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David at 17: A Heroes Villain Speaks Out

by Daniel Manu October 22, 2008 6:11 pm
David at 17: A <i>Heroes</i> Villain Speaks Out

When should you root for the villain? Maybe when he's played by David H. Lawrence XVII. After years of working as a voice talent, radio host, podcaster and new media consultant and entrepreneur, the unusually named actor finally got his big break on Heroes with a memorable part as the dastardly Eric Doyle, the Level 5 escapee who temporarily took control of Claire and both of her moms in the Oct. 20 episode, "Dying of the Light." As we discovered during a recent interview, Lawrence is a true fanboy success story: an admitted geek who loves Heroes and genuinely relishes the opportunities his role has unexpectedly provided him. Find out how he got the part, what really happened between Doyle and Meredith (Jessalyn Gilsig) and what's next.

TWoP: So I'm guessing that there aren't 16 other David H. Lawrences above you in your family tree.

DHL: Really? Is that what you'd guess? You'd be guessing wrong on that. But I can tell you right now that the buck stops here. I feel no pressure whatsoever from 16 generations to further the family tree. Especially after last night's performance on Heroes. I think it's time to kill it now.

TWoP: It ends at 17?

DHL: That's right. Our family has been controlling society from behind the scenes since the mid-1600s. We've been members of the Trilateral Commission, the Star Chamber, the Illuminati, the Masons. We actually are the family that introduced haggis to the world. That's right. In fact, we made our money doing fast-food stands back in the 1600s and 1700s and then we came over with the East India Trading Company and helped found Jamestown. We actually started Sarah Lawrence College, and to this day, since I'm a member of the family, I can date any co-ed there I want.

TWoP: Nice.

DHL: So, yeah, I've got that going for me.

TWoP: I thought it was one of those SAG rules.

DHL: No, it's IMDB, actually. When they first put me up on IMDB, when I first started to do my work here in Los Angeles in 2003, it turns out that there were many David Lawrences before me. So I would get my David Lawrence up on the screen and in parentheses, "XVII." So after six months of being in Los Angeles, I had done a SAG commercial and was up for a SAG part in a movie, and I hadn't joined yet, so I got that letter saying, "Hey, we're about to welcome you to our family..." But they said, "We already have a David Lawrence so you'll have to choose a new name." And remembering back to my encounter with IMDB, wouldn't it be funny if my name actually was David Lawrence the Seventeenth? And so there would be an additional "XVII" redundantly in parentheses afterward? Boy, that would really make them laugh down on the farm, wouldn't it? So then, I do that, and boom, they turn me into David H. Lawrence the First, so I can't catch a break with IMDB. But anyway, that's my SAG name. And it makes people ask the question, so it's a talking point when I go for auditions or when I'm interviewed by amazingly cool websites that recap shows.

TWoP: You have a long background in voice work, radio work, podcasting. How did you land this role on Heroes? Did you audition or did the producers know you already?

DHL: It was simply an audition that I got on the 10th of June of this year. Eric Doyle's breakdown was leaked all over the Internet. At some point, someone said, "Oh, James Gandolfini's going to get that part." And I'm like, "Oh, cool." So I got the breakdown and my agent sent me the script. And I actually had a couple of days with the script -- and that's long for getting an audition side -- and had time to rehearse a hundred different ways and find some nice nuances, mostly with my voice. So after a few days with it, I went in that Thursday the 12th. I was in a room filled with guys much bigger, much wider than me -- and I'm a wide guy to begin with. And they were in there, and I just knocked it out of the park. For me an audition is a chance to act, a chance to perform. And there's a difference between the audition process and the performance process because they want to know in an audition that you can handle nuances, that you're directable. [Executive producer/director] Greg Beeman put out a blog entry talking about the fact that they gave me an adjustment and I grabbed it and ran with it. What they told me was that Eric Doyle was in high school rejected by the head cheerleader for a date, was rejected from the football team, was sort of the geek off to the side who could tell you what was wrong with your Atari 400. And what was me! That was exactly me! Now, I had a really hot girlfriend in high school -- I don't know what happened there -- but otherwise, when I wasn't dating her, I was the guy being told to bug off. Unless they needed help with trig. If they needed help with trig, then all of a sudden I was the cheerleaders' and the drill team members' best friend. So Eric had this background, and when he discovered his power, it really set him off that these people would treat him that way. And he's been making up for lost time ever since.

TWoP: How would you describe Doyle's power? It's not just telepathy or mind control -- there appears to be a certain physicality to it.

