Actor Marchánt Davis makes his feature debut opposite Anna Kendrick in the indie comedy The Day Shall Come. He plays an eccentric revolutionist street-preacher, determined to overthrow the government with his army of four, who finds himself the target of an overzealous FBI agent desperate to expose terrorism in America.
Day is not Davis’ only debut this year. Earlier this month, he made his Broadway premiere in Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society as Stokely Carmichael in a sequel to the playwright’s Tony-winning All the Way.
Davis spoke to Casting Networks about auditioning for Day and explained how grad school helped him land representation. He also reflects on the importance of nourishing one’s soul.
It’s not often someone makes their feature acting debut as the lead in a film. How did that happen?
I got an email from my agent to go in for an untitled project. There was no script. I was told I had to go 15 minutes beforehand to get the sides. I go in, get the sides, go in to the casting directors and work with them a little bit. I remember specifically it said in the sides something about the character being a preacher. So, I wore a three-piece suit thinking maybe he was a Baptist preacher. If you see the film, you’ll know that it’s not quite that. [laughs] But I got a call back.
Didn’t anyone say anything about the suit?
I remember specifically they didn’t say anything! Henry Russell Bergstein, the casting director, came to me in the lobby that first time and said, “Did you wear that suit specifically for the audition?” I was like, “Yeah.” He said, “Nice.” That was the extent of what he said. So, every time I went in, I kept wearing that damn suit.
Was it a kind of good luck charm then?
I wouldn’t say good luck charm. It was more like, if he likes it, and if it works for that character, then why change it? I figured if it didn’t work for the character, they would have told me to wear something else. But they never did. The other thing is, it was almost like a uniform for me. What it did for me in the room, it made me feel like I was coming to something.
What happened after the callback?
I went in about three or four times after that for the director, Chris Morris. It didn’t feel quite like an audition. It felt more like an interview or a dating process. I would go in, and we would share information. He would tell me things that inspired him. One time he told me about a documentary, and I’d come back having already watched it. It was a strange process because it was not so much like an audition but more like getting to know somebody.
Prior to this film what were you doing?
I was at NYU Tish Graduate Acting. I graduated school less than year before getting this role. I graduated in the summer of 2016 from Grad Acting, and I started auditioning for The Day Shall Come at the end of that year, and I got it by April 2017.
How did you manage to get an agent after grad school?
In grad school, we showcase in New York and LA. Through that showcase, I found representation, a manager. Through that manager, I got an agent. That’s why I went to grad school—so that I could have a showcase.
Do you consider The Day Shall Come your big break?
I think we’ve got to be careful about the messaging we put out there to young people. So often the perception is if you book a job, things just happen. But it’s never just overnight. Even after this film, I’ve had some struggles as an actor. I’ve done a lot of theater, but sometimes theater, as great as it can be, and as rewarding as it is—I got a Lortel nomination for Aint No’ Mo’—financially, it doesn’t quite cut it. Unless you’re on Broadway.
What keeps you going?
I find other things to keep inspiring me. The industry doesn’t always do that for you. The job isn’t always going to do that for you. Sometimes I disappear and go off to do other things. I worked at a camp in New Jersey as a leadership director all summer and got rid of my apartment for two months. Sometimes, you just have to do whatever feeds your soul and take care of yourself first.
Why is that so important?
As an actor, you are the brand. You are the thing you’re selling. If what you’re selling isn’t healthy and well, then how are you going to sell it? How are you going to give it to other people if you can’t give it to yourself?