DANIEL ROSS: Actor/Voice Talent/Singer
An Interview By Leanna Chamish ©2009
Leanna: Well, anybody looking at your website can see you’ve done a lot of interesting things which really make you a good interview subject.
Daniel: Well, thank you, thank you very much.
Leanna: Alright, well question number one is: how long have you been performing as an actor?
Daniel: I’ve been performing as an actor for approximately 10 years now- mostly with film. I had done theater for God knows how long. Probably since middle school, and maybe even before that. My very first play was “The Music Man” in which I played Charlie Cowell, and I was, of course, the smallest among the group. Because you know at that age all the girls are much taller and much more intimidating than the guys. So I was a very shrimpy Charlie Cowell but, yeah, my love for performing just evolved. I have always loved theater and still do, but eventually I found there was a profound difference between performing on the stage compared to being in front of a camera or microphone. So I just kind of delved into film and it’s stuck.
Leanna: What got you involved with acting? Maybe you can start with the stage and what initially got you interested and then move onto how you got involved with film and what your first film project was.
Daniel: Very good question. I think what initially got me involved is that I’ve always been an outgoing person. I always like to entertain and put on a show, make people laugh etc. Creating a genuine emotional reaction within other people, whether funny or sad would just give me a kick. When I was younger I was picked on quite a bit in school and you know sometimes that affects you. It affects your brain in a certain way and it, I guess makes you really long for acceptance in some ways. I think that might have affected it, and planted the seeds for what I would want out of my adult life. What really drew me to acting was the magic of it. The fact that you could create something out of nothing within a proscenium or within a movie screen, I just fell in love with it. And I realized early on after people were saying, you know, you’re really good at this, hey, maybe this is something I can do. So that’s really where I got started and well I guess it’s the previous question middle school “The Music Man” was the first thing I did.
Leanna: So what was your first film project?
Daniel: My first film project; OK, this is this is actually pretty funny. The first thing I ever did was an extra role in an educational film called the “Golden Rule.” This was over at White Flint Mall in Rockville, MD, and I kind of ran into the production people and they’re like “hey you wanna be in a film?” and I’m like “sure” so I got a chance to have a quick little line. It was about the big golden rule; do unto others and you would do unto yourself.
Daniel: So I was really young at the time, and just to offer a piece of advice, if someone randomly asks you if you want to be in a film, you should probably say no unless you’re stupid like me. That was the first film I did. Much theater followed after that and then I’d say the very first real film project I did was something called “The MilkMan” directed by Mike Merino. The funny story behind this which many new actors can relate to- I had my headshots, I had a featherweight resume, and I was left with the question of how to actually get work? I took a shot in the dark and Google’d “acting jobs in DC/Maryland/Virginia”. I ended up with oh, about 300,000 plus results, so out of desperation I just meandered my way through those results. Eventually, I happened upon a website named the casting room, or something like that. It was a paid service that you could subscribe to, and it would tell you all the local film listings. I had a big hole in my wallet at the time, so $19.99 was a steep price to pay, but I assured myself that Ramen noodle soup was still pretty cheap, so I paid for access. What I found was an endless abyss of jobs, and as my finger scrolled down the screen, it read as such: NY, NY, NY, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, DC, LA, NY, NY, LA- WAIT! DC? There was the listing for “The Milkman”, so I packed up my materials, mailed them off, and I acquired an audition. The rest was history.
Leanna: Ok where has that ended up? Has it been distributed?
Daniel: After many years of sitting on the shelf, I believe it will be distributed online through Amazon or some other venue. It took a while for it to get off the ground but the product was really nice. Mike was a great director, cool guy overall, and you know at some point I’d like to work with him again. So hopefully it’ll be distributed soon so everyone reading this interview can watch it.
Leanna: Yeah, what year was that in? What did you play in the film?
Daniel: This was about 8 years ago, I played the character Mick Stewart, he was an Aussie guy, so I had to play it with an accent. He was one of the lead characters in the film and he gets slashed at the end of it. Very gruesomely I might add and yeah it was a lot of fun to do.
Leanna: Ooh, so it’s a horror! Have you been exclusively involved in horror films or have there been other genres?
Daniel: You know something, I think horror is a really easy product to produce that has a voracious market and fanbase. Horror films are easier to produce; they’re a lot more fun I think, than some serious films. I mean some horror flicks are really, really good, even on the independent route. It has its own market that’s clearly defined, with Horrorfind and all the other conventions that are out there people will go, people will go to see just about anything related to horror, so its a lucrative market.
Leanna: Yeah, and have you been exclusively in horror films or have there been other films?
Daniel: I haven’t done horror films exclusively, they simply encompass a large portion of the independent market. So when you’re just getting started as I was, the ratio of indy horror flicks to other work would end up looking like a pie-graph version of Pac Man. The rest will probably be student films, and some small Hollywood work. I’ve done several short films as well, mostly student work. There’s been “Smithee’s Lecture” by David Liban, “Senioritis” by Dan Reiser, “The War” by Nick Lawrence, “Fat Tuesday” by the Talented Beasts, and “Evenfall” by Sapling Pictures. Those were short all short films. One was a love story, a stoner story, a coming of age college story, a spy movie where I play a demolitions and intelligence guy, and one where I play a religious fanatic who takes revenge on a cheating girlfriend. Looking at features, I’ve worked on several including Timewarp Films, “Crawler” and “Vampire Sisters”, “Kamikazes, a Deathography” from The Creative Continuum in which I play the emotionally unstable comic relief of a band of teens who plan to commit suicide in five days on film, and “Mrs. Amworth” a vampire film by Frank Sciurba. Most recently though, I’ve stepped both in front and behind of the camera as Executive Producer for my upcoming film “Ninjas vs Zombies”. In this one, I play a down on his luck actor turned pizza delivery guy who is granted the power of the ninja to fight off a threat to his little town.
