Veterans in Creative Careers: David Williams, Marine Actor

David WilliamsDavid had an interesting experience in the military, and was one of the lucky ones to get to go back and forth between Hawaii and Okinawa, Japan. As a Japanophile and former Marine stationed in Okinawa, I can say that I know first-hand how amazing that experience can be. But even more importantly, David continued to give back by working for the Veterans Administration, and comes to me highly recommended by my acting buddy on Hawaii 5-O and the upcoming Jurassic World.



Justin Sloan: I am glad to speak with you, David, as you have an interesting background. Why don’t we start with why you joined the military.

David Williams: I was raised by a single mother, whom sacrificed greatly for me and her other children. During that time, she still had two other children (my younger siblings) to finish raising, so I felt it was my responsibility as a man and the oldest male in my household, as well as the fact that my family would have an easier time for me to move on with my life; lightening my mom’s overall burden. That being said, my mom retired from the Army Reserves and my sister served in the Army as well, so the military was a natural choice for me, after graduating high school.

JS: When the day came for you to reenlist or run for it, what went through your head? What was the decision moment like, and what would be your advice to the other men and women at that stage in their lives?

DW: I did my initial enlistment contract (4yrs. active military and 4yrs inactive). I did not reenlist. It’s ironic that you ask regarding reenlistment, because when first joining the military, reenlistment was definitely something that was in the cards, but as time went on, this was not something that I would carry out; a big reason for this is because I am a very outspoken individual and had a desire to get involved in the community, to a bigger extent than might have been allowable as a military member. Furthermore, I had goals of having a real college experience, along with pursuing other interests, such as being involved with something musically (radio broadcasting), and later, acting.

JS: Having gone on to work at the VA must have changed your perspective on life and the military. Can you discuss whether this is the case?

DW: Actually, being a huge news fanatic as I am, and actually having the free time after my military enlistment, I was able to closely tune in to world events, which began to change my perspective of the military, even before going to work for the VA. It is true, though, that after working so many years for the VA, in hind-site, I began to understand the underlying politics surrounding the military. It definitely helped me understand that politics are present when working for the government, in general. But when you are a civilian, you may not want to express your political viewpoints in the workplace, but you are free to speak your mind on issues… something that in most situations, may not be appropriate in the military; especially if what you are communicating is not directly in line with the perception of what a “good Marine” is, and how he/she should act and/or, carry themselves.

JS: At what point did you start thinking about becoming an actor? What where the steps you immediately took to achieve that goal?

DW: I really didn’t think much in regards to the entertainment/acting arena until I was cast to do background work in the Bruce Willis flick Tears of the Sun. After spending multiple days on that set, meeting fun and interesting people, and sincerely enjoying the initial learning process or OJT, if you will, I wanted to know more and do more, in the particular arena. My transition/ growth, was a very slow process. A short time after my first project, I began to network and thrust myself out there, in the local acting community. I soon met a couple prevalent movie and television casting directors that were having an upcoming acting workshop. I attended their workshop, and it turned out to be a very insightful and helpful experience. Honestly, I didn’t expect to get any work after I submitted my contact information and photo to these casting directors. Not long after that day, I surprisingly found myself being cast in a commercial and a television movie.

JS: Have you had time to learn from your mistakes? Are there any lessons learned that you would like to share with other veterans that aspire to become actors?  

DW: I feel that everyone that wants to be involved in the television and movie industry can find an opportunity to be involved. At the same time, I believe everyone’s path is different. The only advice I would give is to keep your ear to the street at all times, meaning do your homework, making sure that the people and projects you get involved with are legitimate (not a scam). A good way to stay on top of this is to get to know the players in the industry, whether they be Hawaii-based or LA-based. Over time, you will know a great deal of the actors and crew that keep the industry moving.

JS: Do you feel your time in the military has helped your acting much, whether it is on the craft or networking level?

DW: I do believe my work ethic before and after the military has played an ongoing part in how I approach my job on set. I also know that the never-quit attitude that was enhanced by my time in the Marine Corps is a definite factor that keeps work coming my way. Believe it or not, the “Hurry up and wait” culture is prevalent in the business, as it is in the military.

JS: Are there resources out there we should know about for aspiring actors? Networking groups, great books or YouTube videos we can’t go without?

DW: The Hawaii Actors Network is a very good resource for actors in Hawaii, as is the Project Casting website. HAN has various talent related groups as well as networking. Project Casting posts various movie and television projects that are casting throughout the country.

JS: Let’s get real about the world of acting, for everyone looking at it with wide, starry eyes. What are the hours like? Is it the dream some believe it to be?

DW: The hours vary but 12 hour days are the average. How much you work, in most cases depend on your availability, but you must be flexible. In the beginning, you need to be flexible. I would say that at my current level, I have not reached the so-called dream, as of yet. With that said, I can say that I have met and worked with some great well-known actors over the years, and I have had some once in a lifetime experiences and opportunities standing-in and doubling for some of the greatest actors in the business, that most of us aspiring actors strive to emulate. Just watching some of these guys/gals work (on set) is an invaluable experience, in itself!

JS: Do you have any fun stories you can share with us about being on set?

DW: Working on the set of Hawaii Five-0 is always a fun time since I have been working off and on with the cast and crew, since season one, in 2010. When I’m on set, the crew always refer to me as Charlie Murphy, because they say I look like him. Oh, something I find very funny is that, as I said earlier, I have stood-in and doubled for over 20 actors, but when the real Charlie Murphy guest starred on Five-0, guess who didn’t do any work for him… me! That goes to show that everyone has their time and everyone has their place. I’ve done work for A-list actors, but I didn’t even work on the episode with the one guy I continuously get told on set that I look like.

JS: What is your plan going forward? Do you find it makes sense to have a plan in the world of acting?

DW: My plan is to continue working my government civilian job, keep working and learning every time I step foot on set, no matter as background, stand-in, or double. Lastly, continue going to acting classes, when my schedule presents itself, and hopefully move up to the next level, which would be on camera dialog. I have been blessed to have engaged in off-camera dialog with the main players of Five-0, but I have yet to have the opportunity to capture that illusive day player role (guest actor) on the show. I know I will never give up and always keep the faith, to reach this next level. I will definitely be ready when the time comes.

JS: Once again, thank you for your advice. Please share a last piece of advice with my readers, whether it is something I may have forgotten to ask about or a summary of points already made.

DW: During my years of working with the “working actors,” I have come to respect the countless hours, hard work, love, and overall dedication the majority of them demonstrate on a daily basis (on set). I have come to also not judge them and to understand why the big stars are well compensated. You have to realize that television and movie watching is a pastime and a hobby for some in our country. Americans as well as other groups, spend countless hours in front of movie and TV screens. Due to this fact, the demand dictates the strength in pay enjoyed by the best in the biz. To us average folk, the millions of dollars earned by A-list stars in comparison to our own earnings sounds like a lot of money, but when analyzing the overall money a movie grosses and the money advertisers pay for a commercial during a highly viewed sitcom, the actors’ pay is a relative small piece of the overall pie. So remember, next time we hear through the media the estimated amount of money an A-list actor makes, let’s try to not judge, because the massive amount of money the project pulls in is not in the actor’s hands. It stays with the studios and production companies; the silent money the audience never hears about.



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