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

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

An Interview With Don S. Davis

The Interview - RAW

Introduction: Just as a note as you read this raw transcript of the interview, you should know that this is the first interview I ever conducted, I did not know that Don was going to be there before I arrived (so I didn't have notes handy on his career highlights beyond what I was already familiar with), and thus I also didn't have questions scripted and tripped over my own tongue a bit. In the ten hours it took to type this up, my intention was to keep every word spoken exactly verbatim. I personally believe that an interview has a flow to it and that how I worded the questions affects the answers, so I left nothing out. For those of you that just want the questions and answers however, a copy of the interview split into categories will be posted to the website soon. The interview took place Friday, August 9, 2002 and the follow-up at the end took place on Sunday, August 11, 2002. Total interview time was a little over an hour - total recorded time was around fifty minutes. The main interview occurred immediately following his public question and answer session.

ChivalRuss: To start, I'll tell you what I have set up and maybe that'll help with the target. The site is set up as an improv site ("Whose Line Is It Anyway?" type of thing) - how to, preparation, presentation, closure, at least four variations for each game; I have seventy up, including four that I developed myself with a second grade class I was teaching at the time. I figure, if it works well for second graders, it should work well as introductory for adults.

Don S. Davis: Sure.

ChivalRuss: The interviews I have set up are to give acting hints depending on the specialty, obviously, of the person I'm interviewing. The site is totally non-profit and is connected to a Mensa improv acting special interest group that I recently started up.

Don S. Davis: A Mensa group, huh? So this is intelligent people.

ChivalRuss: Well, I won't speak for myself, but I don't restrict membership into the Mensa group to just Mensa members - I want to share the information with everybody. So, that's what I'm going to do and I'll probably put the interview into the Mensa bulletin. [I handed him my card]

Don S. Davis: [Looking at the other sites on my card ...] This is a great program - "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy".

ChivalRuss: Have you ever seen the video? Do you have an opinion on it?

Don S. Davis: I used to watch ... it used to show on the PBS station out of Seattle that we got up in Vancouver.

ChivalRuss: They did release the full six episode series on DVD.

Don S. Davis: Oh, really? That'd be a great one to have - I did watch all six of them.

ChivalRuss: It had a really nice tribute to Douglas Adams on it. His death was a tragic loss. But I do still need to pick up his most recent book. They checked out his computer and found out all of the stuff that he'd been working on and published all of his unfinished works - set up a college fund for his daughter (so I've heard).

ChivalRuss: Anyway, ok, so 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: So, how many years would you say, so far, 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: What're some of the differences between acting in a series and acting in a motion picture as far as the everyday work, the stresses, etc.?

Don S. Davis: Well, you shoot a lot less pages per day and you have a lot more time to explore the mi-nu'-te of your character.

ChivalRuss: Obviously, you do it for a lot longer in a series.

Don S. Davis: Well, in a series, you're filming quicker and you're giving glances at your character in bites if you're a character. Now, if you're the lead character, that's different. But if you're one of the supporting players, the scene is never really about you. Discoveries are made about you by the way you interact with the main characters. The scripts don't say a lot about your off-scene life. They'll make some indications and, in TV especially, you may do twenty-two episodes and the audience will get a general impression of you because of your relationship to the main characters in the first episode and then, as other episodes evolve, as an addendum to the exploration of the main characters' personalities, aspects of your personality will be brought out. Y'know, you're really a prism that reflects things that cause the main characters' personalities to be brought out.

ChivalRuss: What about differences between, let's say, the average episode and an episode that would focus specifically on one supporting character?

Don S. Davis: Well, then in that episode, they will reveal more things about his off-camera life in order to enlarge him so that there's enough to carry the episode. Y'know, you'll discover that he left this town, or she left this town, because of something the audience probably doesn't know at that point. And then that will reveal relationships from his or her past and dreams and goals for the future and things that enlarge their character in the view of the audience. But again, it would be very rare that you would go into any great depth because, even if it's their episode, it's still the lead's show and so much screen time has to be devoted to exploring, yet, the next aspect of the lead's character. That's the way television's geared up. That's why you can have a character like Dr. Fraiser on Stargate SG-1, played by Teryl Rothery, who is a tremendous actress and she has a complete life of her character that she's developed that is what causes her to react as she does on camera.

ChivalRuss: She'll use things that aren't even explored in the series.

Don S. Davis: No, right, and may never be, because she has to have the character fully rounded in order to give the audience a realized portrayal.

