There is a time to ad-lib and a time to stay in your lane, and in the acting profession, it’s more often the latter than not. This is but one of the pieces of wisdom that DB Sweeney has to impart to us after many decades in the business. Having starred in such films as Gardens of Stone (1987), Eight Men Out (1988), and The Cutting Edge (1992), as well as in numerous television shows and sitcoms, this prolific actor has proven his versatility across genres and roles. Having been in business for so long, he also carries around sobering lessons that actors who are just starting to hone their craft might want to heed. Joining Rich Redmond on the show, DB shares some of the defining moments in his career as an actor, voiceover artist, and recently as a writer, director, and producer. He also shares some of his reflections on the impact of COVID-19 on the film industry and what Hollywood and film distribution may look like in the future.
I’m coming to you from Midtown off music row Nashville. Jim is in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Our guest is from the outskirts of Chicago. Jim, I always say I’m excited but I’m excited. This is a fellow friend of my friend, Steve Cooper. He’s been a staple of theater, television and film for decades. You may know him from Francis Ford Coppola’s Gardens of Stone and TV shows like House, Jericho, Castle, The Closer, 24 and much more. Our guest is DB Sweeney . How are you?
I’m good. Thanks for having me on.
This is a pleasure. A real treat. A working actor for decades. It’s like the Dodo bird. It’s a rare thing.
When I went to NYU in the early ‘80s, I had a bad knee. Baseball was over and I was like, “What am I going to do for the immediate future?” I thought I’d be an actor for 2 or 3 years. I heard there were pretty girls and you’d have to work hard. I thought I’d do that for a couple of years. Somebody that goes to Europe with a backpack, and then go to law school or become some jerk and get on with the rest of my life. One thing led to another. I’m blessed and grateful.
There’s a common theme with a lot of working actors. We chatted with Paul Ben-Victor. Have you been on some projects together?
We have not, but I’m aware of him. He’s good.
Originally, are you from Long Island?
That’s where my girlfriend is from.
I used to sound E like on Entourage and then I had an audition. He’s a famous casting director. He said to me, “DB, you don’t look like you’re from Long Island. You can’t sound like you’re from Long Island.” I didn’t know what he meant at the time. Many years later, they were casting The Sopranos. I was like, “I get it. They’re never going to hire me to be in the Sopranos. I’ve got to sound like the guy from Banff, Alberta, Iowa, or Utah.” It was good advice. I took the advice even though I didn’t understand it, but I got rid of my accent.
How did you go about doing that?
It’s a trick that I learned. The best thing is a wine cork. I would stand at my mirror in my bathroom for an hour every morning and every night and read Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I try to make them as clear as I could with a cork or the pen in my mouth. We all have our regionalisms and lazy parts of our speech. I became aware of mine and I was able to get rid of it. It gave me a real good knack for doing some other accents. I’m not like a Mel Blanc but I can do a few English variations, Irish, Welsh, those kinds of things. I’ve done all those. It’s been a good skill. It ties into what you’re saying about working actors having longevity. You’ve got to keep grinding and you’ve got to keep developing new skills, and try to find ways to make yourself hireable.
I grew up in Danbury, Connecticut. I was surrounded by people from New York all the time. I got into radio and I became one of the most prevalent voices on the radio station, but I noticed a lot of my region. When you hear them back is when you start paying attention. There was always this one spot I would do for a local nightclub called Tuxedo Junction. I’d be like, “Coming up this Saturday night.” I would overcompensate the word Saturday. Gandolfini didn’t speak like that at all.
I saw Gandolfini on Broadway. He was with Alec Baldwin in A Streetcar Named Desire way back in the day. That was a big break for him then. He’s playing a Southern guy. He was a very skilled actor.
Did you focus on that and cured yourself of it?
Louis DiGiaimo was the name of the casting director. I knew it was good advice and I didn’t know anybody in show business. Anytime I had somebody give me advice that sounded good, I tried to follow it. Even as a teenager, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who ask for your advice or your opinion, and then ignore it. I’ve always tried to be like, “If I’m going to take the trouble to ask for advice or get somebody’s opinion, I need to at least consider it if not necessarily act on it.”
What was the training that got you started as a thespian?
I auditioned for NYU and I didn’t even know what a monologue was, but I prepared one. My sister was going to NYU. She was a year older than me. She’s not in acting but in French literature. She’s a smart and intellectual type of person. I was like, “I don’t know where else I would go.” I was at Tulane University in New Orleans when I got hurt. I came from Long Island. I went back home. My dad was a high school guidance counselor. He was like, “You’ve got to get your college degree or you’ll be a failure in life.” I was like, “I don’t want to go to college. I just want to drink or ride a motorcycle.” I thought that acting was a compromise. I learned about what these auditions were where you do a monologue.
I took my favorite book at the time, The Catcher in the Rye. There’s a chapter in there. I don’t know if this is a deep trivia for you, but one of the reasons I took to that book is because of Holden Caulfield’s big brother. His name is DB and he’s a good writer. Holden is mad at him because he went to Hollywood and became a jerk. That’s one of the reasons why I’m DB because of that book. I took this model where Holden talks about his other brother, he gets cancer and dies. Holden has a baseball glove and he breaks all the windows in the car because he’s grieving. It’s a memorable part of the book and I turned it into a monologue and I auditioned for NYU.
The stupidity or the good fortune of being a novice kicked in, they let me in and gave me some scholarship money. I thought, “I guess maybe I could be an actor.” I started auditioning for the plays there and I didn’t get any parts at all. I was rough and unpolished, but I wanted to try and get better at it. Classes weren’t helping me because I thought I could tell right away that most of the acting teachers were people that couldn’t make it. They were just financing their lack of ability to make it by teaching other people. That got clear quickly. School is expensive and I’m thinking, “I can’t be listening to these idiots who couldn’t get a job.”