Leanna: Oh, whoa!
Daniel: (Laughing) I’d like to think it’s a quite an interesting mix of stuff there.
Leanna: Do the films have a life on the festival circuit? Where do they go?
Daniel: You know, it’s hard to say. It depends on where the filmmaker intends for it to go, but some of my work has gone that route. “Smithee’s Lecture” won all kinds of awards all over the country winning best of the festivals and stuff like that. I think it was a Telly Award that it was winning constantly. “Evenfall” was screened and won at several film festivals from what I understand, and we’ll be screening “Ninjas vs Zombies” where we can as well. There have been a few films where you know the director will have every intent of putting it out and the market then nothing really happens. But, you know, that’s to be expected every so often. “Kamikazes”, “Crawler”, “The Milkman”, there are several films I’ve done that simply haven’t been released yet.
Leanna: Alright, well you’ve had some interesting roles, especially this Deathography and Ninja Zombie film which leads very well into the next question. As an actor how do you go about preparing for a role? Does the director or screenwriter supply you with a back-story for your character?
Daniel: Hmm, excellent question. As any actor I try to find my character between the words in the script. I try to find my own back story if not readily available. I try to see the nuances of real life that are involved through my own experiences, and I try to bring that out as best I can. But there are many occasions where the character may not be well defined enough, the film may represent a certain point in a character’s life and I’ll have to backtrack a little bit with the director to see where he’s been, and what he’s doing. If he’s in a horror film and he’s just going to die, well then who cares, TNA right? Depending on the film, I prepare myself in different ways. Mood-wise, for Kamikazes because I played such a bad and disturbed character, I would listen to some heavy metal music, have an energy drink, and run around my apartment to get the right physical feeling for that character. There are many different kinds of things that you can do, but ultimately you have to reach into yourself to see if you have any similar experiences you can use to kind of mimic what’s going on.
Leanna: Yeah, how did you prepare for Crawler?
Daniel: For Crawler; Crawler I prepared for basically through the company that was there. Since that production I’ve become best friends with another actor, Justin Timpane- who is the writer/director for “Ninjas vs Zombies”, and his sense of humor and mine, we set each other off quite a bit. The other actress Darla Albornoz acted almost as a mediator between us at times which was funny because it would only fuel our shenanigans. My character Ronny “Dipper” Kanowski, he was quite a nerdy, but sarcastic guy and very similar to myself in many ways. So it wasn’t difficult to prepare. I found a lot of similarities between myself and that character so it was pretty easy to bring it out. For aspiring filmmakers, it’s another reason to trust your casting directors since they’re the ones who cast actors based on how they mirror the characters to be portrayed.
Leanna: Yeah, do you think about what their lives might have been like? I mean I know a guy who prepares for a role, you ask him what his character ate for breakfast on the day of the senior prom and he’ll probably tell you.
Daniel: I think, once again, it really depends on the role. If the character needs to be more in depth, if the character needs to be more in the moment yeah, I think about that stuff. But for the most part with some characters it’s simply not necessary. If you can see what your overall role or character-arc is in the film, and it doesn’t require tempered bouts of emotional turmoil, then sometimes that level of detail is not necessary. But yeah there have definitely been a few instances where I felt that I needed to really backtrack and dig into some details. Because sometimes you go out and get a nice McDonalds breakfast and later on in the day you’re feeling really gassy. So, you know that could be a factor if at the time the character’s really gassy or agitated, it’s possible that he went to McDonalds and forgot to take his stomach enzymes or something weird like that. As an actor, sometimes you discover something unique about yourself that you didn’t notice before through the trials and tribulations of these characters you portray. There are absolutely times when that level of detail is crucial to the performance, and as a performer you will relish in those moments of discovery, but I’ve found those moments to be rare.
Leanna: Ok, for a role like in Vampire Sisters, you’ve mentioned, oh if the guy’s in a horror film and he just stands and gets killed, you don’t do very much?
Daniel: Don Dohler and Joe Ripple were really great guys to work with. As a team, they were very creative, free-spirited, and it was clear that they loved what they did. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work with Don on two films before his passing, and that is something I will cherish for the rest of my career. He was very loved and respected as an independent filmmaker, so it was a true honor to have someone like that compliment your work. I have a testimonial from him on my website from after “Vampire Sisters” which really inspired me early on in my career to continue. Joe and I have remained good friends, and hopefully when the time is right, we’ll get a chance to collaborate again in the future. Look for Joe in a cameo in “Ninjas vs Zombies”, and hey, you’re in there too Ms. Leanna Chamish! So anyways, Timewarp films called me out of the blue to come out for a quick little character role, I had no idea what it was. I had auditioned for the original “Dead Hunt” a zombie film, which didn’t quite make the light of day. But they called me up out of the blue and said, “hey would you like a role in Vampire Sisters” and I was like “suuure, what do I have to do?” and they said, “just come on out on this day, bring some regular clothes and we’ll set you up” and I was like “cool!” I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was getting in to. But you know that really didn’t stop me. I signed the release, I saw the script, I was like, “whoa this is different.”
So I said, you know what why not, and I had a blast. I had an absolutely great time working on set with these guys. In terms of finding a back story for the character, I didn’t really have enough to go on. I knew the character had a brother, I knew that he had some twisted fetishes, I knew he liked to be chased, and I knew that he was lunch.