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.

ChivalRuss: My next question is about motivations. You've obviously played a lot of different types of roles. In your public question and answer session, you were talking about basic human motivations and responses. What roles, or what types of roles, would you say are the most difficult to portray, or the most difficult to get the motivations for? Comedic roles, dramatic roles?

Don S. Davis: No, the most difficult role is to play somebody, be it a comedy or a drama, that is a character that you would normally have no sympathy for. You have to find something about that character that you like in order for you to play the character in a dimensional way. If you dislike the character and can't find... if you're playing a serial killer, you have to find something about that serial killer that at least excuses to you his actions. And you do that by exploring in your own mind what might have made that character be what he was. Or, you could manage to be just a jerk, like in the film "Swimming With Sharks", Kevin Spacey's character was just a totally jerk producer who had no redeeming quality, and yet he had to reveal something that made the audience accept that this guy could ever become a producer or to convince people to do what he wanted. That's what you do - you explore by asking yourself, and that's what I was talking about in there, questions about this character. What is his moral philosophy? What's his religious philosophy? What's his education? ... this, that, and the other thing. What happened to him to cause this attitude?

ChivalRuss: For someone starting out in acting, who has no formal training and no formal acting education, who's doing it as a hobby or pastime or something they want to get into but they haven't been able to get to the point of being able to have that education, what would you say are the biggest things that they should watch for or the first things that they should pay attention to in order to help with the portrayal, besides the motivation?

Don S. Davis: There really isn't anything besides the motivation. The first rule of acting is not you acting, it's you reacting. There's a situation that you're reacting to. You have a person that you're dealing with in a scene, so you're reacting to them. You're reacting to them in a way that's guided by your motivations in the scene - so you've got to know what those things are. That's the thing that an actor has to do if you're going to be in film especially, and even if I was going to be in theater, even though the two things are apples and oranges. In theater, you enlarge on life - ever gesture a bit more full, because you're selling to the back seat of the theater as well as the front row center of the theater. The guy in back payed [darn] near as much money as the one in front, and if you can't make the whole house react uniformly, your play is a flop. OK, so you do that by slightly expanding and enlarging on life. In film, every character in your audience is seated immediately off the apron of the stage because the camera sees you that close. So, everything in film is distilled - instead of enlarged, it's brought down - and one of the things that kills you in film is being over the top. One of the worst things is being over the top. So, what you really have to do is, I think, as an actor, be it in film or stage, now that it's available is get someone to tape your performance. And then you can look at it and see, "Oh my God, look what I did there - that was false. That didn't look right." And what you'll discover as you look is, well, the reason it didn't look right - I was acting there. But that part that looks good, I forgot to act - I was just reacting there. And that's what it is. One of the problems that I have with improv as an art form is, and I don't have any problems with improv as a tool, every actor has to improv. I did a scene in "Con Air" in which I had just washed my car and I was stopped at an intersection. As I pulled out of the intersection, a body fell out of an airplane and hit my hood and other than the lines scripted at me sitting there as I pulled forward, nothing had been scripted. Everything from that point was ad lib and years of learning how to think about this character, the character and the way he would have said those lines that were scripted were the keys to me improving. And the director liked what I did and audiences think it's funny that have seen it. But since the thing, I've realized that what would have gotten me a better reaction would've been if I had simply, all of this carnage that results and with the body falling from the sky, if I had simply screamed, "It wasn't my fault!", but that didn't occur to me. Now, Ryan Stiles and these guys on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", that's the first thing that they would have said. "It wasn't my fault!" Y'know, and that's the key to a good improv person, and that is how it helps you as an actor. But, when you watch these guys doing improv, really ninety percent of the time, improv actors are doing it for comic effect. They're doing a reaction to a cue or a clue that's been given and to comic effect. They're not doing it to cause any emotion other than laughing. Whereas improv to carry a play, even if it's a comedy, it has to carry all emotions. So you work out... and basically that's what the rehearsal process is in a play. That's why they rehearse a play for four weeks. In professional theater, you'll never rehearse less than four weeks. I'm looking at Jo [Don's assistant for the convention] because she's a trained theater person as I am. You would never put on a performance that you hadn't rehearsed, and during the rehearsal period, that's when you're improving with the other actors, and the director is back there sitting in the dark saying, "Yeah, I liked that." And when you do notes at the end of the rehearsal, he'll say, "Y'know, I really loved what you did there.", "That stunk.", "Get rid of that.", "Find something else.", and in that way the actors improv, because you're bringing something new to it that you dreamed up yourself, but you're bringing it as an honest reaction to the activity in the scene.

