It’s festival time, one of my favorite times of the year! As with last year, I’m involved with both The Women’s Film Festival (TWFF) and qFLIX. The festivals offer hundreds of shorts and feature films including “Shadowlands,” which this week’s Portrait wrote, directed and starred in.
Charlie David is a familiar face in LGBT media. He was first known as the male lead in the LGBT horror series “Dante’s Cove” and has hosted shows on E!, NBC, OutTV, Logo, Here TV, Pink TV, EGO, Fine Living and Slice Networks. He has also appeared as a musical guest on VH1, BBC, CBS and dozens of radio shows. I was issued a copy of his film, which hits qFLIX March 21, and watched it in the early morning before our scheduled interview.
PGN: Joy, horror, tears, surprise! Thanks a lot for making me feel a rollercoaster of emotions before 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
CD: [Laughs] Aww, sorry about that. But I’m glad to hear that you were moved by the films. As you know, it’s shot in anthology style, so there are a few unique stories told with three different sets of characters, with love being the theme that ties them together. It was fun and newly challenging because I’d never directed scripted material before.
PGN: You’re from the place many of us threatened to move to after the last election.
CD: Yes! I live in Canada, between Toronto and Montreal. Mostly in Toronto because my partner is there working on his master’s and because my French is not great. But we love both cities, though I’m originally from Saskatchewan, a small area in central Canada.
PGN: Tell me about the neighborhood you grew up in.
CD: Very rural. A lot of farming — though both of my parents were educators. My mom was a teacher and my father was my high-school principal. He was a very involved dad. He was my hockey coach [and] my lacrosse coach. Looking back, I realize how lucky I was. There were five kids and they worked hard to provide for us and to support us in all our endeavors.
PGN: Oh lord, that would have been my nightmare, to have both parents working at my school!
CD: I was suspended by my father once.
PGN: Ha. Did he threaten to call your other parent? Just kidding. What’s a favorite family memory?
CD: Hmm … As siblings, we were pretty far apart in age. There are 16 years between the oldest and youngest. I’m the second-oldest. It seems like the parents that my older brother and I had were totally different! [They were] very disciplined and strict, but with my younger siblings it was much more relaxed. Because they were both educators, we had the luxury of time off in the summer, so I have fond memories of a lot of road trips, camping and exploring. Memories of being outside and surrounded by nature. Even now, if I get stressed, I can hear my parents’ voices whispering, “Go for a walk, take your shoes and socks off and get your feet on the ground … ”
PGN: What was the Saskatchewan Express?
CD: Oh my! Well, it was something that saved me from what I felt was small-town life. In 1980, it was our province’s birthday celebration and they’d had auditions to find singers and dancers to perform for the event. It became a yearly thing. It was a musical revue and we toured across the province and Canada doing shows in everything from schools [and] barns [to] huge performing-arts centers. I did it from age 16-19, living in hotels and the bus with a group of 15 other young people and it was a lot of fun.
PGN: When did your boy band, 4Now, come about?
CD: After high school, I went to the Canadian College of Performing Arts. I continued my singing, dancing and acting training there and towards the end of my first year, I got a call and was asked to audition for a boy band, and it was a weird journey. It was for one of those manufactured boy bands and I auditioned on the phone. Two weeks later, they flew me down and it was, “Here’s a condo and a car and some money. You’ll be opening for Britney and *NSYNC in three weeks. After two weeks went by, I was like, “Uh, can we rehearse, we don’t have any music! What’s our show? You’re sending us to clubs to be photographed and we don’t even have a song! What’s happening?” Eventually me and the other Canadian in the group were like, This lifestyle is nice but it’s fake. So we decided to quit and we didn’t want to go back home because we’d been given such a sendoff, so we decided to create our own band. We called it 4Now, which we meant as a temporary name but it stuck. It was fun but my heart was always in film and television.
PGN: I read that you opened up for acts like Destiny’s Child and Snoop Dogg. Tell me about one of your more-interesting experiences.
CD: Oh Suzi, they were all interesting in horrible and weird and wonderful ways. It was the time of the manufactured bands and we rode the wave with a manager who was really well-connected and we got booked to open for Sisqó and P!nk — and we didn’t even have a song! [P!nk] booked us off of a pitch! Then we had to scramble to book dancers and get into the studio, etc. That first show was so embarrassing. The costume designer was from the Vegas Strip and made these weird asymmetrical pastel tie-dyed tops with parachute pants and we opened up with a ballad. It was a hot day and everybody was waiting for the headliner and here we come serenading them with a ballad. Folks were not having it. We were pelted with water bottles! It was our first show and we were dodging water bottles but, kudos to us, we stuck up there and did our four songs. One of the guys threw the water bottles back but I took a more-zen approach. We did get better and had some amazing times.
PGN: I used to work on the “Bozo the Clown” show and somehow we got booked to do an appearance on this fundraiser with Flavor Flav and Public Enemy. They were surrounded backstage by the Nation of Islam guys and as poor Bozo entered the dressing rooms, it was quite tense. He tried doing the goofy Bozo laugh and the guys just stared him down with arms crossed. Usually no one can resist the Bozo laugh but they were not amused.
CD: [Laughing] That’s hysterical. It sounds like the time we got booked to open for Snoop Dog. Another just … not well-thought-out booking. Amazing that we actually got the job but it was like, What are we doing here? Four white-bread boys from Canada and the audience was like, “Who? Wha? No.” [Laughs] Maybe that’s why I wanted to go into acting!
