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Exclusive Interview with Actor and Comedian David Banks

david banks

Actor and comedian David Banks made his acting debut in 1997, as the character Danny in the show Sweet Valley High. Prior to that, he studied with the Groundlings and appeared in over a hundred commercials. Since making his debut, he has scored a multitude of roles on the big and small screen. He guest-starred on The Parkers, Mystery ER, LA Forensics, Tosh.O, Deadly Wives and My Crazy Ex and scored parts in the films Larceny, Will to Power, The Bee, Touch Wood, Coffin, Die Fighting, Cut!, which he co-wrote and acted in, and 108 Stitches. Now, he will soon be seen in the upcoming comedy Half-Magic, co-starring and directed by Heather Graham, and the horror film The Dark Tapes. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Banks about his experience working on the set of both films, his love for the horror genre and his affinity for metal music. Check it out below!

What inspired you to go into acting?

I wasn’t good at anything else! (laughs) I probably had about twenty different jobs that I had been fired from—literally, every one of them—it was brutal. I never kept a job for more than a month. I think that, with the first few, I got really upset; I even cried after the first one and was like “I got fired; this is so bad!” But then, after the sixth or seventh one, it was like “Ok, when’s it going to happen? When are they going to let me go?” It was kind of a long-running joke between me and my mom and dad. They’d say, “So, are you going to stay there more than a month this time?” And I’d say, “Well, it’s up to them, I don’t know.” I mean, I liked most of my jobs; I just don’t think they really liked me. Some people have that—actually, my brother has a gift for this—they just have this go-getting attitude and they really love going to work every day and they’re great at it—I really admire that.

I mean, I liked most of my jobs; I just don’t think they really liked me. (laughs). Some people have that—actually, my brother has a gift for this—they just have this go-getting attitude and they really love going to work every day and they’re great at it—I really admire that.

It’s hard to get passionate about a job, though, that you’re really not passionate about. It’s hard to fake it.

Exactly. That’s something that I admire too—the ability to maintain a consistent job where you have a paycheck coming in every month and you know what your budget is. But that’s also one of the exciting parts of this profession; you don’t really know when or if you’re getting a next paycheck, so it’s kind of a rush. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s also exciting. Part of me wishes, though, that I had a full-time job where they actually want to keep me on board for a while, with a consistent paycheck. But I think that everyone is wired differently.

Before you got into acting, what is the strangest job that you had?

Gosh, the strangest job that I ever had….well, my first job was at Taco Bell. I was fourteen but I told them that I was sixteen so that I could get a job. Plus, they really weren’t checking that thoroughly (laughs). It lasted about two weeks. That was the strangest one, I think. I think working at the Guitar Center was probably the most fun, since I got to play on the drums for like eight hours a day. That was cool, but they were really strict about commission and selling equipment. I just wanted to play them; I really wasn’t that interested in selling them (laughs). I just don’t have that kind of pushy, salesmen type of personality. It’s like “Sure, I can tell you all about it, but this is the only one here and I’m playing on it so…” That didn’t go over too well (laughs).

So who would you say are some of your acting idols?

I love Sam Rockwell, Chevy Chase and Dax Sheppard—people that are just a little bit quirky. That’s the great thing about them. I had an audition the other day where the character breakdown was “quirky, offbeat, slightly deranged and a bit forgetful.” I was like “This is perfect!” I’ve always thought it was a little boring to—I mean, I see guys go in to audition for characters that are the average American guy, all put together, hero-types, and I just knew that wasn’t me. I tend to be attracted to offbeat, oddball characters played by people who are the same way.

There’s something so fascinating abut actors like Zach Galifianakis and Melissa McCarthy, in which you’re waiting to see what they are going to do next, what kind of clumsy move they’ll make next, and I love that. Will Ferrell also has that down to a t. He’s so good at it! He’s just great at everything that he does. I actually just watched “Zoolander 2” last week and he was genius in that!

