Film star Donald Faison has worked in comedy for almost 20 years, but this weekend his real lifelong dream comes true with the opening of the sci-fi thriller "Skyline." Beloved as a comic sidekick in films including "Clueless," Faison made a different kind of mark for himself in the drama "Remember the Titans." He's worked extensively as a voice actor and appeared in many music videos, but most fans know him as Dr. Chris Turk in "Scrubs."
The Skanner News editor Lisa Loving spoke with Faison last week about his career, his family – and his childhood goal of being just like Harrison Ford.
The Skanner News: Talk about your current project.
Donald Faison: Skyline, it's in theaters Nov. 12. It's an action sci-fi adventure that takes place when the world comes to an end.
TSN: I'm sorry but that's a little too realistic right now.
Faison: Really? (Laughs)You mean with everything going on that seems more realistic?
TSN: Well what do you think about the election results? I know you're an artist, it's just that an artist such as yourself, even big movie artists, everyone is affected by the communities around us. That's what I'm asking you what you think about it.
Faison: I find it interesting that Obama's optimism is very in my opinion – refreshing, although he did get his butt kicked last week, but he stills seems like, you know, we'll stay on course. I commend him for that.
TSN: How did you decide to become an actor?
Faison: I knew since I was five. My parents worked in a theater and I always used to have to go to the theater and watch the plays they did. We didn't have a babysitter so I'd to have to sit and listen to the plays over and over and over again, and I started ruining the plays for the people who would come and see them because I would recite the lines before the actors had the opportunity to do it. I guess that was my own way of rebelling. And my mom was like, 'You know what? We need to put you in one of these plays if you're going to do this.'
TSN: What was the first play you were in? What was the first part you played?
Faison: It was called "When the Lion Roars," I was about six years old. It was about the sun coming down to earth to find positive people on the planet, because he was afraid earth was on its decline and that there weren't any nice people in the world. And I played the Sun. And in the show I go to the planet earth and I sing songs and I spread my light, and it shines bright and makes everything OK.
TSN: So where was that? What theater was it?
Faison: It was at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. That's where my parents worked.
TSN: Your parents, it sounds like they were instrumental in helping you create the life you live now. Who are the biggest influences in your life, or the biggest mentors you've had?
Faison: The biggest influences and mentors in my life? My mom, Shirley Faison, is definitely a huge influence. She was the one that told me if I wanted to be an actor I pretty much had to go on every audition I got, because that was what taking my career seriously meant. And sometimes it sucked because I would have basketball games or little league games I wanted to go to. But because I made the commitment to being an actor, my mom wouldn't let me, and I had to go on the audition even if I didn't get the part. And that built a lot of – if she hadn't have done that I don't think I would be an actor now. I would have given up.
And Harrison Ford. And Denzel Washington – I kind of idolize him to this day. It's kind of weird because the day this movie comes out, Denzel has a movie coming out, so does Harrison Ford.
TSN: Do you know them? You must know them.
Faison: I do know Denzel, I have never met Harrison Ford. I've been dying to meet the man and it has yet to happen. I don't think I would be able to contain my energy if I met him, because he's the reason I am an actor today – I wanted to be Han Solo growing up more than anything, and I wanted to be Indiana Jones more than anything. And I realized at a young age I couldn't fly spaceships and stuff like that unless I was an actor. Because we're not really trying to do that here, in real life, in reality. And so, you know, I think there's maybe two Harrison Ford movies that I have never seen.
TSN: So that's what makes "Skyline" so exciting. Have you done science fiction thriller before?
Faison: This is my first sci fi action thriller, you name it, everything before this has been pretty much a comedy. With a couple of dramas in there. And when I became an actor, like I said I loved Harrison Ford growing up, this is what I thought I'd be doing from the gate. I thought I'd come into the game and – like Sean Aston in "Goonies" – I thought that's how it would start. I remember when I was a kid I'd go out for all these projects where kids were going on adventures and stuff like that and I'd never get the roles and I'd be so pissed off. But I'd get all of the comedy roles that I went out on.
And I thought, how can I parlay this into an action adventure? How can I turn my career into one that has action adventure in it and not just comedy? And for about 20 years I have been doing comedy – I'd say about 17 now since "Clueless" came out.
And, you know, "Skyline" came around and it was exactly what I had always dreamt about. And I got to do so many cool things in it. It took a long time but I was prepared and ready when it got here and I don't think I would have been prepared and ready before.