Leanna: Well, you really set the tone for the movie.
Daniel: Thank you! My nickname should have been “Crunchy” though.
Leanna: Well, they certainly put in enough crunchy sound effects and slurping noises!
Daniel: Yes! It was slurp-a-liscious!
Leanna: Have you ever gone into a role feeling unprepared and just kind of winged it?
Daniel: Ah yes, yes, completely. In fact when we started the Kamikazes project all we did was film a trailer and I didn’t know anything about the project, or the crew. As a novice actor, you can tell I did a lot of things on blind faith which set me up for some success, but I certainly was not cautious which could have been very dangerous. I saw an ad for a local project, and I jumped on the opportunity not knowing anything other than an address. I just went out for it not knowing what to expect and I landed myself into an amazing project. The audition was held in a not so savory part of town, and I had to drive to the back of a storage unit that had a small strip mall all the way in the back. The walls were covered with paper so you couldn’t see inside, and there were many people staring at me as I exited my car and proceeded to knock on the door hoping I would survive whatever happened next. Needless to say, I survived, and I got to work with a very passionate group of individuals on this project. For the trailer, there was a script for us to use, but we were told that we should improvise our way through the scenes with the script in the back of our minds. There was no time to memorize our lines. We were cast one day and the next day we were filming. So, you know there was a lot of stuff that was unexpected and I kind of got a feel for the character along the way. There was just no time for preparation in this instance. Additionally, when it came time to film the movie, I was recast as a different character all together. So everything I had conceived in my head had to be changed, but I think it all worked out well.
Leanna: Yeah, was that the only time?
Daniel: Well no I’d say Vampire Sisters, too. Once again I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know what the film was about. I didn’t know Joe or Don. I knew nothing. I just knew these were a bunch of guys up in Baltimore who everybody apparently knows, they do independent horror flicks and I just kind of threw myself into the position and hoped something good would come out of it.
Leanna: Well you’re very trusting to let these strangers handcuff you to a bed.
Daniel: That actually happened too! You know that’s just something about me. I am a very trusting guy and I put a lot of faith in the directors and producers. I know that they’ll guide from the beginning to the end, and there have been many instances where I’ve actually taken a couple of risks. For example, there was a scene in “The Milkman”, my death scene, where my character is getting his throat slashed and drowned in a bathtub full of milk and a hot naked chick who’s tied up. They strapped on a blood pouch to my neck, with some cutting pads so nothing would harm me and then duct taped it and added a latex prosthetic to my neck. The guy had an actual giant butcher knife to my neck, the villain was in character cutting away, and I’m doing all of these gurgling sounds and the director yells “CUT CUT, don’t do that we’ll do it in post, don’t gurgle please!” I did my own stunt work in Kamikazes, and ended up having my first stunt accident. The driver of the car I was supposed to jump on didn’t listen carefully to instruction, and I ended up with 2 cracked ribs and a massive scrape on my arm and butt. Much later in production, I had a chance to work with stunt legend Chuck Jeffreys who coordinated a different stunt with me, and needless to say everything went smoothly. It felt much better taking cues from a professional rather than jumping in on my own. Thanks to Chuck, I survived my own death scene! Another thing about this film which I think lends itself to your question- My feelings were that as a person, I did not represent this character. I felt that Rod was brutal, he was mentally troubled, and just the complete opposite of me. So I didn’t agree with everything that my character would be doing in this film including a rape scene, and a murder. But in the end I decided that I’m an actor, I need to take ownership of my craft and ultimately, I feel that I’m the best candidate to actually bring this character to life. So I definitely consider myself a risk taker.
Leanna: Yeah, so you learned to like playing against type even if you don’t personally agree with the character?
Daniel: I guarantee you there is going to be some point in my life where I might to have to turn something down because I don’t necessarily agree with it. But, when you’re starting out as an actor; you take what you can get. And I feel so far a lot of good things have landed in my lap. You simply can’t get that way without taking some risks though. Putting yourself out there and getting to know people, putting on and maintaining a public persona. So yeah, risk taking I think is a big part of being an actor or just an entertainer in general.
Leanna: You go to a lot of auditions for different acting gigs ; how do you prepare for that? What would you take with you, and how would you dress for it? And can you well, I mean maybe I’m throwing too much at you, how do you prepare for an audition and what do you take with you?
Daniel: The biggest thing you have to do in preparation for an audition is to realize that they are not judging you or your talents as an actor, they’re simply looking to see if you have what they need for that specific project. Let’s be honest, sometimes we’re not the right fit and we don’t get the part. We will not always be what they need, but making that distinction has given me a lot of focus when I go to auditions so I can do my best. I go there to showcase who I am, and make them well aware of what I have to offer. Now that I’ve done some casting myself, I can clearly see that the weakest auditions are done by those who evoke very little self confidence. They stumble over their lines because they want it to be perfect, and it doesn’t end up working out because it’s not natural. Be yourself, and the rest will fall into place. In terms of actual preparedness for the trip, well first of all I bring a lot of water with me. Sometimes even the best of us get a little get a little nervous and have butterflies in our stomach. So I found one of the best things to do is keep hydrated, because my throat will get a little parched even if I’m not doing too much. Driving in the car I’ll play some music to get pumped up. I’ll listen to something really up-tempo, I’ll sing along with it or you know I’ll go crazy with some voices just to get my energy up. Another thing I hope to show the producers is that I really care more about the production then what character I get. So when I go into a audition I’m not focused on, gee I really hope I get this, I really want this particular one or it’s that or this or whatever — as far as I’m concerned, if I could be a part of the project I’m happy. Because number one you get to network, and potentially get to work on bigger jobs with the same people when they know you better.