The thing is that you always know what you’re going to get with him, too; it’s going to be off-the-wall, nutty and funny. He never holds back. And Chevy Chase is that way, too. You just know that you’re going to laugh. I love what he said once in an interview regarding audiences. They asked him “What do you do during auditions? Do they freak you out?” He said, “Initially, they used to, but towards the end, I just imagined myself telling a story to a few of my buddies on a couch.” I thought that was really cool. It’s such a nice take on auditioning. Instead of going in there and worrying “Are they going to like me? Are they going to like what I do?” Just pretend that you have four of your best friends in front of you and no matter what you’re going to say, they’re going to laugh. Keep it real and keep it funny. It’s such a great attitude to have, to be able to go in there and just say, “I tried my best and had a great time.”

Can you tell me about your upcoming movie “Half-Magic”?

Yes, of course! That was a blast. It was Heather [Graham’s] directorial debut. Also, Stephanie Beatriz is in it, Thomas Lennon from “Reno 9-11,” Molly Shannon, and Jason Lewis. It’s just an amazing cast and—I can’t say a lot—but there are also some amazing cameos in there. It’ll be coming out soon.

The story focuses on this group of female friends and their sexuality and how people have a feeling of shame about it, so it’s basically about learning how to tilt those feelings to overcome the shame. It also dives into the prevalence of sexism toward women and how that’s been changing over the years. Especially since this movie is helmed by Heather, who is very clear about what she wants—I mean, this couldn’t have come at a better time. There are so many new women-helmed projects coming out now that I think that Heather is really stepping in at the right time and taking the right approach to it.

She’s so giving as a director. On set, she had the attitude that “Ok, here’s what’s written. Just go and have fun with it,” which is pretty much a goldmine for me. To be able to step into a role with the permission to have fun—you know, we’d often do multiple takes and she’d say, “Ok, I really liked what you did with that one, can you do it again?” And we’d say, “Sure!” That made the set such a fun place to work on.

Do you have any funny, behind-the-scenes stories that you could share?

Yeah! I think between her laugh and Crystal Lee’s laugh—I was trying to explain that to someone last week (laughs). It’s such an infectious laugh and the way that those two would laugh together was amazing. I love Crystal Lee’s laugh—it’s such a quirky, off-the-wall laugh that makes you smile. I can remember working upstairs on something and hearing this loud, piercing laugh come barreling through the walls and thinking “Oh my god, what is going on down there?!” And then Heather would start laughing and everyone else would start laughing; it was a laugh-a-thon!

I honestly have never seen so many people laughing together on set before. Usually with comedy, people tend to take their comedy seriously—I know Eddie Murphy is that way. Between takes, he tends to be very serious and focused and on-screen, it’s back to the laughs. It’s almost this light switch that he has. But there was really no filter and no switch on this set; it was just non-stop laughs, which is probably going to make editing an outtake reel very difficult (laughs).

When you have outstanding actors and actresses like Molly Shannon and Jason Lewis, it’s gotta be tough to sit there and have to choose which scenes to include, you know? Like, I think she had Johnny Knoxville come in for the day and play a very over-the-top, flamboyant character—that’s just one of the crazy cameos that came out of nowhere. To me, that’s what I enjoyed so much about this project: fun, surprising and exciting all wrapped up together.

What was your first impression of your character Elvis?

Oh, I fell in love with him, right from the start. I think the breakdown said, “deranged, stalking fan who doesn’t quite get it.” I was like “Perfect!” (laughs). I think, for so long—when I got started, my first agent would always submit me for these roles that were described as “straight-laced, put-together guys” and I was like “I don’t want to be that guy. I want to do something comedic and funny.” And he said, “That’s not you. Sorry, but that’s not you.”

So I’d go to these auditions for these roles, and I think the last one that I went to, I finally said, “This is it, I’m done.” It was for “Days of Our Lives” or something and the role was a hot, bodyguard, bouncer type with muscles bulging and I was like “Really?!” There were literally guys in there with their tight shirts and one guy was even rubbing baby oil on himself to make himself look more ripped—and one guy was doing push-ups behind me! I left right there, I didn’t even go for the audition and went to my agent and said, “I’m done with this. Please, please, I don’t want to be that guy.” And he told me that, if I was going to be funny, I would have to drop at least fifteen pounds because there wasn’t anything funny about being in shape. He advised me to go to Groundlings and take these improv classes and I was like “Deal! Done!”