I found this room at NYU in Greenwich Village that was not being used. It was about 100 x 100. It was an empty space. I went to the dean and I said, “Can I use that room? I want to do a play with my friends.” We got together. We figured out how to hang up the lights. We had clip lights. We put out 60 folding chairs and we did a play. Three people came, but we figured out some things. We did another play. On the second play, I discovered this thing called Ross Reports, which was a little book you could buy at New York newsstand. It was a list of all the casting directors, agents and production companies in New York at the time. They updated it every couple of months.
I was like, “These are all the casting people.” Every time we did a play, I would print out a flyer and get a headshot. I would slide it under the door with an invitation to this play at every casting director in New York. It’s about 85 of them at the time. The thing that I put over the top didn’t say, “Come to this NYU student production.” The address of the building was 725 Broadway in Greenwich Village. I said, “A new production of American Buffalo at 725 Broadway Theater, New York, please come.” There was an RSVP line, which was the dorm room phone. It was pretty much very homemade. We did that for two years. On about the sixth play, this guy came in. We always knew there will be 60 seats. Our biggest crowd was four. There’s one night we had seven people and one of the guys was an agent and he signed me.
The persistence paid off after six plays.
I was learning and getting better on how to do it. Nothing happened right away, but I started doing theater in the real world of Manhattan where you still didn’t get any money. Somebody would give you two subway token payment for a performance. It was subway token in those days. I just kept grinding at it and trying to get better and better. I had the good fortune of getting hired to be in a Broadway play called The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. I heard from a stage manager who’s a friend of mine that somebody was leaving the play. They weren’t going to have a big cast and they were hiring ten guys. The part had one line only, but you had to understudy another part that had 3 or 4 pages. They were hiring somebody based on their ability to play the understudy role. I got that part and I did that for six weeks and one thing led to another. For the last week of the show, the guy who I was understudying left. When the plays are about to close, it’s like rats leaving the sinking ship.
People go off to the next job. My good fortune was he left, and the last week of the show I got to play that part seven times. My first performance was a Wednesday matinee, which is usually death because it’s all blue hairs. People are saying, “What are you saying? I don’t know, what’s this thing about?” The Wednesday matinees are the worst, but because it was the last week of the show, they made a free performance for all New York City high school kids. I was 21 years old, 22 years old. I’m the scared guy in front of all the big Navy officers. I went out there and killed it. I got applause on the way out of the stage, which nobody had ever gotten in that role. The producer was like, “That’s unbelievable.” One thing led to another and it gave me confidence. I was off and running.
You built it. You said you were rough around the edges and you didn’t have any experience. There’s something to that when you’re not overtrained. I’m sure that you’ve experienced working with all different types of actors at different levels of their career. Some come in all nice nerd and Stanislav Lvovsky and over-educated. It’s a hard one to get out. You got the guys that have a great feel and have a good understanding of it. I’ve been trying to study acting for several years and I’m swimming with the sharks. When I take an acting class, I’m with people that are full-time Lyft drivers, baristas, waiters, and they are focused so heavily on that. You rise to their level. They want it so bad.
One of the things I learned early on was that you’ve got to get it off book. It sounds fundamental. If I talk to young actors, “You guys are just starting out.” Number one, you’ve got to be on time. On time means fifteen minutes early. Because if they’re looking for you, they can’t be looking for you. They’re already looking for Ben Affleck or whoever the lead female is. They’ve already got enough issues. They need you to be standing there, ready to go. They can turn you on to push you in.
Number two is you’ve got to know your lines. I don’t just mean know your lines. Know your lines so well that you don’t even have to look at the page the day that you wake up to do your scene. You know the lines so well, you don’t have to look at it because that’s where the acting starts. When the lines are part of you because it’s all the stuff you’re doing. Most people don’t know their lines. They’re struggling to get through that line on some level. They’re struggling to find the next line or they’re just insecure about it. If you’re an insecure character that can work, but more often than not, you look like somebody who doesn’t know their lines. If you know your lines, you can behave and react. It knocks out 99% of the people that I work with where I see, “They’re not serious. They don’t know their lines.”
What is your process associated with that? Is it repetition? Do you remove the punctuation? Do you record it and listen to it back? Do you run lines with someone else?
It’s always great if you can find somebody to run lines with. I was living in California. I used to play a little tennis. The best way to learn lines is either by shooting free throws together or hitting tennis balls together because then you take your mind off the line and it becomes built into your body a little bit better. I usually can’t arrange that. What I do is I write it out longhand. I write all my lines in all capital letters, and then I read all the other guy’s lines in all small letters, but the cue word, the last line and their line is in capital letters. I always try to write it on a page. Maybe I have six lines on a page and they have five. If I have a three-page scene, I have 6 lines, 5 lines, 6 lines. I want my brain to take a picture of that page so that if I get lost, I know I’m about 2/3 of the way down the page. This is that long line where I say, “Maserati.” The short answer is whatever you can do to make it visual and physical.
I’ll see actors, and it looks like their eyes are up and they’re seeing it in their mind’s eye and it still hasn’t become muscle memory. They’re searching it because they’ve taken a picture of the page in their mind and they’re going through it like, “This is a dead giveaway.”
It works a lot on police shows. If you’re a suspect and you’re being interrogated, searching for your lines sometimes feels like you’re searching for your story that you’re trying to lie on Law & Order or whatever. A lot of people get away with it in that genre, not knowing their lines because it looks like decent acting. It’s like, “He’s trying to figure out what the other guy said.” He’s just trying to learn lines.
