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Wingman Wednesday

Dan Donohue

Donohue in “The Last Tycoon”

With the first season of “Damnation” officially in the books, it is time for any and all of you who have yet to watch the crime drama to set your binging sites on this gritty yet refined gem from USA Network. With a stellar cast and pacing that leaves you instantly wanting more, the series is a stream dream, so fire up that DVR, get yourself comfortable, and saddle up for one hell of a storytelling ride.

We recently sat down with “Damnation” star Dan Donohue to discuss the recipe for its success, what a new show needs to do in order to rise above the competition, and how Batman blew his mind.

TrunkSpace: “Damnation” has received great reviews, but more importantly to the long-term success of the series, fan buzz. What do you think the series offers viewers that has not only baited them, but has sunk the hook as well? What are its biggest strengths?
Donohue: The show has, indeed, received a terrific response – which is gratifying. Fans have jumped on board and are, clearly, holding on tight. “Damnation” is quite a ride. The heart of what makes this show so special is the brilliant story. It unfolds in a masterful way as each character reveals their history, their motivations, and their most guarded secrets. The writing is the thoroughbred on who’s back rides the incredible directors, production team, casting directors, designers, and actors. Each day, on set, you could feel how proud folks were to be a part of it. That pride is reflected in every shot of “Damnation.”

TrunkSpace: What was it about your character Calvin Rumple that first drew you in? Does he offer you something from a performance standpoint that you have yet to tackle in your career?
Donohue: When I was cast, I had only read the first episode. That was all that was available to read at the time. I knew the role would recur, but I wasn’t told what Calvin’s trajectory might be. What was clear, though, from that first script – and what made me particularly excited to play him – was the built-in conflict, the inherent danger, and the potentially bumpy, and perhaps sobering, ride ahead for Calvin Rumple. I thought, I want to be in the driver’s seat while Calvin navigates through this minefield in front of him.

TrunkSpace: For those who have yet catch up with the series on their DVR, where does Calvin fall into things within the “Damnation” universe and what is his journey?
Donohue: Calvin Rumple runs Holden Savings and Loan. At first glance, he seems to be on top. He’s got his shiny shoes on the necks of the local farmers. Of course, the farmers aren’t happy about that. They have been pushed into a corner and are about to come out swinging. So Calvin is in a precarious position. He wields a fair amount of freshly-inherited power. That power feels good to him – he wears it like an expensive new suit. But underneath that fine tailored wool is a sheep. Calvin has lost his moral compass – or, conveniently, set it aside – and he has wandered off the path into dangerous territory.

TrunkSpace: We recently spoke with your costar Sarah Jones and one of the things we pointed out was, whereas many series get attention for the names involved in a cast, “Damnation” delivers with sheer talent. So many of those involved in the show are just wonderful character actors who always bring their A game when they’re on screen. How does this cast compare to the casts of other productions you have been involved with?
Donohue: This is one of the strongest and most unique group of actors I’ve had the great good fortune to work with. I feel extremely lucky to be in the mix. I’ve learned so much on set watching each one of them raise the bar.

TrunkSpace: “Damnation” premiered at a very busy time in the TV landscape. Not only are there a countless number of new series debuting on cable and streaming platforms, but dozens upon dozens of returning series have been airing as well. In your opinion, how does a new, original series make its mark and find an audience in this very crowded golden age of television?
Donohue: A good question. It’s a brave new world, to be sure – a particularly fertile era for cinematic storytelling. There are so many good shows being produced – all competing for an audience. I think that trying to be all things to all people is wasted energy. A new series needs to have a distinctive fingerprint. What you hope, I suppose, is that the singularity – and the quality – of a great show wins out.

