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David DeSantos: The Velvet Voice
Mondi, you were sick for this episode.
I’m so sad I missed this.
We missed you. David DeSantos is a sweet, kind, hardworking actor. His voice is some magic, hypnotic thing.
That voice is so sexy.
It’s rich and velvety. He could be saying whatever to me and I would be like, “I’ll sign it.” He has known he wanted to be an actor since he was five. He studied theater. He’s done theater commercials, guest stars and co-stars. He is starring in a series on TNT called the Animal Kingdom. He came to speak to me and I’m so grateful. David DeSantos, thank you. He’s funny, real and honest. His story is a good one.
It was great that you bonded over the theater so much.
That’s my family background. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with him. I hope you enjoy this episode with David DeSantos.
David DeSantos, I’m so happy that you’re here. We’re missing my partner, Mondi. She’s sick. I’m going to try to bring the fun without her. You’re such a stud. You’re so handsome. I’ve only met you a few times. Every time, I’m like, “He’s so handsome.” You have that velvety voice. You also have that added magic, which is my favorite. You’re so personable, funny and easy to talk to. We’ll get to that because all the ladies love you. I had a fun lunch with you, Marnie and Jamie a few years back when we talked about all sorts of things. I’ll never forget. We should continue that conversation. The cool thing is that you were announced in Deadline. I was so proud of you, even though I have only met you a handful of times. You are on TNT’s Animal Kingdom.
It starts on May 28th and that’s when season four starts.
Do you love your part?
I love my part. I’m super grateful. I’ve loved the show since its inception.
Did you watch it before your audition?
Were you caught up?
I was pretty much caught up. It’s been a gift. The last couple of years have been some great momentum.
I’ve seen that. You play a DEA agent.
I was on The Rookie last season. They killed me there. I was a detective there. It’s funny because I’ve gotten into my later years, which is 32. It’s so wonderful we’ve been able to rent cars for a few years.
It’s only a few years. I don’t think I’m quite old enough yet.
When I was in my twenties, I was always playing drug dealer, the bad guy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to play law enforcement.
I love stories about people who find their success and footing later on as they get older. It didn’t happen at 21. For those people that it does happen right away, that’s great too.
I remember being in the ‘80s and ‘90s and watching Beverly Hills 90210. Models Inc. was one of the shows that were on Fox. I thought I wasn’t going to have a career in my early twenties. It never felt like it was going to be the thing. It hasn’t been and now in my early 30s, it’s finally catching up. I also spent a lot of years on stage.
This is what I want to talk about because I looked at your resume. Your old Instagram handle was @AshlandDeSantos. That’s Ashland, Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival.
When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was work on Broadway. I still do. It was in 1980-something and my mom brought me to New York to see the apple drop. She took me to see Cats at the Winter Garden Theatre. It’s the worst show ever but when you’re a kid. We were kids. It was so magical. When you look back on it, you go, “It’s pretty bad,” but it’s still so much fun.
There’s nothing like seeing a show on Broadway when you’re a kid and the people who can do the Triple Threats, who can sing, dance and act.
What they would do for Cats was they would let all the kids on stage at intermission. All the kids were allowed to come out on stage and get their autograph from Old Deuteronomy, who was the old grumpy patriarch cat. He would sit upstage left and all the kids would run up on stage and get their programs signed or something. I now know that he wasn’t getting his ten-minute intermission. He was getting paid. He was getting a little bonus payment for that. I didn’t get the autograph. I went on stage. I’ve since been on a Broadway stage. They’re not as big as you think. When you’re a kid, it’s massive. The Winter Garden holds close to 2,000 people. It has two balconies. I stood downstage center on this stage. You’ve got the whole Cats set behind you. I looked up thinking, “This is the only thing I want to be.” My mom has since passed away. She’s been gone. In my age now, I think what it must have been like for my mom to see me at probably eleven or ten-years-old standing. I’m sure that image was much bigger for her than it probably was for me.
When you see something that lights your kid up, there is something amazing about it. I don’t want to put that on my kids. My five and a half-year-old is into building architecture. It’s his thing. It’s special.