You don’t get that with voiceover. You just read right off the copy.
Voiceover is liberating in that they don’t want you to ad-lib. They want to hear exactly every punctuation they wrote. I don’t even correct mistakes anymore in auditions. If there’s a grammatical mistake, I just play it the way they have it. I’ll do whatever you want.
Do you give them alternates and stuff like that, whatever comes to mind?
It depends. If I’ll give them an alternative, I think of something great or I feel like if it’s a loose script. If it’s like a Fortune 500 company and this has gone through a lot of vetting, I don’t want to be the guy that’s pointing out that this person should have taken English in college.
My process on that is I was lucky enough that I got to do a scene on a television show called Happy! with Christopher Meloni. I was the cop and I got to beat the hell out of Christopher Meloni. Here I am out of all this squadron of cops. I’m acting with this Emmy award-winning actor who’s been at it forever. I’m thinking, “My goal is to come out of this day having Chris Meloni think that I’m a real working actor and not a drummer for the 35 years who just started acting.” It went great, but the night before I was writing my lines out over and over. It worked out. I had them.
You may have lost him when he said, “I’m going to paradiddle your butt into the ground.”
It wasn’t like learning a song? Is that a similar process for learning lines for you?
It’s like a voiceover.
For me, I was over-educated, a classically trained percussionist, timpani, marimba, xylophone, anything you could strike, beat or rattle. They make high art out of it. You get good at reading the written page. Now when I have to learn a song and I’m maybe only going to play it once, I’ll just write out a chart and then it’s like a little cheat chart. I’ll tape it to the side of the tom-tom or the side of the hi-hat stand, and I could catch the phrases. It’s almost like a cue card for an actor.
There’s a video that we put up on YouTube and I’ll sing Rich’s praises here. It shows his entire system of how he hears a song, maps it out and plays it back in one shot. It’s amazing to watch.
It’s a survival of the fittest when you’re a session musician or a session drummer. There are a million other guys that have that skillset, so it’s that same professionalism showing up early. Your stuff sounds good. You can take direction. You know your craft. I feel like sometimes in the arts, we’re always bringing someone else’s vision to life. It’s like we’re in the yes, sir, yes, ma’am business.
I don’t know what the right word to say. Phil is a drummer but as an actor, you put a little bit of a special sauce on one line. Otherwise, they just want to hear their lines. They don’t want you to improve them even if you have a better idea. That’s been a struggle for me in on-camera stuff because I feel like I’m a good writer. I’ve written a couple of movies and I’ve been rewriting my own dialogue for many years with and without permission. I usually give them their version of their lines too, but I throw things in. I do notice there are certain sets, forget about sitcoms, they don’t want any kind of ad-libs, but even an hour-long cop shows and stuff like that, they get pissed off if you come up with something better than they came up with. It’s almost like stay in your lane. Make it, “This is a great line.” They rather have me make their bad line work than make their bad line better.
Paul Ben-Victor was still talking about that. He’s like, “I’d like to ad-lib.” The cast and crew and the directors are like, “This is cool.” The writer will be like, “Can you do it one time as written? I sure would appreciate that.” I love doing the sitcom scenes because there is such a science to that like right hook, left. It’s the rules of comedy, the threes, landing and all that stuff.
It’s closer to music because there’s a real rhythm. When I did Two and a Half Men, it’s not just set up joke, but it’s close to that. You have to understand because the writers are hearing those rhythms. If you don’t adhere to them, you feel like you’re not in the same band or something.
How does that work on a sitcom? Isn’t it something like three days of rehearsal and then they tape in front of a studio audience?
You go in on Monday at 11:00 and you read the script. The script is only 25 pages. I got tipped off to this because I had never done a sitcom until Two and a Half Men. There are 100 people there. This is not like a read through with your friends like doing a table read of a movie or something. The head of Warner Brothers, one of the high-ranking CBS guys, the whole writing staff, the whole cast. They’re not looking for you to say the line and be okay. They’re looking for what you’re going to do on the Friday night four days from now when we have the camera on. They want to hear if the line is funny right now.
It’s a high-pressure reading. If you get through that table reading and you get laughs, you’re on your way, because then it’s Tuesday, you rehearsed for two hours. Wednesday, rehearse for seven hours. Then Thursday, usually they shoot a few scenes. It’s a ten-hour day. I’m saying all this because compared to an hour-long TV, which is 12 to 14-hour days every day, the sitcom life is the life. You work 3 weeks on, 1 week off. If it hits, you make a boatload of money. I do love the fact that it’s on a schedule. We’re going to do this show Friday night at 6:30. We’re going to be done at 8:45. Anybody that keeps us from getting done by 8:45 is fired.
Some of these sitcoms do go into overtime. If a joke isn’t landing, you’re rewriting things in the spot in front of the audience. The day is full of pizza. They’re feeding them pizza to keep them interested.
In Two and a Half Men, I came in at the eleventh year. It was already a well-oiled machine. These sitcoms in the first year, I think that if they start going to 10:30, 11:00 at night, they don’t last long. It’s not the business model. They don’t want to be paying lighting guys to stand around for fourteen hours. They want to get in and get out.
Sitcoms are what hooked me on watching television, as a young man Jack Tripper, Three’s Company. I’ve seen every episode a million times. I was like, “I wish I can pull that off.”
It’s the best in the business.
Are you focusing on that a little bit?
