re scared, you’re interested, you’re wondering: “What is this that’s happening to me?”
I think, as with anything that comes about health-wise, it’s always going to be sort of scary and interesting at the same time.
CNN: Did you ever experience any violent tics, where you hurt yourself of someone around you?
Mihok: I’ve have a number of violent tics. With Tourette syndrome, there’s not just compulsive actions, but compulsive thoughts as well. That used to scare my mother a lot.
I’ve done everything from having to slap my butt or kick my own face.
You know, I had this tic where I touch my mouth to my knee, and I’m always screwing up my back. I’ve had two shoulder surgeries. My doctor just smiles and laughs at me. I probably am going to need another one, because when they do the surgery, they say the one thing you can’t do is this (reaches arm behind back to touch the top of his back). That’s one of my biggest tics.
CNN: As you started auditioning for bigger and bigger roles, did you try to hide your Tourette’s from the casting directors and producers?
Mihok: It’s funny you should ask that question. When I auditioned when I was younger, I definitely hid it. In fact, I hid it from the Hollywood world as much as I could until, probably, my mid-20s.
I’m not sure if that was a conscious effort, but it was just what I did growing up. It was better for me to cope that way. I’d just keep it bottled up, then go somewhere else and have an outburst.
Auditioning is one of the most nerve-racking things you could ever do, but you have to be so focused that you don’t tic.
CNN: Watching you act, it’s almost impossible to pick up on any of your “tic-ing.” How are you able to keep it under wraps while filming your scenes?
Mihok: This is a very old debate, and I don’t think it should be a debate, but it is.
People believe that if you can shut your Tourette’s off for a period of time, then you can always shut it off. I try to explain to people that if I spent my whole life trying to control my tics, that’s all I would have time for.
If I can just accept it, and tic when I want to and have my passion project — what I’m mentally, physically, emotionally invested in something — where you’re fully focused and your body ports and mind are all moving toward this one goal, you’re focused and you can shut it off, but only for a certain period of time. Then, you have to let loose.
I think that’s what it’s like for most people, who let loose in other ways, doing different things.
But to the skeptics, I would say, “I just wish you could walk in my shoes, just for an hour, to know what it feels like to have the greatest itch you’ve ever had and multiply that by a thousand. There’s no way you can’t scratch it. It’s impossible. You have to do it.”
Some people, unfortunately, don’t believe that, and to them I would say, “Step into my shoes for a day.”
CNN: You’ve teamed up with a foundation called Jaylen’s Challenge to visit schools and educate kids about Tourette’s and bullying. Why is your work with Jaylen so important to you?
Mihok: You know, when we do these presentations, there are some kids that probably tune it out, but you can also see there are a bunch of kids who really get it.
When I see that one kid that really gets it, you see the light in their eye — they identify with Jaylen. At one point in their life, they have either been the bully or been bullied. They look at themselves in the mirror and they’re at an age where they’re starting to learn about their own consciousness.
If just one kid leaves with that much more confidence, willing to talk to one more person, willing to take that shot to stop a bully in his or her tracks. If I see just one kid with a little sparkle in their eye, having learned something, that means the world to me.
By Ben Tinker, CNN