PGN: You have Snoop to thank for your acting career. Speaking of which, you were on the travel show “Bump!” What were your favorite and most harrowing moments on the show?
CD: They were both tied to the same location, which was Southern Africa. Since we went, I’ve been back five times to South Africa and also Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana — it’s without compare. Being on safari, for me — I should specify “photographic safari” — is incredible. It’s back to nature where you can see a birth and a kill before breakfast, where you’re tracking rhino on foot, waking next to a lion being rehabilitated, having dinner and hyenas are trying to steal your food. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. In North America, we don’t generally worry that wildlife is going to get us at any moment. But there, you have to always stay vigilant. You’re surrounded by wild, powerful, incredible animals. It’s humbling and moving at the same time.
PGN: I skipped talking about “Dante’s Cove.” Was that your breakout role?
CD: I’d say yes. At that time, we were one of the first shows with several openly gay actors on a brand-new gay cable channel, so there were a lot of firsts that got people to tune in. The show itself was … uh, best watched as a drinking game. [Laughs] But we had a lot of fun making it. Most of us were in our 20s, shooting in beautiful locations, doing ridiculous things like running around shirtless fighting witches and warlocks. It was wonderfully camp without meaning to be. I wish they’d caught on and rolled with it. Between the network, directors and the writers, no one really knew what to do with it. I remember some nights getting the [script] and being like, How can I make this believable? I’m being chased by a warlock! But people enjoyed it, as silly as it was, and we had fun.
PGN: And now you’re on the other side of the camera with this latest project, “Shadowlands.” It too has touches of the supernatural.
CD: Yes, it was developed from a book of short stories I wrote with the same name. It has homoerotic, supernatural elements. It has a “Twilight Zone” feeling to it where it’s a world like our own, but odd things can happen. Yeah, taking on the role of director was exciting. When I produced my feature, “Mulligans,” we discussed me directing it and I think I wisely chose not to. I was too green and writing, producing and acting would have been too much. Even now, there were a lot of hats to wear and there were times when I wondered if I could pull it off. But in independent film especially, you learn to pull through and figure it out.
PGN: It seems that the three films in the anthology each has a little touch from your past, some supernatural aspects, an international bent and a nod to nature.
CD: Yeah. I think you can’t help but be influenced by your experiences and I put a lot of me into the stories. In “Mating Season,” which is the middle film and takes place in the ’50s, it was inspired by all this old video footage I found of my grandfather. I didn’t know him but I knew he’d always been an interesting guy — a jack-of-all-trades and he was also a high-school principal but did architecture and photography. Seeing him on video was amazing. He died before I was born so I never met him. It was so special.
PGN: This isn’t your first time in Philly, is it?
CD: No, I actually did the premiere for “Mulligans” in Philadelphia. Years ago ... 2008? And I’ve been to Philly for Pride. I’m really looking forward to coming back and being at the festival again.
PGN: What films are you looking forward to catching while you’re here?
CD: Oh my gosh. There are so many good ones! I’m only there for one night because of my schedule, but Thom Gustafson’s film, “Hello Again,” which I think is the opening-night film, is one I wish I could see. We were on the film-festival circuit together when I was promoting “Mulligans” and he was promoting his first film, “Were the World Mine.” I loved that film, so I’d love to see this one too. I’m excited to see Alan Cumming’s film “After Louie,”[and] “Still Waiting in the Wings” produced by Jeffrey Johns, who I understand is going to be here, is another good one. The first one was really fun and I think the sequel will be great as well. There’s a lot. You all have put together a really enticing program.
PGN: One of the things I liked about your film is that even though it dipped its toe in the horror genre, it didn’t go over the top with the gore.
CD: I’m the same as you. I do not watch horror. I do not like violence of any kind, so it was challenging to do, Suzi. Especially the first piece, “Narcissist.” I was like, OK, I wrote this and I don’t know where this came from or why but now that it’s here, how do I deal with it? The lead character is so vile, right? From tip to tail, he’s ugly inside. And as an audience, we’ve become so desensitized to violence, so how do you satisfy expectations of those elements for an audience that has been tempered to see gore and my own sentiment against showing it? I’d rather let you imagine stuff than be graphic with it. I prefer psychological thrillers to horror films. I think my imagination is good enough to fill in the blanks.
PGN: [Laughing] Appreciated. I was looking through three fingers and then was happily able to remove my hand. Your film deals with the supernatural. Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
CD: Growing up Catholic, I think you’re steeped in the bells and smells and all of that. One of my part-time jobs as a kid was playing the organ at a funeral hall. It was really weird because they kept me in what was basically a closet with no lights. I had a little slit that allowed me to see the casket but not any of the visitors. There was a blue piece of cellophane covering my light that I used to read music by. It sounds macabre but I’d get excited when the phone rang saying that someone had died because it meant I’d earn $100! Later when I moved to Montreal, my first place was haunted. I’d find things moved around, you’d hear sounds but, more than that, you’d just get the sense that something was there. One time when my partner and I were in bed, I feel the imprint of feet on the bed, someone walking around and stepping over our legs. It got to the point that I’d sometimes sleep on the couch because I just couldn’t stay in the bedroom. Since I was traveling a lot, I’d often let friends stay at my place. One friend who’d stayed there said, “You guys know Charlie’s place is haunted, don’t you? The bedroom is insane!” It was nice to have confirmation from someone else.
PGN: Well, it’s nice to know you’re bringing authenticity to your film!
“Shadowlands” will be screened at qFLIX 7:15 p.m. March 21 at the Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey Place. Visit http://bit.ly/2tQ0gdf to purchase tickets.