I did do headshots and started to go for auditions that I actually was excited about. What’s music to my ears now is when a director will say, “here’s the character, here’s the breakdown—a little bit weird, a little bit dorky—here’s the script and the lines, but feel free to improv and have fun. Whatever you think he would do, do it.”When you hear that—and, of course, you don’t want to butcher what the writers have done, either—but when you have permission to make it your own, have fun, go off the cuff a little bit and add your own flair to it, there’s something really fun about that.

Do you think that sort of permission allows you go get more engaged with the character?

Absolutely. At that point, you’re not so worried about sticking to the script. There are some directors who are sticklers with the script and that get uppity if you change even one word. It takes the fun away from it because you’re so worried about making them happy and you’re not able to have fun or get as engaged with it. That’s why I appreciate the directors who aren’t that way. Also, for fun, I love to YouTube videos of Will Ferrell and even Colin Ferrell of their auditions and filming and watch the kind of magic that they can bring to a role when given the room to do so.

You also have another project coming out—“The Dark Tapes”—which sounds really cool. I’m a huge horror, sci-fi fan. I know you’ve done projects in the horror genre and thriller genre, but was “The Dark Tapes” your first foray into sci-fi?

It was definitely my first foray into sci-fi, for sure. I’ve done horror before—I’ve done a couple of horror projects before. This one was a blast to be a part of because the director, Michael McQuown, this was kind of his baby, the one that he had up his sleeve for quite a while now. He really brought this film to life. His first project that he actually wrote was a comedy—he wrote a comedy starring Heather Locklear and Hillary Duff called “The Perfect Man”—so he really wanted to do something that was out of his element but which ended up coming so naturally to him.

It’s kind of a horror anthology about fifth original intelligence stories, and we just saw the screening of it a few weeks ago. It’s starting to really take off and has won some awards already. Again, another one of those directors who was very, very giving. I mean, this was his baby so he definitely had a vision of what he wanted but he also gave us permission to play with the roles and have fun.

We actually met at the premiere of the last film that I wrote and he brought up “The Dark Tapes” and I said, “Listen, I’d love to be a part of it.” Then we sat down and worked it out and it was great. We were both horror buffs, for sure. You know, I love comedy but anything that brings me back to my childhood of “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” has a special place in my heart. There’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned horror film and I think that there haven’t been a lot of projects lately that have been able to tap into that.

I agree completely. I think the last really good horror movie that I saw was “The Conjuring,” but good ones seem few and far between nowadays. I feel like a lot of horror movies now are still too rooted in what’s already been done; they aren’t as willing to go outside the genre to explore new things. And then we have remakes where people aren’t even willing to go outside the original and do new things. I think the last horror remake that I really liked was Rob Zombie’s “Halloween.”

Yes! He did an amazing job. I think with remakes too, that—take, for example, “Poltergeist.” Aside from Sam Rockwell being in it, the movie got a lot of flak. I think that anybody who tries to remake something, no matter how good it is, you’re always going to have those hardcore fans that get upset over any changes. They always seem to take it personally. You can’t even go online anymore and look at reviews because they will make you cry. They are so brutal.

I think that, when it’s horror or comedy, you’re going to get beat up online. People are going to be overly critical over performance and writing, and it’s so sad. There have been some horror films this year that I’ve liked. I used to gauge it to the IMBD meter and go “Oh, 5.1” and pass, but nowadays, a 5.1 on a horror film is ok; when you start getting into the 3.6 range, you know it’s going to be really bad. But it’s really hard; to be fair, I often say, “Ok, I’ll be my own judge” and there have been a few that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by. I think that anything that has a twist, where you can add something dark and unexpected, is worth a watch.

If you had to describe your dream horror movie project, how would you describe it? Do you have one that’s been lurking in the back of your mind?

Anything to do with Jason, definitely (laughs)! What a rush that would be! It’s funny because usually, during auditions, they want you to run and act terrified even when there’s nothing there, and that’s always been something that was awkward for me. It’s like “OK, so you just saw someone get butchered in front of you and ACTION!” but there isn’t anything in front of you. I’ve never really been good at that.

But if I had a 6’5” Jason standing in front of me, I’m going to run like hell. You’re going to get the crap scared out of you no matter what; there won’t be any miming or pretending involved. So, yeah, that would be a dream job for me, and that just brings me back to being a kid again. That would be totally exciting in all aspects.