You should keep pointing and telling them this is exactly what he needs to do for the rest of his life and never change. I did find it at five and a half or six years old. I played Grumpy because he’s brooding. He’s a little darker and a little cynical. Fast forward in that Cat story, I would read in the programs, whether it was a New York here at the Pantages or whatever and all of the bios from the actors. It never said, “I want to thank mom and dad.” It was always a list of credits or theaters that they worked at. Most of the actors had worked at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Guthrie Theater, Seattle Rep, Actors Theater of Louisville in Kentucky, ACT and old Globe. They all seemed completely intangible. As I’ve gotten older, I realized they’re just theaters but they are benchmarks in a way.
My brother performed at Seattle Rep and I loved it. I went and saw Romeo and Juliet there and he was Romeo.
I’ve wanted to work in Seattle Rep my whole life. I believe in the ghosts that live in theaters and working at the Guthrie and knowing that, for a moment, it was going to be national.
What show did you do there?
I didn’t do a show at the Guthrie, but I did get my equity card at Kansas City Rep. Being on that stage at 29 years old and having an Equity card is all I wanted. I remember getting my SAG card when I was younger. That was cool, but all I wanted was an Equity card. You’re a real actor. There was something about the grind for theater. It’s a harder grind.
My mom was young when she had me. She was a working actor. That’s how she made her money. It looked like a lot of fun too to be a member of a repertory theater company as an adult and to work with people and play all day and be naughty. I couldn’t believe that this was my mom’s work. It was pretty cool. It’s hard because you don’t get paid a ton of money, but it was how fun it was and how she was in her element. My mom is one of those actors with no vanity. She would play somebody pretty and hot. She plays someone old and heartbeat. It was great. She would do all amazing stage makeup, all the wrinkles that she didn’t have because she had me when she was 27 years old. At 30, she would do all the good stuff. It was cool. You have a tattoo.
That’s the most shameful thing I’ve ever done.
It’s not. It’s the cutest. His tattoo is the two theater facemasks.
Smile now, cry later.
How old were you?
I was dating a woman. She wanted to date someone that had a tattoo. It was 1994 or 1995. I went to Tattoo Mania on Sunset Boulevard across the street from the Viper Room.
Are you trying to give it some credibility?
Yeah, I walked in there. It was a Saturday afternoon. I was smoking cigarettes. I’m an actor. I picked it off the wall.
You can never remove it.
If I were to step on the other side of the room, it would look like a black thumbprint. It’s weird and very small.
It’s sweet and I love it. You were a tiny baby when you got it.
I was a tiny baby. All she wanted was to date someone with a tattoo. When I was getting the tattoo, she got nauseous and stepped outside. That’s how that story ends. Now I have this comedy and tragedy masks on my arm.
I love it.
Thank you so much.
We should highlight it.
We did. I posted a picture on my Instagram @IAmDavidDeSantos. You can see that picture of my tattoo holding a pug and my Dodgers hat, but the focus is the tattoo. It’s right there. You can go to it.
I’d like to talk about your mom and growing up in LA. You were born in San Fernando Valley.
It’s funny because I know where the story is going to go. Most people that grew up in the San Fernando Valley remember the Karate Kid or the top floor of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That was shot at the original Sherman Oaks Galleria. It’s the entire opening scene of Fast Times where he’s working at the movie theater. She’s over at the pizza joint, hotdog on a stick. The Timeout was where we played video games. That was the Sherman Oaks Galleria now.
That is what most people think.
We’ll give a little context. My grandma was a film editor.
There must not have been a lot of women.
There were hardly any. She was cutting newsreel footage during World War II. My grandfather was stationed in Arizona. My grandma would drive every week. She would leave Phoenix, Arizona, drive to Los Angeles and she’d work Monday through Thursday or Monday through Friday morning being an apprentice editor. She would drive back to Phoenix, which took fourteen hours. It was a long time for love.
That’s so sweet. It’s also amazing that, back then, in World War II, how did she even get the apprenticeship? I’m sure they weren’t giving a lot out to women. How did she learn?