ChivalRuss: In effect, that becomes part of the writing process.

Don S. Davis: Sure it does. The play scripts you buy from Samuel French, that's all they are is an improv situation that's been copied down.

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: What would you say to a younger actor or a beginning actor, or someone who would like to become an actor, who has a problem getting up on stage and a fear of audiences, or just a fear that they're not going to do their scenes well for, I guess you'd have to say, the bravery sake of it, to get themselves up on stage? What kinds of hints or suggestions might you give?

Don S. Davis: Start in student productions. Start in productions that are going to have a small audience that's not going to throw you. Start in a production where you'll have somebody that'll give you honest criticism or direction. And, y'know, real criticism is positive as well as negative. Hurtful criticism always has to have a positive turn. Even if you're telling somebody that they really stunk Friday night, do something to make them want to go on stage again Saturday night. Y'know, the only way you can do that is find some positive aspect of their performance. So, what you do, the way to act is to act. It's like anything. If you say to the world, "I want to be a painter" but you don't pick up a paintbrush and put paint on a canvas because you're afraid of criticism, that somebody would say "You can't paint," then you're never going to be able to paint. But, if you paint enough, you can be like Van Gogh and never sell a painting. That just means that the people you're selling it to don't like it but the world, throughout history, will say, "This man was a genius." So, what you have to do in any art form is practice your craft, and that's what it is.

ChivalRuss: So, you'd probably say, for a first audience, would you recommend friends or neighbors?

Don S. Davis: No. Third parties of some sort. That's why I say go to an amateur production, to a university theater department where kids are having to direct plays and put your name on the list to say "I want to get into theater" and "I want to give this a try if you're willing to cast me". Go to a local film department where students are supposed to direct films because again, you are your best judge because you are your harshest critic when you see yourself made a fool of. Get yourself on film, and if you do that in most acting schools, now they'll actually put you on film, even if they're a theater school, so that you can see, so that the guy is not having to say to you or suggest to you in an analytical way, "That was bad." If he can show you a video of it, you'll say "Oh yeah, well, I see what you mean right now, that was really stiff" or "I was fidgeting there" or "I had no reason to turn away like that. The natural thing would've been to a little turn away." And that's what a young actor has to do. The other thing you have to learn to do in acting is to temper everything. And I don't feel I got that point across. You have to get your emotions to a point where, instead of trying to bring yourself to sobbing, you've got to be able to click a button that makes you want to sob and then you're trying to keep yourself from sobbing. So, in a way, your lines are intelligible. Otherwise, it sounds like [intentional unintelligible sobbing speech]. But, if you're really upset, you speak clearly because you're trying to communicate, [intelligible sobbing speech] but one side of you is upset, you see. And that's what you do - and you click those things and it's horrible for somebody in an on stage situation [referring to the interview] to see this happen, because they say "I'm sitting next to some nut here" but that's what an actor really has to do. An actor can't lose control because no matter how emotional you become, and you have to be emotional, you have to remember that you give a cue line, be it on stage or film, that you have to get across. If you don't make that cross, then the next part of the scene won't work. So you really get the emotion so keyed - the method actors call it emotional recall and technical actors have a different term for it, everybody's got their own term - but you have to learn to vent, so that instead of venting when you're on stage, you're controlling, especially in film.

ChivalRuss: If you had to pick one particular aspect of acting or a type of acting, not a particular type of role like dramatic versus comedic, but one thing, either trying to actually bring out tears, or something along those lines, one thing that you've found to be the most difficult or that took you the longest to learn, from a personal standpoint.

Don S. Davis: How to control the emotion once I've called it in. That's the hardest thing in the world.

ChivalRuss: So, for you, it's not achieving the emotion or achieving the ability to shed the tears, it's being able to control it once it's there.

