Character Actor: Interview with Dave Vescio
By Sue Basko, esq.
Today's blog is really special. Dave Vescio is a character actor in Los Angeles. Dave often plays quirky characters. You can watch Dave's demo reel by clicking here. But, please come back and read the interview. Dave gives great advice for aspiring and working actors and directors.
Sue: You're a character actor. Actors used to be more or less divided up between leading men and character actors, and now there are leading roles for actors like Steve Buscemi and Zach Galifianakis. Do you think roles are changing?
Dave: Yes and no. I still think that the majority of the lead roles in the United States will always be handed out to leading men and leading women types. For some reason our culture is really focused on how people look. We’re always judging one another on if they’re good looking or not. Like that really matters if someone is worth knowing or dating, because of what they look like on the outside. So, stupid… But, the truth of the matter is, is that’s how life in the United States is. So, that’s how our film & television industry is geared towards; because the customer is ALWAYS right!
And years ago, I was taught by my mentors that ninety percent of film & TV acting is just based on: how you look. Meaning, do you look like this type of character from the get-go? And if so, then the other ten percent is based on: can you take direction or not.
So, that’s how I base my own career, from the get-go. I look like a desperate/flawed antagonist, villain, and/or an interesting offbeat, and these are the roles that I get. But, once in awhile, I do get the lead role, versus the supporting role or day player role. And I think the same is with Steve Buscemi and Zach Galfianakis. Yes, they do play lead roles from time to time, but, they also play a lot of supporting roles or cameo roles as well. But, that’s fine. I have no qualms with this. My job is to be the best actor that I can be. And as Stanislavsky once said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
Sue: Please give advice. Say someone wants to be an actor today. Say they are past college age. What acting training do you think would be ideal. Name names. Name places, if you will.
Dave: That’s a good question. This is what I recommend to all beginner actors. Read every single acting book that you can get your hands on. Go to the public library, go to the bookstore, and read away. Now, out of these couple dozen acting books that you’ve read; which acting theories stick with you best? Which ones would you like to study further in the classroom setting; or one-on-one with an acting coach? That’s what I did.
I read three dozen plus acting books, and I realized that I only liked two acting books. One was called ‘True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor’ by David Mamet, and the other was called ‘Practical Handbook for the Actor’ which was written by David Mamet’s students. So, David Mamet’s acting theory is what I needed to study through and through, so I applied to his acting conservatory in New York City in 2002 (The Atlantic Theater Company Acting School), got accepted, and the rest is history! :)
Plus, art will always be subjective, so, you have to trust your instincts, your own style of acting, and allow your acting career to take you, where ever it takes you. That’s the best advice that I can ever give to any beginner actor. Trust your instincts!
Sue: What is the best way to get started in acting?
Dave: Honestly, the best way to get started in acting is to allow yourself to perform where ever and whenever you can. Perform on the streets, perform in a local community play, perform in a school play; shoot, perform where ever you can. Go do monologues on your street corner; create street theatre; create a play for your local community to see; create a short film; do whatever you got to do to get seen by the general public. And by doing it “for real”, you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t work with the paying audience. And let the audience teach you. The customer is ALWAYS right; and the sooner that you can accept that, the sooner you can make-a-living at professional acting.
Sue: What is the best way to get an agent in L.A?
Dave: I just tell beginner actors to submit to every single agent that there is in their local city. And let the agents decide if they want to work with you or not. And if none of them want to work with you, then you have no choice but to become your own agent. That’s what I did; and still do, to this day.
Yes, I have an agent, and I’ve had many agents & managers over the years, but, I’ve always got my own paid acting work, on my own. Every single paid acting job that I’ve ever gotten to this day is because of my own hustling efforts. I hustle every single day! I submit myself to every single acting job that there is; from the breakdowns, to all the different casting notice websites, to all the in-development & pre-production lists that there are, and etc. etc. And in the end, I’m ALWAYS booking my own acting jobs! :) So, if by chance, you cannot find a good sales person to sell your product for you, meaning, a good agent or a good manager, then you have to sell it yourself. And I’ve learned early on, that I can become my own agent and/or manager; and I did, and I still do it every single day.
There’s a dozen plus books written by agents and managers on how to get acting work for your self. So, go out there and read them. Knowledge is POWER! The more you Know, the more you apply what you Know, the more Power that you’ll have in the end. Read, Study, Practice, Master, and Teach; it’s an endless cycle. But, a cycle that ALWAYS guarantees success in life! :)
Sue: You have started calling yourself a Sci Fi Actor. What is that about? Are you a big Sci Fi fan?