Daniel: Second, beggars can’t be choosers! I know I said this before but I can’t emphasize enough that during the audition, people are not looking to see what you’re doing wrong. I used to go in with a completely skewed mentality thinking, oh boy I wonder what they thought of me, I wonder if I did this wrong? I wonder if I could have done this better, and as a result of this kind of thinking, I wasn’t getting called back. I simply had this profound epiphany of what I stated before. And with that mentality I’ve gone out and I’ve been getting roles. I’ve seen that people have liked the energy that I put forward and I think it was really important that I made that connection. Getting back to actual preparation, I’ll dress casually. I don’t want to look like a mess or anything. So I won’t wear clothes with holes in them, unless the character’s a hobo. And if I get called back for a role, I’ll wear the same clothes so they can recognize me instantly. I don’t know what else I can really say. You know, keep clean, wash behind the ears.
Leanna: (Laughing) Are you trying to dress the character or are you trying to be a little more neutral.
Daniel: I think it really depends. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, I would say dress in what feels comfortable for you- that brings out your sense of identity. Dress in colors that you feel really bring out your face and eyes, dress in something that you feel might match the tempo of the film like, if it’s a teen comedy I’m not going to go in wearing a business suit- I’m going to go in casual clothes. If it’s a movie about corporate affairs, yeah I might go in a suit or something. But without any prior knowledge I’d say just dress in whatever feels comfortable.
Leanna: Do you prefer the auditions where it’s a cold read or do you prefer something in advance? You have some sides in advance?
Daniel: I really haven’t thought about any kind of preference. I of course like to know, I guess, a little about the production. Because once again you can decide how to dress, you can decide that maybe you need a little more scruff on your chin than normal- that may not apply to the ladies. I’d say I like a little bit of prep ahead of time. A cold read is fine, I’m confident enough with myself to know I can give a good cold read. But without any foreshadowing of the character you know that’s all you can do is just kinda be yourself and feel it out as you go.
Leanna: So how do you find out about most of your auditions?
Daniel: Internet, a lot by Internet, and a lot by word of mouth. Since I’ve put out my website, I’ve actually had a lot of people come to me. Which is wonderful because many actors don’t have that luxury. They have to go promote themselves voraciously, because it’s something you simply have to do. You have to put in your dues so to speak. You have to send out your headshots to anybody and everyone you can. You have to take the small roles every so often to pad the resume. Once people see that you’re reliable and that you’re willing to put yourself out there you get calls more often. So mostly the Internet, and mostly word of mouth.
Leanna: So when you Internet, are you trolling the websites yourself? Are you on e-mail lists, things like that?
Daniel: I will go through the websites myself. In the DC area it’s very difficult to get someone who’s going promote you regularly, just because of the market. There’s a lot of independent work though so self-representation is the way to go. I found the best way to get work is to simply go out, peruse, see what’s available, put yourself out for as much as possible, tell people hey if I’m not right for this part, maybe I can help out on set or give me a call in the future. You know things like that.
Leanna:Yes, any particular recommendations for the readers for websites you found useful? Hopefully people will be reading this all over the country but you know maybe any websites you can recommend even if they are east coast specific, would be interesting.
Daniel: Very east coast specific I’d say Brian Dragonuk has a great newsletter that’s one of the main resources I’ve gone to time and time again. ActingEast.com run by Joe Ripple, Craigslist.com, Actorscenter.org, and the SAG casting hotline at SAG.org. Those are the primary sites I go by.
Leanna: Getting back to auditions, do you find that most auditions are pretty much the same or kind of standardized as to what occurs or have you found that they’re unique and have you ever been asked to do anything weird in auditions?
Daniel: Oh yeah, I’ve been asked to do some strange things. But overall I try to really make myself stand out. I believe Danny DeVito got one of his first auditions by standing up on one of the tables and belting out his lines. So it’s all about thinking outside of the box, and thinking, what is going to differentiate me from the herd that’s coming in to just cold read and leave. But, as far as my own unique experiences, let’s see what could I tell ya… The Milkman, my audition for that, I got up there and read my lines like a drunken car dealer. I didn’t know anything about the character except a one sentence descriptor, so I just kind of figured he was one of those pudgy beer-bellied kind of guys, so I took my shirt off, I was waving it around my head. I put on a southern accent and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. It seemed to me that it was completely off for the character. But I just gave them everything that I had and tried to show them that hey I’m a little different from everybody else. Even if I wasn’t going to get the part, I was going to be sure that they would remember me. When they remember you, they may try to squeeze you in somewhere because they like you.
Leanna: (laughing) that’s good. I think maybe what Robert wanted to know with this question was what happens at auditions and is it pretty standardized? Or have you faced some sort of non-standard auditions?
Daniel: Most auditions are pretty much the same. You’ll go in, you might get a little background on the company, you may get some sides that you can read from, you may get an overview of the project, and a brief synopsis. You’ll go in, you’ll see the production crew behind a table while someone’s filming you. Typically you’ll have to slate your name and you’ll go from there. Either they’ll have you read from a script, or they’ll make you read something that’s completely unrelated to the project. Or they may have you improvise. Typically that’s the norm from what I’ve dealt with.
Leanna: Yeah, me too. Hardly ever get asked for monologues.