Don S. Davis: I've built in so many mechanisms over the years just by working at it that bring it up, all I'm trying to do on stage is control it and a lot of directors... once the director trusts you, he'll say "Take that down by half," "Bring it up a third" or "Give me just ten percent more of that" and that's what the good actor does and make it still real. Y'know, I've worked with Dustin Hoffman a couple of times and he'd do it by nuance. I worked with Max Von Sydow and saw his face just go from one emotion totally to another and he didn't [need to] do anything. It took him hours someplace to do that, it wasn't improv. That was something he'd worked at, and he'd done it by triggers. And that's what all of them wind up talking about in the end. Y'know, and you become, in some ways, paranoid. You become, in some ways, schizophrenic because you have so many things in your daily work. It's just like if you're into computers or if you're into game playing, you've got to learn the rules of the game, you've got to learn the steps that it takes to master the game. Well, in acting, the one thing you're dealing with is emotions, and you can't do that and be normal.

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: [Noticing something wrong with the recorder] That's weird...

Don S. Davis: Did I break it?

ChivalRuss: Hmm... well, it's going OK now.

Don S. Davis: ... but no, I like the roles that explore a range of emotions, happy or sad. I prefer comedy because I'm one of those people that has a hard time leaving the character on the stage.

ChivalRuss: And I'm sure comedic characters are a lot more fun to take off stage.

Don S. Davis: Yeah, they are.

ChivalRuss: If you had any specific advice, for any aspect of acting, for someone who was picking up improv, either for fun or as a way to get started or for a beginning actor who was using it as a practice method, as far as reactions, speed, timing, etc., if you had to give some general advice, what would be the two or three things that you would say to most watch out for, besides emotions and reacting, in terms of judging, helping to judge themselves before they see themselves on video, what would it be?

Don S. Davis: For people in any medium, on television or live or on film, they are reacting to a wide variety of situations and trying to figure out what it is that makes that work.

ChivalRuss: So you recommend research.

Don S. Davis: Yeah, yeah, always do research, and remember what made it work. Remember what made it funny but, y'know, if you think you're going to do something that... if you're going to play a character like the little tramp, like Charlie Chaplin, somebody's going to say, "OK, you're the little tramp meeting this big bully, watch somebody little use their wits to turn somebody brutal into a buffoon." Watch how a small animal keeps a big animal at bay by its wit rather than bearing its teeth. A fine example is, if you think you're going to be in theater games [improv], first of all, play games. Y'know, play charades, play theater games, do improv, because the more you do these, the easier they'll become; that's the other thing. Then expand on that. Y'know, if you think you're going to be in an improv situation in which someone is going to say that you're like a chicken picking feed off the ground, see what they [chickens] do so that you can say something about that that's universal. You don't have to go all the way down and peck it off the ground, but the thing that a chicken does is it extends its neck, so you can do an improv situation in which you're sitting on a chair and you can get that aspect just by doing that move. You've always got to find something, especially for improv on something like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", what those guys are really great at is finding universals that are going to cause ten people to react in the same way to something. And that's what they do.

ChivalRuss: Of all of the careers outside of acting, which do you think would most benefit from practicing improv or make the best use of the skills learned ...

Don S. Davis: ...from improv? Any sales field, any field in leadership, any field in which you are doing something that allows you to use a key, a universal button, that will cause other people to react in the way you want them to. So, really, improv is good in any situation. Motivational speakers - that's what they do. They work off the audience that's there. They've already got their speech set to some degree and they already know the moments that are the keys that they want to bring around the reaction and what they do is they have three or four scenarios that they have developed depending on the reaction to something they're going to say that they can move into and the improv art of that is in making it specific to that particular audience at that particular time. But again, I think that the best improv is always based on prior research. Everybody I know that does improv or theater games spends half of their life thinking about universal reactions to something that will cause someone to react in a way they want them to. That's how they win the contest.

ChivalRuss: Jokes, and just observing everything around them.

Don S. Davis: Yeah. It helps them communicate easier, it seems to me. If they watch cartoons, what the cartoon people have done is they've watched how a bear walks which is different from how a dog walks which is different from the way a fox walks which is different then the way a duck walks or a chicken walks, etc. So they can say "You're a bear stealing an ice cream cone." Well, that's different than if you were a cat stealing an ice cream cone or if you were a giraffe stealing an ice cream cone. So, if the young people think "What does a giraffe do?" If you can think of these things... What does a bear do; a bear lumbers. What does a gazelle do; a gazelle leaps gracefully. Y'know, so if you can tie it to something in nature like that and observe life. Y'know Walt Disney's film "Fantasia"? If you would have them look at "Fantasia" and listen to the music and look at the images he chose, y'know, like the hippopotamus ballet and see how they got hippopotamus movements doing ballet rather than if they had some other movements.

ChivalRuss: Not just an image of a hippopotamus doing ballet as if it were a human...