I do know that it was partly because she grinded. She would stick around a little bit later. She found a production company called Four Star. TriStar would show up a little bit later. I don’t remember the TV shows they had. My grandma did cut on Gunsmoke. She was the first female editor on Gunsmoke.
She was so ahead of her time.
She was a superwoman. She was going to work on Hawaii Five-0, but it was going to move their editorial to Hawaii. She was needed but she was raising my mom and she opted not to go to Hawaii. She worked at CBS Radford for decades.
Grandma was super cool.
Grandpa worked as a film developer at CFI, which was this place called Consolidated Film Industries. Across the street was another film lab called United Color Lab. My mom worked there.
Was she their only child?
No. I have an uncle named Andy who went into finance, a different direction. My mom worked for the boss. She was an assistant at this film lab that was a nonunion film lab. At the time, adult films were still shot on 16-millimeter and 35-millimeter. Somewhere around 1981, 1982 CFI Technicolor deluxe all of the main film labs. They all went union. When they went union, all of the adult films had nowhere to get their movies developed in color time and comes United Color Lab. They were like, “We’ll do it all.” All of the adult films were getting processed there. A couple of people within the company were like, “We should think about making.”
It’s a huge business.
We can do it all here. We can cut and develop it. Everything is done in-house.
Your mom had been the assistant.
They wanted to open up this other tangent. They got a warehouse in Chatsworth, California where all adult film is made. We’re going to change the narrative because the word porn was created by the Meese Commission. Edwin Meese was Ronald Reagan’s attorney general. I’m sure they were using the word porn, but the porn industry as we knew was created around 1982, 1983. Other than that, it was the adult film industry. It’s Boogie Nights, which was my childhood. That’s what we’re getting to. My mom was an adult film producer.
How did her parents feel about that?
My grandfather’s favorite adult film star was an actress named Seika who most kids these days wouldn’t know. She would be the maternal matriarch. She would’ve been the Julianne Moore character. She ran the industry in the ‘70s. It was passed on to Marilyn Chambers in the late ‘70s.
There are a lot of women. That’s nice because I don’t think of it like that. I’m hearing all these boss ladies.
It’s even in the ‘80s. It was a different time though. You can remember a lot of the names now, but a lot of the male adult film stars nowadays don’t have as much cache as they used to back then.
They were real stars.
They’re Harry Reems, Tom Byron, Peter North, and Herschel Savage. It’s so weird that I know these names.
This is the business you grew up in.
We went from living in a two-bedroom apartment on Buffalo Avenue in North Hollywood. It’s this crappy little two-bedroom apartment. My mom drove a 1980 Honda Civic hatchback, this white-cream-colored hatchback.
Was she a single mom since you were born?
She was a full single mom since I was seven to sixteen. She met a great guy who was a rough and tumble guy. He was also a film editor. They were married from two to eight.
Was your dad not in the picture from there?
It’s not from those formative years, around seven and a half to sixteen. He came back in the picture. I had baseball, comic books, horror movies and adult film.
This is such a good story. You should probably write a movie. Your mom was struggling. You were living in an apartment. Her new venture took off.
Cottonwood Productions was the name of it. It’s somewhere around 1982 to 1983 they realized that the real money was in distribution like anywhere else. It was at a time where Edwin Meese, the Meese Commission, has an enormous amount of regulation on adult film distribution. You can imagine which states they were. It was illegal to transport adult film across certain state lines. There was this bootlegging aspect that existed. It’s a legit black market adult film.
Guns were fine but adult films were not.
You’ve got Nancy Reagan doing D.A.R.E to keep kids off drugs and you have Edwin Meese saying no porn. My mom was like, “We’re going to make it.”
Your mom sounds badass.
She was cool. The best part about it is she’s a single mom. She’s at all of my baseball games. She’s making nachos in the snack bar at Little League. She’s producing adult film during the day. We moved from this two-bedroom apartment with a hatchback. It sounds so cliché, but she bought a Cadillac Seville. It was four-door black. It was so dope. I remember the steering wheel to this day and the smell of the leather Cadillac seat. It’s such a porn car. My mom would roll with this. She had some bigger curls. If you go to my Instagram, you can see pictures of my mom.
Your mom was so beautiful. She was so cute with her hair too.
