Interview: Bruce DavisonMay 22, 2017
With over 240 acting credits to his name, Bruce Davison has had a long and successful career in the acting business, including work in such mainstream projects as X-Men and Seinfeld. Recently we had the chance to talk to Bruce about his career, the state of the acting world and his role in the sci-fi thriller Displacement.
So how did you decide on this career in acting? Was it something you always had an interest in or did you discover it as you were growing up?
Bruce: Well, it was a long process. I played Flash Gordon as a five-year-old in my neighborhood but I never thought of it as anything more that play, never did any acting or anything like that in high school. I was an art major at Penn State University and I auditioned for a play on a dare and there was a place called The Creamery where we used to get ice cream and across the street there was a theater, and it said live auditions today, and somebody dared me to go in so I did and the play was Comeback Little Sheeba. I didn’t get the part but I got so excited that I thought wow, I’ve got to try this, so that’s how I started. I ended up in a play called, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad and I was a freshman there, at Penn State, I started in the summer and I went from there. It was the only way I knew to meet girls and I’d have cool things to say that weren’t stupid things that I had to come up with. I discovered Shakespeare and all that took it from there and I’ve been faking it ever since.
Acting is very competitive and a tough business. Did you have a moment where you finally realized that yes, I can make acting an actual career?
Bruce: Not yet.
What was your reaction when you read the script for Displacement?
Bruce: I thought it was an incredible jigsaw puzzle, well written, Ken Mader is a great storyteller, I was intrigued from page to page all the way through it. I had been called on to do it by Susan Blakely, who plays Courtney’s mom in it, we’re old friends and she said do you want to play this professor, we’ve shot a lot of it already. So it was shot like that too, the movie was shot as a displacement, over periods of time, things were put together as a jigsaw puzzle as well as written like that. Ken is really a master of, not only being P.T. Barnum but being a great storyteller and puzzle man.
There’s a lot of verbal interaction in Displacement as opposed to physical action. As an actor, did you find the subject matter of time travel difficult or did you enjoy the challenge?
Bruce: Well it was certainly confusing but I loved the challenge of it. It reminded me a lot of a film I did years ago, for PBS, it was a film based on the book of Ursula K. Le Guin called The Lathe of Heaven, which is about a man who dreams and his dreams come true and nobody knows about it, and he shifts the world every time he dreams, and there’s a psychiatrist who manipulates him, supposedly for the better, and it reminded me a lot of that because in that you’re creating the illusion of a big picture with a lot of major events happening, but it happens with the characters actually discussing it, so it’s a real sleight of hand. This film reminded me of that as well, that they’re talking about major cosmic issues, but it’s a discussion more than a CGI extravaganza.
What do you think will hook an audience with Displacement and keep them interested?
Bruce: The story, caring about the characters. I especially love the relationship between Courtney and her mom, I mean that’s an archetypical journey, if I could go back and talk to my lost parent I could go back and change things, that’s primal in every human being. Everybody’s journey is motivated, that’s what I really liked about his script writing as well. You care about the characters because you believe in their journey.
Did you ever have a backup career on the sidelines, in case acting didn’t work out?
Bruce: Well you know, I got really screwed by myself. I had a lot of early success as an actor and I hadn’t learned anything else, I hadn’t studied writing, I hadn’t continued with my artwork the way I would have if I had a backup career in any way. I don’t know math so I certainly couldn’t be an accountant and watch my own bank account, which has certainly been a disaster over the years but no, I didn’t, and I regret it now. I’m starting to write again but that never came easy, acting came easy and it was something that I could do. I remember as a kid I could mimic different accents and things and everyone would go oh wow, isn’t that special but it was a gift and after a certain amount of time I had relied on that for so long that hey, I was an actor and anything else that came along I really hadn’t trained for. Of course, I’ve been lucky enough that people keep asking me to do stuff so I’m sort of stuck now.
Do you think that’s a familiar trap that actors fall into, getting so caught up in their career that they don’t think about what they are going to do when their acting life is over?