Don S. Davis: No, exactly, they were acting like hippopotamuses, but balleting. And you saw the rolls of the fat and the way they had to move and that's the beauty of animation - all they can do is take life and translate it into this beautiful... the stork, y'know, the neck goes forward it flies that way whereas the little tweetie bird flies with its wings flapping and everything. The Roadrunner series - Wile E. Coyote, he's head's always forward, he's always got his eyes focused, he's always got that grin on his face, and when he runs, everything runs. The Roadrunner runs with her head straight up and zooms forward. The only thing going is those legs, you never see her legs. The rest of her is floating over the ground. With him, it's everything working along. And, see, that's the beauty of it. So, get them to watch that.

ChivalRuss: A couple of quick ones for you. What would be your favorite movie, from a watching perspective? What's the best movie, in your opinion, that you've gone to see?

Don S. Davis: One of the ones that I love the best was "What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?" and it was because of the comedic element in it. Especially the performance of Dick Shawn. And "The Producers" with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. I like comedies; I'm a person with a somewhat dark view of what fate or the supreme spirit has done to mankind and I'm very much humanistic in my view of what's good in life. So, I like movies like that. I like movies that show the human spirit soaring.

ChivalRuss: Do you have a particular favorite television series that you like?

Don S. Davis: Yes, "The Singing Detective", which was a British series about this crazy novelist detective named Marlow who has horrible psoriasis and was in this hospital in a ward with other patients in England, but it was a stream of consciousness type of thing. Have you ever seen "The Singing Detective"?

ChivalRuss: No, I haven't.

Don S. Davis: You need to get a copy of it. It starred Michael Gambon.

ChivalRuss: Is it on video or DVD?

Don S. Davis: It's on video but you may not be able to get it over here. I'd think you could because it showed on PBS over here. Y'know, at one point the doctors, for example - and this is typical of it - at one point they're talking about his condition and the doctor and a nurse is there and he goes from talking realistically about, y'know, his hip has got problems and his hip has got problems and [singing] the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone and then, all of a sudden... it goes from being terribly real until this stupid music comes in [singing] the thigh bone's connected to the, etc. And then, all the nurses and the doctors and everybody, but the poor patient who's lying there, is dancing to the thing. And then as they finish the dance, it segue ways right back to the doctor saying "... and now this, and we've got to do something about this, and hey let's go on over to here and check the next patient..." and it was just done smoothly and I like that.

ChivalRuss: Just out of curiosity, have you seen "Monk" yet?

Don S. Davis: "Monk"? No. Never heard of it.

ChivalRuss: It's on USA Network and it's been on about four weeks. Tony Shalhoub plays this obsessive compulsive detective.

Don S. Davis: I loved him in "Wings"; he was the taxi driver.

ChivalRuss: I've actually been taping it each week. The basis is that his wife was killed a number of years before and he was a little OCD before but then he basically went over the edge with it. And they explore the comedic aspect of it but they also have it affect his ability to see detail because he totally takes in everything he sees. And it sounds like the same humor style as "The Singing Detective". Not as much stream of consciousness, but the same humor style.

Don S. Davis: Well, y'know, Bochco tried to do what "The Singing Detective" did with "Cop Rock" and it was horrible.

ChivalRuss: They made, what, two episodes of it?

Don S. Davis: Yeah, yeah. But "The Singing Detective" was wonderful. And there was another one by the same people over there called "Spank The Monkey" which is about World War II and British bureaucracy in the war department. I like stuff like that.

ChivalRuss: What about a favorite book or series of books?

Don S. Davis: Uh, that's changed as I've grown older. My favorite science-fiction writer is Spider Robinson who writes these books about Callahan's bars. I like that in science fiction. At different periods of my life I've been a Hemingway nut or an Ayn Rand nut. I like Anne Rice's vampire stories very much; I've read all of them. I read a lot of mysteries, especially Rex Stout's books about Nero Wolfe and things, but I read an awful lot. I'm a voracious reader. I read every kind of book. I love biographies, especially about people in the arts or in architecture. I guess biographies are probably my favorite, other than books about art and architecture, because I like books that explore creativity, that explore the creative mind. So I've read, y'know, biographies on Kubrick and about every other great director that you can name and some non-great directors; I just like stuff like that. I like to know what makes someone who lives past his time tick.

ChivalRuss: I have two topics left. The first one is about music. Do you have a favorite type of music?

