Dave Vescio is a fascinating actor who specializes in playing the villain, the person that audiences love to hate, in indie films. The movie “Going to America” is being released in theaters in 16 cities on Aug. 28, 2015. Vescio talked to Christine Nyholm of Examiner in advance of his new movie in an exclusive interview, which follows.
Vescio seems to be a kindly affable man in real life, but in reel life he is the antagonist who changes the story with his villainy. The actor talked about the art of creating the villain and how he sees his role as a higher mission, showing people that villains do exist in real life so they can learn to avoid bad people.
Christine Nyholm: The movie “Going to America” is being released this weekend. What is the movie about? Why should people see this movie?
Dave Vescio: “Yeah, AMC Theaters is releasing it in sixteen cities simultaneously this Friday on August 28th. And I can’t wait!
Going to America is a very funny dark comedy starring Eddie Griffin, Josh Meyers, Najarra Townsend, Mindy Robinson and Penny Marshall. It’s a hilarious story about Eddie & Josh playing two lunatics who want to break out of a mental asylum because Eddie’s character thinks he’s a freakin prince who needs to rescue a princess in distress to receive a magical kiss. So, let’s just say that he finally thinks that my prostitute is his freakin princess, and I’m not too happy about this at all.
And I think people should this indie film, because not only is this a funny dark comedy with the greats of Eddie Griffin & Josh Meyers being the leads in it, but, it’s also a very touching story as well. The princess of the story played by Najarra Townsend wants to kill herself because of what she has to do for a living, so, Eddie’s character truly does need to rescue her from herself, as well as from me too. So, it lightly exposes the real life experiences of being a drug addicted prostitute and the emotional scars that this job can bring to a very young woman who does this job for a living. I just love performing in indie films that talk about issues like this, because it makes the audience think, question, & ponder the realities of our world. Even if it’s told in a light humorous way like Going to America is. And if the audience loves award winning films, well, our movie won fifteen awards in the film festival circuit this past year. Like I said before, it’s a very touching film that will hopefully inspire others that they can become real life heroes in their own life as well.”
CN: You are playing a pimp in this movie. What attracted you to this role? Does your character have any redeeming qualities? Do your characters ever have redeeming qualities?
DV: Ha, ha, yes, I’m playing the pimp in this story. What attracted me to the role? Honestly I just love playing villains, and my character Rocco is the lead villain of this film. Plus, it’s a dark comedy, and I get to do scenes with two comedic pros: Eddie Griffin and Josh Meyers. They are just so, so talented at what they do, and I learned so much from them both, especially since I just specialize at doing drama roles for a living, and I rarely ever get the chance to do comedy at all. So, it was definitely an artistic challenge for me.
As for Rocco having any redeeming qualities, honestly, he just wants to make a buck. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, meaning, the john’s of his girlfriend/prostitute. But, Eddie’s character doesn’t have money to afford my bitch, so, a pimp’s got to do what a pimp’s got to do to get his money!
As for my movie characters ever having redeeming qualities; I don’t know, I think most of them think what they are doing is right, and if they think it’s wrong, well, you’ll see that in my performances as well. But, at the same time, I do tend to play villains & antagonists who definitely deserve to pay the price for what they did, because with real life villains, they deserve to pay the price as well. And I rather live in world where fiction matches our actual reality, meaning, if you do the crime then you got to do the time, no matter what. So, I purposely play characters who get punished for the crimes that they committed; it’s the only way to pass on the right morals to the newborn generations being born.
CN: You have quite a history yourself. I understand that you were raised in a military family and relocated often. How did that affect you? What are the pros and cons of that lifestyle for a young person?
DV: I hated moving around as a kid, it totally sucked. Mainly because I was the most shyest little kid there was. It would literally take me six to eighteen months, if not longer, to make friends. And by the time I made friends, we would have to move again. So, it totally blew. But, it changed me for the better though. I got to live in seven states & eleven counties by the time I was 18 years old, and I got to experience all different kinds of people, state cultures, and I definitely learned all these different dialects as well. And it definitely prepared me for a life of facing one’s fears and overcoming them no matter what.