Dave: Right now my publicity team is calling me a sci-fi actor, because I have a lot of sci-fi films coming out in 2011; such as ‘Gemini Rising’ (starring Lance Henriksen) which will air on the Syfy Channel later on this year; and a Lionsgate movie called ‘Virus X’. But, my other film & TV genres are definitely horror, crime, and dark comedy. But, I am a big sci-fi fan as well! :) I just love science fiction, and always have! Shoot, any storyline that has a hero, a villain, and a victim in it, is a great storyline to me. And science fiction projects definitely fit that type of storyline! :)
Sue: I have long been impressed by your work. I have been open about that for some time. You really have a presence on screen. Does that come naturally or what are your secrets?
Dave: Thank you; I really do appreciate the compliments Susan! :) And yes, I do work on my screen presence every single day. I meditate, connect my chakras, exercise, drink lots of water, massage my face, do yoga, play to win, and perform monologues to random people on the street corners. I feel the more time I spend in the present moment, where I’m not thinking about the past or the future, the better my odds are that I’ll have a screen presence like no other on set. So, I constantly work on my screen presence every single day of every single year.
Sue: What are some of your favorite roles you have played?
Dave: My favorite roles will always be the antagonists, the villains, and/or the interesting offbeats. And 95% of my roles definitely fit that category; which is why I love to act professionally!
Sue: Would you like to do a TV series where you recur or are a main character?
Dave: Ugh… Not really. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to act in anything that I can. And I never, ever turn down a paid acting job; unless it conflicts with another shoot date. But, I rather be in a storyline that has a definite beginning, a middle, and an end. And episodic TV cannot promise that for me. I guess I need closure in life, so, that’s why I prefer to do feature films, TV movies, commercials, and music videos. They always have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Plus, I cannot see myself being the same character, week after week, month after month, and year after year. It seems just too boring to me. I just love to become a different kind of character every single month. It’s why I act in the first place; to experience something new (every single month).
Sue: Advice: People reading my blog are from the US and from the world. They are looking to know about Hollywood. Some would like to go there to be an actor, director, etc. Can you tell them something -- advice, warnings, useful tips?
Dave: I’ve been in the “Show Business” world for over a decade now. I first started off filming documentaries professionally, then I became a TV photojournalist for CBS News (specializing in natural disasters & man-made disasters), then I co-taught TV Production and Electronic News Gathering at Virginia Tech, and then in 2006 I became a professional actor here in Hollywood.
So, this is what I truly recommend to all of your readers: why did they choose to use these following words to describe our business: Show Business, Lead role, Actor, and Director. What do these words truly mean? What’s the actual dictionary definition of all of these words? That’s it, that’s all you ever have to do with your career. That’s the secret to having success in this business of ours! :) And I know; it sounds so easy, but, it’s not. There’s so much to learn about these words.
So, let’s look at “Show Business”. What does “Show” actually mean? It means to actually “show” your art work to every single person that you’re ever going to meet in your life. By doing “business” tactics; such as marketing, advertising, publicity, networking, social networking, and etc. That’s it, that’s all you ever do. Just show, show, and show your work to every single person that you possibly can show it to. And let them teach you what they liked & disliked about it. The audience will make you the BEST that you can be! :) So, you got to listen to them. They pay your bills in the end. And without them -- meaning, the paying audience, you’ll never make-a-living in this business of ours. It’s just the way it is. We co-exist with one another. The performer & the audience member are the yin and the yang. We cannot exist without the other. Otherwise, it's just self-masturbation; meaning, creating art for yourself. So, don’t be afraid of the audience member, embrace them, and let them teach you whatever they wish to teach you. You've got to listen to them, no matter what.
Criticism is like sandpaper. It's going to hurt like hell. It's going to make you bleed. But, in the end, it just polishes you up. So, let ALL that criticism polish you up!
What does “Lead role” mean? It means to actually “lead” the audience to the story, plus, through the story as well. So, lead the general audience to every single one of your stories, and lead them through it as well. Even if you’re like me and you’re just a character actor (who just plays lead roles from time to time), be the “leader” no matter what. Lead the general audience to every single one of your stories. I was taught for every dollar that you pay me to act; I have to make you fifteen dollars back. So, it’s my job to lead the audience to the story, no matter what. To make my producers their money back. It’s about giving all you got. So, that’s what I do. I give it ALL, no matter what. And in return, I get hired over and over again as a professional actor. And this applies to directors as well. You got to “lead” the audience to your stories and through your stories, no matter what. Once again, don’t be afraid to be criticized by the audience. It’s their job to criticize, and it’s our job to listen to them, and give them something better the next time around!
And the same goes with the words “Actor” and “Director”; actors act (meaning, doing an action), and directors direct (meaning, actually directing the actors, the dp, and the rest of the crew members). So, actors have to do an actual physical action when they act, and directors have to direct, and not let the actors direct themselves (which most directors do); which I honestly don’t get.
So, that’s the best advice that I can give to anyone in this business of ours. Just “Show” your art work by using every single “Business” tactic that there is, to every single human being that you can possibly show it too. That’s the secret to success in any career in the “Show Business” world! :)
Best of SUCCESS to you ALL! :)
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