She had red curly locks and a bit, I’m a Jew so I can say that, L’Chaim.
That’s the extent of my Hebrew also.
Can you say, “Go crap in the ocean”? In Yiddish, that means Gai kukken afen yam. If you say that to any Jewish grandmother, they will laugh. They’ll understand. If someone is getting on your nerves, you say, “Gai kukken afen yam.”
Thank you, David. This is so good.
You are welcome.
The next time I go to any of my friends’ homes for some Jewish holidays, I’m going to bust that one out. Your mom’s doing well. She’s driving a badass pimp Cadillac.
We got a condo in Panorama City that had two flights of stairs. It was huge.
That’s major when you come from living in an apartment and were struggling.
We go from apartment to another apartment. I don’t remember if there was a third one. Before she married the guy and when I was two, she lived at my grandparents’ house. She goes from living with my grandparents to living in a two-bedroom apartment in a studio city. After the divorce, we moved into a two-bedroom in Sherman Oaks. She gets a Cadillac and a condo.
Did you go to the set?
No. My mom also never went to set. She was always too embarrassed.
I liked that she owned it in a lot of ways.Theaters are benchmarks in a way because being in theater is a harder grind. Click To Tweet
She was the person that everyone wanted to talk to. She was the businesswoman. Everyone wanted to deal with my mom. From a filmmaking standpoint, even if she was around now, she would laugh about it.
Was she honest with you about what she did?
It was not at the beginning.
Not until when?
It’s when I found the first tape.
How old were you?
I was seven. When my nephew was seven and I saw how small he was, I thought, “That’s how small I was.” I was tiny, real impressionable. I saw double penetration but not in front of me.
Were you horrified?
I didn’t understand it at all. None of it made sense.
Were you like, “Mom, I found this tape”?
No. It was like when an alcoholic would drink and fill their vodka with water to get back to the line so that no one knows, I watched the entire thing. I remember trying to rewind it back to the exact spot where I had. It was in a black pleasure chest bag. There was a cat o’ nine tails whip inside the bag as well. None of it made sense, but I did put it back to where it was. I found one other thing that also didn’t make sense.
Was it props?
Yeah. It was a thing and I let it go. I told Jeremy Kersey and Tom Younger who were my friends. I think Jeremy told his mom. It was like the scene from A Christmas Story with the parent. Who did he learn the word from when Ralphie says fudge? Ralphie says, “Fudge,” and freaks out. They ask who he was. He was like, “Whoever puts his tongue on the thing.” I have a feeling that mom chatted with my mom and was like, “You need to talk to David. I don’t care what you do for your work, but he’s got to know what’s going on.” She had a discussion with me. It was in 1985. I’ve already seen double penetration, orgy. I’ve seen all of those things. I went to Pine Crest Elementary, a little private school here in the valley. We had our sex education. They were showing us the thistle for a flower. They were telling us about the vas deferens, which I still don’t know where it is. I don’t know if I have one or if you have one.
My mom called things by their real names. It weirds me out when people call it anything but what it is.
We were talking about ovaries and vas deferens. I was sitting there going, “They have no idea.”
You knew so much.
I was confused by so much.
You had seen a cat o’ nine tails.
Once it’s there, you can never unsee it. Whenever I see it now, I’m still a little giggly like I’m seven.
Your mama passed away.
She was 50.
My husband’s mom was 49. It’s the worst. What did she die of?
It was leukemia. She had been sick for decades. I’m grateful that they kept some of it from me.
Did she know she was sick too?
She had Crohn’s disease in the mid-‘80s. She had beaten breast cancer in 1998. The treatments over the years had something to do with immune systems lowering. You get leukemia usually from being anemic. She probably believes she was on borrowed time for a long time. She lived her life to the fullest. She’s been gone for several years, which is baffling to me because I know we’re still only in our early 30s. It’s like a lifetime has passed when I think about that.
Did she ever see you perform?
Yeah. The best job she saw was when I didn’t have my Equity card yet. It’s the California Shakespeare Festival, which is in Orinda, California, just through the Caldecott Tunnel over Walnut Creek-ish.
What role was it?
