David Call is on the cusp. You may recognize his handsome mug from the hit TV drama Gossip Girl, where he enjoyed a recurring guest role as convict-meets-teacher Ben Donovan and could be seen opposite Blake Lively’s Serena van der Woodsen (or donning all orange while plotting her demise from behind bars). He may also ring a bell as the skeevy Keith, with whom Lena Dunham’s Aura has some seriously sketchy sex in her first flick, Tiny Furniture. (Yes, there was life before Hannah Horvath.)
The Issaquah, Washington-born actor has appeared in a number of films and TV programs since breaking into the business eight years ago. Most recently, fans can catch him in Dead Man’s Burden (opening tonight and screening through the weekend at Village East Cinema in New York). And, believe it or not, he even turned up in a few episodes of Smash last month.
Call currently has several projects in post-production and, though he jumped coasts for a little R&R—“I came out mostly because I’ve been in New York for the past six to seven months working and I just got sick of winter”—the 30-year-old Leo was happy to chat.
We caught up while he was driving (cliché for LA), talking to me through his headset and generous enough to gab for an hour. We covered a lot of terrain, including pre-acting gigs (none of which were in an office), dream roles, riding horses, hypnotizing chickens, and striking a balance between commercial moneymakers and indie passion projects. He also touched on the craze surrounding Girls, and how he was originally written into the much buzzed about HBO show. We both agree he should swoop in and sweep Marnie off her feet now that Charlie’s flown the coop. For more from the affable David Call, who gets recognized “occasionally," read on.
Sorry I kept canceling and we weren’t able to get together before you escaped to LA. I’ve been temping as a copyeditor at an office for the past few weeks, working late, which bumps everything else to the weekend. You ever work in an office?
I’ve actually managed to avoid office jobs. I’ve worked lots of random jobs, lots of labor and service, but I avoided offices.
Service, huh? Like escorting?
Yeah, yeah, let’s get into my history as a male escort. That sounds a lot more fun than bartending, waiting tables and making lattes. Which is mostly what I did.
Oh for sure. My first real job I worked at a dry cleaner. I was 15. It was horrible, but …nice. I was also a maintenance man for a housing project.
Did you always know you wanted to get into acting?
I grew up doing a lot of snowboarding and skating. I was pretty hardcore. Then, when I was 14 or 15, I basically broke my arm skating, like, three times. After the third time, the doctors were like, You need to stop that. Then I discovered acting. I was at a new school and no girls would talk to me. I got up and read Shakespeare in English class. Then girls talked to me.
In my high school, the theater kids were the dorks.
I was pretty dorky. I wasn’t super dorky. I was kinda dorky. Nobody could figure me out. I knew I wanted to go to New York when I was, like, 15. I was like, I’m out of here. [Laughs]
In Dead Man’s Burden you guys are sort of savage. How did you prepare for the role?
It was a multipronged preparation. Growing up in the west, I was raised on Clint Eastwood movies. I went to ranches. It’s just sort of in me. The character’s from the Missouri/Kansas border. My mom’s side of the family is from there. They were there during the Civil War. So, a lot of it was figuring out where the character resided within myself and my family. Also, just doing lots of research. I’m a history nut. I love history, especially American history. So, I devoured books on that time and place. Also learning to use the weapons. I’d never fired black powder guns before, so I got trained in those. It takes, like, 5 to 10 minutes to load the thing. And a lot of it was spending time with Clare Bowen, my wife in the film. When she signed on to the production, I decided I was going to drive from LA to our location in New Mexico. She came along so we could get to know each other. In the film, we’re two people who live in the middle of nowhere by ourselves. So, Clare and I took a little three-day trip.
Sounds fun! What was it like on location?
Absolutely stunning. We were basically next to Georgia O’Keefe’s land, shooting adjacent to where she painted. We actually got permission to shoot there, which was pretty cool.
Where did you stay?
In a house used for Christian couples counseling, owned by some wealthy minister. It’s this huge house with all these bedrooms in it, but no one lives there. It was big, but sparsely furnished. And it was just me, Barlow [Jacobs], and Clare knocking around by ourselves every night in this gigantic house. It was kinda weird.
What did you enjoy most?
We had horses on set. So, if I had down time between scenes, the wrangler let me go riding in the mountains, which was an awesome way to kill time. It was a dream come true. Coming to work every day and getting on a horse and putting a gun on your hip? It was like heaven for me.
Were there other animals on set, too?
