The Man Behind All the Drama

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A chat with Smash’s Jack Davenport

Being a straight man on Broadway can be an anomaly. Just ask Jack Davenport, who plays a character who certainly uses this to his advantage. As director Derrick Wills on NBC’s Smash, he has girls swooning over him in literally every episode.

“He has a pulse, so he does what comes naturally,” the thirty-nine-year old actor says about his character, who guides real-life talents playing doe-eyed starlets in Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, and Jennifer Hudson. “I basically just have to sit there and watch them be amazing and then occasionally shout at them. So yes, I’ve had tougher job assignments in my life,” Davenport admits.

The British native has fulfilled a lifelong dream by living in New York, with filming in Times Square and JackDavenporttaking his son to Prospect Park as part of a typical day. Although for him, a trip to the park can turn into an event immediately discussed in the Brooklyn blogosphere. “That strikes me as one of the most un-newsworthy stories I’ve ever heard,” he said. “I guess it was a slow news day, what can I say?”

How does Derrick’s character develop this season?

Don’t worry, he’ll still be screaming and shouting at various tearful young women at inopportune moments. But he may also be slightly called to account for some of those things. The thing about people is they don’t change that much. I think Derrick’s somewhat questionable attitude towards interpersonal relationships does come back to haunt him in fairly profound ways as the season develops. That’s been very interesting to play because part of a director’s job is to give the appearance of invulnerability.

Events transpire this year that make the director quite vulnerable. And that’s been really fun to mess around with, because you get a chance to explore aspects of the character you didn’t think you’d necessarily get to.

What’s it like to play—I guess you would say—a womanizer?

Well in the show, yeah. [Laughs] What’s it like? Occasionally makes you feel slightly dizzy. That’s the character. He’s a single straight guy living in a world in which a lot of really attractive young women are, in some ways, trying to impress him all the time.

Do people stop you to talk about the show?

Oh sure, absolutely. I get my fair share of either people just coming up to say they like it, or occasionally just women shouting at me. I guess that means I’m doing my job properly.

The show is filmed on location quite often.

When we started the show, I remember being like, “Wow, here we are filming in Times Square!” After a while, I guess that’s what being unimpressed with things is—you’re becoming a New Yorker. “Oh Times Square again!” [Laughs] This is one of those shows where the city of New York is a character. You can’t separate the concept of Broadway with the concept of the city of New York. We shoot all over the City a lot of the time.

What are your favorite places in New York City?

Prospect Park. I’m either there with my son—apparently being blogged about—or there because I find Prospect Park to have all the best things of Central Park—minus the tourists. I’ve always loved The Odeon in Tribeca. I’ve been going there for 20 years.
Do you miss England?

Not much. As a kid, I was just obsessed with America—the literature, the movies, the music. I always wanted to be here, so now I am. It would seem a bit churlish to immediately start saying, “Oh, I wish I was in England.” I lived in New York when I was much, much younger.

Who would you like to see as a guest on Smash?

We get so many good ones that I think it would be, frankly, greedy to ask for more. This year we’ve got Jennifer Hudson, Liza Minelli, Sean Hayes, Bernadette Peters, Jesse Martin. I don’t know, won’t that do?

You come from an acting family. When did you know you would be an actor?

Well you don’t really know until someone gives you a job. My parents did the right thing when I was a kid and actually discouraged me. It has its own challenges—the life of an actor. The truth is that I was an only child and I was surrounded by a lot of actors much of the time. If you’re a kid, actors are kind of great, cause to be an actor your job – to a degree – is to be playful. I loved this odd tribe of people who didn’t patronize me or exclude me or talk down to me. They were kind of a bit crazy and fun. I think on some kind of molecular level when I was pretty small, I just knew I wanted to be part of that tribe. That remains the truth to this day.

Would you ever want to do a Broadway show?

Sure. If somebody asked me, absolutely; I’d love to. I’ve done a lot of theater in the UK, and theater’s the same the world over.

That would mean you would have to be in Times Square again.

Not exactly. Well there’s one or two of them there. I guess I would. [Laughs]
What are your future plans?

I don’t know. Make another cup of coffee. Take the dog for a walk.
And take your son to the park.

Yeah, there you go.

Watch Jack on Smash Tuesday nights on NBC.

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