TrunkSpace: You’ve guested on some incredibly popular series over the years, from “Longmire” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Is there a character you played briefly over the course of your career that you would have liked to explore further, and if so, why?
Donohue: The world has been rough on the on-screen characters I’ve played lately. In the past two years, I’ve played several guest star roles who’s lives have ended horribly. One character was burned to death. One was fatally shot in the head. Another was fatally shot in the head. One was drowned, turned into a zombie, and then fatally stabbed in the eye. Oh, and one was shot in the ass. Fatally.

At a glance, revisiting any of those particular characters doesn’t seem likely. (Though, I was incinerated in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – quite literally turned to dust – and my character still made it back for another episode.) The truth is, I’m available. Even for the dead ones. Happy to do flashbacks, plot twists, zombies, ghosts, and apparitions.

But seriously, last year I played a small but wonderful recurring role, Caldecott Riddle, in the first season of Billy Ray’s, “The Last Tycoon.” Tycoon is based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and set in 1930’s Hollywood. The first season was exquisitely done – so rich and heartbreaking. Sadly, Amazon didn’t pick up Tycoon for a second season. That’s one I would love to come back to were it picked up by another studio. Such a terrific story. And so much more story there to be told.

TrunkSpace: Beyond your on-screen work, you are also a voice actor, recently giving live to Shriv in “Star Wars: Battlefront II.” What did it mean for you to become a part of the ever-growing “Star Wars” universe? Did it fulfill any childhood dreams?
Donohue: Working on this role in Battlefront II was like being transported back to 1977 to play “Star Wars” in my backyard. I absolutely loved playing Shriv. I did both voice and motion capture for him. Shriv is a lovable curmudgeon. He’s someone who’s been through it all – twice – and he’d rather not go back for thirds. Shriv a big-hearted, large-craniumed, hugely loyal, malcontent. A bit of an Eeyore. I’ve been an enthusiastic “Star Wars” fan from the beginning. To say I never dreamed I’d play a new character in a “Star Wars” story one day would be a complete lie. As a kid, I dreamed that dream all the time. I spent countless hours imagining it. I’ve never read the book, “The Secret.” It wasn’t even written back then. But I secreted the shit out of that “Star Wars” dream back in the day. I very much hope Shriv has a long life in the “Star Wars” galaxy. And in our own.

Donohue in “Damnation”

TrunkSpace: Your voiceover work also lead to you becoming Brother Night in the animated series “Justice League Action.” Does playing a DC Comics villain give you some instant comics fandom cred?
Donohue: Heck, I have no cred at all. Also, no game. But that’s not DC’s fault. “Justice League Action” was a blast. I worked with some amazing folks on it. I remember, my first day recording Brother Night, I arrived at the studio early and with no clue who I might be acting with that day. I had only been there a minute or two when in walks Kevin Conroy, himself – the voice of Batman.

Voice of Batman: “Hello.”

Voice of Dan: “Hello.”

(Mind of Dan: Blown.)

And then, before I’d even processed my excitement about working with Kevin Conroy, in walks Mark Hamill. I thought, Holly crap! This is for real!

TrunkSpace: Comic content continues to rule the big and small screens. Is there a particularly character from any comic universe that you’d like to slip into the tights of?
Donohue: I don’t have sights on any particular comic characters at the moment – other than ones I’m currently working on. I have roles in two upcoming comic book-based video games. And I play a recurring character in an upcoming animated series. I’m extremely happy the genre is thriving. So many imaginative and exciting stories and such fantastic characters – old and new. It’s an actor’s playground.

TrunkSpace: As you look forward, what kind of career do you want to have? If it was in your control to pave your own path, what would that path look like?
Donohue: I think my path would look much like it does now – at least in shape and direction. I’ve been a working actor for 30 years now. I hope to act for 30 more. I love telling stories through the characters I play. I love bringing a character’s story to life. But when it comes to measuring success, I tend to gauge mine by whether or not I feel my work is improving – whether or not I’m growing as an actor. To me, it’s disheartening and distracting to think of it any other way.