Daniel: Yeah that’s rarely happened with me. Quite honestly, I hate doing monologues. When I get to improvise, I feel like I’m showing them more of me than hiding behind my mastery of reading a bunch of text. Although let’s face it, reading and memorizing a bunch of text is part of the process, so I can’t knock it entirely. It rarely happens that you need a monologue for film though, I sometimes wonder why you have to go through the trouble of having a couple at all.
Leanna: All right, so how is costuming handled on a film project? Is it everybody wear what you want to wear or are the costumes actually collected by somebody at the end of the day put back on the rack or this kind of up to the actor kind of thing?
Daniel: For a lot of the films that I’ve been involved with, it’s been mainly up to me to figure out what kind of wardrobe I can bring. A lot of times when it’s a low budget film they’re not really going to care too much what you’re wearing as long as it’s similar to what they have envisioned. There are a few instances where I’ve had a rented tuxedo or a rented outfit that I’ve had to return at the end of the shoot, or props that I’ve had to return. In “Ladder 49″, I had to return a whole fire fighter’s outfit that I was wearing when I stood in for Joaquin Phoenix. So you know it varies depending on what kind of film it is. The bigger the budget, they’ll have wardrobe ready for you. They’ll have a trailer set up and you get what you need or they’ll look at what you brought and say, yeah that’s fine. But for the most part, I’ll bring a few changes to a shoot and they’ll say, why don’t we mix this with this or you can use this, and that’s pretty much it, and I’ll bring it home with me at the end of the day.
Leanna: Uh, huh. And it is your responsibility to bring it again.
Daniel: Of course. It’s one of those things that you have to keep in consideration if you are going to be using a particular outfit for some time. Don’t go out on a hike, don’t go on a mustard eating contest, and don’t do anything that is going to potentially mess up that outfit. Because if it’s gone, you’ve screwed with the film’s continuity and they may not work with you again.
Leanna: Do you find yourself buying doubles at the store? I’ve being doing that. (Laughing)
Daniel: Buying what?
Leanna: Doubles — you go, oh I like that shirt I could wear it in a film, so I’ll buy two just in case.
Daniel: Actually no. I really haven’t. I’m a typical guy, you know I don’t have a huge wardrobe. But if the stuff that I have doesn’t have holes in it, I’ll keep it hung somewhere. That’s pretty much it. I don’t really go out and buy too much unless I really need to. Remember, starving actor working a budget here!
Leanna: You said on some of the films wardrobe was supplied. But that sounded like a big budget thing like Ladder 49, any other films.
Daniel: Yeah, in the film Evenfall, I played a demolitions guy posed as an upscale cocktail waiter during an auction, and they had to supply a tuxedo for me. So I had to go through measurements and all that and they supplied some casual clothes. But you know at the end of the shoot I just give it back to them and leave with what I came with. I had one wardrobe horror story from when I was working on “Something the lord made”. The movie took place in the 1940′s, so I tend to have a big bushel of hair and sideburns, and that really didn’t fit for the film. So I had to go in for a haircut. And I received someone who was very thrilled to be cutting my hair and thought I had the most luxurious thick hair in the world and proceeded to slowly destroy it. (Laughing) So this lady really didn’t know how to cut any hair, but she gave me a really awesome hairstyle with a ton of gel. When I got home and washed it out, queue the psycho music, my head was butchered and I had to get it fixed. I felt like a freshly washed Chihuahua after that experience. Ah, the things we do for our craft.
Leanna: So do you generally get guidance from the directors or sometimes do you just have to kind of read the script and figure what you think the person would wear and bring along changes you know to your conception of what they’d wear.
Daniel: I never presume to think I know what the director wants. So I will always ask. I will always ask every single time: what do I need to do for wardrobe, what do I need to do for hair and makeup, what do I need to do for a multitude of things? Do I leave my earring in or do you not want it in? I leave it up to the director. I never presume to think I know what’s best.
Leanna: Great. Ok the next question is, assuming that you have worked on both sets and on location. Is that true have you worked on constructed sets?
Leanna: Ok, so what are the pros and cons of working in both kinds of environments, the sets or the natural locations or existing locations?
Daniel: Well, I think it’s a combination of things. You know when you look at a film or a TV show or a movie. You don’t see all the stuff that’s going on behind the camera. But you could have up to fifty people in a very very tiny room hanging lights and holding things. You know it really depends. I think outdoor environments are obviously a little bit easier to work with. There’s no roof, there are no walls, there are no real constrictions outside of a car driving by, rain, clouds, or an airplane flying overhead. For indoor shoots, if you’re using a friend’s house lets say, you obviously need to take into consideration if they have any little fine china dolls that you might tip over and break. Or you know if they have certain room restrictions like they don’t have a plug somewhere, you gotta bring an extra set of extension cords. I wonder what else I could really say about that.
Leanna: Yeah, let’s say you’re working outside and nature calls.
Daniel: Well, if nature calls then I find the honey wagon. No honey wagon? Then a secluded bush is ideal. Stay away from schools and highways though, trust me!
Leanna: Let’s hope you’re lucky enough to work with someone who has a budget for that. Have you ever been on a low budget film that maybe hasn’t made provisions where you’ve had to go?
Daniel: Depends on the director. If they hadn’t seen that it’s going to rain on a particular day or you know out of the blue ROAR a big tornado comes through, obviously your going to need to take shelter and you can’t film outside unless you have the right equipment. So everybody should have a plan B, you know an indoor and outdoor shoot for the same day. But I don’t know, was there something else you where looking for with that question.
