There are interesting people in the world, and then there are I-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-I-n-g people in the world.
Dave Vescio is I-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-I-n-g.
No, scratch that. He’s I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-I-N-G.
If the face or name seems familiar, that’s because Dave has devoted much of the past decade toward an acting career that has seem him master the art of the villain. But film is merely a small part of the narrative. In Dave Vescio, you have a man who served in the U.S. Army. A man who has battled alcohol and drug addiction. A man who served time behind bars in Fort Leavenworth prison. A man who works as a fighter in the #MeToo movement. A man whose Twitter bio reads, in part, “I went from Ex-con to Cult Movie Icon.”
Again, a truly fascinating man.
Dave Vescio, you are The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Dave, you have one of humanity’s craziest Wikipedia pages, but I wanna start with this: “best known for his villainous roles in film and television.” I’ve never had a Quaz “best known for his villainous roles in film and television.” So I ask—what makes you seem villainous? I’m sure you’ve pondered this one. Is it face? Voice? Scowl?
DAVE VESCIO: Ha, ha, thanks, because that Wikipedia page rarely says anything about me and what it does say about me, I am like OK, whatever. As for your question, well, I only play movie villain roles, but, there’s a reason for this. One, I am a real-life villain who was sentenced to 10 years to a maximum hard labor federal prison called Fort Leavenworth. I was a middle man in an LSD drug cartel getting ready to sell military weapons and I was actually facing 67 years in total. So I would say it’s my whole being that sells that and still sells it to this day. And the reason I only play movie villain roles is because my mission statement as an artist is to educate the world on what real life villains are really like, so, they know how to protect themselves against them. I do that with my Twitter page, with my film art and with my press interviews. It’s a full circle you might say; I turned my lemons into lemonade and my shit into sugar.
J.P.: So you served in the U.S. Army (25th Infantry Division) as a combat light infantry soldier, and while an enlistee became addicted to alcohol and drugs. I’m naïve, but a part of me would think the discipline and regimentation of the military would make addiction less likely. Clearly I’m wrong. So … why? And how did that happen?
D.V.: Well, I am infantry, and we did have a saying in the infantry, “Work hard and play harder.” And I would say most of us were addicted to something, from sex to drugs to alcohol to exercise to wife and kids to God knows what. And when you live in the jungle for weeks on end in the mud and in the rain, with nothing on except for your boots and your camouflage uniform, doing training missions (meaning, being hunted like an animal and hunting others like an animal) over and over again with barely any sleep at all and barely eating and drinking, for every single month of every single year, your mind, body, and soul definitely take a beating, it definitely takes a toll. So we infantry soldiers need to release that somehow someway, which is with our addictions, meaning, with our play time. So, I just pushed the limits way too hard in the end. But, that’s me. I am always pushing the limits of everything. I always have, and I always will. You only live once in this body, so, I always say live it to the max. Push, push, push, until you can’t handle it anymore, then push even more! Plus, I was taught as a kid that they should be able to write a best selling biography about your life after you die. So, I’ve always wanted to have a biography written about me and probably still do to this day.
J.P.: You have served time in Fort Leavenworth prison for a drug charge. A very tight and specific question: What is it to be an inmate at Leavenworth? I mean, I think people who have never been behind bars have this idea in our heads. But is it worse than one would imagine? Better?
D.V.: First off, the only movie that I have ever seen that totally captured what a hard labor maximum prison is really like is “Shawshank Redemption.” So, honestly, it was just like that. So, no matter what your crime was, everyone and I mean everyone lives together (except for the death row inmates and we had those as well). So, living next to you day in and day out are murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, arsonists, bank robberies, computer hackers, to etc. And yes, we had rapists and child molesters living in general population, until there was a death threat made on their life, and then that’s when they were finally put in special quarters. And Fort Leavenworth was a hard labor prison, so, everyone had to work five days a week for eight hours a day or you went to the hole, so, up to you. And if you have ever seen photos of Fort Leavenworth it was surrounded by thirty to fifty foot tall concrete walls with armed guards carrying M-16s locked & loaded ready to kill at any moment, and we all knew that as well. So, you either follow the prison rules and stay out of trouble or face the consequences of these armed guards and/or get sent to the hole for days on weeks or months on end, because these guards were not kidding around at all. And you always had to keep an eye on the back of your head at all times because a lot of these inmates were lifers, meaning, they were sentenced to life in prison, so, they just had nothing to lose, so, they didn’t care about the rules, and were willing to break them at any time. And a day in prison feels like a week, a week feels like a month, a month feels like a year, and a year feels like a decade. Time just goes by so fucking slow in prison.
