I recently got the chance to talk to David Pevsner about his role in ‘Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait Of James Dean’. Here, David talks about how he got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Thanks for askin’!
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
We like to describe it as a fever dream about James Dean. It’s not a typical “bio-pic”, and it all takes place before he makes his first film. It really delves into his psychology and his relationships as our fantastic director Matthew Mishory imagined, based on a lot of reading, interviews, and info regarding Dean. There’s no real plot per se…it’s a character study. And I think it’s beautiful and fascinating.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play one of Dean’s acting teachers…it’s a character based on the actor James Whitmore, who was a strong influence on Dean as an actor, but he also encouraged him to get to NY, be in the theatre, and become a real actor….unlike a lot of the glamour hawks at the time. There are a few scenes in my class that are really a lot of fun, and you see why James Dean became the actor he became. My character “The Acting Teacher” is a no bullshit, very seasoned pro who sees the potential in Dean…and in our scenes, you see how Dean set himself apart from the pack.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I met Matthew at a Christmas party a couple of years before, and we hit it off…I loved talking to him and I thought he was so smart and really knew his craft. He came to see every play I did over time, and when the film was ready to be shot, he had me read the script and meet with him to see if we were on the same page with the character. He wanted a theatre guy to play this role. We chatted about the character and the film and he offered it to me. I didn’t have to read for it, and it was really sort of cool to receive that kind of trust.
How would you say this film tries to stay true to the ‘legend’ of James Dean?
Though the film humanizes Dean and gives us so many colours of his personal life, he’s also this magnetic, tortured, one of a kind star-to -be…that’s what we have always accepted about Dean. It’s that quality that you can’t quite put a name to or put a finger on….and James Preston really has that. The man can hold a camera like nobody’s business…it’s a wonderful performance, serving the “legend” of Dean, but filling in the blanks.
The film stars James Preston, Dan Glenn, Dalilah Rain, Erin Daniels, Rafael Morais, Edgar Morais and Clare Grant – with Matthew Mishory onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I loved working on it…even though we shot all of my scenes in one day, it was a VERY intense day, I had very long shots, lots of dialogue and not a lot of time…I really had to be prepared, and I sort of had to nail it every time to serve the different shots. It was just a pleasure and a challenge to do this work. Matthew, Michael Pessah – (the brilliant Director of Photography), all the producers, the actors…nothing but support and diving in head first. What was most memorable to me was when the camera was on James Preston as Dean listening to my speech about what makes a good actor, and seeing a tear tumble down his cheek in one of the takes. I’ll never forget that.
Let’s talk a bit about you David. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I watched a whole hell of a lot of TV as a kid…25 hours a day…but strangely enough, it was the commercials that I imitated. I’m also a singer and nothing pleased me more than to sit in the back seat of our car and warble commercial jingles at the top of my lungs. Fun for me, not so much the family, but they indulged me. As a boy, I think I just needed to express myself and I was attracted to all the glam of my TV stars, but as an adult, I realize that I got into the industry to connect…with audiences, with other actors, with myself. When that thing happens, that connection in a play or on camera, that moment that is like spontaneous combustion, epiphany, whatever….I don’t need food, money, anything else. This work nourishes me in a way that I can’t describe, and as I’ve worked more and more, it gets more and more fun. I’m loving it more now than ever.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Do it. There are all kinds of “positions” in this industry so there’s room for all types. And you can probably make your way for a while on a pretty face or a need to be famous. But what I’ve learned is that longevity comes with not just talent, but hard work, willingness to grow, to take chances, to be someone who people want to work with. If you don’t love it…if you don’t see being an artist as a true calling, you may not be a keeper.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with and why? Any good stories?
Truly, my minds a big blur so I’ll go by instinct here. I loved working with all the ‘Scrooge And Marley’ actors…as one of the title characters, I got to have scenes with everyone, and that was one committed bunch. Everyone gave a zillion percent. So much fun. In terms of celebs, I have to say that I had my best time with someone I only passed on camera…when I shot ‘Law And Order LA’, I literally only had a passing moment with Alfred Molina, but we had a long chat in the make-up room. We both had done a production of ‘Fiddler On The Roof” on Broadway so we talked about that, but he’s such an interesting guy and so funny and just….present. I really enjoyed my brief time getting to know him, and he is an absolute consummate actor and a truly lovely person.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
Michel Thomas’s French Courses. I have been wanting to speak the language forever, so I do all the lessons sitting in Starbucks, but then I have no one to speak to, so I let it go. A few months later, I try again. Three times so far. Je ne can speak the language pas.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Randi Rhodes, for sure. She has a radio show that really takes apart politics and pop culture and makes it understandable and really alive, and she’s hilarious. I listen to her as often as possible…she’s about the most well-read informative person I could listen to and I learn a ton every time. I’d want Montgomery Clift to join us…when I read his biography, I wanted to save him, to understand what was in his head. Maybe a nice dinner would help? Last…I reserve the right to make a last-minute choice from a gazillion others, depending on my mood…Rachel Maddow, Barbra Streisand, President Obama, Steve Jobs, George Clooney, Oscar Wilde, Stephen Sondheim…too many more.
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
Superman. I like to think we’d all be safer with him around.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
I’m shooting a couple of indie films over the next couple of months, and I’m working on getting up the first production of a new one man musical I wrote called ‘Musical Comedy Whore’. It’s a very fun show, autobiographical, very revealing and kind of risqué, but very universal in its themes. I’d love to perform it in the UK, specifically London. I’m putting it out there…call me!
Thanks for the interview!