It’s hard. It’s not the same as they used to. It’s all single-camera now. That’s a skill, but I think that the visual aspect of those shows doesn’t make them any funnier. From The Honeymooners, which is my all-time favorite. If you look at the sets in The Honeymooners, it’s a joke. They could have made it better because that’s the same era as The Searchers in terms of set design and construction stuff. Jackie Gleason was the biggest guy on TV. If they wanted that set to be better, they could have made it better. Jackie Gleason understood it’s funnier that he’s standing in front of a plywood flat. It’s him and Art Carney, and they’re just banging it back and forth. That adds to it that there’s less visual interest.
In one of the episodes that you and I had done, they talked about, if you can do your lines in the middle of the sentence, pick up a glass of water and take a drink, then keep on going with it. That’s when you know you’re good. Does that make sense?
That’s what comes from having those lines ingrained in your mind. Maybe the other character bangs his coffee mug on the table and then you can register the coffee mug and give them a dirty look and still drive through. All that little stuff. To me, that’s where the acting is. I’m not trying to be a music jerk here, but I’m a big music fan. I heard something from Bob Dylan that always stuck with me. I always like, “Wait for it.” I feel like my part to set the table. Bob Dylan was saying in this interview that he often leaves in the mistakes from his takes because the perfection is not as interesting as the, “It’s going great,” and it’s a slight off note. I always thought as an actor, I welcome that. If you have a person who’s a little erratic or a little weird, that’s the truth of the scene. That’s what’s going on. It’s loud outside. That’s the scene we’re in.
As we all know here, I’m a huge Marvel fan and those movies, I feel like there’s a lot of improvisation that goes on in those scenes, and that’s what makes them special. There’s an authenticity to them that comes through.
I’d love to get on one of those just for the checks if nothing else. I knew Robert Downey Jr. back in the day. I haven’t seen him in many years, but I think that’s his contribution to that franchise, that whole model because he’s such a skilled and adept ad-liber. He’s a very funny guy. I think they saw how much he elevated Iron Man. Before Iron Man, these kinds of movies sucked. You go back and look at Superman with Christopher Reeve. Michael Keaton Batman is okay, but they’re all two dimensional, they’re a little flat. Iron Man was a whole other level. It’s giving them everything they need, but also you feel like he’s making it up as he goes along in a good way.
There’s an authenticity there that people can relate to. There’s a gray area with all of their heroes and it makes sense for this culture right now. It’s like what you’re talking about with Christopher Reeve back, he was too perfect. That was a superhero character, but look at how that character has evolved. Look at the Henry Cavill version of Superman. He is a flawed character and it’s amazing how that’s arched.
DB, you took lessons, you studied your craft and a sponsor of our show is this great thing called School of Rock . I’m sure they got them into the Chicago area. They got them all over. There are 250 locations. Two of the best are right here in Nashville. There’s one in Franklin. There’s one coming in Mount Juliet. Our friends, Angie and Kelly McCreight, they run this amazing program. For many years, they’re cranking out great musicians. These kids are learning bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, how to sing, how to front of a band. They’re learning life skills. How to show up on time, how to set goals, how to work well as part of a team, how to take direction. Even if they don’t become professional musicians, they’re going to take those skills with them in life. Parents out there, you want to get your kids involved in the School of Rock here in Nashville, the kids are all sanitized. They’re all masked up. They’re playing music from Abba to Zappa. They’re performing it live. It’s a great thing to get your kids involved in. Jim, how do we get in touch with them?
I’ve got to tell you a School of Rock story. I did a film a couple of years ago called Captive State, which was about alien invasion movie. I got hired to be a cop. John Goodman is in it and I had to sing the old Engelbert Humperdinck song, Quando, Quando, Quando. It was a cool scene. I was a cop and it was a retirement party and I’m singing, but I had never sung in a movie. I sang with Charlie Sheen, James Brown drunk song once, but I was too young to care that it was forever. I was like, “I’m singing in this movie.” I went to the School of Rock and I hired a woman named Mimi Mapes here in Chicago. We had 5 or 6 sessions and she gave me great confidence. We worked very technically on the song and worked on other songs. I spent some time around the School of Rock and that’s a good organization. I’m grateful to them. Unfortunately, they cut the song out of the movie, but I still have my debut singing to occur. I’m ready with Quando, Quando, Quando if anybody wants to hire me to sing it.
That is hilarious and amazing. I don’t feel like you’ve been typecast because that can be a thing. It happens to drummers, all sorts of musicians, producers, songwriters, friends of mine, “He’s writing that same song again,” but it’s working. You’ve been in action films, thrillers, sports films, comedic things, then on television comedic and dramatic things. You probably play a lot of cops and detectives.
Not as many as I would think. All my friends from New York that I grew up with became firemen or cops. A lot of them went into the military. I’ve never played a fireman, which is crazy. I’ve played a few cops but never a uniform cop except for one time. I did this movie with Courtney Cox where I played like a small-town sheriff. It’s right there for me. I’m excited if I can find a supervisor cop role. I think I would be perfect for that. It’s been an interesting journey. I’ll tell you a story about typecasting and how stupid I was when I started out. My 3rd or 4th movie was Eight Men Out.
As soon as we finished that movie, I thought here’s a chance to pay off my baseball roots. Right after it was over, they asked me to do Field of Dreams and play Shoeless Joe Jackson in that movie. I was worried about being typecast as a baseball player that I said, “No, I can’t do it.” It’s such a great movie. I wish I had said yes. Typecasting is something you only have to worry about in the beginning because as soon as you do something different, then you’re free. I guess I had enough variety early, but that was my stupidity then. I thought they’re going to think you can only play baseball players or something. That was dumb, but it is a real thing for young actors when you’re starting out. You don’t want to exactly repeat yourself on the first couple because if they’re big hits, you’re fine anyway. If they’re not big hits, you’re not going to have the take you need to break through on that second wave of your career.
