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Dana Davis interview

Date of publishing: 6th November 2007

Dana Davis interview A frequent small-screen presence during the mid- to late 2000s -- in a variety of blockbuster prime-time programs -- Iowa-born actress Dana Davis built her reputation as a sturdy and reliable guest actor in such series outings as Boston Public, Gilmore Girls, and Veronica Mars. She scored a regular role on fall 2006's much-hyped dramatic series The Nine, playing Felicia Jones, but the show failed to sustain viewers and didn't last a full season. Nonetheless, Davis bounced back the next season with a coveted part on the hit sci-fi drama series Heroes, playing a character named Monica. In late 2007, Davis signed on to appear in the remake of the slasher movie classic Prom Night, directed by Nelson McCormick.

Gilles Nuytens: I heard about the fires in California. I hope everything is fine for you and your family.
Dana Davis: Oh thank you very much. Everything is fine with me. We didn’t get any of the fires here in Burbank.

Gilles Nuytens: My callaborator was on the press conference you did with NBC a few hours ago (See here). Do you enjoy doing those kind of calls?
Dana Davis: Oh yeah, it’s fun to talk about what you do. That’s the fun part. The work is the hard part, but getting to know the press and all that, that’s fun.

Gilles Nuytens: First of all, I read somewhere that you were a violinist before being an actress. Is that true and do you still do some music?
Dana Davis: Actually, I started playing the viola when I was eight years old and I played for about twelve years. I haven’t played for a long time, but I did grow up with a music background and I got my degree in music from Loyola Marymount. Music is a huge part of me, but I’ve always been an actor too. I started acting when I was seven, but to be honest, I started acting before I started singing.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you play other instruments than the viola?
Dana Davis: I do voice. I got my degree in classical voice, so I sing too.

Gilles Nuytens: You began acting when you were seven, you said. How did you come up to being an actress in this business?
Dana Davis: I started when I was a little girl. My mother took me to the theatre for the first time when I was seven years old, or maybe six. I was really little. I asked her how could I do that. I was like, “I want to do that, Mom.” So she signed me up for this little theatre group. I did theatre all throughout my childhood, junior high, and high school. And then I moved out here in ’97. I got an agent and I started auditioning. I started working consistently on TV in 2000. So I’ve done acting all my life, but as far as out here I started in 2000.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you enjoy the most about working in the craft of acting?
Dana Davis: I love being able to connect to other people. In our daily life, it’s just us, we concern ourselves with our problems and our lives, but as actors we get to escape in somebody else’s world, like into somebody else’s head. It’s such an exciting thing to be able to get that break from you so often. I think that’s one of the things I enjoy the most. But I also enjoy being able to reach people. Like myself going to the movies or watching something on TV, I can be moved so much. I can watch someone’s story and that can touch me and can impact my life. I love that through my craft I get to do that. It’s such an important thing to me; it means a lot to me that I have that ability to reach people.

Gilles Nuytens: You said once in an interview that you were not the kind of actress to stay in character between scenes, that you like to joke around. How do you prepare yourself before playing a scene?
Dana Davis: I’m not a method actor. I’m not the kind of actor who stays in character all the time. I do know people like that, and it works, but I do sort of stay close to who I’m playing. Like, when I was on The Nine, and I was playing Felicia, she was very burdened. You can’t help but take it on. You take on that stress and that pain that the character’s going through. So a lot of the time I just feel like that. I’m excited to play [Monica] on Heroes because she’s more upbeat; she’s more fun. So staying close to who she is actually helps me in my life because I get to stay more upbeat and light-hearted. Though, I do mess around and I’m the one who always gets in trouble on the set because I’m always laughing and joking. With Heroes, I can laugh and joke until “Action” and I still can find a way to connect to Monica. I think the thing about Monica that’s so great is that she’s a lot like me. It’s really easy to connect to her because it’s not too far off from who I am.