Leanna: I think he’s looking for horror stories of poor planning or that you had to poop in the bushes, I don’t know (laughing).
Daniel: No I can’t say I’ve had any crazy experiences like that. I’ve worked outside in the rain before, I’ve worked in the snow before, I’ve worked in blistering heat, and I’ve worked in stale closed environments. I’ve pretty much worked in a lot of things. So once again, I’m the type of person who really doesn’t care too much as long as I’m a part of the production and I can offer something.
Leanna: When you’ve had these extreme circumstances did you know about this beforehand or was it a surprise and you felt kind of stuck, say, working snow and you just kind of gritted your teeth and took it.
Daniel: Yeah, yeah, there have been a few times occasionally you’ll get a call from casting associates who say you should dress a certain way for this and they don’t really take into consideration that you may be outdoors or indoors where it’s really hot or really cold. So there have been a couple times where for example, I’ve been an extra in a film and I’ve been in a heavy business suit and we were indoors with blistering heat and no air conditioning. It’s happened a few times where I’ve dressed too lightly and it’s been freezing cold outside when I thought it was an indoor shoot. So you know the best thing to do is kind of be prepared and keep that information in the back of your mind. But if faced with a negative experience, you just grit and take it, really.
Leanna: I wouldn’t like to be surprised by something like that!
Daniel: I wouldn’t want to be either but you know they might look back and that and say you know this guy or girl is a real soldier, they’ll call on them again cause the other guys quit.
Leanna: Ok, so you have no limitations that way. For example, I’m real sensitive to cold and if someone made me stand in the snow it could be a health issue.
Daniel: Well, I will always take health into consideration. I will push myself to a point where I feel I’m not comfortable. I will always hold out, and that you know goes into the whole risk-taking thing. I will always hold out to make sure that I’m doing my part to make sure the production is OK. And if that starts to creep up on personal health issues, if we’ve been out in the cold for way too long, yeah I’ll pipe up, I may have to excuse myself. But that really hasn’t happened. The only times that have come close were two experiences. The first was on the set of “The Invasion”, there was a night in downtown Baltimore where it was so cold, and I mean SO cold, that they had a bus warmed up for all the extras. Every 10-15 minutes or so, they would load everyone up to stay warm. I was prepared that day though, and brought pocket warmers. I would highly recommend those for your acting bag. The second was on “Ninjas vs Zombies”. On the day we were filming my big fight scene, it was very hot outside and my character was dressed in his work uniform. Additionally, we were out in a field where there was direct sunlight and I was having a lot of trouble exerting myself. I kept hydrated, and monitored myself as much as I could. I slept like a baby that night! The message to take away from all this though is two things, always think ahead to be prepared, and no director is worth working for if they’re going to put you in a situation that is going to harm you.
Leanna: Right, I agree. They might say, you know, for my example “oh what’s wrong with standing in the cold” and they don’t understand.
Daniel: Right, well I’m sorry you’re a polar bear and I’m a human being!
Leanna: So how’s it been with the food situation on sets that you’ve worked on and independent productions?
Daniel: Well on independent films it really depends- really depends on the production. There have been some times where it’s straight PB&J or pizza or hot dogs. Maybe even nothing at all! Maybe you’ll get a power bar; maybe you’ll have to bring something yourself. I never count on the crew of a film to really supply me with food unless they’re obvious about it they say, “we’re going to feed you”, and we’ll give you this, this and this. Otherwise I take it upon myself to make ensure that I’ve had something to eat beforehand- always take care of yourself that way. I’ll even bring some snacks along with me to the set, just in case. I’ll bring a bottle of water too. So when you’re working with an independent film crew it really varies on what their budget is, and what they feel like going out of their way to get you. But you know, once again I kind of pride myself at not really making a fuss about it. I don’t need caviar and sushi, or filet mignon because if someone went out of their way to give me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know what, thanks a lot I appreciate it!
Daniel: I’m not picky when it comes to that. So whatever they throw my way, I’m more than happy to receive it and more than happy to make sure I give them a good performance.
Leanna: Any stories though from the independent filmmaker’s perspective? Since that’s what this site is focusing on mostly.
Daniel: In regards to independent filmmakers. Well let me illustrate something here for you. There’s a distinct difference between college sports and the pro leagues the NBA, the NFL, etc. There is a noticeable passion that is lost sometimes when you go pro. In college, there’s a real desire to win, not just make money- they’re striving for excellence and to be noticed. And when you’re dealing with independent films compared to the big guys from Hollywood, I think the same thing applies. So dealing with independent filmmakers, I think that they empathize more with you, and what your situation might be or even what it might be like to work for them. So, from what I’ve experienced, directors and producers for independent films really go out of their way to make sure that you’re comfortable with situations so that you know you’re taken care of and you know that the line of communication is always open.
Leanna: I haven’t had too many horror stories except for one guy who wanted me to shoot a live gun and I just refused. I mean it’s like, come on use a blank. I thought this guy was stupid. Anyway that’s my horror story. Live ammunition, no thank you. Next question. While they may have employed special effects artists and makeup artists in productions you have worked on have the various production companies ever used a makeup artist for the glamour of actors and actresses or is that up to the individual performer.
Daniel: Typically I avoid makeup if I can, not because I don’t want to use it. It’s just that unless it’s specifically asked for I just don’t bother with it. Because in my eyes film is, you know when you’re doing independent work; you’re looking for a little more realism. Depending on what kind of film it is, too. But if it’s like special effects makeup, I’m not touching that with a ten-foot pole cause I don’t know what the heck to do, I leave that to the experts. But for myself, if I need a little powder or something, if I know it’s a really hot day maybe I’ll apply a little bit just to be on the safe side. But, overall I really don’t touch it too much unless they specifically ask me to.