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Wingman Wednesday

Sarah Jones


Set in the American heartland during the 1930s, USA Network’s new drama series “Damnation” is prepared to show just how many shades of gray a person can represent at any given moment. Times may change, but human nature does not, which means questionable decision making and life-altering conflict stretches all the way back to the presidential tenure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Damnation” is looking to shine a spotlight on that complicated period in American history, all while taking viewers on a wildly entertaining ride.

Series star Sarah Jones is no stranger to entertaining television. The North Carolina-born actress has worked on countless long-running pop culture mainstays, from “Big Love” to “Sons of Anarchy,” and recently appeared as Alison Kemp in the Hulu series “The Path.”

We sat down with Jones to discuss the dissection of a period piece performance, her incredible costars, and why she’s thrilled about the current creative state of television.

TrunkSpace: Your new series “Damnation” premieres in just a few short weeks. The trailer paints an intense, dramatic journey for your character. What was the personal journey like for you in terms of finding who she was and then bringing her to life?
Jones: (Laughing) It was an intense and dramatic journey. The research and inspiration of who I drew from to relate to Amelia was the easiest and most enjoyable part. To come to terms with what Amelia and I have in common, how women have historically been viewed and treated by society, and the amount of work that still has to be done to maintain a fair balance in how women are viewed and treated by society—to acknowledge all of that, and to use that in a productive way without allowing a cloud of resentment hanging over my head was a little trickier. Of course the current political and social climate seems to intensify the experience, but I couldn’t be more grateful to have this kind of outlet in working on this show and playing Amelia to work through it all.

TrunkSpace: “Damnation” is a period piece. Does that add a different layer to a character when you have to not only find who she is inside, but also what that particular period meant to people in terms of how they presented themselves in public and in private – basically, how society influenced who they were?
Jones: Yeah, of course there are added layers when you’re looking at common mannerisms and societal pressures of a specific era and how that would relate to a particular social class, but I think in terms of how we present ourselves in private and public really hasn’t changed. I mean, isn’t that what social media branding is all about? And it doesn’t matter whether someone is trying to create a personal brand or not, they present themselves in a way that they feel will garner the attention they want. Societal influence may have evolved and given us more ‘options,’ but the pressure to fit into a mold that is deemed worthy of a person’s perceived character or values is still very much alive and well.

TrunkSpace: What is an aspect of the series that you feel will surprise viewers? Is there something tonally about it or story-wise that isn’t reflected in the trailer that is a big part of the “Damnation” experience?
Jones: I don’t know if this will surprise anyone because I think it just makes for great television, but the characters’ decisions and conflicts are full of grays. It’s messy, and complicated, and raw, which represents a very real human experience.

TrunkSpace: The series is stacked with this great cast of character actors who always seem to steal a scene regardless of the project that they’re in. In your opinion, how does this cast compare to other shows you’ve worked on in terms of pure talent on-screen?
Jones: I have to agree with you 100 percent on how talented this cast is. Wow, what a cast, right?! And I love that you brought this up, there are no ‘stars’ or ‘names’ in this show. We’re working class actors—we have to hustle for our jobs that we actually get (no one sees all the jobs we don’t get), stretch and save what we earn because we don’t know when our next job will be, and prove our worth every time we show up on set. There isn’t a single actor on this show that doesn’t arrive fully prepared and invested. We’re grateful to be here and tell this story, and that makes for an inspiring group of actors to be around and a highly creative and engaging environment to work in. That doesn’t take away from some beautiful experiences with other cast members on other shows, most everyone starts at the bottom, but from day one there’s been a sense of solidarity between us that’s felt really special and exciting.

