WHO: Jack Davenport
WHAT: As the brilliant but caddish director-choreographer Derek Wills on the new NBC musical drama “Smash,’’ Davenport gets to indulge his inner bad boy. “No one’s asked me to be sociopathic for ages, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now,’’ says Davenport, best known in the US for his role as the thwarted Norrington in the “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ films and for playing American in the short-lived series “Swingtown’’ and “FlashForward.’’ We caught up with the drolly comic British actor recently at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
Q. Are you excited that you finally get to be British?
A. Well, it’s less hard work. Only because I wish I had the ability to turn it on and off like a light switch. If the moving image could be said to have a native tongue, it would be the American accent, frankly. And so it matters to me to get that right, so I wish I could just talk to you like this and then just do [an American accent]. I can’t.
Q. Do you hate the actors who can?
A. Oh, I hate them! [“FlashForward’’ costar] Sonya Walger kills me! It’s flawless.
Q. Earlier you referred to your character as evil, but that seems strong.
‘No one’s asked me to be sociopathic for ages, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now.’
A. He’s not evil. He just wants to get the job done and wants to get it done the best way possible. Context is everything and, you know, an undeveloped musical is a very abstract thing. A musical number on the page could be anything, and someone’s got to make it something, and that’s the director’s job, and there’s 50 people in the room the entire time. And you can’t pussyfoot around; you have to get it done. The people who write the show have been in that world, and he’s not a pantomime villain. They also do this very sweet thing for me as well - it’s just nice writing - but usually when I’ve done something vaguely unspeakable in some unspeakable way, very soon afterward they write these scenes for me where, it’s not that I apologize or issue a mea culpa, but I’m allowed to rationalize why I’ve done what I’ve done. Yes, he has an ego, but so does everyone else in that room.
Q. He’s just being more honest about it.
A. Kind of. And maybe his id is slightly more on display than everyone else’s. There’s a lot of creating to be done in a short space of time very publicly. And a director of this kind of work it’s a weird combination - it’s like sergeant major crossed with abstract painter crossed with Baryshnikov.
Q. Are you itching to sing?
A. Oh, no, America doesn’t need that.
Q. Is it possible you might have to?
A. No, they’re not stupid. This will be immovable object meets irresistible force.
Q. Nothing? No humming in the shower, even?
A. No, even my shower doesn’t like hearing me sing [laughs].
Q. Were you a musicals fan?
A. It’s funny. Growing up I’d been to a ton of stuff, but since I’ve been doing this I’ve seen a lot more stuff in New York just out of curiosity, and oddly enough I have a newfound delight in it because now I know really what it takes. When I was younger it used to slightly annoy me. I was like, “Why are you all singing? Just say it. It’s not opera!’’
Q. Did you see Daniel Radcliffe in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’’?
A. I did, because we were shooting the pilot when it opened. He was terrific. But I also saw “Book of Mormon’’ quite recently, and that show I was like, “Wow, that really is the possibilities of this form taken to a place I never thought was possible.’’ It’s partly because [“Mormon’’ creators] Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] have a comic intelligence that is very unusual. To be that profane and that smart at the same time - normally if you have a profane sense of humor it can come off as a bit juvenile, but [“Mormon’’] is so sophisticated. I honestly was sitting there and at certain times I was thinking - this sounds ridiculous - but I was thinking, “Yea, free speech!’’ [Laughs.] Here’s a part of the Constitution really being exercised beautifully! SARAH RODMAN