SkylineAn Interview with Donald Faison
by Wilson Morales
November 10, 2010
For a lot of folks, Donald Faison is best remembered for his role in the romantic comedy ‘Clueless,’ where he starred opposite Stacey Dash, or his role as Dr. Chris Turk in the comedy-drama ‘Scrubs,’ which finally ended its run after nine seasons.
That hasn’t kept the New York City native from working as he is set to appear on the big screen in the sci-fi film, ‘Skyline,’ which also stars Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, David Zayas, Crystal Reed, and Neil Hopkins.
The film takes place in a Los Angeles high-rise where a small group of survivors brave a mysterious attack of otherworldly origins. Faison is playing an entrepreneur who lures his longtime friend (played by Balfour) to the West Coast. After a night of partying, both wake to find a strange force is swallowing humanity off the face of the earth.
Although he’s done other non-comedic roles, such as 1995’s ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and 2000’s ‘Remember The Titans’ with Denzel Washington, this represents Faison’s first foray in the sci-fi universe.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Faison as he re-enters the film world and sees if there’s a long lasting future here than the TV world, which has kept employed for a long time. Excerpts of the conversation are below.
After doing so much comedy for so many years, how did you get latched onto a sci-fi film?
Donald Faison: ‘Cause I blew my audition on it. I had an audition for ‘Skyline’ and I went in and blew the audition trying to be funny. I went in trying to do my best Will Smith impression in a sci-fi movie, like ‘Men in Black,’ or ‘Independence Day.’ I tried to be as tough as possible but also as funny as possible. That was the complete opposite of what they wanted. They wanted the toughness but not necessarily the comedy. My manager convinced them to see me again, and I don’t know how he did it, but he did. “Yeah sure, he can come in, but if he tells one joke he’s not getting the part.” (laughs) He says, “you gotta go in there and be serious; you can’t be a funny dude.” So I went on the second audition and didn’t tell one joke, and I got the part. Then after they said I got the part, on the set I made more jokes than anybody.
How much of a change of pace is it for you to do something dramatic?
DF: It’s not that big of a change. If you’re in the industry and you want to be an actor so you don’t want to just do one thing. Jackie Gleason once said that if you can do comedy you can do anything. If you look at the examples, Mo’Nique did comedy her whole life then won an Oscar for being dramatic. Look at Jaime Foxx, he did comedy his whole life then wins an Oscar for being dramatic. It seems people take notice when comedians or comedic actors and actresses take on dramatic roles. Bill Murray in ‘Lost in Translation’…
The list goes on and on. So you’re not so much reinventing yourself, are you?
DF: It’s not that you’re reinventing yourself, you’re just not telling jokes anymore. If I’m telling you a joke and I’m leaning on the joke trying to get you to laugh the whole time you’re not gonna laugh when the punchline comes, but if I’m not leaning on the joke and just telling a story and the punchline comes you’re gonna get caught off-guard and it’s gonna make you laugh. That’s part of what telling a joke is, making the audience get so caught off guard that they can’t help but laugh.
How would you describe your character?
DF: My character I would describe as Greg and Colin Strause, who directed the movie. They are special effects artists who own a company in Hollywood called Hydraulx. They’ve done special effects movies like ‘Benjamin Button,’ ‘Avatar,’ ‘Iron Man,’ you name it. Pretty much every special effects movie that’s come out in the last 7 or 8 years. I play an amalgam of those two. Terry is a special effects artist who owns a company and lives in the director Greg’s penthouse, that’s where they shot the movie, and he recruits his best friend to come out to Los Angeles to work with him. That’s how I’d describe his character. If you wanna know about who he is as a man and stuff, he’s just like everybody else.
This is an alien catastrophe movie, but what’s the worst catastrophe you’ve seen, personally?
DF: I don’t think anything compares to 9/11. That’s the worst catastrophe ever that I’ve witnessed. I saw that on television, probably one of the scariest moments of my life. That was a catastrophe.
How was working with everybody like Britney (Daniel) and Eric (Balfour)?
DF: I’ve known Eric for a long time, I’ve known Britney for a long time. I didn’t know Scottie (Thompson), and I didn’t know Chris or David, but I’ve known those two pretty much since I moved out to Los Angeles. Anytime you get to work with people you know it’s always a great time. The chemistry works because we enjoy each other.
How was shooting the film behind the CGI? Was this something new to you?
DF: It’s definitely something new for me. I’m a big time nerd. I like to call myself a blerd, which is a black nerd. I grew up on ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek,’ horror films like ‘The Thing,’ and ‘Alien,’ Space travel and all that stuff has always been something I was interested in. When I was a kid I told my mom I wanted to pilot the Millenium Falcon like Han Solo. For awhile I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I realized being an astronaut doesn’t mean getting to go to another galaxy, it means waiting my turn to maybe go up in space and look at the Earth. That’s not what I wanted to do. (laughs) I wanted to fight vampires and stuff like that, and the only way I could do that was to become an actor. When ‘Skyline’ came around and it was everything I grew up wanting to do it was a no-brainer.
Have you seen anything more recently that you think is similar to this movie?
DF: No, I don’t think anything is similar. This is a new way of making sci-fi movies. It might seem like the same premise, but in blockbusters we’ve seen before Tom Cruise comes in and saves the day, or Bruce Willis comes in and saves the day, or Will Smith comes in and saves the day, or the President comes in and saves the day. In this movie, because it’s indie, and because these guys wanted to make the movie the way they wanted, at the end of the movie Tom Cruise isn’t gonna save the day. It really is the end of the human race.
How’s life like after ‘Scrubs?’ Are you ready to get back into the grind and do another TV show?
DF: I’m one of those people who likes to work, and I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss being in the grind as I do right now. So am I eager to get back into a television show? I’d love to do a television show again, absolutely. I definitely want to see where ‘Skyline’ takes me, though.