Bruce: Well it depends, you don’t think about things like that when you’re young, you’re immortal. Donald Pleasance said that to me in a movie, he said the thing about being twenty-three is you think you’re immortal, you’re not, and that always stuck with me. It depends on how people accept it, how much it consumes them. You know when I was young I was given so much and it really did turn me into Pinocchio on Pleasure Island in a way. Luckily I was able to jump off before I turned into a complete jackass, made it back to New York and did theater, so I really had to start to train again, know what I was doing, so I could jump into anything when they say, we’ve got to have this shot by lunch. Know your lines, hit your marks, tell the truth, you don’t have time to experiment, you’ve got to be ready.
What would you say to someone who was interested in acting as a career?
Bruce: Find backup work, find a way to take care of the dog shit, which is your shelter, your food, any debts you have, make sure you have a way to pay for that and try and keep in the black. Don’t be an actor and sit in the red and say oh, something is going to come along, you’ve got to take care of your life. Make sure those things are settled and if you pursue your dream during that, don’t just live on a cloud.
Do you have a favorite role or movie that you’ve done during your career?
Bruce: I don’t think so, no. People keep asking me that and they keep shifting and changing. There’s one part I’m dying to do, that I’d love to do, that could be my favorite role. The first film that I made was my favorite role because suddenly I could pay the rent. Ulzana’s Raid was my favorite movie because I got to chase Apaches all over the west with Burt Lancaster and John Ford’s cavalry and as a kid, there’s no bigger thing than that. Short Eyes I think was some of the best work I did when I was young but nobody saw it, a prison film. Longtime Companion certainly gave me the great break, that was a film that we were shooting for a PBS TV special that we never thought was going to get on the air anyway but it was a great script in a very precarious time, right at the height of the AIDS holocaust, so it was meaningful to me. But you know, things vary, I have things that are fun to do, I have a fun movie I just did with Robert Patrick and Heather Graham called Last Rampage, I don’t’ know how fun it is, it’s pretty grim but was fun to do so I don’t know, I’m always waiting for the next best thing.
Do you enjoy the constant work, going from project to project, or would you enjoy playing the same role for a while, say in a Netflix TV series?
Bruce: Well both, once again it depends on the character, the characters journey, the job and all of that. You know, having a TV series used to be pretty secure work, it’s not anymore because with all of the work that’s done, even regulars aren’t paid what they used to be paid and that was always the grand brass ring financially, to get a regular role on a TV series. So I love going from job to job because I can keep being something different all the time but the security of a good series, playing a regular, is certainly appealing if it was a great series. I’ve been on series a number of times in that position and sometimes it works and sometimes it disintegrates. It depends, it’s like any big moving object, like a snowball rolling down a hill, sometimes it can’t be controlled.
What projects are you working on now?
Bruce: Well, I’m about to start a film called We Still Say Grace with Holly Taylor, she’s the young girl from The Americans, she’s the daughter, and it’s going to be an interesting, sort of gothic born again horror show. I have the film coming out I mentioned earlier called Last Rampage, I just did one called The Great Race, that I did with Henry Thomas, James Russo and Treat Williams and of course Displacement. I’ve got a bunch of them, you never know when something is going to see the light of day or not. Independent films are my favorite because that’s where the most creativity lies or with the least corporate garbage.
I find these days that there are the big Hollywood blockbusters and the independent films, with the middle of the road movies getting pushed to the wayside.
Bruce: Yeah, that happens. Everything in the middle gets pushed to the wayside in the world that we live in right now. That’s the dog shake that the Earth is doing right now, there is a war against the middle class and it’s true as far as actors, I mean it’s true with these actors getting sixty million dollars a picture and everybody else working for scale plus ten, there’s no middle class anymore. I had a casting director come for a funeral who had retired fifteen, twenty years ago, he used to be head of Universal casting I think, and he said what happened to this town? It used to be that an actor would build up a reputation, you’d build up a quote from that reputation over and over and that’s what you’d pay that actor. Now it’s all bets are off, its scale plus ten, everybody’s fighting for the peanuts that are thrown at the actors that aren’t the mega stars. It’s time to call out the mega stars, time to call them out and say ok, how much is enough for you before you start supporting your fellow actors again because you used to be one of them.
I want to thank Bruce for taking the time to talk with us