Gilles Nuytens: I have a question about that especially, so I will ask that now: What aspect of your personality do you share with this character and what aspect of her is completely unlike you?
Dana Davis: I think the thing I share with Monica is her wanting to help people so much. We haven’t seen that yet because we’re so early in her story, but we’re shooting episode eleven right now, so we’ve gotten some more of who Monica is. She’s this girl who has a big heart. She just wants to help so much. Here’s a girl who was in college, and after her mom died, she dropped out of school to take care of her ailing grandmother and her little brother, and now she’s taken on the character of Micah as well. And she does it with no questions asked. She’s just this kind of person who wants to help and that’s me. Like, I’m the person who wants to make everything okay for everybody. If I’m watching a TV show, and somebody comes into the room to watch TV with me, I will turn the channel to what they want to watch. I always want to make people happy. That’s something about me that I share with Monica. I also like her upbeat personality. I have the tendency of being the one who is joking and happy. And I just love to laugh. I love being around people that make me laugh. We share that as well. I think one of the things that we don’t have in common, which is probably not good, but I think what she does is so awesome is that Monica puts herself second in everything. Like, she always puts everyone in front of her. I think, in my life, I put my career before a lot of things, so I really don’t share that with her. I envy that. Like, I look at her, and say, “Gosh, you’re such an amazing person.” It makes me love playing her.

Gilles Nuytens: So far, which role have you played that you learned the most about acting?
Dana Davis: That’s such a good question. That’s a hard one because I’ve been doing this for so long. I think when I did The Nine I played this tortured girl. She was just going through so much. There were so many layers to her and it was hard for me because I had to stay in character so often. And I remember just being like an emotional wreck always because Felicia was such an emotional wreck. So I would go to work and everybody would be laughing, and talking, and giggling, and I would have to find a place that was quiet and just put headphones on, cover up my ears, and just get to that dark place. It made it difficult, but when it was all said and done, I grew so much as an actor. I’m so grateful for that show because it challenged me in so many ways that I became a better actor. So if I had to choose, I’d say that The Nine helped me to grow the most as an actor.

Gilles Nuytens: Were you satisfied with the end of The Nine?
Dana Davis: I was. As actors, most of us really don’t attach ourselves to anything that we don’t believe in. I feel like sometimes the public doesn’t really bond to what you do, but you still believe in it. You love it. I was a fan of The Nine. I loved the story and I loved my character. It was unfortunate that it didn’t find its audience and didn’t last as long as it could have, but I think I got a lot out of it. So I walked away from it feeling great, you know what I mean? I feel like I lost nothing from doing The Nine. I did nothing but gain. To me, it was like a win/win even though it didn’t last long.

Gilles Nuytens: What did you enjoy the most about doing The Nine?
Dana Davis: I enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed working with Chi McBride because he became a real life father figure for me. We got such a close relationship and we still keep in contact. A lot of times you do stuff you don’t keep in contact with people, and that’s unfortunate. But with Chi and I, we stayed in contact and I still look up to him. I enjoyed mostly just getting to know him and becoming friends with him.

Gilles Nuytens: In Heroes, Monica has discovered her ability to be a copycat. She can copy every move she sees, but do you think she can also copy voices, songs, or even the special abilities of the other Heroes?
Dana Davis: I have talked a little bit with the producers about my musical abilities being brought into the storyline of Heroes. We just talked briefly about it. I know they have a very specific path in mind for Monica and she’s going to be doing some pretty amazing, and very athletic, stuff. I don’t know if they’re going to put that in there, but I hope so. That would be pretty cool.

Gilles Nuytens: In how many episodes can we expect to see you this season?
Dana Davis: I can’t say exactly how many, but I’ve signed on for the year. So I will be with Heroes for all of second season.