J.P.: You said in an interview that you were raised in a military family where “you don’t really feel or share your emotions with others.” You added that your time in the Army mirrored that life approach. I imagine it had to be insanely hard to go from that to emoting as an actor. So how did you shed your old skin? How did you learn to freely emote?
D.V.: Wow, you really did your research on me. Thanks for that, Jeff.
And yes, it was very, very hard to go from a life of not showing any outer emotions to always showing it as an actor. Very hard indeed. Shoot, it’s still hard to this day and I have been a film actor for thirteen years now. As for how did I do it? Honestly, just practice, practice, practice. I am always working on my craft and on my instrument every single week of every single month of every single year. And when I say instrument, I mean doing yoga, stretching, vocal warm ups, meditation, connecting chakras, exercising, to massaging my face muscles. Acting is a craft like any other art form, and you only get better at your craft, the more you do it, and the more you keep your instrument in tune as well. And our body and our voice are our instruments. It’s no different than any other musical instrument. But, at the same time, I was taught all of this in acting school by acting teachers. It’s our foundation as actors. It’s what everything is built upon.
J.P.: Why acting? What drew you to it? Why? When did you know you had some talent?
D.V.: First off, I don’t believe in the word “talent”. Anything can be learned if you’re willing to put in 10,000-plus hours of hard work and are willing to find mentors and teachers who will push you to the freaking limits. I have turned almost all of my hobbies into professions because I was willing to work harder than my competition ever was, and I still work harder than most of them. As for why acting? I don’t know. I think it chose me to be honest. I took an acting class for the hell of it in my late 20s and just fell in love with it on the first day in class. Then it took me another seven years to find the acting that I love the most, which is film acting, and that’s when I decided to dedicate my whole life to it day in and day out. But, to answer your question, I honestly don’t know. I just know that if I don’t act professionally in films then I rather be dead. If I don’t practice it each week somehow someway then I rather be dead. It’s either this or death for me. But, at the same time, I wake up every single morning working my ass off trying to be the best of the best in film acting and in the business of acting as well. I am always hustling, always promoting, and always trying to make my mission statement come true, somehow someway. Once again, it’s this or death for me. So, I choose this over death!
J.P.: You were in a 2011 Film, “Hick,” that has a huge cast and a 5 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And I wonder—does that matter to you? Do you think the critics are wrong? Is it a good film people misunderstand? Is it a shit film people perfectly understand? And do you care when your movies are panned? Do you take it personally?
D.V.: I give two fucks what any critic or any person ever thinks about any of my indie films. Especially “Hick.” The film is based on a true life story about a 13-year-old girl who runs away from home and the real life consequences of what could and did happen to this poor little girl (which turns out to be the woman who wrote our screenplay—Andrea Portes—when she was a little girl). And these movie critics and the whole Hollywood film business has always had a problem with movies that talk about child rape and child molestation. From “Lolita” in 1962 to “Hounddog” in 2007 to now “Hick” in 2012.
For some reason, I live in a culture that just does not want to talk about child sex crimes at all, and because of that, these sex crimes continue to happen to these poor little boys and girls every single day, of every single week, of every single year, of every single decade in the U.S. and all around the world. And a good portion of these sexually traumatized boys and girls will now turn into sexual predators themselves because of these horrible crimes that happened to them. It’s a vicious cycle that will never end until we as a culture can start talking about it out loud, freely, without being booed or criticized for doing it in the first place, just like we’re currently all talking about adult sex crimes right now. Because if we as a culture can end slavery, then we as a culture can also end sex crimes as well. It’s all up to us and it has always been up to us, if we can all stop sticking our heads in the sand pretending it’s not going on all around us to our friends, associates, and family members.