Leanna: Do you have your own compact or a couple things?
Daniel: Yeah, I’ve got a few things, but once again I really haven’t found it necessary to use and nobody’s really instructed me to use it.
Leanna: And on these productions has a makeup artist employed by the production company ever come up to you and powdered you or done anything to you?
Daniel: Absolutely. In fact, that’s what happens most of the time. So you know I really don’t see the need to bring my own stuff with me, although I do anyways because being prepared is best. You know, maybe just a little bit of powder like I said just to be sure, but for the most part, usually there’s somebody on set who will take care of that.
Leanna: Ok, so you’d say predominately most sets that you work on, this is including independent film, would have someone to take care of that for you?
Leanna: That’s nice, it’s been opposite in my experience. I’m always doing my own.
Leanna: (Laughing) Yeah, I show up ready I don’t count on that. Have you ever had any special effects makeup?
Daniel: Yeah. For Kamikazes I had a bullet hole in my head. In The MilkMan I had the blood pouch on my neck. Vampire Sisters, a turkey baster with blood kind of spewed at me. Crawler, a product called “bottle o’ blood” was thrown at me. Blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, and an occasional piece of meat to represent my ripped out tongue. I think that’s about it.
Leanna: Yeah, so those make good visuals if you have pictures like bullet in the head or anything.
Daniel: I think, yeah I think I actually do have one.
Leanna: Yeah that would be neat. Have you spent long times in makeup processes? How long does it take to get a bullet in the head?
Daniel: It’s real quick. If they need you to be bloody they’ll just smear it on your face and that’s it. That doesn’t really take too long.
Leanna: Oh, good. Yeah, I had bullets in head once. I drove home with it. I was, like, daring a cop to stop me.
Daniel: Ah, driving home. I worked for several years doing the Cox’s Point Haunted Mansion in Baltimore during Halloween with a pro magician Steve Myers, and I would drive over 70 miles in full makeup and contacts. It was always nice stopping for the occasional restroom or snack break, pumping gas, doing the drive-through. My voice would usually be very hoarse as well, so I would take extra pleasure in greeting people when I could. But anyways, so after Vampire Sisters I had tons of dried blood all over me, and bruises around my wrists from those aforementioned handcuffs. So I had to come home and answer to my girlfriend about that. Yeah, honey just you know a typical day at work!
Leanna: So how’d the blood come out of the clothes? Did you have to do anything special?
Daniel: No, no. The blood came right out. You know I don’t think it was anything that would’ve stained if I left it in. It did stain my skin for a little bit but didn’t do anything with clothes.
Leanna: Have you ever had to do stage fighting or stunts?
Daniel: Yeah, I’ve done quite a bit. There was an instance in Crawler where it wasn’t scripted that my character was going to do anything crazy but, you know, because it’s me, I try to add a little something extra to the character whenever possible. And by the way, if the director says no then its no. But there was a scene where the FBI guys, the alien investigators are chasing us, and I dive into the rear window of a car as my guys are driving off. That was just one little thing I just kind of gave myself a pat on the back for. Other than that, stage punching, slapping, some choreographed fights in NVZ, dragging my body up stairs in “Mrs. Amworth”. Y’know, nothing crazy. No Filipino stick fighting, meat nunchuks, or stripper poles. Well wait, there actually was a viral-
Leanna: (Laughing) So, did you have any scenes where you had to act against nothing?
Daniel: Where I had to act against nothing? You are constantly doing that when voice acting. There are some instances where you’ll have several people in a studio to react off of like in animation, but those times are extremely rare. It’s especially difficult when you’re just reading off your own lines out of a script- you have to put each take in context, and pretend you’re reacting to something. My favorite time in the booth was for “Transformers: The Game”, I was playing the lead villain Starscream when my director Carl Weathers instructed me to make the sounds of being impaled from the left- being decapitated- being crushed by a boulder. You might think I’m kidding, but no, it was totally true. Go to Youtube and you can see a clip of me in the booth doing my character from that. Out of the booth, yeah, my death scene in Crawler. I had to basically swing a bat at Don behind the camera. There was nothing really for me to go on except just the basic measurement I guess in my head of what height the character was. Or you know how it moved, or how I reacted accordingly. No real instances where I’ve had to work with a fake character that wasn’t there before.
Leanna: In terms of the fights you mentioned there were a few punching and slapping scenes you’ve had to do. Is that choreographed, how do you rehearse and prepare?
Daniel: Whirlwind kicks, flips, barrel rolls, what can I say I do it all! I will always go out of my way to talk with the other actor if it hasn’t been specifically choreographed. I mean there was, for example, a guy on Kamikazes who was a triple black belt master martial artist. You know, you could fight him anyway you wanted to and it really wouldn’t faze him. And he was like “yeah, just go ahead and hit me, just beat the crap out of me” and I was like “Uh… dude, I’m not trying to really hurt you on this.” He’s like “nah, just go ahead and land some punches it’s cool”. And I would kind of have to pull back and say alright, here’s what I’m gonna do, this is how you’re going to react accordingly — because it’s just not in me to hurt another actor in that regard. So if it hasn’t been choreographed I will take the time to work with the actor to choreograph it and make it look as real as possible. In the same film, I had to do a rape scene with actress Wadha Eid, and I made sure to take some time working with her to let her know specifically what I would be doing, touching, etc. If you recall, most of the film was improvised, but for something that I wanted to be extra conscientious. I think Wadha appreciated it, and we had a pretty awesome scene together. It was only fitting that in another film “Fat Tuesday” I got to kill her.