DHL: Absolutely. It's a little bit different from Parkman's abilities -- he now has his father's ability not just to listen to people's thoughts but to influence them. Eric, I don't think, influences their thoughts as much as he makes them do exactly what he wants them to do physically, even if they resist. Meredith, you know, certainly has control of her language and her thoughts, and isn't fooled that way. In fact, she pushes against him, as do they all. But the coolest power that he has, according to the fan mail I've been getting, is his ability to shut people's mouths. As of Tuesday, I've gotten around 500 pieces of e-mail from people going, "I really wish you could show me how to do that. 'Cause I'd like to do that to my husband."

TWoP: It's the power of "Zip it!"

DHL: Zip it, exactly. I think his ability is to control people's movements and make them do exactly what you want, with very little effort. When you see Peter Petrelli doing this sort of stuff or Sylar -- man, they're really concentrating. They've got their hands out and their fingers extended and their eyes grilling in on somebody and they're really pushing. Eric's pretty laissez faire about the whole thing -- "yeah, shut up."

TWoP: It's like he's an orchestra conductor and his hands are the baton.

DHL: I got a few pieces of e-mail after the show where people were like, "Your hands are so graceful but you're such a big bear of a guy." And I think that's the way artists sometimes work. Their entire demeanor may be one thing, but their eyes are very expressive -- and his voice is very expressive. I mean he's just creepy. And he uses his voice to be sarcastic and to be funny and to be final. And he uses his fingers to just move people around, but he's not expending the kind of energy that Petrelli and Sylar are expending.

TWoP: What kind of back story for Doyle and Meredith did you surmise?

DHL: Is this a family blog? Because I wish I could tell you all kinds of things.

TWoP: We're a site for adults. Fire away.

DHL: And I know that, because I've been reading Television Without Pity for a long time. I started reading you guys back when you started doing Survivor recaps... Let's face it, Meredith is not the most upstanding citizen. She found herself in various locations in America and Mexico and there's potentially a string of fires she may have been responsible for. She bedded down a politician and came out with Claire. She gets around. And so at some point, she was hanging out at an Olive Garden or something, and Doyle was at the bar, waiting for a seat for two. Probably when he was younger and thinner and had more hair, but he still had the voice. And I think that's what really attracted her to him was the voice, the intimate voice of Eric Doyle. And I'm not so sure he knew he had his powers when they first met. There's a line in Monday's episode where he says, "You know the drill. You don't make a move unless I tell you to make a move." So I think maybe she met him before he had his powers and maybe forgot that he controls her completely. But at any point in time when someone has control over you, there's a certain faction of the population that finds that sexy. I don't get that whole dom/sub thing. I've tried to figure it out, and I don't get it. I don't think Eric's like that. I just think he's a guy that opens car doors, that pulls out chairs, that orders for his dates, and, oh, by the way, he's a lunatic.

TWoP: For a second there, it sounded like you had a rather romantic interpretation of Doyle.

DHL: Well he is romantic. When we first meet Eric Doyle, he's set up an amazingly romantic dinner in his lair. I mean, what criminal sets up a romantic dinner in their lair? Criminals go out to fancy restaurants, you know. But Eric is unique among the villains in that he has his own lair and it's just a fantastic place to be. And he's set out this wonderful spaghetti dinner that's almost like Lady and the Tramp.

TWoP: That's true. It was like you guys were about to share a strand of spaghetti.

DHL: Here's the difference: In Lady and the Tramp, they were at an Italian restaurant with a chef who was like, [Italian accent] "Oh, look, the little doggy. The little doggy gonna kiss? They've got spaghetti between them, it's so nice." Here, I think he broke open a can of Chef Boyardee and poured it into a pan and maybe heated it up a little bit. You notice in episode five, "Angels and Monsters," we see them at night having dinner and kissing. The next time we catch them, which is before Claire and mom come to try to rescue Meredith, it's the next morning. So I'm going to tell you, I spent an awful lot of time thinking about what might have happened in between. 'Cause he looked a little exhausted the next morning. I think there might have been some things happening. Now if you ask Jessalyn Gilsig what the back story was, I'm sure it's completely different: she spent her whole night fending him off with something. I think they reconnected and I think he was a gentle, loving, lover.

TWoP: We can only hope... Because you are, as you say, a geek, you must know that anyone who is in a scene in any sci-fi show or movie for even a millisecond --uch less has a substantial role -- is instantly part of the mythology for fans. You realize you can go to any comic-book convention now and charge for your autograph, right?

