From Shakespeare to Seinfeld, veteran actor Bruce Davison, 76, has more than 300 film and TV credits to his name, headlining in many Broadway plays. In a career spanning six decades, the thrice-married actor has featured in hit films like X-Men and Runaway Jury, appearing in popular TV shows and streamers, Star Trek: Enterprise, Hawaii Five-0, Castle, Law & Order, Lost and Ozark among others. Today he stars with Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford in western drama series,1923.
Q: You studied art before switching to drama – two risky professions. Was there a back-up plan?
BRUCE: I worked as First Mate on a a couple of sight-seeing boats around New York and served breakfast when I was at Penn State University. I worked in my father’s office selling light fixtures until finally I could support myself.
Q: What’s your favorite role?
BRUCE: So many. I’m certainly proud of Longtime Companion [for which he was Oscar and Emmy nominated]. But I think the most fun I ever had was shooting the movie, Ulzana’s Raid with Burt Lancaster, chasing Apaches all across the Southwest. It was a Western using John Ford characters but was actually a metaphor for Vietnam. I also have wonderful memories of working on stage with Jessica Tandy on Glass Menagerie and doing The Elephant Man on Broadway.
Q: Did you dream of being a leading man?
BRUCE: When I was young and foolish, director Robert Aldrich told me, ‘You don’t want to be a leading man because you’ll do six pictures and be washed up by 30.’ He told me I was a good actor and could do character parts playing doctors or lawyers… He said, ‘The best parts are always the villains or the victims. If you don’t play the lead role, you can raise a family in this town’. And that’s what I’ve been able to do.
Q: You began your family late in life, with son Ethan, 27, and daughter, Lucy, 16. How was that?
BRUCE: I remember taking my daughter to Disneyland when she was a toddler, and a guy comes up to me and says, ‘Your granddaughter’s leotard is on inside out’. I told him she liked it that way, and he said, ‘Sorry. I thought it was a granddaddy mistake’!
Q: How do you keep fit?
BRUCE: Every day I jump up and down on my daughter’s little trampoline in the backyard. I stick a couple of songs in my air pods and bounce away doing jumping jacks. After that I’ll let my dog run me around the block.
Q: And now in 1923 – the prequel to hit TV series Yellowstone – set during Prohibition and the Great Depression you play ‘Lord Arthur’, the angry British father of a jilted groom. How do you work on your British accent?
BRUCE: I played British a lot doing Shakespeare on stage. I also did Noel Coward’s A Song at Twilight. I actually learned a British accent when I was four from Claude Rains’ recorded Bible stories. I would imitate him reciting David and Goliath in order to keep from going to bed.
Here’s a look at the1923 trailer:
Q: You’ve done many Westerns during your career. What’s the draw?
BRUCE: I grew up playing ‘cowboys and indians.’ As a child in the 50s, my favorite Christmas gift was a plastic gun, chasing my friends all over the place. I love science fiction too. Flash Gordon was a big hero to me.
Q: Will you ever retire?
BRUCE: I doubt it. I especially love doing independent films with young filmmakers. I’ve been a character actor all my life and there’s always a part coming along from somewhere. I’ve never made a real pile so I have to keep working to put the kids through school and everything else. I have a nice quiet, small life. People think that actors that they’ve seen many times are these rich moguls living on the top of mountains – and I once did that but it all ran out. I live in the San Fernando Valley now in my little three bedroom house, and that’s just great.
Q: You picked up oil painting again. Do you plan to exhibit?
BRUCE: I started as an art major before I got into acting and gave up painting, but Henry Fonda encouraged me to pick up again – and he was a great director and a terrific artist.
But my painting really kicked off again during COVID and now I have about 60 paintings, mostly landscapes and seascapes.
I was working with Stephen King [2004 TV series, Kingdom Hospital] and I showed him some and he said ‘I want the one with the little brook choked with leaves’. And I said ‘Well, with a title like that, you’ve got it’, and I sent it to him.
Q: What’s your secret to aging with attitude?
BRUCE: Live in the present. Enjoy every moment. It’s like in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town when the girl speaks from the grave and says, ‘People don’t realize that they’ve got to live every moment. Every moment is precious, no matter what you’re going through – the fact that you’re breathing and living life’. And I agree. We miss so much if we don’t live in the moment.
“1923” streams on Paramount+
Photo Credits: Bruce Davison