There were goats and chickens. I learned how to hypnotize a chicken. If you put them on your lap, pinch the base of their neck and just rub it—almost like you’re giving someone a neck rub—after a while they basically go to sleep. But, the chickens would often cluck in the middle of a take. At one point a chicken jumped into the window in the background of this very intense scene. We had to cut because there was a chicken in the window. And a goat got on the roof once. We were shooting in front of the house and the DP looks up from the camera: Guys, guys, cut. The goat’s on the roof. And everyone looks up and he’s just standing on the roof, chillin’. Once he discovered he could get on the roof, it became a constant. But, I liked that goat. We got along really well.
Back in New York, you were on Smash last month. I have to admit, I don’t watch the show.
Neither do I.
What drew you to the role?
Umm, paying the rent. [Laughs] I’ve been very fortunate the last five or six years. I’ve been able to strike a balance between doing a recurring role on a TV show—working for several months, making some money—and then going off and making movies like Dead Man’s Burden and Tiny Furniture.
Speaking of TV shows, I was mildly obsessed with Gossip Girl. Did you watch the episodes you were in?
I have to be honest with you. I’m not a huge fan of watching myself on TV. I’ll watch a movie that I’m in, but not TV shows. I tried watching the first episode I was in. Thirty to 40 minutes into it I was like, I can’t do this.
I know you’re not on Girls, but you’ve worked with Lena Dunham before, so I’m wondering if there was ever talk of you being on that show?
Lena and I talked about me being in the first season. I think as she had originally conceived it there was going to be a character I was going to play. And then, once the pilot picked up and they hired more writers and producers, that character was eliminated. One of the story arcs changed. Originally I was, and then for various reasons I wasn’t. That’s sort of where it’s at.
You should just swing in, in the place of Charlie’s character, since Christopher Abbott left the show. You should be the new guy to date Marnie.
I agree with that. I think I should. But I think they’re already onto, like, episode five now. So, I’m not sure that’s in the cards.
Sorry to bring up a show you’re not on.
No, it’s fine. I’m very happy for her. It kind of blows my mind that that show has become a “thing” that people write about.
Do you watch?
I watched the first season. I haven’t caught up with the second. It’s weird. The show has such an obscene media presence. It feels like, even though I haven’t been watching, I’m totally aware of everything that happened on it. The media’s obsession is pretty mind-blowing.
It is. But, you’ve got to tune into season two. There’s a sex scene that rivals your sex scene in the pipe with Lena’s character in Tiny Furniture.
The one with Adam?
No, the one with Booth Jonathan and Marnie.
I just remember everybody got all upset about that rape-y scene with Adam.
That’s Adam. Some people are more adventurous in bed.
Exactly. It sounded like it wasn’t that big a deal. Did they have sex in that weird TV box of his?
No, they had weird splayed-out sex on Booth’s bed, next to that weird TV thing. And a doll. Anyway, did you know there’s a tumblr in your honor, entitled Fuck Yeah David Call?
I’ve been turned on to that. It’s really funny to me. I’m a huge fan of that title, by the way.
It’s a good title. They could update the design.
Yeah. And it’s a lot of Fringe gifs. I’ve been on a lot of random TV shows and Fringe, there is a passionate following for that show.
Do you ever get recognized?
Not a lot, but occasionally. It depends on the state of my facial hair. If I’m clean-shaven, I’ll get recognized for Gossip Girl. Recently, in the past six months to a year, I’ve been getting recognized for Tiny Furniture more than anything else.
It’s Girls fans going back and checking out Lena’s previous work. What’s the state of your facial hair right now?
Right now I have a very short beard, but that’s more a product of laziness and the fact that I have to play a meth head at the reading I’m doing tonight. [Laughs]
What would be your dream role?
I have a lot of dream roles. Dead Man’s Burden was definitely on the list. Badass dude in a Western? I’d really like to do a World War II movie. There’s a part of me that would like to play someone very evil, like a serial killer. I always wanted to play a flamboyant gay character, too. To sort of subvert expectations. And I’d love to do a Sam Shepard play.
You’re all about diversity. So, you’re from the West Coast, you’re currently in LA for some R&R and auditions, and you’re based in New York. Is there a place you prefer?
It’s a question I ask myself all the time. I love New York. I love working there. I love the energy there. I feel much more productive there. I’m part of the filmmaking community, which I love. But, it does get a little exhausting sometimes. There’s a part of me that likes the LA lifestyle. A backyard, being outdoors, driving a car. But, it’s also a very settled lifestyle. You can’t go out until 5 AM on a Tuesday night in Los Angeles the way you can in New York. I think once I’m ready to settle down, I’ll probably move back out west. But I ain’t settled yet. I’m just getting started.