Film Courage: From your bio, you hail from New York, Michigan, Indiana, and Massachusetts. What was life like growing up and where do you call home?
Dawn Davis: I had a rather isolated upbringing, mostly in the Midwest, but it included two amazing sisters and a lot of great pets. I never had a hometown to speak of but I call Massachusetts home because my family is there and it was my favorite place to live before I came to L.A.
Film Courage: Did moving around so much help you become more social (i.e., instantly having to make friends) or were you more introverted (resorting to ‘play’ stories in your head)?
Dawn: I’m definitely an introvert and my imagination was my world. I had trouble getting out of my imagination sometimes because that was the thing that made me happy.
“Acting makes me feel alive because it allows me to be used as a vehicle for an expression that is greater than me. It’s a very spiritual experience; I feel that I can be an instrument in service to the energy that connects all of us on a higher level- a level that we’re normally not so conscious or aware of.”
Film Courage: Was anyone in your family an artist? What was their perception of other artists?
Dawn: No one in my family is a professional artist but they’re all incredibly artistic and gifted nevertheless. Good books, music, films and art were always valued in our home. My family has been unconditionally supportive of me.
Film Courage: What was it like the first day you arrived in LA? Where did you end up living your first few months here?
Dawn: My first day here was amazing. It was winter and I’d just come from four consecutive blizzards in Boston. I rolled my suitcase down 4th Street in Santa Monica where these palm trees tower over the street. The sun was warm, the sky was pristine and I had tears of joy in my eyes because I felt I had stepped into the life of my dreams. Of course, I had to get used to paying through the nose for a studio apartment but I adore Santa Monica; next to Boston it’s my favorite place I’ve ever lived.
Film Courage: What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever been told at an audition? What was your reaction?
Dawn: I once improvised a comedic character and monologue where I talked for a long time about my idol, Hayley Mills. Turns out one of the casting directors had also idolized Hayley Mills growing up and we were able to compare stories about how our siblings/parents couldn’t stand us because of it.
Film Courage: Have you talked to other actresses about being cast for roles while in their thirties (similar to “Searching for Debra Winger” doc)? How was it for you to hear of their experiences?
Dawn: I have and it’s often incredibly disheartening. I think we have to change the conversation- and we’re trying- because we are the ones who will have move this industry in a direction that values the contributions of women at every age. Television is doing a great job of that right now but overall the industry is horribly imbalanced.
Film Courage: In an interview with Agnesfilms.com, you spoke of initially studying acting, leaving it for a while to direct/produce, and feeling like life was meaningless for you behind the camera. What was the final moment of realizing you must act? What about acting makes you feel alive?
Dawn: I went to see a play one night because I was bored and it was free. It moved me so much that I cried through the entire show and for pretty much a week straight afterwards. It was like someone held up my heart in front of me so that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Acting makes me feel alive because it allows me to be used as a vehicle for an expression that is greater than me. It’s a very spiritual experience; I feel that I can be an instrument in service to the energy that connects all of us on a higher level- a level that we’re normally not so conscious or aware of.
Film Courage: How did you come across the script for HARMONY?
Dawn: I posted an ad on the International Screenwriters’ Association website and the writer, Warren Fast, submitted a couple of scripts to me.
Film Courage: What about HARMONY’S story and characters felt right to you from all the scripts you’d looked at?
Dawn: There was a strong female protagonist with a huge obstacle to overcome. I loved that she had an unusual psychic gift and that there was a great plot twist. And all of these things came packaged in a five-minute script.
Film Courage: Is realization of ‘If I want to act, I’ll have make the project myself’ empowering or upsetting?
Dawn: It’s absolutely both. I can get tied up in knots over it, and often do, but I’m also thrilled when I get to be the creative engine behind a project. The biggest issue is that it takes so long to bring a project to fruition and I always wish I had more money to produce with or an easier time getting cast.
Film Courage: You had an incredibly challenging year in Los Angeles awhile back – What happened? What were your thoughts at this time? How did you pull through?
Dawn: In a nutshell, most everything in my life was falling apart in terms of relationship, job, career… However, I’ve lived long enough now that I understand everything in life is part of a cycle. I always felt underneath that I’d be fine and that it was just a matter of time before things righted themselves and came back together. We have to let go of the old to make way for the new. I also have great friends who were completely there for me.
Film Courage: Were you tempted to move back home during this time? Why/why not?
Dawn: No, never. I love living here and I love being an actor. I can’t imagine what I’d do in Boston now except freeze to death. It’s not an option.
Film Courage: Did that challenging year make you a stronger individual or more cautious with your time/energy/trust?
Dawn: Probably both. I felt pretty depleted and am still trying to get my footing in some areas. I think it’s also made me hyper-focused on doing what I want to do while I still have time on this planet.
Film Courage: You mentioned getting a job where you learned more of why people invest in certain companies, which got you thinking of why people invest in films? What were those takeaways?
