Glenn Davis is an esteemed actor who was the first African American actor to graduate from the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre at the Stratford Festival. He received his BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University, which was formerly the Goodman School of Drama. His versatile acting skills have led him to several Broadway productions, off-Broadway productions, international productions and more. He also has appeared in several TV roles in “24,” “The Unit,” “Jericho” and “The Good Wife.”
Currently, Davis is a Steppenwolf ensemble member and is presently featured in Steppenwolf’s production of You Got Older, an Obie Award-winning play, which was written by Clare Barron and directed by Jonathan Berry. His other Steppenwolf credits include productions of The Christians, The Brother/Sister Plays and Head of Passes, with the latter two both being directed by Tina Landau and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney (co-author of the AcademyAward-winning movie Moonlight).
Davis also has his own production company, 4th and Long Productions, whose partners include fellow ensemble members Tarell Alvin McCraney and Jon Michael Hill, among others. He is working on developing several film and television projects with his production company.
Rolling out spoke with the veteran actor to get a feel for how he got into acting, how he prepares for his roles, and what inspires him as an actor.
When did you get the acting bug?
I started acting [during] my senior year in high school.
What was your first role?
Van Helsing in “DRACULA” and Tony Kirby in “You Can’t Take it With You “
How do you prepare to audition?
I break down the script into the actions that my characters need to perform and also intentions behind why they’re doing everything they’re doing. I try to memorize as much as possible in advance of the audition, depending on the time constraints. If I’m going to be filmed, a lot of times I will film myself doing it at home so I know what I look like doing these particular actions and portraying this character on screen.
Name two of your favorite actors and why you like them.
Jeffrey Wright because his characters always seem like they have a secret, which I love. And Mark Rylance because he’s the most inventive actor I’ve ever seen.
What have you learned about yourself while becoming an actor?
That I don’t like boundaries. That I don’t like rules. I have a friend [who] calls me a habitual rule breaker.
How do you establish the character in your mind as you memorize your lines?
I use visualization exercises to see myself as the character and hopefully can come somewhere near to where the writer and/or director has seen the character in their own mind.
What are your favorite acting methods?
I would call myself a method actor so The Method. I appreciate Meisner. I also like Viola Spolin’s “Games” and viewpoints.
How has the advance being made by blacks in the film industry benefited you?
There are a lot more roles for not only blacks but all minorities in entertainment because of the recent attention being paid to the lack of diversity in film, TV and theater. Minority actors are more often being seen now as fully fleshed out characters as opposed to tropes and archetypes.
What two things would you tell any you person who wants to become an actor or actress?
You have to be very disciplined. You have to be comfortable not knowing when your next job is, and you have to love it.
What inspires you to stretch yourself as an actor?
Love for the theater. Love for the craft. A desire to always be better today than I was yesterday. Appreciation for the artists who came before me. And the desire to always be telling the story truthfully and in accordance with the writer’s intentions and the director’s vision.
How do you study your craft?
I went to theater school. Now I have an acting coach in New York that I study with whenever I am there. I read and teach, which doesn’t necessarily sound like I’m studying, but when you’re teaching you’re reaffirming some of the rules and guidelines to which you govern your own craft.
What seven songs are on your playlist?
“Electric” by Alina Baraz, “Location” by Khalid, “River” by Leon Bridges, “Get You” by Daniel Caesar, “Pretty Wings” by Maxwell, “Grant Green” by Mr. Jukes, “Can you Feel It” by The Jacksons.
Name two books that you have recently read.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and Plutocrats by Christia Freeland
Name two of your most creative friends and how they share their lives and support you.
Tarell Alvin McCraney: he writes plays that I do and we constantly encourage and challenge one another artistically.
Alana Arenas inspires me to be a better actor with every performance that she does.