Gilles Nuytens: I know you were a big fan of the show before getting the role. So now you’re inside the show. How is it to watch it being inside the show?
Dana Davis: Oh God, it’s so overwhelming. I mean, it’s so rare that actors get to attach themselves to something that they’re over the moon about. And like I said before, you believe in what you’re doing, like you have this respect for it, but it’s usually not that exciting. I mean, it’s work. But for me right now my job is a thrill. I’m so excited to go to work. Literally, every time I get a script I’m like, “Oh my God! This is so cool! Like I can’t believe Monica gets to do this and do that!” And I get to do such fun stuff that I could not even dream up a better job. So I’m really super, super excited all the time. I’m really enjoying it.

Gilles Nuytens: Isn’t it a bit strange or weird to see yourself in your favorite show?
Dana Davis: It is. It’s very, very surreal. It is almost like it wasn’t real to me until I saw the first episode, because it’s hard to make this my reality, this show that I followed for a whole year. And suddenly I’m a part of it. It’s crazy. There’s like no words really to explain the feeling of that.

Gilles Nuytens: Which aspect of the show motivated you to watch it the first time? And which aspect is the most interesting? What do you like the most about Heroes?
Dana Davis: I think the thing about Heroes is that they take you on a journey. I’ve been a fan of shows before where they try to keep the show on the air for so long that they’ll raise questions and then you never get answers. It’s like two seasons later and you still don’t get any answers. But Heroes has this way of taking you on this journey where they make it exciting, they keep secrets, but two episodes later they’re answering the question that they raised before. So, on this journey, you’re fulfilled, you get some sense of completion even though it’s step by step and it’s a long process of watching this whole series unfold. But you still feel like, “Okay, I get it, you’re moving along.” Whereas, I think with other shows, sometimes you don’t get that. It takes ten to twelve episodes to get any answers and you’re sort of over it after a while. I never really got that with Heroes. Like, every episode, not was I fulfilled, but I was left wanting more. I think that’s the thing with Heroes fans, it’s like every time that episode ends you’re like “Ah, man!” Like you can’t wait for that little “Next week, on Heroes” because you’re ready. It’s Monday, and it’s ten o’clock, and Heroes is over, and you just can’t wait until next Monday. I think that’s one of the things I really enjoyed: just being a fan of it.

Gilles Nuytens: How did you find out the show existed?
Dana Davis: Initially, in the very beginning, I heard about it when my agent sent over a bunch of pilots for me to watch. I remember being totally bored and watching all these pilots and then I came across Heroes and was like “Oh my God!” and I called my friends. And I said, “You won’t believe this. I have the next hit. I swear! It’s the best thing ever.” So my friends came over and watched it. This became a ritual for us. We watched it every Monday. It was our Heroes night and then, for myself, when I found out that they were adding a character like me to Heroes, I didn’t know much at first. It was just like “they are looking for an African American girl.” And I was like, “Okay. That’s close to me. Right? Okay!” And then I got a little more of her character and who she was. When I got the script and read it, I thought, “Nobody can play this part but me.” Like, I felt in my heart that I was so close to Monica that I could do her the most justice. So I worked really, really hard because I wanted to be true to the character. Then I went in there. And after one audition, I was hired.

Gilles Nuytens: Are you satisfied with the evolution of Monica so far?
Dana Davis: I am! It’s funny, I think a lot of actors prefer film because with film you know where your character is going. You know from start to finish. And with TV, you never know. Like every episode your character could go this way or that way, so it’s a little bit scary. For me, on Heroes, sometimes I imagine what I want Monica to do next, or what I want her to say, or feel, and then the writers go above and beyond what I even imagined. And I’ve never really experienced being so totally okay with everything. I don’t have many complaints when I get the scripts. Mostly I’m just so excited and never say, “Uh, I don’t think Monica would say this or do this.” It’s like, we’re all on the same page. I’m totally getting her story. I’m getting it, I’m loving it. I’m just enjoying her journey so much.

Gilles Nuytens: Is there something you would like to see Monica do?
Dana Davis: I have this really, really bad fear of heights and I’m a huge fan of Spider-Man and the way he can swing from buildings and stuff. So I’m hoping that Monica can do some fun stuff like that. I’m hoping that Monica will watch Spider-Man. It’ll help me get over my fear of heights. I’d love to do some stuff like that. That would be so fun.

