XVR27's Improv Interviews - Don S. Davis - Career

Whose Improv Is It Anyway? : Original On-The-Spot Satire

An Interview With Don S. Davis

The Career Of Don S. Davis

ChivalRuss: I'd like to start out with the basic background - your education in acting, how you got started, and how you chose the field.

Don S. Davis: I've got a bachelor's, master's, and PhD in theater. My concentration in my PhD was dramatic theory and criticism. But I've taken acting classes throughout my education. You know, I've acted on the stage and in regional theater touring companies and all that stuff.

ChivalRuss: Any particular type of theater you prefer over...

Don S. Davis: I love musical comedy and I love comedy, but I've performed every kind of role.

ChivalRuss: So some Shakespearian as well?

Don S. Davis: Well, no, I haven't really done a lot of Shakespeare. I've directed some Shakespearian productions and I've designed a bunch. Most of the time that I taught, my main job was as a designer/technical director. I taught theater history and stuff as well.

ChivalRuss: Have you done any improv?

Don S. Davis: I haven't done a lot of improv, no. I've had very... I had a rigid training.

ChivalRuss: Mostly dramatic?

Don S. Davis: Yeah. I did the Boleslavski method and the Stanislavski method - Boleslavski and Stanislavski and all of these.

ChivalRuss: How many years have you been acting professionally?

Don S. Davis: Well, in film since 1982. Before that, I either was at some level of academia as a professor or a student and acting on the side in amateur productions.

ChivalRuss: Television series ...

Don S. Davis: I've done a bunch of them.

ChivalRuss: I'd probably say that two of the most well-known series you've acted in, at least from my perspective, would have to be "The X-Files" and "Stargate SG-1" for repeating characters.

Don S. Davis: In this genre [science fiction/fantasy], yes.

ChivalRuss: You've also done a few others.

Don S. Davis: I did L.A. Law, Knots Landing and things, y'know, but again, just as guest stars.

ChivalRuss: Do you often participate in script discussions, be able to add?

Don S. Davis: It depends on your relationship with the writers and producers or directors. Yeah, I'm very fortunate in that I've been around a long time and I work for the same people over and over again and they trust me and they ask for my input. But I wouldn't have the audacity if I was a day player or somebody new to a show to try to put forth any information that would change their perception of the character. My job is to play the character the way they see it.

ChivalRuss: You mentioned you've done some directing.

Don S. Davis: I directed theater; I would never direct film or television because in my experience, film is a director's medium. No one would argue that because one man, the director, reads the script, is involved in the rewriting of the script. The producer's very often involved also in the rewriting of the script, and if you've got a major star involved in the project, they're involved in the rewriting of the script, usually because of things they want the script to reflect that match their own life attitudes, but the director looks at the script and decides how to tell the story. That's all the script does - tell a story. To do that, he creates a spine, based on the spine of the story, that his filming will follow. He creates a storyboard, which is his vision of how the scene looks at any moment in the production. I've seen storyboards that are basically cartoon panels that are one hundred and fifty pages thick on a script that's only ninety pages thick. And he'll create a shot list that will give him that storyboard. And then he will be looking for the vision in his head. And that's why some directors will use someone like Cooper, who might do ninety takes, because he's not sure exactly what he wants that vision to be until he sees it. But he knows generally what he wants it to be. He's always guiding them in some way in the take, they just haven't quite made it click for him until he gets to ninety. Other directors will get it in five takes, they'll do it in one take - they're famous for the one take. I did a film with Penny Marshall called "A League Of Their Own". A film runs something like sixty thousand feet or six thousand feet of film per hour. And so, if you've got a two and a half hour film, I don't remember what it is - either twelve or fifteen thousand feet of film or at most a hundred and fifty thousand feet of film. She shot over a million feet of film for "A League Of Their Own"; she shot the same amount of film for "Awakenings".

ChivalRuss: Alternate takes, etc.

Don S. Davis: Yeah, because she wanted to be able to get exactly what she wanted. The moment that the actors finally gave her something, that made the story reveal itself to her. And no one would be stupid enough to think she didn't know what she was looking for. So, it all has to do with the director.

Don S. Davis: By the way, I did a whole film that was improv called "Best In Show".

ChivalRuss: The whole thing was improv?

Don S. Davis: Yeah. All we were given was a scenario for each scene. We weren't given scripted lines. And it was fun. You ought to rent it, it's about a dog show.

ChivalRuss: Actually, some of my family already thinks it's one of the best movies they've ever seen.

Don S. Davis: It is, it's a wonderful show.

ChivalRuss: Is there one role, or one type of role I should say, that you always wanted to portray that you've never had the opportunity to and one type of role you've never wanted to portray that's you've been able to avoid?

Don S. Davis: No.

ChivalRuss: Not for either?

Don S. Davis: Not for either. I've played almost every kind of role. I've been doing this a long time. Y'know, I started doing theater in 1960; we're in 2002, that's a lot of years and I've never not done, since that period, some sort of acting that I was constantly doing, being involved in, be it on stage or, the last twenty odd years, doing it on film. I've played roles in plays that've explored every aspect of human emotion. I've never had the lead in a film, which I said in there [his public Question & Answer session], that I got to play an "every man" like an old fashioned movie that stars a Charles Laughton or Alec Guinness or somebody like that. I've had large roles which came close to several aspects of it. I've gotten to play on-camera killers and people who've lost people or situations where people were drunks or people who were incapacitated or, y'know, people who lost their children or people who had something terrible happen to them...

ChivalRuss: Have you ever considered or done any writing?

Don S. Davis: I've written screenplays. I've written poems. When I was six years old, on Christmas day, I walked down to the breakfast table and I announced to my family, because my family all got together on Christmas day, that before I died, I was going to paint a great painting, carve a great sculpture, and write a great poem. And I love poetry; I read a lot of it. I especially like Frost and Sandberg; Carl Sandberg and Robert Frost - it's because of the age I grew up in. But I like James Joyce and I like D.H. Lawrence. I like Jack Kerouac. I'm at that age, y'know, I'm sixty years old.

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