CFDb Interviews David Chattam ~ Actor
What circumstances led you to acting?
I TRULY believe that my acting career was a gift from God. In 2001, I was working my nine-to-five job in the Information Technology department of a company in Brentwood, TN. One morning a co-worker of mine by the name of Chris Elliott comes in an tells me that he was listening to the radio on his way to work and heard that a movie was in the process of being filmed in Nashville and that men were needed to fill roles in this movie. The movie was the DreamWorks feature “The Last Castle” which was set in a military prison, and they were looking for ethnic men to fill extra roles as prisoners. He said I should go out for it. I immediately said No Thanks, because at that time I had never done any acting (outside of a few church plays as a kid) and had absolutely no desire to be involved in any way with “Hollywood”. For the next few days, Chris would bug me about going out to work on this film. Finally just to shut him up, I agreed to give it a shot. That afternoon I signed on to be an extra and the next day I used some of my vacation time and I was off to the set.
Once on set, I was fitted in a standard prison jumpsuit and told to go to wait in this old gymnasium with the rest of the extras until I was needed. After waiting for several hours and doing nothing, I decided to go outside to watch and at least see how a movie is actually made. I had been sitting on some steps for about 30 minutes watching in amazement at what all goes on behind the scenes when suddenly a guy wearing a pair of headphones walks up to me. I didn’t know it at the time but his name was David Ticotin and he was the 2nd Assistant Director. He tells me he has an idea for a new character in the film and that I fit the description of what he’s thinking about. We go to the wardrobe room and he has me try on the jacket to an officer’s uniform. It’s a perfect fit. In fact, the whole uniform was a perfect fit right down to the shoes, which was really amazing because I wear a size 14. He then says we have to go get the Director’s approval (I’m totally oblivious to what’s going on) and leads me to an area where the next scene is about to be filmed. I followed David into a room, and standing five feet from me was James Gandolfini. That’s when I realized that something special might be happening. The director, Rod Lurie, approved me and just like that I was a new character in the film. I was officially “Wheeler’s Aide”.
After the film wrapped, the acting bug had bitten, and I signed with a talent agent in Nashville. I began taking acting classes in hopes of doing more work. The classes paid off and I began to land roles in commercials, theatrical productions, music videos, and even other big budget “Hollywood” films. In 2003, I began to realize that acting was the career I wanted to pursue and no longer wanted to work in corporate America. As much as I wanted to quit my day job, I was stuck there because I had bills to pay. Well, as it turns out, my company began downsizing, and sadly people were being laid off. Ironically, Chris, the co-worker who initially talked me into being an extra on “The Last Castle” had made his way up the management chain to become my supervisor, and was now tasked with having to let someone in our department go. One day, Chris calls me to his office, sits me down, and with a very heavy heart said to me “We both know where your heart really is. Go do what you want to do”. I was let go. He could not have done me a bigger favor. From that very moment, I started pursuing my acting career full- time, and although it has at times been a very tough go. I can honestly say that I love what I do and cannot imagine doing anything else.
Have you had any unique experiences while acting you would like to share with us?
To me, every time I am fortunate enough to land a new acting gig, it’s a unique experience. The most unique, however, had to be the time I was understudy for NFL great Eddie George in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar. Eddie (who was already a friend of mine and is a very serious actor) was cast to play Julius Caesar, and because of a prior commitment, could do all but one of the shows. I was already doing a show with the Nashville Children’s Theatre when I was approached by Denice Hicks, Artistic Director for Nashville Shakes, about being the understudy. The catch was that I would have to perform both shows on the same day! Yep, the Children’s show in the morning and Julius Caesar that night. Well, I was up for the challenge and both shows with off without a hitch. The real unique part about it though, was that I had to say the line “Et tu Brute” in both plays.
Tell us a little bit about your role in “Flowers for Fannie”?
In “Flowers for Fannie”, I play the role of Fannie’s doctor. My character has been Fannie’s doctor for a while, and he knows he’s going to have his hands full every time he sees her come into his office. I really enjoyed playing the doctor and really had fun in one particular scene with Fannie, played by Patricia Binkley, and her handyman Jim, played by Roger Eldridge.
Do you have a favorite line that you’ve used in a film?
I don’t have a single favorite line from any movie or play that I’ve done, but there are multiple lines from many different productions that stick out to me. Most of the memorable lines come from famous quotes or passages in some of the more noted theatrical productions I’ve been in. I’ve learned that in film, you never know what line you say that may stick with an audience until someone comes up to you and quotes something you said, and even then it’s usually not a line that you would expect someone to remember.
Is there a particular type of role that you prefer over another?
There’s not really one particular type of role that I prefer. What I love about acting is that it allows me to play a variety of characters. I’ve played soldiers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, good guys, bad guys, senior citizens, and the list goes on and on. As long as the character has depth and is not just running around saying or doing silly things just for the sake of doing them then I’m cool with it.
Has there ever arisen a conflict over a role with your faith?
I have turned down roles in the past because they were in conflict with my morals. I am friends with Mykelti Williamson, the actor who is most widely known for his portrayal of “Bubba” in “Forrest Gump”. I asked him about accepting roles you may not be comfortable with and he said point blank that if you’re not comfortable doing it then don’t do it. He said another role will always come along. I’ve never had a role to date that was a conflict with my faith. I do remember feeling a little unsure about playing Satan in the James Weldon Johnson play “God’s Trombones”, but the play was actually in a Cathedral, and the part was more comedic than anything. I just wasn’t quite sure how to take it when people came up to me after the show and said I was really good at the part.
How can others learn more about your career?
I guess the best way to keep up with my movie career is by going to my IMDb page (IMDb.com/name/nm1063262). They can also friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/davidchattam). I try to keep that page updated with info, photos and videos from current productions.
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