Gilles Nuytens: The Spider-Woman.
Dana Davis: Yeah! Exactly! I think that would be so fun.

Gilles Nuytens: So being a copycat, Monica is showing us so many moves. Are they all done by professionals—I assume so—or do you do some of them yourself? Or do you want to do some of them yourself?
Dana Davis: Yeah, I do! We always try. We always try to teach me the moves. In the last episode, I think, I do this thing called the kipup, where I push myself off the ground. It’s like a handspring. We tried and tried to get me to do that, and it was getting close, but we didn’t have the time we needed for me to learn it, so we had to bring in a stunt double to finish it. But right now I’m working with the girl who’s done stunts for me and getting more in shape and working out so I can learn to do more of the stunts on my own. We always try to get me to do it, like the double dutching. I did the double dutching, but we ended up having to take the ropes out and do a CGI type thing. Because, believe it or not, double dutching is really hard. I’m trying to do more of my stunts and I want to. I want to be brave. Like, I want to do it all. I’m so jealous of my stunt double, because she gets to do all the fun stuff. But we’re working up to it. The martial arts stuff I do because I used to take martial arts as a child so it kind of came back to me. But a lot of the stunt work with the handsprings and the backflips, and all that kind of stuff, we do have a stunt double for that.

Gilles Nuytens: My next question was which move would you like Monica to copy, but I think you’ve already answered that question.
Dana Davis: You know what, Spider-Man, but The Matrix, too. I want her to watch The Matrix, because they did some pretty cool stunts in The Matrix. God, there’s so much she can do. She can watch the Olympics. She can do so much. I’m excited to see all the stuff that the writers come up with. My head is just racing with all of these things she can see and do.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think the big differences are between the copying powers that Peter has and the one that Monica has in copying normal moves?
Dana Davis: I think the big difference is that I think there is something more endearing about Monica’s talent. It’s a little more closer to a human, it’s more real. Even though it is surreal, don’t get me wrong. I mean, a person who can do anything they see is very surreal, but it’s taking human abilities. God has blessed us with some amazing talents. Like I said, you can just watch the Olympics and you’re just seeing humans do superhuman things. And so, I think it’s more endearing, because it’s like “that’s us.” Monica does a backflip. There are people in the world who can do that. She’s doing things that us human beings can do as well. I think the fans will connect to that a little bit more. Even though what Peter Petrelli does is fun, it’s exciting, there’s just a little more humanity to what Monica does.

Gilles Nuytens: Now a question I had when watching the show. If Monica sees a bad move, where someone isn’t doing something, like a martial art, correctly, and she wants to copy it, will she perform it badly as well?
Dana Davis: Monica will. It’s almost like her body takes over her. She will copy it exactly. So yeah, you’re right, if she does see something done improperly, she will do it the same way. But lucky for her, she can find a way to see it done right.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think Monica brings to the show?
Dana Davis: I think she brings back some of the excitement that we got in the beginning of Heroes with the character Hiro, when he was so excited about his powers, and he was jumping up and down and screaming “Yatta!” I think Monica is bringing back a little bit of that excitement. Because all of the Heroes are kind of burdened by their powers. It’s this weight on their shoulders that they don’t want. But Monica embraces her powers. We’ll see that more throughout the season, but she embraces them like 110% She’s thrilled. It’s like her ticket out of this world that she’s in. So I think she’s bringing back a little bit of that excitement and that hope to Heroes that we saw in the beginning of the first season.