So you’ve also ventured into voice-acting in “Lovesick Fool.” Is that something that you see yourself doing more of in the future?

Yeah, that was a blast! There’s something about not having to worry about what you look like; you just show up and you can look like a bum and it doesn’t matter because it’s all voice. The two brothers involved in that one—Dominic Polcino and Michael Polcino—they both had their hands in a lot of “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” so this was their project and it really was amazing.

They had an idea of what they wanted to do but they were also very open. They would say, “OK, I want you to do the voice of an Indian guy today and then the voice of an angry driver who has been on the freeway too long and now, you’re an angry nun and now you’re a salesman on TV, etc.” So there were a lot of opportunities to have fun and roll with it. It was a challenge but it was a fun challenge. I didn’t realize how much goes into cartoons—there’s just so much that goes into bringing them to life, so I learned a lot.

Besides acting, comedy and horror films, what are you passionate about?

Music, 100%. It’s on in the shower; it’s on in the car; it’s on my alarm clock—and it’s usually something very obnoxious and metal-filled (laughs). I think I had Armored Saint on full-blast this morning in the shower; I definitely feel sorry for my neighbors. I have my fair share of banging on the walls over my music choices, and I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to play it at the worst times. I’ll wake up at 3:00 in the morning and think “I could really listen to some metal right now!” So anything to do with metal and music; it helps me keep my sanity. Horror and metal—that was pretty much my childhood (laughs). And, you know, I feel sorry for kids nowadays who don’t know the joy of cassettes and full albums and LPs; there was something so exciting about seeing album art and reading track titles. One of my favorite stories, too, is the time that I actually got to meet Jon Bush, the lead singer for Armored Saint and Anthrax. One of my favorite casting companies, Bad Girls Casting, her husband is actually Jon Bush, and I had been going in there for years and I didn’t realize it was him. I kept seeing him and thinking “He looks familiar”—and he had cut his hair since then—until finally I was like “Weren’t you the lead singer for Anthrax and Armored Saint?” and he was like “Yeah.” Very low-key, sweet guy, and I was in heaven! At that point, I didn’t care about the audition; I just wanted to pick his brain and talk metal. I ran home and told my brother and he was like “That’s so cool!” That’s the fun thing about L.A., though; you never know who you are going to run into. You never know what kind of madness will be around the corner.

Horror and metal—that was pretty much my childhood (laughs). And, you know, I feel sorry for kids nowadays who don’t know the joy of cassettes and full albums and LPs; there was something so exciting about seeing album art and reading track titles. One of my favorite stories, too, is the time that I actually got to meet Jon Bush, the lead singer for Armored Saint and Anthrax. One of my favorite casting companies, Bad Girls Casting, her husband is actually Jon Bush, and I had been going in there for years and I didn’t realize it was him. I kept seeing him and thinking “He looks familiar”—and he had cut his hair since then—until finally I was like “Weren’t you the lead singer for Anthrax and Armored Saint?” and he was like “Yeah.” Very low-key, sweet guy, and I was in heaven! At that point, I didn’t care about the audition; I just wanted to pick his brain and talk metal. I ran home and told my brother and he was like “That’s so cool!” That’s the fun thing about L.A., though; you never know who you are going to run into. You never know what kind of madness will be around the corner.

One of my favorite casting companies, Bad Girls Casting, her husband is actually Jon Bush, and I had been going in there for years and I didn’t realize it was him. I kept seeing him and thinking “He looks familiar”—and he had cut his hair since then—until finally I was like “Weren’t you the lead singer for Anthrax and Armored Saint?” and he was like “Yeah.” ery low-key, sweet guy, and I was in heaven! At that point, I didn’t care about the audition; I just wanted to pick his brain and talk metal. I ran home and told my brother and he was like “That’s so cool!” That’s the fun thing about L.A., though; you never know who you are going to run into. You never know what kind of madness will be around the corner.

He’s a very low-key, sweet guy, and I was in heaven! At that point, I didn’t care about the audition; I just wanted to pick his brain and talk metal (laughs). I ran home and told my brother and he was like “That’s so cool!” That’s the fun thing about L.A., though; you never know who you are going to run into. You never know what kind of madness will be around the corner.

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