I was Edgar in King Lear and Ferdinand. I was terrible. I was too young. I was 24 years old. I didn’t know what I was doing.
You don’t know a lot about bitterness.
I don’t know about hiding. I understood the father. Edmund is the bastard but Edgar is the one who is shunned. I also played poorly a couple of years later as I got older.
I don’t believe that. I’ve seen your resume. There’s a lot of Shakespeare on there. I know you must be good.Shakespeare is meant to be enjoyed by everyone from all different walks of life. The plots are universal. Click To Tweet
He’s been a lifesaver at times, the old William Shakespeare.
I can’t wait to start taking my kids to some of these shows at festivals. There are some of the best theaters. That’s the way Shakespeare was meant to be enjoyed. It’s not just sitting in a classroom and reading it. It’s having everyone from all different walks of life watch it and see it. The plots are from human experience.
They’re universal. I did have a teacher that used to say that back in Shakespeare’s day, they did not go to see a play. They went to hear a play.
It’s a podcast style.
My little nephew had to do a paper on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We were speaking Shakespeare to one another.
Have you done Theatricum Botanicum? That theater is gorgeous.
That’s where I was. I played Coriolanus. The cool thing about that is Ellen Geer, who played my mother in Filumena in a production, gave me my first job as a spear-carrier in 1990-something.
You came full circle back there. That’s special.
I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena. I did not get asked back for my second year.
It’s their loss.
I had a teacher there named Jennifer Parker. She said the one thing that we adults say to the young ones. “This won’t make any sense to you now, but this might be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you.” We said that. As the young one, we’re like, “You know nothing.” Jennifer said that exact thing. She said, “I want you to go find Ellen Geer at the Theatricum Botanicum. I want you to take some Shakespeare classes. You have a little gift. I want you to explore that a little bit.” I did. In Backstage West, back when you would get it every Thursday, there was a little 4×4 ad for Theatricum. My mom enrolled me and I took this six or ten-week course with Ellen and another woman named Melora Marshall who is her sister. Susan Angelo was another actress there. We didn’t even get up there at the beginning. We would take the classes at the Methodist Church in Hollywood. I got there. We had done it in the winter. I went and saw a production that summer and she hired me. I remember stepping onto that stage for the first time.
Being hired is a big, special, huge deal.
I was a spear-carrier. They also made me the fight captain in this production of Richard III. I remember thinking I was there. Every hour that I could possibly be there, I was there every second. I didn’t know that several years later, I’d be playing Coriolanus on that stage. I remember showing up at my first rehearsal thinking, “There’s going to be a kid here. Whether it’s a guy or gal, there’s going to be someone in this production.”
That’s one of those moments when you’re as young as we are, it comes back around the things that feel powerful and poignant. In a way, when you’re younger and older people our age would talk about this with me, I would a little bit roll my eyes. Things strike you as very meaningful. It’s these big benchmark moments. That’s a big one. When I looked at your resume, you’ve done theater and voiceover.
I’ve played Bacon Baron in a Subway commercial.
You’ve done commercials, guest stars and co-stars. Now you have a recurring. The time flew by. They should catch your handsome, hunky self.
I have a beard right now but there will be son’s beard starting on May 28th, 2019.
It’s on TNT, Animal Kingdom. You can see him on Instagram as @IAmDavidDeSantos. Maybe you’ll be starring in some theater productions that we can go around and see à la Anthony Hopkins. He talks about being in the Royal Shakespeare Company as one of the most depressing and worst life.
It’s was a little dark in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
When I hear, I’m like, “I want him to romanticize his time in the theater. He does not romanticize it.”
It was dark.
It was not good. Thank you for coming.
Thanks for having me.
I’m so appreciative. I love you.
Remember that it’s the adult film industry.
It’s the adult industry, not porn. Thank you.
About David DeSantos
David DeSantos was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley to an industry family. He grew up in the post-production world, having a Grandmother who was a film editor on tv’s first western, Gunsmoke. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and has been working in the nations top regional theatres for almost a decade, as well as working on Television’s highest regarded shows. In 2011, he was honored to be a part of a dramatized version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that was nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word / Audiobook.