As for the cons of being raised in a military family, honestly, I don’t think there was. Yeah, it sucked being moved around all the time but it also forced me to stop being so afraid of people and it eventually taught me to more friendly towards new people & be more open to them as well. And nowadays, it’s easy as pie to make new friends, move or travel to new places, and to experience new things in my life. Moving around all the time definitely made me fearless, which I think is a great trait to have in one’s life.
CN: You went into the military as a young adult, but later got involved with drugs and ended up in prison. What’s the story?
DV: Ever since I was four years old, all I ever wanted to be was G.I. Joe, so, I spent my childhood preparing for this, from hunting to camping to hiking to wilderness survival to learning first aid & CPR, and I did most of this in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and The Order of The Arrow. So, at the age of 18, I actually became a combat infantry soldier in the 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. As for the drug part and ending up in prison, well, let’s just say that we infantry soldiers had a motto “work hard, play hard”, and let’s just say that I played a little too hard. And before I knew it, drinking alcohol for fun turned into taking hallucinogenic drugs for fun and before I knew it I was selling LSD in bulk for money, and in the end, I literally tried to take over the LSD Empire in the Hawaiian Islands. But, I was also selling to an undercover agent and I knew it at the time, and I was having too much fun playing a cat & mouse game with this agent. And once I sensed that they were going to bust me, that’s when I went on the run for a year and a half, before I finally got caught at Fort Eustis in Virginia. And that’s when I also found out that I had warrants for my arrest by the FBI, ATF, Hawaii Police Department, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (which happened to be whom the undercover agent worked for), plus, I also heard from my lawyer that I had a $20,000 bounty on my head as well. Then I finally went to trial for my crimes, facing up to like 63 years max for all of my LSD distribution crimes, but, I plead guilty and was sentenced by a judge to spend up to ten years at Fort Leavenworth, which is a maximum hard labor prison run by the military for all of the Department of Defense employees who commit major felonies. But, honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got clean and sober and I haven’t done illegal drugs since than. I also started to self-educate myself in prison as well, I read on average like three to five books a week in my free-time, and we also had community college classes in this federal prison, and since it was a hard labor prison, I also had the liberty to work in the prison’s social work department where I learned so much about human behavior and how to cure one’s own self-destructive problems. It was a great experience that totally changed me for the better. I don’t regret any of it at all.
CN: After you were released from prison, you worked as a photojournalist. How did you get into that line of work? Why did you leave?
DV: I actually studied TV Production & Electronic News Gathering at Virginia Tech University with an Emmy award winning sports reporter. He honestly told me in my very first month of TV Production that I was good enough to be a professional TV cameraman in that moment in time. So, I forced him to teach me *everything* that he knew about TV photojournalism in a one year time period, and I also became a student member of the National Press Photographers Association & was taught by their Emmy award winning TV photojournalism members, and within one year I actually won a Society of Professional Journalists “Mark of Excellence” award, and then I showed that news package to several network news stations around the country, and the CBS News affiliate in Knoxville, TN hired me full-time right on the spot.
As for why I left being a TV photojournalist, I just realized that I just didn’t love it like my Emmy award winning reporter & photojournalism mentors all loved it. My mentors would volunteer to shoot news stories on their days off; versus I rather hang out with my girlfriend or go hiking in the Smokey Mountains every single weekend. My mentors just loved doing what they did, and I wanted to find a career that I loved as well, but, it had to be an artistic career. So, I left CBS News to co-teach with my old Virginia Tech instructor to figure what I wanted to do next.
CN: How did you get into acting?
DV: It was by accident to be honest. I took an acting class for the hell of it, because I thought it would be an easy grade, and I actually fell in love with acting in the first ten minutes of class. So, I read over three dozen acting books, and the two books that I loved the most were True and False by David Mamet, and The Practical Handbook for the Actor written by David Mamet’s students. So, I just knew right then and there that I had to get myself accepted to Mamet’s acting conservatory in NYC, and I finally got in, and in June of 2002 I moved to NYC and began my journey of becoming a professional indie film actor.
CN: You have carved a niche as a villain. Why did you decide to specialize in despicable characters? Have you ever portrayed a murderer or psychopath?
