Davis Desmond: Industry Lessons from a Teen Actor

By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Dave Desmond

14-year old actor professional Davis Desmond
14-year old professional actor Davis Desmond

Whether in film, or television more teens are getting interested in the arts. I Am Entertainment is continuing our series talking with 14-year old Davis Desmond, the youngest actor ever nominated for Best Breakthrough Performance at VisionFest film festival at Tribeca.

You first hit the national stage on The Drew Carey Show. How did Davis get started in the business?

My dad worked with a guy whose son was a fairly successful actor. His friend gave my dad the number of their agent and told him to call them and tell them he was friends with them. When my dad called, the agency said ”Yeah, we know. You think your kid is beautiful and would be great in show business. Here’s our address. Send us a couple of pictures and we’ll decide if your kid is beautiful and get back to you.” Fortunately, they got back to my parents.

Having a great support system is essential in the entertainment industry. To what extent is dad involved with your career?

He’s my official chauffeur and nag. He’s also in charge of making sure I have snacks and something to drink on the way to auditions, and he yells across the house to me when he sees a commercial air that I didn’t get. In all honesty, kid actors obviously need a lot more help and support than an adult actor. I realize that. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in school, acting classes, auditions and everything else we’re doing and lose sight of the fact that our parents have to sacrifice a lot to help make things happen for us. I’m lucky that my dad has his own business and can just drop everything if he gets a call at noon telling him I have to be somewhere at 2.

Playing such a wide range of characters from Nickelodeon’s Victorious, The Middle, and Modern Family. How do you prepare for a role?

To be honest, most of the roles I’ve booked so far for network TV have been kind of small and the roles haven’t been very demanding. No matter what the role, though, a good night’s sleep the night before is pretty important. I’d say the most demanding role of the ones you mentioned was Victorious. You know how tired and stiff you feel after getting off a cross-country flight? Yeah, well my episode was entirely in an airplane so I spent four straight days sitting in an airplane seat. I played an obnoxious kid who was kicking Daniella Monet’s seat. I was pretty stiff after about two days, so I had to make sure and do a lot of stretching. Let’s go ahead and call that preparation for the role, OK? By the way, when I got that role, we had to postpone a family vacation to Disney World.

You did an outstanding job playing Johnny in the short film, The First Hope. Do you have any memories from being on-set?

Thank you! I was in sixth grade when we shot The First Hope. I was totally not into girls at the time, so the closing scene where I kiss my older sister was kind of stressful for me. Lili Reinhart (my sister in the movie) was really cool about everything and made me feel more comfortable, but I really wasn’t looking forward to that shooting day. My dad was a different story. He kept telling me ”You could do a lot worse for your first kiss, Davis. You’re kissing a beautiful, older actress! Once this movie comes out, you’ll be a stud with your buddies at school.” Unfortunately, Jeremy White, the awesome director of The First Hope, couldn’t convince LucasFilms to grant rights to show the film at anything other than film festivals, so it never got a wider release and none of my buddies ever really saw it. On the positive side, the breakdown of the part said Johnny was totally into Star Wars. I had never seen any of the Star Wars movies, so we borrowed the original three from our neighbors, the Parkers. I immediately fell in love with all of them and had a good understanding of them when I went in to audition.

Actors tend to get overwhelmed when seeking out representation. How did you find the right agent?

Finding the right agent and manager is huge. I had an incredible print and commercial agent when I was little, but they didn’t handle theatrical and I wanted to do that, so I had to leave. That was a sad time because I loved them so much. The first step was looking for a manager and I got totally lucky by finding Myrna Lieberman Management almost right away. She helped connect me to the agencies. After that, I bounced around a little, trying to find the right ones. The right one for one actor might not be the right one for someone else. I learned that. I was at some great agencies, but sometimes you get stuck behind other boys in your same category that the agency apparently likes better. That meant that I didn’t go out as much. We left with no hard feelings. Finally, we found Avalon Artists Group. It was the perfect fit. I’ve been there about three years now and couldn’t be happier.

You grew up in Los Angeles right in the heart of Hollywood. Can you give us some real world advice on how to book network TV roles?

That’s a great question. I have no freaking idea in the world. Sometimes, I read a breakdown or script and think this character is totally me,that I couldn’t possibly picture anyone but me in that role. I go in, think I nail the audition, then don’t even get a callback. Other times, I walk out thinking I totally tanked and blew it, then I’m on set the next day. I’m totally the wrong person to be asked this question. The best answer I can give is to go into every audition convinced that this one is The One, give it your best, then move on and do the same thing on the next opportunity. The odds are against any one person for any one role. Big time. But keep doing it and never give up. If you work hard enough, believe in yourself and keep at it, you’ll eventually hit something good.

A large part of the audition process is rejection. How do you personally handle rejection?

I am the king of rejection! Last year, I went to network approval on four different pilots and didn’t book any of them. All four not only got picked up, but have been renewed for second seasons. That was kind of tough. One of them was extremely disappointing because I was kind of getting the vibe they were building a sibling cast around me. I think casting liked me, but maybe Network wasn’t quite feeling me as much. My acting coach, Kimberly Crandall, has always told me that my job is to audition. When you book a job, it’s like icing on the cake.

For me, what’s tougher than audition rejections is getting edited out. Two straight years, I booked under-5 jobs (less than five lines) on Halloween episodes of shows, both times as a trick-or-treater. The first one was for Modern Family. The second one was for Anger Management. My scenes never made it to air. The year after that, I booked a co-star role on the Halloween episode of Kirby Buckets. Luckily, I wasn’t edited it out of that one. That broke my Halloween jinx and it was one of my favorite jobs ever.

Have you taken any acting lessons? If yes, how has that helped you?

I also belong to an improv group which helps you to think quickly on your feet. It’s absolutely the funnest group of people I’ve ever been a part of. Improv helps a lot with audition technique and strategy. It’s just a side benefit that I can now think and react fast enough to effectively mouth off to my parents and teachers and leave them laughing instead of wanting to throw books or sharp things at me.

I also have a private coach, Kimberly Crandall. I love her! Whenever I have a big audition, I work my lines on my own, commit them and the character to memory, then meet with her and we work together on making the scene the best it can be before going to casting. She’s awesome. Some of the jobs I’ve booked I couldn’t have gotten without her. Have I mentioned that I love her? Yeah. I love her.

Is there anybody in the industry you would love to work with someday?

Pewdiepie! He’s an Internet-Gamer star and my idol. I know that doesn’t sound like a normal answer for an actor, but that’s my first choice. I’m weird like that.

Follow Davis Desmond on Twitter at twitter.com/DPDez, Instagram at instagram.com/therealdavisdesmond, and visit his official website: davisdesmond.com