A Conversation with Actor David Kallaway

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David Kallaway has an extensive list of acting accomplishments. He can be seen in movies, such as The Rainmaker with Francis Ford Coppola and Matt Damon and The People vs. Larry Flynt with Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. He’s landed a guest spot on the Sci-Fi series Sliders, and a recurring role on Aaron Spelling’s hit daytime soap Sunset Beach. Kallaway has also made an appearance in Big Short an Academy Award-nominated film directed by Adam McKay. He has had recurring roles in the WGN Series Underground, and Amazon’s Sneaky Pete. Kallaway portrayed the infamous slave breaker Edward Covey in the TV mini-series Roots. Not only has Kallaway had the opportunity to work in many great films, but he’s also worked alongside other amazing actors. Kallaway starred opposite Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio in MGM’s remake of The Magnificent Seven directed by Antoine Fuqua. His most recent film, Green Book, is currently showing in theaters across the United States. Kallaway plays opposite Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in the film directed by Peter Farley.

In conversing with Kallaway, we learned that you can take the man out of the South, but the Southern charm lives with him forever.

MillBuzz: You got your first role at the age of eight. Did you know back then that you would want to act for the rest of your life?

Kallaway: I did actually. Well, my dad owned a bunch of shoe repair stores in Memphis where I’m from originally, and he was going to do some commercials on local TV. We didn’t have the stuff we have now with cable and everything, so they put together a production for the commercial, and he needed a kid. He said why don’t you try it and I said alright I’ll do it, you know just being a goofy kid. As I’m talking about it now, I remember it in my mind, and it was really cool. So, when I was around eleven or twelve, there was a movie that came to town called Making the Grade. My dad checked me out of school and told me we were going to be extras in this movie. I was like okay cool. Anything to get out of school.  I’ll never forget walking up to Rhode College in Memphis. I remember walking up the steps and seeing all the trucks, and all the lights, and all the people running around. The chairs and everything. The organized chaos that it was, it was so exciting. I walked up the steps, and I’ll never forget I said to myself, “I want to do this for the rest of my life”, and that was it. Then that day at lunch, an actor by the name of Judd Nelson, he’s been around for a long time, he’s a great actor, was sitting at the table next to me, and no one was around, just me, him, and a few other people scattered around the lunch room. He looked at me and goes, “hey kid would you read these to me?” They were his lines for the next scene, and I read them, and I was like “this is so exciting!”

MillBuzz: You’ve performed on stage, on screen, and film. Do you have a preference and if so, tell us why?

Kallaway: It’s hard to say a preference because they’re different mediums, and you’ve probably heard all of this before, but the stage is an actor’s medium. It’s where you get to be the best you. You can be big. You can make bolder choices to some degree, whereas film is more tailored towards the camera. Things are brought down. They’re smaller because the camera captures everything, but the audience isn’t close, so they can’t see if you make an odd facial expression or something to that degree. The stage allows you to fully be you and embrace it, whereas the camera is more of an intimate way of working. TV and film are obviously the same because of the camera work, but it depends on the film. If it’s a comedy, you can play it bigger, or a little bigger depending on the comedy. The only difference between TV and film is that TV moves at a much quicker pace. It’s boom…boom…boom, let’s get to the next set up. Film takes its time a little more. I like both. I like film and TV. It’s fun to go fast, and it’s also fun to take your time depending on what you’re working on.

MillBuzz: You’ve been in a lot of great films, with a lot of other great actors. Was there a role that really stretched you as an actor?

Kallaway: When I was young, five-years-old maybe, I didn’t see all of it, but I saw part of it, and that was the TV show Roots. The part I saw was the most disturbing part. It was something that as a young child, I shouldn’t have seen. It stuck with me throughout my whole life pretty much. When I was in New Orleans, I got the opportunity to audition for the exact same role of the character that disturbed me in Roots. The character I read for and played was named Edward Covey. It stretched me in a way, that it was so truthful and so powerful. I played the character in the remake of Roots, directed by Mario Van Peebles, who captures Kunta Kinte, ties him up to a tree, and subsequently cuts his foot off. It was a real heavy role for me. I knew to be respectful I had to tell the truth of the time and the era of the people it happened to, so I allowed that to happen. There are people who were on the set who can attest to this, but when they’d say cut, I’d walk off in the woods and start crying. It was very heavy to me. I remember the guy who played Kunta Kinte, Malachi Kirby, an amazing British actor came up to me to ask me a question when I walked off, and he saw me all teared up, and he was like “hey man…oh…you okay?” I was like “yeah, I’m alright man, this is just heavy stuff.” I don’t know about stretched me, but it definitely stung. So, I guess that was a stretch. It was far off from who I am as a human being.