TSN: What did you need to prepare? I mean what constituted being prepared and ready?
Faison: I've been a kid for most of my life, pretty much. And now I'm an adult. I'm not just a man, I'm an adult now. I'm starting to get comfortable in my skin, and it took a real long time to do that. You know I think with that comes a presence of leadership or a presence of confidence that I think is very necessary in the action adventure world.
And so when "Skyline" came around – before "Skyline," I'd worked out and stuff like that, because of "Remember the Titans," they taught me to work out and play football there. So I've been doing that for all of these years. And so when "Skyline" came, I realized I was going to have to do a crapload of stunts -- and you know, be a leader. I was ready for that.
TSN: Do you see yourself as doing more roles like this? Or – to be honest I love your comedy roles so I don't want to complain about it. I just love some of these movies.
Faison: I'm not complaining about my comedy roles. I'm very happy to do comedy roles. I just always wanted to do an action adventure. Bill Lawrence, who's the creator of "Scrubs," he used to write sketches in the show – when he found out how much I love doing stuff like that he would write sketches into the show where I'd be Harrison Ford. On "Scrubs," I got to be Han Solo and I got to be Indiana Jones and stuff like that. And I thank him for that. You know what I mean? And now I got the opportunity to do "Skyline," and it's great.
TSN: It looks awesome.
Faison: It really is. I saw it the other day. It's really great.
TSN: I've only interviewed a couple of movie stars, and it's weird to hear about what it's like for people such as yourself when you get to see that thing you worked so long on. It must be something when you see the whole thing come together, because of course you've seen the script and you know what it's about – but there must be a weird shocking moment when the whole thing comes out.
Faison: Yes, and my family gets to see it too. No, I mean the studio rented out an entire theater for my whole family to come down and watch it – my uncles, my dad, my mom, my friends, everybody who I knew. Disney rented something like a 100-seat theater, and put a bunch of my friends in it, and we watched "Remember the Titans," and it was my first time seeing it, and I remember crying like a baby.
TSN: I remember that movie was a real weeper.
Faison: I wasn't crying because of what was in it – I just couldn't believe that I got the opportunity to do something that cool. You know what I mean? And had the opportunity to do something with Denzel Washington, because, you know, you have dreams of doing something like that, but most dreams don't make it to fruition – you know what I'm saying? So it was surreal for me.
And so watching "Skyline" this time around, I had the same experience. I didn't start crying or anything like that, but there was a moment when it was like – another goal of mine, and I put a lot of hard work into it and it took pretty much my whole career up to this point. But I did it. And it felt so good. So matter what the movie does when it comes out – I'm hoping the movie does well – but no matter what, I feel like I accomplished that.
TSN: And so what is your next goal?
Faison: To make another one like this (he laughs).
TSN: What has been the biggest obstacle in your life?
Faison: Being able to get past my own fears and insecurities in this industry.
TSN: People like you, when you get up on the screen you make things look really easy. But I bet that in your day to day life you probably have a lot of discipline and certain things that you do every day to keep your feet on the ground and your head on straight. Do you do yoga or do you do martial arts or something like that?
Faison: I lift weights and I've been taking a martial art recently, krav maga, it's an Israeli fighting art.
TSN: And what does that involve?
Faison: It's dirty fighting (laughs again). But that's not what keeps me grounded – I have a girlfriend who keeps me grounded. And my girlfriend pretty much – the things she says to me and the things she makes me realize when we're out and about and people tell their stories, she's always the one who says, 'Did you hear what he said?'
I'm not going to say that she's like my mother, because she's not, but I couldn't ask for a better partner in this world. We've been together for about five years.
Anyway I was standing online at ChikFilA today, and this dude behind the counter was like, 'You look familiar,' and I said, 'I'm an actor.' And he said, 'That's cool, what are you doing?' And I said, 'I'm out here doing press for this movie I have coming out.' And he said, 'Oh, is it a movie you've wanted to do?' And I said, 'Yeah, I've always wanted to do it, actually, since I was a kid.' And he said, 'You know you always have to chase your dreams.' And he told me how his mom is 53 years old and she has just finally gone out on the road on tour for her first and only ever – and she's been trying to do it for a long time – gospel record. And he was like, 'She's been trying to do it forever and I'm just so happy for her.'
And my girlfriend said, 'See babe, see? When you work hard for something and you're prepared for something, it will come eventually.'
Watch the trailer for "Skyline" here