Gilles Nuytens: Working with Nichelle Nichols must be a treat. Can you speak about the experience of working with her?
Dana Davis: I can say working with her has been a thrill. I came into it a fan of hers. I never dreamed that she would be playing my nana. When I found out I though, “Oh my God!” I remember I called my manager, I called my agent, I called my family. And my mom, she was more excited about me working with Nichelle than me being on the cast of Heroes. She was like, “You’re going to meet Nichelle?” That was all that she could talk about. And Nichelle’s just this genuine and sweet precense on the set. There’s something about her where she just walks into the room and you’re just kind of drawn to her. I always joke that she upstages me. We walk into a room and everyone is like “Nichelle! Oh my God! You’re so beautiful! Good morning, Nichelle!” And then it’s like five minutes later, they’re like, “Oh, hey, Dana. When did you get here?” It’s like she totally upstages me, but I love it. I mean, she can’t help upstage you because everything inside her shines outside. It’s been great working with her.

Gilles Nuytens: What is your best memory so far on Heroes?
Dana Davis: We did some stuff just recently in a burning building. And so I got to work for the first time with fire. And just being in a room surrounded by fire, it was scary, but it was exciting. They call it buttering up the set. They put this stuff all over to keep the fire contained so the fire is just kind of lit in that one area. They butter up the set and then they light the fire. It was amazing. Scary, but exciting. I’d say that has been my most exciting thing so far.

Gilles Nuytens: Have you already heard any audience feedback about Monica? And, if yes, how do you feel about it?
Dana Davis: I have! I’ve been online and I’ve read some stuff. And I’ve got reactions from the fans just from being out. There’s so many Heroes fans. Most of it is unbelievably positive. It’s just like they’re so excited. It’s so endearing and so sweet! It’s affected me so much that the fans appreciate what we’re trying to do. And of course sometimes you get some things that are negative, but that’s the great thing about America: everyone has the right to their own opinion, and it’s okay. To me, I take the good with the bad. It’s all to me into me. If I’ve reached one person, then I’ve done my job. And so I take it all as good. I just love it. Just being on a show like Heroes, you can’t get much better than that. So, I’m good anyway, you know? I’m good already.

Gilles Nuytens: What was the most challenging part about playing Monica so far?
Dana Davis: It’s the athletic part. I came into Heroes totally out of shape. Like, not working out at all. Just working a lot and being tired and exhausted, but never anything physically challenging. I think the most challenging part is that it’s tested me physically. I have been so sore. I’m sore today because of what we were doing yesterday. I was running and I was jumping. It’s so hard on my body. And I was telling people before I started Heroes that I used to be an insomniac. I was not able to sleep well. And ever since I started Heroes, I sleep like a baby. I’m always so tired, because I work so hard. I think that’s the most challenging thing: the physical challenges that they put on me.

Gilles Nuytens: What episode are you filming at the moment?
Dana Davis: I just finished my part in episode 2.11. They’re still working on episode eleven, but that was the last episode I shot.

Gilles Nuytens: Is there anything else that you’d like to say about Heroes or Monica that we haven’t yet talked about?
Dana Davis: I will just say that her story is so much more active. I think that Heroes fans are dying for some action right now and they’re definitely going to get it with Monica.

Gilles Nuytens: Outside of Heroes, what else can we expect from you next?
Dana Davis: I have a movie coming out with Screen Gems called Prom Night. It’s a horror movie that comes out in April of ’08. And that’s with Brittany Snow from Hairspray and American Dreams and also with Johnathan Schaech. And I play a teenager. There’s a slasher on the loose and it’s set in this world of prom, the most amazing prom ever. That’s coming out next year. I’m also a writer and I wrote a screenplay and an independent production company loves it. We’re in the middle of contracts for purchasing the option. And I’ll co-produce that and hopefully be able to get that project next year.

Gilles Nuytens: My last question: If you got the opportunity to play the character of your choice, in the movie of your choice, what would you choose to play?
Dana Davis: That’s such a good question. Let me think. I would love to play a really, really bad girl. Like a bad girl, but there’s a reason. Like Meryl Streep in When the Devil Wears Prada. I mean, she was just so bad, but it wasn’t over the top and it was done so well. I would love to play a character that has the layers like that, because I always play the good girls. But I kind of want to do something where I’m a little bit of a villain, that would be fun. So hopefully I’ll be able to get into that.

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© 2007 - Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World.
Transcript by Jenifer Redelle Carey


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