Don S. Davis: Yeah - jazz. Mellow jazz, barroom jazz. Y'know, like Thelonius.

ChivalRuss: So not much big band?

Don S. Davis: No, not really.

ChivalRuss: And the last topic, 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. My world is a world that's dead. Y'know, you're living in the new world; your world's alive and your world talks about the brutality of mine, but you make us look like babes in the woods. Y'know, in my world when I grew up, people didn't bust into fourteen-year-old girls' bedrooms and kidnap them at gunpoint and kill them. And you didn't have people sending anthrax letters through the mail. We may have had it, but the world at large didn't know about it.

ChivalRuss: It wasn't as prevalent.

Don S. Davis: Yes. And it is now. And my world, when I grew up, most young people thought that if they found something they liked to do and worked at it, they'd have a better life than their parents. In your world, you realize that reality says you're not going to have as good a life as your parents because there are too many people now with too few resources to allow anyone but the very brightest to come up with something new that gives them enough money to be able to build a life of security. Most people your age don't feel like that's out there for them. Now, maybe you do, because you're a Mensa person, but my son who has average intelligence, he feels like he'll never have the money that he has known as my child and the standard of living that he had living with his mom and dad.

ChivalRuss: Being an elementary school teacher, I know I'll never see the money either.

Don S. Davis: There you go. But you see, when I grew up, even an elementary school teacher, who right now you see that as probably meaning in many ways that you're probably going to be living slightly above the poverty line, at best you'll probably be in the lower-middle class as far as your standard of living and your quality of life. When I grew up, the world was your oyster. Even if you were going to be a high school teacher, a high school teacher had a canoe, he had maybe a few years old car in his garage, but so did everybody else. Now, somebody's on TV saying that if you don't drive a brand new Mercedes that costs $70,000.00, you're not a success. Well, [that's crap]. We've been given unrealistic expectations to judge our worth by today, you're age has. My age figured as long as you can get up in the morning and face the day without hurting somebody else, you were OK.

ChivalRuss: Has anything you've written been published?

Don S. Davis: Well, my dissertation was published and I've written articles for magazines, for educational magazines when I was teaching, but nothing major.

ChivalRuss: Do you enjoy writing screenplays?

Don S. Davis: I've written screenplays and I've got a project right now that's in what they call development. It's called "Hole in One". It's a sitcom involving a golf equipment/clothier superstore and is currently in development with a writing partner in Los Angeles.

[Follow-up the following Sunday, still at the convention.]

Don S. Davis: Did I mention that I was in a film that was totally improv?

ChivalRuss: Yeah, "Best In Show".

Don S. Davis: That was a great show, "Best In Show". There were great people that were involved in that, those Second City people are really good people. Eugene Levy is particularly bright.

ChivalRuss: So far, the only live improv I've had the privilege to see was when I went to see Brad Sherwood perform in Cleveland. I thought it was great and at one point he'd called up an audience member to participate and she was drunk off her rocker. But he was able to deal with it in such a way as to not offend her but cut his losses and the audience still loved it - it was very impressive.

Don S. Davis: Good - that's the mark of a good improv guy.

ChivalRuss: OK. I mentioned the interview to a couple of people and they were interested in the blue screen/green screen acting experience - special effects where you don't have in front of you what'll be on screen. How do you react when you don't know exactly how menacing something will look or if something changes its size...

Don S. Davis: Well, the size you know because they set up a mark on the screen for you to refer to for whatever it is, and they've got little stands with "X"s that you're looking at and in ADR, they can get rid of the mark. As far as the menacing look or anything, you really talked with the director and you know about how menacing it is. And he'll pretty well know and off camera, he's telling you what's happening. He'll say "Right now it's lashing out at you" or "Right now it's doing this" or "Right now it's about to bite". And so that's how you handle that. The problem on green screen is that, more than anything, your movement and your relation to the camera to the background because the camera has to be locked off on the green screen. So they can't follow you. So you're dealing within a tighter parameter.

Don S. Davis: Teryl, on one of our episodes, actually on several of the episodes, when the Asgards appear, which are little gray people, they dress her up in total black - face covered and everything. On her costume, they'll tape the little guy and they'll also put these little light references so that, as she moves, she moves like the thing. And then we've got real puppets that are electronically operated. Hers is really difficult because she has to act like the little alien - they use her voice as the alien - and she has to do movements that they can mimic with the puppets and then with computers, they eventually put it all together.

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