So, that’s why I still promote “Hick” like it just came out yesterday, because it’s a huge a problem in the U.S. and all around the world that still needs to be resolved. And the other question that I have for the movie critics who did not like our film—why is that? Do you personally think these fucked-up criminal thoughts yourself and are trying to hide it from us all? Or did this happen to you as a child and you just don’t want to talk about it out loud, so, you rather say bad things about the film, so, you don’t have to hear about it ever again? Because it really does make me wonder why the movie critics for decades have always been against child sex abuse story lines. It makes me wonder indeed …
J.P.: You said in an interview that you enjoy showing “the actual truth of these villainous characters to the world.” What does that mean? Do you feel like people too often assign “bad guys” black-or-white personality characteristics? Is there an undiscovered depth that we miss?
D.V.: Yes, I think Hollywood has always used the whole black and white personality characteristics in most of their films. Shoot, in the old days, the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black. What the fuck was that all about!? And nowadays, it’s one’s facial / body look instead. Like for me, TV will never hire me to play the villain, and they are very honest about all of this by telling me and my agent that I just don’t look like a villain at all. Ha, ha, which is so fucking funny, because I am a real-life villain. Ha ha, dumb-asses. So, yes, I am truly bringing another layer to the art world. But, I’m not the only one. There are others like me who truly want to reveal to the world what real life villains are really like, such as Ted Levine in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List” and Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.” Those are some of my favorite movie villains and those actors truly captured their character’s reality, plus, researched the hell out of those roles as well. So I’m definitely not the only actor doing this or have been doing this.
J.P.: I’ve asked a good number of women in Hollywood this, but no men: How do you feel about the whole #MeToo movement? Are you surprised? Have you seen men in the business treat women like shit?
D.V.: I love the whole #MeToo movement. But I have always been vocal about raising awareness for crimes against women, children and other minorities since 2009, I believe. But, yes, I am surprised—surprised indeed. I just never thought I would live in a world that would erupt like it did and will continue to erupt this coming year. And never did I imagine that these powerful men and women could be brought down for good by the press and by us social media followers who are rapidly spreading the message to our friends and family members. But, I fucking love it! Love it indeed! And who’s next to fall? He-he!
As for your last question, the only thing I have ever seen is women being treated as sex objects on set and some of them being very uncomfortable for doing it in the first place. Meaning, being asked to reveal their body for certain skimpy bikini/underwear scenes, nudity scenes, or sex scenes, which were written in the script prior, but, honestly, did not need to be shot at all to tell the actual film story. And I do remember seeing these male directors and male crew members getting off on all of this shit. Which was legal for these filmmakers to do this kind of bullshit, but, I do hope that with the whole #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that this kind of sexual harassment behavior will end for good. Because at the end of the day, it’s just sexual harassment and demeaning women and having power over them. So I truly do hope this kind of bullshit ends soon. Because I always did feel bad for these female actresses who did these kinds of scenes because they thought they had to or else be fired for refusing to do them even though they did agree to do those scenes prior, plus, I also knew that most of these women would never have film/TV careers ever again because of those sexualized scenes as well, and most of them don’t to this day.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
D.V.: Greatest moment of my career? Hmm, that’s a tough one, because my career is acting and activism rolled up into one. I would say where I am at in this very moment in time. This would definitely be my greatest moment in my career because I have another highly controversial art film coming out this April. It was created by the world-renowned artist Paul McCarthy called “Coach Stage Stage Coach,” plus, I am still raising awareness for crimes against women and children every single day in the digital world as well.
Now, my lowest moments were the times that I quit acting for good. That’s happened to me three times so far. And those were definitely my lowest points in time, because I just wanted to die and be over with it all. Like I said before, either I act or I die. So, I act, because film acting is really the only thing that makes me happy in the end.
J.P.: How do you muster emotion when acting? Fear? Sadness? I mean, it just seems hard to emote when you’re not, literally, feeling what you’re emoting. So how do you do it?