You’ve been at it for so long. If you look at the Wiki or the IMDB, you’re starting things off and the cutting edge in ‘92, what I loved about that was it had those workout montages.
The Rocky training montages.
The ‘80s music and the DX7 synthesizer. You’re right off and took Fire in the Sky, which I remember seeing in Lonesome Dove, Memphis Belle and Eight Men Out. You keep going and then you’re at Spawn and Liam Neeson movie, Taken 2, Heist with De Niro. This is to be celebrated.
I never say I’m lucky because I feel like I earned it. I worked hard, but I do feel blessed and fortunate. I’ve been working hard and I feel like I’ve gotten even better at it the last few years when they hire me. I feel like I’m bringing value. I love going to the set. I love working on a new project. I love getting in a new character. I hope it goes on, especially this COVID. It’s the longest break I’ve ever had in my career. For 35 years, I’ve never gone six months without a job. That’s a great blessing but at the same time, it makes me realize how precious it is. The next job I got, whatever it is, I’m going to relish it even more.
Do voiceover, you do it right from your home.
I don’t know if you’re getting this, but a lot of emphasis on diversity, they want female, they want younger. I thought when I was in my 50s, I was going to be the next Don LaFontaine and I sit in my chair and knock it out. The sound they were looking for many years ago is not necessarily the sound that they want now. I’m sure you’re dealing with this too.
I’m more of a promo voice. I’m the guy who reads stuff. I present intro and outros for podcasts, radio and stuff.
That’s a great business.
I don’t know where I sit, but I have a little demo. You’ve been voicing Mountain Men on The History Channel for years.
We got picked up for our tenth season. I’m going up to Montana and visit the producers and the guy. I may go meet one of the guys that was on the show. I told them if we ever got to ten years, I’m coming up. They called my bluff and that’s been great. I love that show. When I first read it, I was like, “This is not a show I would watch,” but I’ve gotten so addicted to these guys. I had this idea about it that it’s like, I’ve got these four guys living off the grid. They’re gruff renegade type of people. I said, “What if the narrator was like the fifth mountain man?” That’s an out of the box idea and narration. They went for it. It gave this show a sound where it’s not my voice. It’s like this character, “Coming up next on Mountain Men.” It’s a pushed exaggerated thing. I have so much fun doing those episodes now because new characters are being introduced every year or so. I hope that thing goes for another ten years. I love doing them.
Could you do the voicing remotely or do you have to go to Burbank? How does that all work?
This is one client. I could do it at home in a pinch. I always prefer to go to a studio because I like to take all that stuff out of my hands, let the professional set the levels so I can just focus on the sound. On that show, we’ve always done it on studio. I go to a great place downtown Chicago called BAM Studios. I have the best engineer, Matt Sauro. He’s unbelievable. He knows my sound so well that he’s like, “You might want to drink a little tea. You’re a little rougher than usual.” I want to push it into this roughness, but he’s got great ears. I’ve been very blessed to have him.
I think I would always prefer that too because in the music business, we’re making music now a lot. Individuals in a small space, a drummer is all mic’d up and he sends his files to a guitar player. Those people could be in different cities or different countries and they piece it all together, but it doesn’t quite always have the same zest and essence as a bunch of guys playing in the room at the same time. The guy that I’ve been playing with for many years, Jason Aldean, he’s had the same band for many years, with the same guys playing on all the records. We’re like Aquaman and the fish. We’re inside each other’s brains. We’re all on the studio floor at the same time. I hope that never goes away, but it is being affected. We’re going to that place now.
I’m a big fan. I was actually in Nashville. Jay DeMarcus is a friend of mine. I went and did his reality show DeMarcus Family Rules.
I didn’t know that. That is crazy because I was at DeMarcus’s Studio because the Flats are doing a duets record. They’re picking all of their favorite people to sing songs with. My boss, Jason was like, “I think they’re using studio musicians on this entire record, but now for our song, I’m using my band.”
Isn’t that a great studio? He’s got the vocal booth and then he’s got the powers booth, which I think is funny that one of my favorite actors of all time, he’s got his own booth named after him. I don’t think Dave knew him, but he loved the idea of putting that on there.
Jim, you’ll love this. Jay’s got a new band with Deen Castronovo, one of your favorite rock drummers. I don’t know if they’re all singing. Deen’s drumming is enough to turn heads.
The singer from Chicago is in it, but it’s like an ‘80s rock superstar band.
Is that Peter Cetera?
No, Jason Scheff was with Chicago for many years.
Peter Cetera was the keynote sound of that band.
When they recorded the albums, he was the guy, but I think for many years of touring, it’s been the other guy.
We had Paul Ben-Victor on and he talked about working with De Niro, Pacino and stuff like that. As big of an actor as Paul is, he says, “They’re on the set right there.” He and Ray Romano. Ray Romano is huge himself. Both of them are looking at Pacino and De Niro like, “There they are. They’re right there.” Is that the same effect that you had working with them?
I didn’t get to it, they cut out my scene. I had one scene with De Niro. I did Heist. They didn’t shoot it. I play the bus driver and the bus is hijacked. At the end of the bus, he comes on and it was a funny scene, but I guess at that point in the movie, they felt like it had to stay more scary, serious, and thrillery. That was fine. I worked with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove. It was early in my career, but I knew what it meant to be working with Robert Duvall already at that point.