DV: Ha, ha, ha, despicable, that’s funny. Honestly, ever since I took acting classes, the teachers always knew that these would be the character types that I would be best at. Maybe they sensed my past criminal life, who knows, but, they were 100% right, because as soon as I started to audition for indie films in 2004, that’s how the industry saw me as well. And you may see them as despicable characters, but, I see them as real life people. We live in a world where our citizens are constantly being hunted and preyed upon by real life villains, from serial killers to murderers to rapists to child molesters to con artists to you name it, and these people think what they are doing for the most part is rational behavior, and it’s my job to bring this truth, this reality to the big screen / small screen. I’m here to educate the world what real life villains actually look & sound like, and not do the typical Hollywood one dimensional type of acting that we tend to root for in our Hollywood movies / TV shows. Which is really sad if you ask me, because if you found out that your next door neighbor was a serial killer, you would definitely want him locked up for good, no matter how friendly you were with him before you found out the truth of who he or she really was. So, that’s the truth I want to bring to the world’s audience again. And maybe, maybe if they ever do see my character’s type in their real life (from murderers to rapists to child molesters to whatever), maybe they’ll actually do something about this time around versus turning a blind eye to these heinous crimes like most humans actually do. And I get why they do it, they fear for their own life as well, but, the only way to be heroic in one’s life is to face one’s fears, no matter the consequences.
CN: Which of your characters is your favorite? Which of your movies is your favorite?
DV: I actually have two favorite characters, which also happens to be my two most favorite movies. My first favorite is Hick starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Blake Lively, Alec Baldwin, & Juliette Lewis. It’s actually a critically acclaimed novel by the same name that was turned into an indie film, and according to Andrea Portes the author of the novel (who was also our screenwriter), 60% of the movie is based on her truth as a little girl or her friends’ truths of running away from home and what actually happens to young girls in these types of situations. And I know for a fact that my character in the novel (as well as in the movie) actually happened to Andrea in her real life. So, this villain that I was playing was an actual person, and that made me take my role a lot more seriously now, and to bring that personal truth of Andrea’s experience to the screen. And my second favorite is The Odd Way Home starring “Dancing With The Stars” winner Rumer Willis & Chris Marquette. It’s a story about how the world wrongfully treats disabled adults & children when they first meet them, and it’s also about domestic abuse as well. The villainous character that I portray as well as the storyline totally touched me because my brother’s youngest child is physically & mentally disabled and I actually hate how the world sees & treats her when they first meet her. They put all this bullshit expectations on what she should look and sound like, instead of just seeing a beautiful young girl who just wants to love whoever she meets & make them laugh in the process and bring joy to their lives! She’s the best, and I love her to death! So, those are my two favorite movies & character roles so far. But, I just got done playing a very fucked up twisted villain in the movie Wolf Mother starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore and Najarra Townsend, that is about the realities of sex trafficking with pre-teen girls, so, that will probably be my third favorite movie / character as well.
CN: How do you get into the mood to play a villain? What methods help you to inhabit the character and convey the mood?
DV: My job is to see my character’s point of view as real life. So, if I honestly believe that I’m this character doing what he is doing, then you the audience will believe it as well. So, to me, that’s what the craft of acting is all about, to do whatever I got to do to get myself to believe that I’m actually this guy for real. And there’s dozens on dozens of different acting tactics on how to make this happen. And that’s the reason why I literally read almost every single acting book ever written in English in the past 100 years. I just want to learn all the different ways that actors approach the craft of acting. So, with that said, I’m always applying these different skill sets that I’ve learned to each and every one of my performances. But, if I had to say which acting technique I use the most, it’s definitely David Mamet’s technique and the technique called The Method. Those are the two I use the most. But, at the same time, I’ve created my own technique as well. I just try to combine everything and hope for the best that it will work for my self, as well as for the paying audience.
CN: How does your history of drugs and imprisonment inform your acting? Do you draw from your own real life experiences and/or from your shady former acquaintances to draw a character?
DV: Yeah for sure, my personal history is definitely my art. Everything that I have ever experienced from being a middle man in a drug cartel to being on the run to being a drug addict to learning how to hunt & kill humans in the infantry to all the inmates that I have ever met in prison and to the psychiatrists & psychologists who treated us for our illnesses is what informs my art 100% of the time. I totally believe that professional art is just truth, so, it’s my job to bring my own personal truths or the truths of the people I’ve met so far to every single one of my villain / antagonistic roles. Like I said before, I want to continue to bring the actual truth of real life villains to the world’s audience. And the more I practice doing this, the better I’ll get at being able to reveal this truth to the world, and hopefully, hopefully, change the world for the better at the same time.
