Instantly recognizable as the nefarious Johnny Crowder on FX’s ‘Justified,’ David Meunier has spent the past decade quietly been building an impressive resume of diverse characters. Whether it is starring opposite Denzel Washington in ‘The Equalizer’ or David Duchovny on NBC’s “Aquarius” as Charlie Manson’s gatekeeper Roy Kovic, his work continues to turn the heads of critics and fans alike. David can be seen next starring on the anticipated A&E series “Damien,” which premiered on March 7th, 2016. The series, a follow up to the 1976 film “The Omen,” chronicles the adult life of Damien Thorn who has grown up and is seemingly unaware of the satanic forces around him. Haunted by his past, Damien must come to terms with his true destiny, that he is the Antichrist, the most feared man of all time. David shines as Detective James Shay, a decorated veteran and cynical cop who investigates the strange occurrences surrounding Damien. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with David Meunier to discuss his journey as an actor, the challenges he has faced along the way, his role as a key player on A&E’s ‘Damien’ and what the future holds for this star on the rise!
Let’s start at the beginning. What attracted you to the arts early on in life?
That is a good question. The first time I ever acted was in a play in high school and it got me excited. However, that was not my intention when I went to college. I studied graphic arts in college and I ended up doing theater there and taking classes. That is really what got me into it. I moved to Los Angeles after college and really hit the ground doing what everybody does, which is working a restaurant job, getting a headshot and going from there! [laughs]
Obviously, diving head first is a big step to take for anyone. Did you have reservations about taking the plunge?
Oh yeah, huge! I didn’t know what I was doing. I was telling a friend of mine the other day, the first couple of years I was in Los Angeles is a blur! It was like going into a black hole. I didn’t really know what I was doing! I didn’t know what to do, where to go, how to do it, how to get in the door or, let alone, even find the door! [laughs] It was rough! It is a challenge that many people take on when they move to LA and it is not an easy one!
Was there anyone behind the scenes giving you the extra push you needed creatively?
I had some teachers in college that I really adored and who got me going in the theater. They really pushed me. When I moved to LA, like I said, the first couple years were rough. I really got discouraged. I was working at different restaurants and that whole thing. I kind of lost sight of what made me enjoy the art of it in the first place. I was introduced to an acting studio in LA, Diana Castle’s Imagined Life studio. I started taking classes with her and that is what got me back in the game. She reminded me why I got into this in the first place, which is telling stories and tapping into that gift we have as actors to step into another world through the material. It wasn’t about being in front of people and getting applause. All that is nice and lovely but it was really about the experience of getting to tell these stories that I loved. She really reminded me of that purpose, so I would say if I hadn’t found that class, I don’t know if I would have continued on. I may have just burned out and gone home, wherever that would have been.
When it comes to storytelling, you have a few irons in the fire. One of the most exciting projects you have going on is a role on A&E’s new series, “Damien.” How did you get involved with the project?
It was a project I got from my representation. They called me up and told me there was a part for a detective on a new show which was a sequel to the 1976 movie, “The Omen.” I had seen the movie but it had been a long, long time. I remembered it because I am a big fan of Gregory Peck, so I immediately rewatched it. I went in for the audition and read for the part. A couple of days later I got the call and I sat down with Glen Mazzara to talk about the show and the concept. Initially, one of my first questions for Glen, after reading the pilot script, was if they planned on reshooting all of the flashbacks we see from the 1976 film. I was curious if they planned on remaking those or if they would approach it differently. He said, “No. We are going to use the actual footage.” That really got me excited. I was a little scared that they were going to remake those pieces with new actors and I just felt it wouldn’t have been the same. I was a little nervous about that. They had already started to cut together the pilot episode, so he showed me the footage. I thought it was great and really cool! To be able to incorporate that into our TV series is amazing. I mean, we are the only TV series on right now with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick! Who else can say that?! [laughs] They aren’t in the credits but they are in the show!
For those just learning about the series, what can you tell us about the character you play and what excites you about it?
Detective Shay is one of the opposing forces in Damien’s world. We meet my character in episode two. That is when my character meets Damien for the first time. From the very beginning, my character thinks there is something not quite right with this guy. I don’t mean in a supernatural sense but in the sense he is oddly connected to a crime, which isn’t a big spoiler. There is something just not quite right about him and that is what sets my character on course with this cat and mouse kind of story that plays out over the course of the season. What excited me about the role was having the opportunity to be the guy who wears the badge for once! I am typically the guy on the other end of that equation and I am usually the guy who gets chased by the cops! [laughs] For me to get to play the detective this time around was really exciting. I get to do a lot of fun stuff this season!
“Damien” has a dark feel. Does that darkness impact the character you play?