I did a Broadway play with Ed Harris that I got fired from. I got fired because I was too old. I was his son and we were like seven years apart and they were like, “We’ve got to get somebody younger.” It wasn’t like fired on the merits. We stayed friends. He did a cameo in my movie, Two Tickets To Paradise. To me, Robert Duvall and Ed Harris are the two greatest living American actors. I’ve gotten to know them both and work with them. I would call it reverence, but you know that today, this week or when I got this guy, you’ve got to show up because if the scene doesn’t work, it is not his fault.
They’re not going to blame him. Ed Harris is one of my favorites. He was always a fantastic actor. I’m looking at Heist. You’ve got Jeffrey Dean Morgan in there. That’s pretty cool.
We had Morris Chestnut. He was a great actor that I’ve worked with a few times. That was a good cast and a good movie. It’s totally a B movie. It’s a casino robbery movie that turns into a hijack movie. It’s like a $20 million movie, but I think that they gave $7 million to De Niro. It’s not like a big-budget movie. They didn’t have a stunt double that looked like me, so I volunteered to drive the bus. All through this movie, I’m driving through Mobile, Alabama. They said, “Do you know how to drive a bus?” I had never driven one, but I thought, “How hard could it be?” They said, “Do you have a license?” I said, “Yes, I got a class one. I’m rated anything up to 34 feet. I was making this stuff up and I thought, they’d call my bluff on it.
How do they think they make a class one?
I don’t even know. I was just saying what it is and they went for it. When you see that movie, I’m driving in a lot of these shots. They set up this one shot where it was a drone shot. We’re going over the Causeway just outside of Mobile, Alabama on I-10 Freeway. We go over water with this bus turning right and it’s been hijacked. We’ve got the camera on the bus with the crew and all the cast and everybody. Then we got a drone camera coming at us at 50 miles an hour.
I’m driving this bus. We’ve been driving doing night shots where there’s no crowd control. The bars are opening and people are spilling out on the streets and there’s no lock-up. I’m hitting the brakes trying not to run over drunks. It’s a very loose shoot in a cool way. Now we’re on the Causeway and I start thinking, “If this guy doing the drone, if they got him for a good price and he sucks, and this drone comes in 10 feet low, it’s coming right through the windshield.” Not only am I dead, I’m the guy that took the bus with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, David Bautista and everybody off into the water of the Causeway. Not only am I dead, I’m a dead douche.
I’m thinking, “What am I going to do?” I didn’t want anybody else to drive because I thought it was such a cool shot. I wanted it to be me. It’s an old school bus where it has that cash box right next to you. We did the rehearsal. I practiced putting my left foot on the accelerator and my left hand on the steering wheel with my right foot down one step so that if the thing came in too low and went through the windshield, I was going to get behind the cash box. I have an exit strategy just so I didn’t become the douche who killed Jeffrey Dean Morgan and David Bautista.
Did they find out afterwards that you didn’t have your license?
Only if they see this.
You write, direct and produce as well on the other side of the camera. Tell us about this new thing you got, your short film was Sean Astin.
I did Memphis Belle with him back in 1989, which is one of the last movies where they use actual airplanes in a movie. We had six B17, thirteen Messerschmitt fighter planes, and two camera planes. It was like an old school Hollywood war movie. It was great. Sean and I got along great. I thought we’ll work together again. We’re friends and everything and it never happened. A couple of years ago, I bumped into him and I was like, “Sean, we’ve got to do something.” He was like, “Let’s do it.” I wrote this thing called Two Dum Micks, which is an homage to Abbott and Costello, which I grew up on and love. I love the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Little Rascals, all that stuff is my favorite.
I tried to write this up for me and Sean and that vein. We just shot it. I didn’t know if it was funny or not. I submitted it in some film festivals because I was too cheap to pay a market research company to test it or whatever. It’s 1 over 50 awards at film festivals for short film. The film festivals say, “We want to play your movie.” It’s had a great run on the Film Festival Circuit. We’re trying to figure out what to do with it, whether it’s a longer form sit-com or whether it’s a movie. I want to do something with that. We don’t know what’s going to happen yet, but it’s been a fun ride. If people want to watch it, it’s at TwoDumMicks.com.
I think I watched the one when they’re in the prison cell and they go out and they want the pate. He’s like, “No, it’s not duck pate, it’s goose pate.” At the end, when the credit is rolling, it says, “No birds or geese were harmed in the making.” Did you use a real goose or how did you get those shots?
I paid for the whole thing. It wasn’t like a big-budget thing. It was a crew of ten, me and Sean. I knew I needed a mechanical bird to crap on him. That’s a mockup. I went to a taxidermist and I got a stuffed goose. I’d said to the guy, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to bring this back exactly how it is. What is this thing going to cost if I ruin it?” He was like, “$400.” I was like, “That’s $400 gone.” It was a $100 rental with a $300 deposit. I brought it back and I got the deposit back. I couldn’t believe it. The geese that are chasing us are live-action geese in LA. We just went in the park with no permit. I had three of my stunt guy friends chasing the geese into the shots. We tried to film it as we could with that. There’s one shot with a goose chasing us and that is computer generated. A friend of mine was good enough to generate that one goose. We were struggling with the goose. It’s a stuffed goose, but they animated it a little bit. It’s a combination of old-school props and a little bit of enhancement digitally.
I didn’t notice any CGI. That’s why I love Ridley Scott’s Alien because it’s all dudes in suits dripping in KY models and all that kind of stuff. Do you need a permit or is it more like when you go to the park, it’s a guerrilla shot Like, “We’ve got to get this?”
It’s a big risk in LA because Sean was on board with it. A permit in LA to film was $1,000 a week. We were going to film one day. That’s just a filming permit. You’re supposed to have two cops there who are retired police officers with their LA motorcycles. You’ve got to pay these guys $38 an hour to just sit there. There are ten of us. We’re in a park. We’re not doing anything wrong. I was like, “We’re going Gonzo.” I had three parks picked out where we could film. I was like, “If we get chased out of this one,” I knew we wouldn’t get arrested because one of the cops would say, “You’re the man from Fire in the Sky,” or “Here’s Rudy.” I knew we’d be all right in that regard.