CN: How do you get into the mood to play a villain? What methods help you to inhabit the character and convey the mood?
DV: My job is to see my character’s point of view as real life. So, if I honestly believe that I’m this character doing what he is doing, then you the audience will believe it as well. So, to me, that’s what the craft of acting is all about, to do whatever I got to do to get myself to believe that I’m actually this guy for real. And there’s dozens on dozens of different acting tactics on how to make this happen. And that’s the reason why I literally read almost every single acting book ever written in English in the past 100 years. I just want to learn all the different ways that actors approach the craft of acting. So, with that said, I’m always applying these different skill sets that I’ve learned to each and every one of my performances. But, if I had to say which acting technique I use the most, it’s definitely David Mamet’s technique and the technique called The Method. Those are the two I use the most. But, at the same time, I’ve created my own technique as well. I just try to combine everything and hope for the best that it will work for my self, as well as for the paying audience..
CN: In what ways do your villainous roles cross over into your real life and relationships?
DV: I wouldn’t say they ever do. I’m very good about letting go of my characters in real life. I know how to compartmentalize the two these days; and the older I get, the faster it gets to let go of these characters for good. Nowadays, it may take just a few hours at tops to let go of them for good after I get done performing them on set. The more I do it, the easier it all gets.
CN: What do you look for in a role? Do you have certain criteria for selecting a movie?
DV: First off the character has to be based on truth, meaning, would a character like this even exist in the first place? I’m not into fantasy movies or fictional characters like comic book characters that aren’t based on real life at all. I solely focus on what’s actually real. But, at the same time, the character has to be the villain or the antagonist and I really prefer if the character or the topic is controversial & provocative in some way. I really want to do stories that very few people are willing to tell and dig deep into these controversial topics, because those are the ones that truly get us to question the darkness that does exist in our world. So, I would definitely describe myself as a controversial artist versus an entertainer or even an actor. I see it as my job to reveal the criminal truths of the world through my art by getting underneath the audiences skin and to affect them somehow someway, and to definitely get them to think, ponder, question, and to finally talk about these controversial issues to their friends & family members. That’s why I love doing indie films than anything else. So, that would be my other criteria as well: it has to be an indie film that is pushing the boundaries either with the story line or with the way it’s being shot or edited or all three. I just want to be on the forefront of indie storytelling / film making. And I want to make a difference with my indie films as well. And most of my films that I’ve performed in have done that either on the big screen, the small screen, or even in the film festival circuit.
CN: What types of characters do you want to portray in the future? Would you like to switch over to playing a good guy for a change?
DV:: I just want to be the best of the best at playing indie film villains! I just want bring these truths to the viewers life, and to change the world for the better. That’s all I care about in the end! That’s the legacy that I want to leave behind for the newborn generations. That art can truly make a difference; it just doesn’t have to entertain us; it can do so much more.
And no, playing good just doesn’t appeal to me at all. They always say a hero is only as good as the villain. And I rather focus on being the best movie villain that I can be. And honestly, I am a real life hero. I’ve totally changed my life for the better, and I’m constantly inspiring others that they can change their life for the better as well. And by revealing the truths of real life criminals through these fictional formats, I’m slowly educating the audience about these criminal worlds as well. So, to me, I am living the hero’s life by being the villain of these stories. So, there’s really no need for me to play the hero, I’m doing that in my real life already.
CN: What projects to you have coming up in the future?
DV: As I said before, my movie Wolf Mother is wrapping up as we speak. I also have two films in the film festival circuit right now: Bereave starring Malcolm McDowell and Jane Seymour, and a horror film called Muse. And I have a lot of film projects in the pre-production stage right now, so, it just depends on who wants to shoot first. Plus, I’m always booking new indie film roles every single year as well. So, we will see what my future brings. But, either way it’s definitely going to be controversial & provocative in some fashion, because that’s definitely what I love most in life! :)