Dawn: You need a product that people are interested in and can get excited about. You need to be professional. You need to keep your word and do what you say you’re going to do. You need to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals who are also great at what they do. You have to think in terms of the long game, not short-term gratification. Above all, you have to add value to peoples’ lives.
Film Courage: What is HARMONY about? Who is Elle?
Dawn: A clairvoyant Hospice nurse fights for her life when a psychotic intruder tests the limits of her intuition. That’s our log-line, I play Elle the nurse and that’s all I’m going to give away. 😉
Film Courage: You came close to shooting HARMONY before, but things fell apart because the budget was too much, people didn’t believe in the project, etc. How did it change for you when you finally met with writer/director Logan Kibens?
Dawn: I think when you’re aligned with the right people, other things start falling into place as well, because for some reason that meeting of the minds allows for resources and ideas to flow. Logan’s a very smart, very talented and very insightful artist who makes everyone around her want to collaborate with her. I feel lucky to have worked with her on this project because pretty soon I won’t be able to afford her.
Film Courage: How long was the shoot for HARMONY? How did things flow on the set? What location(s) did you use?
Dawn: We shot for two 12-hour days over a weekend, at a beautiful house in Silverlake, with a couple of other exteriors. I’d say things flowed smoothly thanks to my highly competent crew. It was a group of skilled pros and I was grateful to have them on board.
Film Courage: From serving at a film festival, what did you learn that you applied to HARMONY and (will do so for) future projects?
Dawn: I learned that a short film should be really short and really interesting. I happen to love super long movies but a short film doesn’t have that luxury. Any project needs to be interesting because it takes forever to get a film made. You want something that you can be passionate and excited about. And I think it all begins and ends with a great script.
Film Courage: Once HARMONY finishes the film festival circuit, what will you do with the film (i.e., post on Youtube or Vimeo for free)?
Dawn: The goal with any film is to sell it and/or get some kind of distribution. That’s really tough for shorts but there are many places to go now with content and also some interesting websites popping up that are dedicated to the art of the short film.
Film Courage: What films make you think ‘I want to act/director/produce something just like this’?
Dawn: Anything that comes from Jane Campion or Sofia Coppola. I would kill to work with them and I greatly admire their work.
Film Courage: You have an insightful blog where you wrote a fascinating post on ‘Creator vs. Victim.’ Tell us more about this post and why you expressed these powerful thoughts to readers?
Dawn: I write that blog to encourage myself because it can be a lonely road and I hope, in the process, I can encourage someone else on their path as well. It was one of those moments when I was fighting a losing battle with jealousy and anger. There’s no way to keep going if you’re living in that place so I wrote the post to get out of that head-space and into a perspective that would serve me better. I really do believe that every single person is meant to be the creator and author of their own lives. We get into trouble whenever we think that someone or something else (including god, circumstances, money, etc.) is responsible for what’s happening with and to us.
Film Courage: Did anyone comment on this post, thanking you for sharing?
Dawn: Yes, they did. I know I have some really cool readers all over the world but I have no idea who most of them are or how they find the blog.
Film Courage: How does art have the power to transform lives and how has it done so for you?
Dawn: This is one example: I was doing a play about a woman who has given her entire life to care for her mother. She literally has nothing else- no life of her own whatsoever- and she is devastated by the knowledge of how much time has slipped away. One night, well after the performance was over, I came back out to the stage to re-set my props. A girl was still sitting in the theater with her friend. I went about my business and they both came up to the stage and asked if they could talk to me.
The girl said, “I’ve been sitting here because your character- that’s my life. I was watching myself up there and now I don’t know what to do.” She told me how she’d been caring for a relative for a very long time and how she had completely abandoned herself in the process. Now she was confronted with the reality of that situation and feeling that it was time to make some changes. The play was a catalyst and a turning point for her, even though she didn’t yet know what to do next. That experience was so profound for me and it was one of many. And every time it happens, I feel so deeply grateful that I get to witness a human being waking up to Life for maybe the first time ever.
Film Courage: If someone made a film about Dawn Davis 20 years from now (documentary or narrative “somewhat inspired by”) – what would the storyline be?
Dawn: I hope it would be about a woman who created the life of her dreams despite great adversity and who inspired others to do the same.
Dawn Davis recently shot six episodes on the zombie horror series, DEAD SOULS, appeared in Avicii’s music video, WAKE ME UP, opened the UCLA Film Festival with the dark comedy, YOU’RE STILL HERE? and participated in the Women in Film reading of SECOND CHANCES: A RESPECTFUL RIFF ON PERSUASION. On stage she appeared as Agnes in Keith David’s production of THE SHADOW BOX and worked opposite Apollo Dukakis as Goneril in Louis Scheeder’s production of KING LEAR. She is currently writing a feature-length Biopic that she hopes to complete this year.
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