We also knew we’d have to go to another park. My location scout was like, “Here’s the best part. Here’s the second-best part. Here’s the third.” They had to be close so we could move everybody and keep filming, but we didn’t get kicked out. One guy came by at one point, he was like, “What are you doing?” The best part of it was my agent’s name is Erik Seastrand. His son’s name is Drake Seastrand. We had a small enough crew and Drake is twelve years old. We taught Drake that if a cop comes over, say, “These are my dad’s friends, I’m doing a school project. It’s about my origin story because my name is Drake, we make a little movie about ducks.” He had this whole thing worked out. We never had to deploy it. That’s why Drake was thanked at the end of the movie. My permit was Drake Seastrand.
Where’s it? Is it parks over North Hollywood or something?
I like Balboa Park.
We want to make sure they get in there.
What have you got coming up? Have you got some interesting things in the pipeline?
We’re still closing out the festival run with Two Dum Micks. It’s amazing that we won up to 160 awards or something like that, which is crazy because it was just fun with me and Sean out there messing around with ducks and geese. That’s been great. I have another movie called Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre.
I heard about this. What is this?
It is a wrestling movie that morphs into a zombie movie. Pretty much two of the basic movie food groups that everybody needs. They had me at zombie. I’d never done a zombie movie.
I love zombie movies. I’ve seen them all in different languages.
There’s no end to the appetite for zombies. The two guys who wrote it MJ Carey and Chris Margetis were both wrestlers, not like WWE. Many years ago, there was an actual wrestling circuit where maybe even in Franklin, Tennessee, they go into a high school gym and 200 people come in and it’s a little bit like that character and fake wrestling, but real wrestling. These guys actually did that. Mike is a great guy. He’s a former Chicago fireman. He’s a US retired Marine. He and I got to be friends on this movie Chi-Raq that I did for Spike Lee here in Chicago. We stayed in touch and he put together the money and I was like, “I want to help this guy, whether it works or not because he’s an entrepreneur.” He got Max Martini who’s a friend of mine, an actor who’s coming in to direct it. Randy Couture is in it, Jay DeMarcus has a cameo in it. Johnathon Schaech and a bunch of people. It’s just a big stupid mess of fun. It’s like the ultimate midnight movie back in the day. You see who’s wanting to drive and everybody would have a doobie. It’s that movie.
Is it done?
Yes. They’re just trying to figure out when it’s going to come out, December or January. It’s going to be video on demand. The world we live were like theaters, were always a problem for movies in the last 5, 10 years economically. With 25% capacity in the theater, even if you have a hit, you don’t make money.
I don’t want to be in the theater if someone is sneezing. I’ll just stay at home.
I went to see Tenet, the new Christopher Nolan movie, in IMAX. That was my first time back. That’s definitely worth going out to see because it’s a big-screen experience and everything. A movie like Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre is going to be so much better on your couch because you can pause it and play it back. It’s got a lot of little stupidity elements that are going to bare well rewatching.
Do you think Hollywood will ever go direct to streaming with movies at some point?
I think it’s going to happen if not 2020, in 2021 at the latest. The movies are going to only be like Christopher Nolan, Marvel and Pixar.
You’ll spend $60 and the whole family sits on the couch. That’s what you spent normally.
I think they’ll find more creative ways to do that. You mentioned the whole family like for Pixar and the Disney model, it’s going to be $99 but you get a pizza, you get four drinks, you get this, you get that. Swipe your card one time and come see it. I think with the Christopher Nolan and the Marvel type movies, it’s going to be like Alamo Drafthouse where $99, you get three tickets, three drinks each, and a ball of popcorn. It’s more adult beverage oriented. That’s the only way that that can survive because TVs at home have gotten so good. You get a TV for $700, that’s like a TV that would have cost $20,000 years ago.
That’s going to disrupt theater owners. That’s going to be interesting.
They’re going to have to rethink their whole business model. I think Alamo Drafthouse is going to be the survivor. AMC and those other theaters are going to have to figure out a way to do that. I don’t think it’s about comfy chairs. I think it’s about making it a night out. It’s got to be adult beverages or, “We’ve got the best wings.” It’s going to have to become more like it’s a bar room experience. Not exactly, but maybe you have a bar outside. ArcLight Theaters is doing this more and more too, but to make money at it, they’re charging so much money that they got to find a way to do it.
My son is a freshman in college and he has no interest in going to the movies because it’s just too much money. We went to the drive-in when I was growing up. It would be like $5 a carload. We have twelve people inside that car and a case of beer hidden under a blanket. It made sense. If you’re charging people $12 for a ticket, $7 for a Coke, you’ve lost the people that you make Marvel movies for like 18 to 30 or 15 to 30. They don’t have that kind of money.
If these car mics and big theater groups, they should be buying a plot of land and bring back the drive-in.
Drive-in are big this summer, that whole genre. It was down to 60 drive-ins in America and it’s tripled during COVID. I think the drive-ins are a great experience. The same thing with car systems and home entertainment systems. The car stereo that you’re playing the movie soundtrack through is Dolby, it’s great sound. You sit there and you watch this movie outside with a theater kind of experience right in your car.
I was born in the ‘70s, so I saw Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, ET in the theaters. It’s like a heyday of filmmaking. You’d have to hook this little horrible speaker up. Now it’s Bluetooth to your sound system in your car.