MillBuzz: You’re in the new movie, Green Book, which is now in theaters. Can you tell us about the movie and your role?

Kallaway: Well, the movie is all over the place right now. It was written by Nick Vallelonga and inspired by a true story about his father who was a driver for a brilliant pianist, Don Shirley. He must go South for a tour and hires a driver to take him. The Green Book motorist was a guide during this era for African American people, that told them where they could stay, eat, sleep, stop and get gas and whatever else they needed. It’s interesting how the movie portrays everything in my opinion because it’s not just about the book itself. It’s about the beauty of two people from two completely different backgrounds, who when put together and have to spend time with each other, grow to love each other, and learn about each other and their backgrounds and their differences. They just come together. That’s the beauty of the movie. I think if you put people together long enough in a tight space, they’re going to eventually bond and that’s what happens in the movie. It’s exactly what it says, it’s an unexpected friendship, and you don’t see the friendship until it starts to bloom. Not only is it beautiful, it’s hilarious in the right way.

MillBuzz: What about your role in the movie?

Kallaway: Welllll, now we’re talking about something else. My role, going back to the Roots thing. They cast me as another not so nice gentleman. This guy has some racial issues. I play the character, Ray. They call me Ray in the move but they credit me differently which is weird, but one night after they get done with rehearsals, Don Shirley comes into a bar. He just wants to have a drink, but he’s in the South, and I happen to come across him with a couple of my “friends”, and we start harassing him, beating him up, and hurling racial epithets at him. Viggo comes in to save him because he’s really drunk, and we’d been beating him up badly, and then I have a standoff with Viggo. I pull a knife on him. We have a couple of words, and he takes Don Shirley out of the bar. I’m not going to say too much more. It was a cool part, and I loved the role. It was a lot of fun. It was amazing working with two Oscar-winning and nominated actors. It was truly a learning experience for me.

MillBuzz: Speaking of the Oscars, we’re hearing there’s even talk of an Oscar for Green Book. Have you heard that? If so, how amazing would that be?

Kallaway: That would be so cool. I was lucky, I had a tiny part in the movie The Big Short and that was an Academy nominated film too. I had a tiny role, but that was a lot of fun to be in the world of filmmaking. It was kind of cool. I hope Green Book is nominated. It deserves it. It’s a fantastic film, and it’s a heartwarming film. I’m very honored and lucky to be a part of it. And we filmed it in New Orleans.

MillBuzz: I know a lot of aspiring actors and actresses. What advice would you give those who are still striving to break into the industry?

Kallaway: That’s hard. I feel like I’m still trying to break into the industry myself. I think there’s a lot of advice, so it’s like where do you start, but if you’re really hungry for it and you want to build your career, for me, I did a lot of small movies like student films, even when I was in the union. This is the advice I tell a lot of younger actors who actually ask me questions like that, and they’re trying to build their demo reel to show casting directors and agents that will represent them, how they are on film. I would say if you really want to do film or TV, get involved in the local film communities wherever you are. Find people of like minds who want to do those things. It doesn’t matter how small or how big at first, just get used to what it feels like to be on set, and in front of the camera, and how to tone it down and change things when you’re working. I say the best way to do it is to look at the local universities. There are a lot of filmmakers that are making their graduate or thesis films, etc. Try to get in with them, that’s so general, but if you wanted to be a doctor, you’re going to go online now and find out what you have to do to be a doctor.  How do I find my way into that? Generally, with television and production there’s not such a path that’s so easily formed. There are schools if you want to look into them, but it’s not so easy. If you live in Nebraska and trying to go to L.A. to drama school, it’s hard, but if you’re hungry and you want it, you have to find a way. That’s what we did, and I’m still hungry.

MillBuzz: What’s next for David Kallaway? Any new projects we should be looking out for?

Kallaway: Two interesting things for sure that’s coming up. I did a movie called Feast of the Seven Fishes. I shot that in West Virginia with Madison Iseman, Joe Pantoliano, and a lot of other great actors. That’s going to be a fun Christmas movie. I can’t wait for that to come out. The director was Robert Tinnell who’s just amazing.

I also did a really interesting project called The Dirt which is a movie about the life and time of Mötley Crüe and how they formed as a band and came to be. It’s actually based on the autobiography, The Dirt. That film was a lot of fun. I got to work with the band in some scenes, and I got to work with Pete Davidson the actor from Saturday Night Live. That was really cool. I just finished the TV show Gotham, and I just came back the other day from doing an episode of MacGyver. I got to do my own stunts which was really cool.

Be sure to keep up with Kallaway’s acting journey on Twitter @DavidKallaway.

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