D.V.: That’s a good question. I would say as I said before, just practice, practice, practice, meaning, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse the scenes until I truly know them/feel them. And using sense memory that just happened recently, because it’s still alive and kicking inside of me, because it hasn’t resolved itself just yet. And to pick an action that is fun to do in the scene, meaning, picking something that is fun for me to cause fear or sadness inside of me. Something that I know that I can do over and over again, because in reality, I’ll have to do it over and over again for all the different film takes that I’ll have to do. But, I love crying on set and I love being in lots of pain on set. I truly want my characters to feel the pain of being punished and killed for the crimes that they committed, meaning, I truly have to feel those pains as well. It’s why I do all of my own stunts. Because I truly want to feel it for real, and when I do feel it for real, then you the audience feels it for real as well. To me, that’s true acting in the end and that’s my job as a professional actor: to make it so, so real for you the audience, that you don’t know what is real or not, so, the story can affect you a way that it’s supposed to affect you, meaning, for real. And that’s when the film’s true message comes across very loud and clear to you and sticks with you for days on end, if not years on end.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVE VESCIO:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kelly Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell, Space X, Kyle O’Quinn, cheddar chunks, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “Patti Cake$,” Joe Montana, Oklahoma State: Holy crap, I don’t even know what some of this is. But, I was never into pop culture really. So, I would say Space X, Malcolm McDowell, cheddar chunks, Joe Montana, Oklahoma State, “Pattie Cake$”, Kelly Clarkson, and I have no clue who Kyle O’Quinn is or Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
• The world needs to know, what was it like working with Sabrina Culver in “Wolf Mother”?: We actually didn’t work together on set and that’s the curse of being a movie actor versus a theatre / TV actor. Most of the times I don’t meet all the actors in our film until the movie’s premiere. But, she is great …
• Five reasons one should make Somerset, Pa. his/her next vacation destination?: Ha ha, that’s funny, since I only lived there for a year when I was born. But, I still do have family there though. So I would say the top five reasons are: the mountain views, the ski slopes, the sunsets, the cool brisk air, and the peace & quiet of being in a small little country town in the middle of nowhere.
• Three interesting things about your father: 1. He was a fighter pilot who fought in the Vietnam War and served another 20-plus years for his country. A true patriot in the end. 2. A highly successful entrepreneur who still works nonstop at the age of 70. 3. And one of the only two people on this planet who were there with me from the very beginning of my acting career and who still support to this day with my art, my activism, and with my future dreams. Very rarely do you find people who support your dreams, and very rarely are they your own parents (because my mom is the other person as well).
• Two memories from playing “Leon’s Foster Father” in “Truly Blessed”: I have no fucking clue. That was so long ago, and such a small little role. I honestly don’t know. But, let me think. Well, that’s where I met the horror film actress Serena Lorien at and we still talk to this day. And I think I died in that scene. But I honestly don’t know. Sorry.
• Is Carmelo Anthony a Hall of Famer when he retires?: Who the fuck is Carmelo Anthony? Ha ha!
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I actually almost did die in a plane crash. And no, I am not talking about my movie “Air Collision.” No, back in 1999, I almost did die on a plane flying from the U.S. to Ecuador. We almost ran out of fuel and visibility was zero, meaning, we couldn’t even see the blinking red lights on the wings of the plane. So, I just remembered being told by the pilot to put our heads between our legs and if you believe in God then to start praying to Him now. But, in the end, we landed safely, and I actually got off the plane and kissed the freakin ground. I will never forget that moment, very scary indeed!
• I loved “Creed.” Now they’re making “Creed II”—where young Creed fights Drago’s son. This seems like a very bad idea. Am I wrong?: First off, is Sylvester Stallone guilty of sexually abusing those women? If so, I don’t see this movie ever being made. So, we will see … but, if he is not guilty, I can see it being a good idea. People just love remakes or similar story lines, and if you think about it, we actors, writers, directors, and producers have mostly repeated what has worked before. Very, very rarely do you see an original screenplay or even an original play being made. And what did Pablo Picasso say, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” So, that’s professional art for you!
• Without looking, how many songs by Nas can you name?: I honestly don’t listen to music at all, so, I couldn’t tell you. Sorry.
• What’s the best thing to do with a moldy onion?: Throw it away. As fast as possible. Because that thing will smell up the whole freakin fridge. Trust me, I know!