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Jake: When I read the script for Mrs. Davis, I was immediately drawn to its unique blend of genres, unexpected characters, and twists, all of which make it unflinchingly original. I think my favourite thing about the show is how difficult it is to describe. When a project like that comes along, you feel as though you'd be so lucky to be a part of it because it's just incomparable to anything you've done before. I previously worked with [Mrs. Davis co-creator] Damon Lindelof on Watchmen, and when the audition first came through, I thought, "I'm really going to like this, and it's going to hurt when I don't get it." Normally an audition tape takes about one to two hours to film with a friend's help, but for this particular role, it took me five days to perfect because I wanted to get it right. The comedy and tone were very specific, and finding the right balance was a fun challenge. After doing the materials repeatedly, I felt confident enough to send the audition tape to Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez [co-creators]. By the time I got the callback, I was more than ready, and it's been one of my favourite projects to date.
Jake: Wiley is a multi-faceted character with a rich backstory and varied attributes. He is a former rodeo bull rider, ex-boyfriend of the lead character Simone [played by Betty Gilpin], and he is now the leader of an underground resistance against the omnipresent AI called "Mrs. Davis." While Wiley believes that he is the lead character of the show, he is often reminded that Simone is actually the real leading lady and hero. This creates an interesting tension between them, which is further highlighted by the AI's use of clichés. The costume designer, set designer, and director all worked closely with me to bring Wiley to life. We played with different genres to create his character development, costumes, and set pieces. Nicolas Cage's performance in Raising Arizona served as an inspiration when we started developing Wiley's character. He went through a lot of iterations, but the entire show, from the sets to the character development, props, and costumes, was truly a collaborative effort.
Jake: It’s rare to be a part of a project that not only has a kickass script, but also comes to fruition as it should. This was an exception, and the entire team was on the same page. The cast and crew all had to swing big to pull this off and everyone brought their own unique style to the show. It was a safe, fun place to be, and our cast and crew were amazing.
Jake: Everyone involved in Mrs. Davis, from PAs to top brass, was given an enormous sandbox to play in. This is a testament to our co-creators, Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, Peacock, and Warner Brothers. Everybody wanted to give this show as much space as they could to bring the scripts, which were easily the most ambitious scripts I've ever read, to life and do them justice. I’m sure there were challenges that would eclipse most TV shows, especially in the first season, that the writers, producers, Tara [co-creator and showrunner], or our directors had to go through to make it [Mrs. Davis] as big and as full as it appeared in the script.
I loved every minute of it though, and I would stay in that creative space as long as they’ll have me.
Jake: Microdose. Or maybe just dose? Psilocybin? I'm just kidding [laughs], but that's tough.
Jake: Yes. You know, I've been in this industry for 20 years, and even since I started at 16, I've always been proud of my work and my colleagues' work. I have to agree with my co-star Betty Gilpin on what she said about the show at South by Southwest recently. She explained that often, as an actor, especially when you’re first starting, you have little agency over what projects you work on and what characters you get to play. It can feel at times like a show is asking you for a small percentage of what you feel like you can do. This is probably the first time I felt I had to truly give 110%. That's what Betty's point was, and it resonated with me. The show I did, Limitless, which I’m also very proud of, most definitely has similarities that I can point to, but Mrs. Davis is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever done or seen.
Jake: No, not really. I mean, the AI in the show was so far advanced from anything I had ever heard of until recently, and it had such a specific tone. It's actually kind of eerie with the recent emergence of chatGPT and other AI-based systems that have now hugely entered the zeitgeist right before our show comes out. It makes it fun to talk about in an eerie and cool way.
Jake: One of the things that I’ve learned was to just love the process and don't worry about the result. I know that's not really an acting lesson or something you would think about on set in the middle of a scene or anything, but I know it can be really hard to parse apart your expectations for the making of something versus the result of making something. I think I've found more joy and better results the more I've tried to divorce myself from the results and just really enjoy the actual acting of it.
The connection that you make on set or the connection you make in a scene, the entire process from start to finish — that's the special part.
That should be why you're doing it because the result is completely out of everyone’s control. While you undoubtedly want it to do well so that everyone's hard work can be appreciated, I think the only thing that matters is putting all your intention and focus into the project and enjoy the process without worrying about the result. This mindset can be applied outside of acting as well.
Catch Jake McDorman as Wiley in Mrs. Davis, now streaming on Peacock in the U.S. and Crave in Canada!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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