JF Davis is an actor you have 100% seen on your TV and movie screens. From appearances in The West Wing, Greys Anatomy, Private Practice, Code Black, The Pretender, The Mentalist, 13 Reasons Why, Station 19, Criminal Minds, S.W.A.T. and more, JF has done it all!
But before becoming an actor, he took a job as a handyman to the stars, and even helped move actress Meg Ryan to New York from California back in the day.
The Levity Ball spoke to JF about this, his upcoming movie and TV roles, and what about New York he loves so much + more!
When did you “catch” the acting bug and decide you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment?
I didn’t really get the acting bug until my mid twenties. I had always had something inside me kind of pushing me in that direction, but I never really thought of it becoming a reality. Then I had this friend that suggested I take an acting class that she saw in the paper. I thought what the heck it could be fun. I took the class and we put on a play and it was fun but still not really something that I was serious about. I auditioned for a play at the local community theater, “Biddeford City Theater” in Biddeford, Maine and I landed a leading role in “The Foreigner”. This really started the itch so to speak. The live audience, the laughter… it’s kind of intoxicating. At this time even though I enjoyed it, I just went on with my normal day to day. I had been working in a paper mill and saved some money, at the time, the mid 80’s fitness was the craze and I opened a fitness store “Action Fitness” selling bodybuilding supplements, aerobic clothing, fitness equipment, etc… One day I was watching TV in my little back office as business was slow and I saw this girl from my acting class, Laura Bonarigo, she was now in New York starring in “One Life To Live”, that was the day I decided that I would be an actor. I started studying the business of acting, and selling off my store so that I could move to Los Angeles and become an actor. Failure was not an option.
What was your very first role?
Like many aspiring actors I started out doing background work and stand in work to get on set and get a feel for the business. I remember being on set of “Melrose Place” one day, I was just standing off to the side watching when Thomas Collabro came over and started chatting with me, I remember him saying, “When he was in NY doing background, he would give himself a character and he would act, even though it was just background. So one day I was doing background on a TV show “A League of Their Own”, the director Ted Bessell, pulled me aside and gave me a line and some action with one of the main characters. My first role!
You have really made a name for yourself since, appearing on TV shows such as The West Wing, Greys Anatomy, Private Practice, Code Black, The Pretender, The Mentalist, 13 Reasons Why, Station 19, Criminal Minds and S.W.A.T., just to name a few. How does working on a TV show compare to working in movies?
Working on TV is a bit faster paced because most everyone has been playing their character for a while and are comfortable. As the new guy it is a bit of trying to fit in as well as do your job, that being said, most established actors are very supportive when you guest on their show. With film, the process is much slower, more takes, different angles and shots and more rehearsal time, you have an opportunity to really get a good performance.
This coming fall you will be appearing on the show Ratched, on Netflix. Can you tell us about the show and what people can expect?
I can’t really say too much about the show as it has not started airing yet and I do not want to give away storylines, but I play a police captain in the 1940’s. The show is a prequel to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and tells the story of how Nurse Ratched becomes the woman that we saw in the movie. It has an amazing cast of super talented actors and should be a really good watch.
Flipping the switch to film, you are set to also be in the feature film, Outrage. Can you tell us more about your role and this movie?
“Outrage” is an independent action film with some amazing martial arts fight scenes as well as some fun car chases. I play Mike, a blue collar guy with a college age daughter. My daughter gets kidnapped and held for ransom by a ruthless biker gang. I call on the help of an old friend who sends his son to help me get my daughter back, that’s where the action begins!
Rewinding a bit. Before you made your name in the industry, you worked as a “handyman” to various big name stars to help fund your career. How did you even get into touch with so many stars to do work for, and who was your favorite?
Well that’s an interesting story. I still do some handywork and still have a few celeb clients but how did it start. Actually when my wife had our first child, I had to find a way to support us and still follow my dreams, growing up in small town Maine, Ilearned to do a little bit of everything. I think my wife was talking to someone and told them, my husband can fix that, and word got out. My whole business was word of mouth. As for the celebrity clients, one of my regular clients had some rental properties and one of his renters was a famous designer, Brad Dunning. Brad worked with many celebrity clients and often needed someone to come in after the contractors finished to finish some minor jobs. He called on me and many of them kept me on either at their home, office or both. Then their assistants who have their own little network would also pass my name around. You do good work and people call you back! I worked with some really interesting people, actors, writers, producers, famous photographers, etc… I think my favorite was probably Diane Keaton. She would sit down and chat sometimes when I was finished working… a really down to earth, regular person.
Keeping with the New York connection, we heard that you once helped Meg Ryan move out of her California home to here in New York. Tell us more!
Meg was great, She had one of my favorite homes that I have ever worked in. It was this old spanish style place on an amazing tree covered lot in the hills of Bel Air. I worked for her for a few years until she decided to make the move to New York, once she left she had me and her assistant coordinate with the movers, find a home for some of the things that she did not take with her and even meet some perspective buyers. But the home did not sell right away and that is where I met Diane Keaton. She rented Meg’s house for a year and kept me as her handyman. I continued to work for Diane after that at her new home as well.
When you are in New York personally, where are some of your favorite spots to go?
I have only been to New York a few times, once was to attend a film festival that a movie I starred in was entered into, I went with my family one time in the winter on our way to Maine, we were there for 3 days in December of 2005 and it was the only 3 days that the MTA was on strike starting the morning we arrived and ending the evening that we flew out! It made getting around difficult especially in the snow with two young children, but they were troopers and we made the most of it. We still made our way up and down the city, visiting Bergdorf Goodmans for My Wife, FAO Schwarz for the kids, the Empire State building, and we visited some great little pizza joints and mom and pop restaurants. I went one other time for a commercial shoot and really didn’t get to see much. It is definitely someplace that My wife and I really want to return to and take some time to enjoy the sights.
What is your advice to those looking at moving to Hollywood to pursue their dreams like you did?
When it comes to moving to Hollywood to work in the entertainment industry no matter what part of it you are in, the first thing is find a flexible job to pay the rent! If you are worried about bills, you will not be able to concentrate on your true passion and the auditions will be flat. It is tough because there are so many talented (and untalented) people from all over the world who got to LA to chase a dream, as well as those who grow up there and are born into the business and others who somehow migrate at some point into the business. If you get an audition you have won a battle, getting callbacks is the next step and hopefully you start booking some paying gigs. I always tell people, if you don’t feel like you have to do it, you may want to try something else. It has to be the fire that burns inside of you and it is still a very un glamorous pursuit!
And final question: What do you want to be remembered for when people look back at you and your body of work?
I would like to be remembered as a chameleon of an actor, that guy you saw in that movie and say, hey that’s the same guy from that other movie… I want to be remembered like Gary Oldman, that’s the type of actor I want to be. I call myself a blue collar actor, a character actor with leading man looks. I want to play characters that are diverse and memorable. All that being said, I want to be a working actor. I love what I do and that’s pretty much it!