That is interesting. The show does have a certain darkness but the darkness isn’t really in my character’s mindset. I am a detective who is looking at photos of events and trying to put the pieces together. The darkness just sort of happens and isn’t in my mindset. It is something that has been floating around in Damien’s world and is something he has struggled with his whole life but it is something my character walks into unexpectedly. The darkness slowly descends on everyone involved with Damien over the course of the season. For my character, he is just going about his job with one foot in front of the other. He finds himself trying to put together the pieces and trying to convince the people in his world to give his thoughts some credence. I am screaming very loudly and no one is listening! [laughs]
You were also part of another series that took a lot of people by surprise last season. “Aquarius” is another unique show on your resume. I know so many actors want to do a period piece. What are the pros and cons of time traveling, so to speak?
Actually, we are just doing season two now and I am in several episodes. It is a great time period to get to play in. It is interesting for a few reasons. It can go one of two ways: it can get really campy and cheesy or it can be really great. I personally think they did a really good job with the show. I think it is a really good representation of that world. It is so much fun to show up and put on those clothes. When you are on set, everyone is in period clothing and the sets really take you back. It’s funny, as you are sitting there on set, between takes everyone is on their cell phones doing things. As soon as you walk onto the sets themselves, there are no cell phones, there are phones attached to the wall with cords. It’s really a blast from the past! It’s a lot of fun to play in that world. The only downside for me has been wearing that mustache in between episodes! That is actually mine!
What are the biggest challenges for you as an actor on both of these series?
Both shows have been so different and have been so much fun in different ways. I got to do a lot of stunts and action type things with “Damien.” I know some actors don’t love doing that but it is something I really enjoy. You have to stay healthy and be in good physical shape to do those kind of things. With “Aquarius,” it is about putting your mind in that time period. It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes because you think to yourself that something should go a certain way but you realize some of the thoughts are inaccurate because the things you are thinking about don’t even exist. You have to be able to train it back to it being 1968-1969 and stay in that world. Once you get there and are present, it is really a blast.
When it comes to building a character, do you have a process?
I usually take the script, take my time and read it word by word. I let my imagination do the work. For lack of a better term, I sort of meditate on it for awhile. I try and think of the circumstances my character is in or that I am in as that character in the moment. When you turn on “Damien,” there is no other Detective Shay, it is just me, so I have to be in that world and let my imagination create what needs to be created to be there and to have reactions to what I may see or not see. That is a big challenge because when you are working in a situation where you are talking to a green wall instead of a person, it can be difficult. That is the kind of acting I don’t enjoy a lot! [laughs]
As I said earlier, you have been a part of some amazing projects in your career. Which of those had the biggest impact on you and your craft?
“Justified” had a huge impact. That was five years playing a complex part on a really great show with really great writing. That was a really great experience and a big part of my trajectory. “Jericho” was another big one for me. That was my first real recurring role where I got to be a character for more than a few minutes. I think I did nine or 10 episodes of that series. I think that is really what helped get me in the door for the later projects, like “Justified.” Work begets work, so it helped me get the next thing. That next thing was “Aquarius” and now here I am on “Damien.” The thing is not to take any job for granted. They all have some meaning or significance.
Where are you headed in the future? Is there a role or genre you are anxious to tackle?
One of the things I really enjoyed about “Damien,” like I said, was the fact I got to be a guy on the good team this time around. I have joked in interviews past that I used to gets scripts in the past and I would flip to the end and my character was either dead or in jail! [laughs] That is just the trajectory of the parts I play. To be on the other side of the coin has been exciting for me. I would like to do more roles like that.
Are you interested in stepping behind the camera and exploring that world?
I think every actor has those kinds of imaginings at some point. I certainly do sometimes but, for me anyway, it can be a very daunting idea. It is a lot of responsibility to be the person behind the camera and in control of the ship! Sometimes it is more fun to be the actor who can control a little bit and then walk away! [laugh] But yeah, I think someday I would like to do that. I am a very visual person, so I think it would be fun for me to direct or to be a DP because I am a very visual person. I am into photography and interior design, so creating spaces is something I definitely enjoy. Directing certainly incorporates a part of that.
Looking back, how have you most evolved as an actor?
I think it is just more story-centric for me. Whereas, in the very beginning, it was a little more product oriented. Now, it is more about the actual story and less about what it looks like but what it is. As a young actor, you can get stuck in the idea of impress versus express. In other words, it is more about making it about the other people rather than making it about you, your character and what you are trying to say. I think the longer I have been in the business, I have gotten more grounded in that regard. Hopefully, I have anyway! [laughs]
Any young actor can look to you as an inspiration with the career you are building. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
You just have to keep at it and find the reason you enjoy it. You really do have to enjoy the process and enjoy what you are doing or you can burn out really quickly. Stay focused and stay interested!
That is solid advice, David! I want to thank you so much for your time today and giving us a look inside your world!
Thank you, Jason! We will talk again soon!