Interview with actor David H. Stevens: His Story and the Power of Acting – Part 1

Written by | The Business of Acting

We interview actor and producer David H. Stevens on how he got started, what acting has brought to his life and a hilarious audition for a 70 year old woman. Most recently David starred in Robert Redford’s The American West on AMC as Jesse James.

RG: Tell us about yourself. How long have you been acting, what made you get started, and what resources did you have?

DS: Let me start by saying how appreciative I am for all of the creative people who have believed in me and pushed me over the years to continue acting. It is one thing to believe in yourself and to always be committed to your dream, but to sustain and endure a career in such a subjective field as acting, you must have support.

Nearly 25 years ago, my mother convinced me to utilize my creative talents and audition for the Wizard of Oz musical at my junior high school. I was cast as the Munchkin Mayor and have been in love with the craft ever since. Good fortune shined when I was bussed to Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City, Utah because of overcrowding at my local school. The acting teacher, Joan Hahn, a woman who had dominated the state and regional acting tournaments with her students for nearly 30 years, took me under her wing and taught me the most important creative lesson of my life: “If you want to be great at this, David, then you must get on the stage or screen as often as possible.” What she, in essence, told me was that experience is everything and one must have that experience to excel.

I attended college on an acting scholarship and then transferred to the speech and debate team, where I competed across the nation in dramatic interpretation, poetry, prose, and public speaking. During that time, I auditioned for my first professional acting job in a pilot for CBS and was hired. Soon thereafter, I entered the professional arena full time, where I sought after, and succeeded in, finding the opportunity to portray fictional and nonfictional characters on the stage and screen. Using my quest for experience and the actor’s greatest tool, himself, I have been privileged to appear in more than 50 film, television, and stage productions since my start.

RG: What has acting brought to your life and what has your life brought to your acting?

DS: The cynical side of me instinctively wants to say “pain and misery,” and even though it has been a hard-fought battle, with very rough patches, I must be honest and say that it has been the greatest decision of my life. I love what I do and I get to do it often. The places I have been, the people I have met, and the lessons I have learned about myself have made up for the difficult times. The high points have been all together fantastic. Interestingly, I have learned that the painful periods of my life are a large part of what has fueled my success. Having a reference point for both happiness and sadness has helped me find the richness a character deserves.

 

People’s real lives can be affected by the stories we tell, and I had better respect that power.

RG: What is your favorite role to date?

DS: I have enjoyed nearly every production I have been a part of but if I had to pick a favorite it would probably be as the title character in Ron’s Night Out. Ron was based on a real man with severe cerebral palsy. As part of my research I was allowed to view many hours of footage of his life. I also spent quite a bit of time at a care facility specializing in the disease. By the time we shot the film, I felt like I had a very good understanding of not only the physical ailments but of the mind of someone trapped in his frustrating body. Two of the greatest lessons I have ever received came on that movie set. We had real people, with real cerebral palsy, playing the extras at the fictional care facility, and I chose to remain in character throughout each day’s work. Not only did the parents believe I had the disease but one of the girls working as an extra one day wheeled her chair over to me and began very gently rubbing my hands to perform physical therapy. Her mom told me she had wanted to ask me out. It broke my heart to have to explain to her that I was an actor and did not really have cerebral palsy. I learned that day that I have the ability to be exceptional in my chosen field and it also taught me that people’s real lives can be affected by the stories we tell, and I had better respect that power.

RG: Tell us about the audition that was most fulfilling to you and why?

DS: Any time I get to perform, it is fulfilling. I love to audition because it is a version of performing. I could gab your ears off with all my audition stories from the silly to the profound, so I’ll just give you one that was extraordinarily entertaining. I was reading for Catrine, who, of course, is the founder of ReelGuru.com. We had built such a strong mutual respect for one another that I believed she would allow me to audition for any part I could imagine myself doing. Well, there was a role calling for a 70-plus-year-old lady and I decided that I wanted a shot at it. I found a wardrobe that worked, a wig, and even went so far as to sport a nice set of sagging breasts. I was fully committed to the part and arrived at the audition in character and remained that way until it was over.

In classic old lady fashion, I was not compelled to wait my turn and began knocking rudely on the audition room door. I still feel a bit bad about interrupting the audition in progress but hey, I was old and wanted to go home to watch my television soaps. Well, imagine the look of surprise on everyone’s face when I entered the room without being welcomed and proceeded to audition. Catrine had a smile on her face about as big as you can imagine. I rocked the scene and then left. Later Catrine confided that the final decision for the role had come down to me and another woman who really happened to fit the description. She got the part. (Editor’s note:  It takes a special casting director / actor relationship to pull this off!  I would not recommend trying it!)  To this day I remain just as confident and committed to being excellent in an audition room, whether I get the role or not, as that is entirely out of my control.

Part II of this article is available here!

Editor’s Note: You can ask David your acting questions in ReelGuru.com’s column, Close Up with David H. Stevens.

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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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