Leanna: That’s great. I think we talked about this before; have you ever been hurt?
Daniel: Have I ever been hurt? Two broken ribs, scrapes, dings, cuts, burns, but other than that not really. The handcuffs in Vampire Sisters, I had a little bruising around the wrists, and Joe threw a rope in my eye. Some chaffing from the thong I was wearing in “Love Sick”. But honestly that was my fault, I wasn’t asked to bring a thong at all.
Leanna: Ok., this question just occurred to me. It’s not on the list actually. But do you have a day job? Do you do something else?
Daniel: Yes, every good actor should have a day job. At least while starting out. I work in retail as a manager. When I was preparing for my role in The Milkman where I had to be an Australian guy, the job that I had specifically at that time required me to assist the customers with finding merchandise, describing merchandise, etc. So I took the opportunity to pretend that I was really Australian and you know I would practice my accent with them. I never really had an instance where anybody would say, “hey, are you really Australian?” But I would do a little homework. I’d learn some of the slang and some of the lingo and you know a couple different things just in case someone said “hey where you from?”
Leanna: Wow that sounds great.
Daniel: I felt that practicing like that was another instance of thinking a little outside of the box.
Leanna: Does that kind of customer service job help you with relating to people or observing people or something?
Daniel: Preparing for acting — I think it gives you a little bit more restraint because you learn how to deal with certain people, a certain way. And you kind of have to separate yourself to a degree to resolve a negative situation. Put your emotions aside, especially if you’re dealing with someone who is really angry. But, for example, I waited tables for five years- go figure, and actor who waited on tables! And I’ve dealt with some really nasty people before. But like I said you learn to separate yourself from the situation. I would say I haven’t gotten anything specific for acting from my other jobs. I think I’ve used more acting WITH my jobs.
Leanna: Oh, cool. That’s interesting. Personally, I’m blessed with a really nice boss who lets me days off to be in films and so forth. How do you work that out with your job?
Daniel: As carefully as possible.
Leanna: Do they know?
Daniel: I’m pretty lucky that I have a group of people who respect that I work hard. I’m always good when I’m on the clock. So there really hasn’t been much trouble with taking off time, but you do have to be careful every so often. Once in a blue moon there maybe a time when work really needs you more than a really low budget short film of ten minutes which really will not have an impact on your life. So yeah, sometimes it’s a give and take, and you have to sacrifice but you know what, it’s a game of sacrifice all the way. I mean, you lose sleep, you isolate yourself sometimes if you’re really busy with work and acting. I mean, so with the voice acting too it’s kind of like three jobs wrapped into one. And you juggle that with a relationship, money issues, and even school. It makes for a very interestingand unique lifestyle.
Leanna: Whew, I can relate. The next question is have you had any formal training in acting or improvisation?
Daniel: I think if you were born to perform, it will come to you naturally with little coaxing. Granted there are many things that you will pick up along the way, there are many techniques you can learn to enhance what you have. But for myself, I haven’t had any rigorous training. I haven’t gone to any “learn to act on film” classes or anything like that. I learned by going out and doing it- by my wins and my own challenges, I learned what works, and what doesn’t. Seeing yourself on film can help you study, and watching or listening to other people too. Taking extensive notes or keeping a journal of your days on set, for voices, keeping a recorder handy in the car for when you think of something new. Other than that, I majored in Theatre in college. I took many classes on that and that’s pretty much been it. So I think it’s mostly experience that teaches you anything in the long run. Roll up your sleeves and get to it, and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way. I will say that my high school drama teacher Dr. Lee Viccellio taught me how to read into Shakespeare in a way that helped me interpret many other things, she was a big inspiration, and a great mentor.
PART TWO OF THE DANIEL ROSS INTERVIEW COMING SOON!
About Daniel Ross:
Daniel Ross was born August 4th, 1980 in Silver Spring, Maryland. He grew up with a love for movies, theatre, and voice acting. When he was young, he would come home and imitate his schoolteachers for his parents, as well as pick up on cartoon character voices to impress his friends. Studying Shakespeare in High School, Daniel was an active member of the Thespians, Shakespeare Troupe, and Forensics competitions. Receiving much acclaim he realized he might have a knack for acting and voiceover work, and decided he should probably do it professionally one day. In 1998, Daniel won the best Shakespearean actor award at the Folger Shakespeare Library for his performance as Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” in an international competition. After graduating High School, Daniel attended Montgomery College majoring in Theatre. Performing in many musicals and plays, Daniel honed his skills and felt a unique sense of direction beginning to creep into his life. This was after so much turmoil had destroyed his family, and left Daniel on the streets to fend for himself. Nearing despair to find some sense of identity, Daniel took a leap of faith, used what remaining money he had to take headshots, and headed out into the local film market. Almost instantly, Daniel started landing roles and making connections. Since then, Daniel has grown as an entertainer and had a successful career. Daniel’s local notoriety started to build through networking, and his creative thinking landed him in ideal situations to continue to grow further. He eventually found solace in film, and for one reason or another, his direction was clearer than it ever was. To him there was just something about film that theatre couldn’t give him. Maybe it was something to physically hold on to forever, or maybe reaching a broader audience to share himself and his story of hope. Daniel continues to seek out and find success, but his main goal is to eventually have the means to take care of everyone he loves, as well as provide a beacon of light for those who have traversed the same tumultuous path as he had.