DAMNATION — “Sam Riley’s Body” Episode 101 — Pictured: Sarah Jones as Amelia Davenport — (Photo by: Chris Large/USA Network)

TrunkSpace: Television is stacked with incredible, character-driven content these days. How exciting is it for you to see such a shift in the medium over the years, and at the same time, is it also a little intimidating knowing just how much competition is out there, all of which is vying for the same set of viewer eyeballs?
Jones: I saw this coming years ago when I worked on “Big Love,” and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love the intimacy that storytelling through television brings. It’s like you’re inviting these characters into your home every week or hanging with them for a full day or two depending how you watch a series. And I can imagine that contributed to the shift in the way that shows are made now. You’re not gonna invite someone over to your house every week if you don’t want to spend time with them. In terms of all of these fantastic series coming out, I’m not intimidated by the notion of ‘competition’—there’s not another show like “Damnation” currently on the air, and if this show is considered to join the ranks of shows with ‘incredible, character-driven content,’ it’s because everyone involved in creating it worked hard for it and the viewers connected to it. I also think network executives, as far as cable is concerned, pick up a show with the intention to let it breathe and give viewers a chance to invest in it. Some shows are overnight successes, others are a slow burn with a major pay off of a dedicated following and a loyal fan base. (Laughing) I have zero control over any of it so I just try to focus on the work and hope for the best! But I really dig the viewer/content relationship, feedback, and conversation that television has created when it comes to its series.

TrunkSpace: Another big change in the way that television is being rolled out is in the number of episodes being produced each season. And while that means there’s less story to tell, more often than not, those series with fewer episodes feel richer and more character-driven than their 22-episode counterparts. What are your thoughts on shortened seasons from a storytelling/character point of view?
Jones: I support it completely! And I agree with your sentiment—it does feel like a quality over quantity situation. On top of that, writing, shooting, and editing a series is done so quickly that too many episodes will not only burn out everyone involved in making the show, but I think it’ll eventually burn out the audience too. Especially with all of the other shows out there.

TrunkSpace: Is there a part of your job or of the experience of what you do that still feels new each time you set out to do it? What still excites you as much as it did the first time you set foot onto a set?
Jones: I’m always excited at the prospect of who I’ll connect to and collaborate with, and when it comes to working on a TV series, I’m always excited when a new episode’s script comes out.

TrunkSpace: Going back to that first time you set foot onto a set, we’re curious, how much of your personal journey – the jobs and experiences you’ve had within the industry – have directly impacted your acting? Is the performer we see now completely different from the performer you were then due to the projects that came between?
Jones: God I hope so! If my work hasn’t improved and my life hasn’t evolved over the years, I need to take a hard look at what I’m doing with them. I’d like to think that my performances and my personal life have a symbiotic relationship of being fed by the experiences of living.

Jones with Thomas Jane in “Texas Rising”

TrunkSpace: We all change as people as we get older as well. How much of that personal growth impacts what you do? Does it alter your point of view regarding your take on a character or specific choices you’d make for a character?
Jones: I don’t see how it couldn’t. I find the advice, ‘don’t take it personally,’ ironic when it comes to working as an actor. That’s the only way I feel I can take on a character or job—whether I get the opportunity to play it or not, which of course leaves me vulnerable to disappointment. But I’ve figured out how to move through it instead of around it, and I hope that raw and exposed space translates to something deeply personal and honest on screen. That’s a skill that’s taken years to build and I have yet to master it. And that example is just scratching the surface in regards to how personal growth impacts what I do with the work I get.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared in some very memorable series over the years that have left a lasting impact on the world of pop culture. Are there any characters, even short-lived guest spots, where you wished you had more time to explore and see where that particular person’s journey was going?
Jones: Yes and no. I’d hate to think I might’ve missed out on playing certain characters because I wasn’t available for them. Walking away from a character feels a bit like a break up—sometimes you’re relieved, sometimes your heart aches, or maybe there’s a combination of both, but ultimately it all works out the way it’s supposed to. And, of course, sometimes embracing that mentality is easier said than done! (Laughing)

“Damnation” premieres November 7 on USA Network.

Featured Image By:
Photographer: Logan Cole 
Hair/Makeup: Travisean Haynes 

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