DHL: Well, that's happening this weekend, as a matter of fact, for the very first time -- in London at the MCM Expo. I was planning on being in London anyway to teach [about new media] at the National Association of Broadcasters and I got a call from the folks at the MCM Expo. I've signed autographs in the past: I'm a radio guy; I've been to car dealership openings and supermarket appearances -- you know, typical radio work. Where people show up wearing vests and pins and say, "I listen to your show every morning, you're awesome!" And you sign autographs and that's great. But you sign them for free. And the guy from the MCM Expo goes, [in a British accent] "You'll get paid per autograph." And he told me how much, and I was like, "Wow, this is what baseball and football players do." I was a little taken aback. And I'm gonna be on a panel with Ken Lally ["The German" on Heroes], Greg Grunberg and Brea Grant. So there's a whole bunch of things going on in my life that absolutely were unexpected and joyous. I'm watching my page on Heroes Wiki grow by leaps and bounds every moment. It's like all the people in my past life -- my kids and people I knew in high school -- are like, "Is that you? That's not you, is it? That's you!" I've heard from people I hadn't heard from since the sixth grade. So yeah, I am really excited and really grateful -- and, actually, I'm pretty proud of what I've been able to accomplish in this one character and that I've been able to reproduce it at will. Because if this was a fluke, I'd be a little disappointed. But I've booked The Unit, CSI and Frank TV all since and around the Heroes booking. So it doesn't seem to me to be that I'm just the ugly guy they needed for this character and that's all I'll ever do.

TWoP: Some actors do a part in the sci-fi genre and then they move on, while others embrace the experience and try to extend their involvement with it beyond the actual show or movie. It sounds like you're still thinking about Doyle -- who he is, what his life was like. He's not just a guy you happened to play on one job of many jobs, is he?

DHL: I think that actors care as long as they need to -- as long as they're playing the part, as long as they're part of the production -- because you can only hold so much stuff in your brain. And if you move from doing this to maybe doing a Shakespeare play on stage or doing a sitcom to doing something in film, you have to give as much attention to the new role as you did the old role. But certainly for me, this is a big role -- not the biggest of roles, but it's a big role for an actor. It's my first network role, so I am very careful about maintaining the quality of everything I do around this. Not that I wouldn't for the part of the car-wash manager that I'll play on CSI, but at the same time, there's far more demanded of me here. I don't think anyone from Television Without Pity is going to be interviewing me about being car-wash manager on CSI. As you mentioned, the sci-fi/fantasy/comic-book genre fans care so much about the story and about the characters and about the powers and about the settings. There wouldn't be hundreds and hundreds of Heroes fansites if it didn't strike a chord with people -- and that's a huge responsibility for an actor. And just in case Eric Doyle becomes something more than what he has done so far, I want to make sure that my ducks are in order how I approach this. I just feel like this is one of those special characters -- first of all, he has a name. You know you've graduated into something different in acting when your character actually has a name -- and is on multiple episodes. And the way they've treated me at Heroes, I gotta tell ya, I'm still waiting for someone to just shake me and wake me up and go, "Yeah, it was just a dream. Don't get greedy." I don't take anything that's going on here for granted because I am a fan. You want to know how geeky I was? I remember having a green fabric-covered notebook that was filled with the stardates of the different episodes -- [spoken] when Kirk would come on in Star Trek in the original series -- because I wanted to try to make sense of the chronological order, which, by the way, made no sense whatsoever. So I get what fans are like and I get why they love the show. And I want to feed that. I want them to be so happy and so creeped out when they see my character. I get that entirely.

TWoP: Can you tell us anything about what's next, if anything, for Doyle on the show?

DHL: Well, I can neither confirm nor deny that Eric Doyle has been charged with any crimes against humanity. I can neither confirm nor deny that Eric Doyle was shipped back to Level 5 after his injection. I don't know what they did with him, but you might think about what happens to a guy like that... He is a hurt character; he's a little puppy dog that just got kicked around. He might be a little incensed. So, this might be the last we see him or he might be back to try to win the heart and mind of Meredith all over again. But I can tell you that I think in general this season, characters are being used very much to serve the story. A lot of people say last season was sort of a mish-mash, but of course the writer's strike cut things short and they kind of had to scramble to make what had been a long-term arc work. They did a yeoman's job. And this year, what I think we're seeing is a rounding-out in the humanity of the people on the show... I have a feeling that [Doyle] may have an extended life on the show. But I can't say for sure.

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