They have a local broadcast on a frequency like 87.9 or whatever, and you tune it in on the FM band.
If you have a good sound system in your car, it’s the same kind of surround sound you’d get in the theater. You can bring your own materials in your car and not have to pay for them.
2020 is the year of absolute disruption. It’s a pivot year. Everything that I do involves being in a room with creative people like performing live, recording. I do motivational speaking for Fortune 500 companies. You’ve got to have someone there. That’s all on Zoom now.
I’m looking forward to going back to normal. I noticed that COVID is very deadly for old people or people with pre-existing conditions or immune system. The reality is if you look at the research, it’s not that deadly. Hopefully, we get through this election and then we can come back to normal. I love doing theater. Live theater as an actor is my favorite thing. That industry is in big trouble because the demographics for live theater is 60 to 80 and white. They’re not coming back. If you hear somebody cough in a play, people are going to run for the fire exits. I don’t know what they’re going to do, but hopefully, we can get to a point where it’s like, everybody got this thing, everybody’s been exposed to it. Anybody who was not dead yet is probably not going to die from it.
That’s my take on it as well. I believe right after November, it will go away. Something else will take its place.
What’s interesting is when I think about you going back, you started in theater and you probably do theater in between films to keep things sharp. When I take acting classes, the first thing is TV and film is incredibly subtle. You don’t have to be as broad and big and loud because you don’t have to project. Isn’t theater different now in the sense of you probably have a lapel mic so you can be smaller?
I love that mic. You’re right though. In any kind of Broadway setting or any theater that’s bigger than 150 seats, you’re mic’d and I don’t like it. When you have a good mixer and you have somebody who’s on it in the right way, it’s okay. You have to have it with music because the singer can never overcome the band even if the bands are recorded. I like doing theater right in that 199 seats where it’s a well-designed theater and the acoustics are good. I feel like if you don’t have a microphone on it, it’s more of an athletic endeavor. You have to generate air. You have to control your breathing. You have to be physical. I feel like it’s more alive and it’s more electric. I know that if I want to play in front of more than 199 people and make more than $700 a week, you’ve got to put a microphone on. I’ve resigned myself to it.
Jim, this is your favorite part of the show. The random question.
DB, random question. Would you rather be able to see ten minutes into your own future or ten minutes and into the future of anyone but yourself?
Absolutely. Somebody else.
Why is that?
I know what I’m going to do, but I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Have you been able to be married through all this?
I got married late at 39. I never met the right girl. My wife is awesome. We have two great kids, 19 and 16, a boy and a girl. If I had gotten married in my 20s and my 30s, I would have been divorced in ten months. I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I was traveling the world and working with these unbelievable people. The only people you meet are actresses when you’re working as an actor early in my career. There are four states of being an actor in a relationship. If it’s two people that are actors, you’re either both home and you’re miserable because you’re unemployed, or one of you is away working with amazing people and the other one is home miserable because they’re unemployed or vice versa. You’re both off somewhere with amazing people that aren’t your spouse. It’s all four states of being suck in an actor relationship. The whole thing of being on the road. It’s hard on the person back home and it’s harder on the person out.
I tried it twice already. It’s an interesting thing to be in showbiz. It’s crazy but more importantly, how can people find you? DBSweeney.com . I asked you if you’d like to be found on the internet with the socials. It sounds like on Twitter and Instagram, you’re @RealDBSweeney .
That’s me and on Facebook, it’s Actor & Director DB Sweeney.
This is fun. Did we cover what you had coming up? The zombies, the two friends, the two micks.
I guess you won’t be out on the road with Mr. Aldean anytime soon, but I’d love to come to see you guys play.
We will make that happen. Chicago is a wonderful town and we always play. What is it? Is it the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater?
Yes, it’s down in Tinley Park.
It rained cats and dogs last time, and we had to cancel the show and I don’t think we made it up. We’re due for a great Chicago experience again.
I’ll look for you out there.
We appreciate you coming by and chatting with us and to all the readers, thank you. Be sure to subscribe, share, rate, leave us a review. Leave us five stars. If you love the show, if you hate the show, we want to hear from you. I’ve got an email address for you, TheRichRedmondShow@Gmail.com . I’ll see you next time.
On television, D.B. starred in four series: as the mysterious Chance Harper in Strange Luck, Special Agent Scott Stoddard in C-16 FBI, mercenary Mike Pinocchio in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm and as the clueless Mr. Whitman on Life As We Know It. TV films include the Emmy winning Miss Rose White with Kyra Sedgewick and the Emmy and Golden Globe winning Introducing Dorothy Dandridge opposite Halle Berry. D. B. has guest starred on some of television’s greatest shows from NYPD Blue to House, CSI to Jericho and The Event.
He continues to perform on stage regularly, especially at Hollywood’s Blank Theatre, where he is a founding board member.
One of the preeminent voice talents in the industry, D.B. created characters for the animated Disney films Dinosaur and Brother Bear and is the signature promotional performer for the Oprah Winfrey Network. He will soon be heard on Finneas and Ferb and in the film Boxcar Children. He currently narrates All Access for Showtime, Discovery Channel’s Mountain Men and Ice Pilots for Nat Geo. Past and present advertising accounts include Bud Lite, Lincoln Cars, Coca Cola, Major League Baseball, John Deere, NFL Network, Direct TV, Hallmark, Conocco Phillips and the NHL.
For many years D.B. has devoted himself to supporting our Troops and their families. He’s been overseas to war zones several times and made scores of appearances at posts, bases and ships stateside. In cooperation with the Army, he developed and runs a website called “letters from hollywood” which encourages other celebrities to send messages of support and gratitude to our peerless military.
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