*Clifton Davis has had a helluva successful career in Hollywood.
He’s been entertaining, he says, for 55 years.
His work has been seen on film, television and, on stage where he made his Broadway debut in the 60s in Hello Dolly.
Fast-forward seven decades and Davis hasn’t skipped a theatrical beat.
On Feb. 9, the consummate entertainment veteran will reprise his role as Dr. Dillamond in “Wicked,” set to open at Orange County (CA)’s Segerstrom Center from Feb. 9 through March 6, 2022.
He previously played Dr. Dillamond in Wicked in 2012-2013 and was asked to make a return engagement. The handsome Tony and Grammy-nominated actor, best known for his roles in Amen, That’s My Mama, and other television series like Madam Secretary, New Amsterdam, Blue Bloods, and Billions is excited about returning to the stage, yet again.
Davis, who recently released his jazz album, Never Can Say Goodbye, has appeared in eight Broadway shows including Aladdin where he originated the role of Sulta. He also played Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
I recently caught up with Davis (CD) while he was in Arizona, to discuss his latest turn in the play, Wicked.
Darlene Donloe: Why did you want to do Wicked again? This time at the Segerstrom Center?
Clifton Davis: I have been doing it for five months. I wanted to do it because I did it nine years ago in 2012-2013. I toured with the national company for a year and a half. I had a ball. I left and went to Broadway in Aladdin for four years. I was semi-retired and went to Florida. Then, I kept getting jobs. I was getting bored sitting on the sofa. An actor and artist – we don’t feel as alive sitting around like when we’re working. I was enjoying quasi-retirement. I got a call asking if I’d do Wicked again for six more months.
DD: What do you like about your character?
CD: I like that he is brilliant and that he is well-loved by his students and is an excellent professor. I actually play a goat. I like that he has uncovered one of the most plot cases in our play – the mistreatment of animals. I like the arc of the character and what it says about keeping your ear to the ground. The show deals with issues that come out of the paper – like not always taking what leaders say at face value. The show deals with relationships. People can believe a big lie if you tell it often enough.
DD: How long have you been in showbiz and why did you want to semi-retire?
CD: I started in 1967. I semi-retired because for a while I was working on Broadway six days a week, two shows a day for years, I was tired. I wanted to play golf and have more time to myself. Then I got a recurring role on Madam Secretary. I did the fifth and sixth seasons. I also had a recurring role on Godfather of Harlem.
DD: You play Dr. Dillamond. He is a goat who has the ability to speak and interact with humans, as well as a professor at Shiz University. He is a supporting character in the Broadway musical, Wicked. Is it easier to play this character or to be yourself on stage? How is this character like you?
CD: He is only like me only in the passion and pursuit of knowledge and the joy of teaching. Other than that, he’s nothing like me. I play a goat that talks. He’s not at all like me, Clifton.
DD: Talk about how you prepare for a role.
CD: I come in early to be relaxed. I come in one hour early and look around and look at my costume and open my script and go through every word I have to say on the stage. I read the notes, and remember the directions. I embrace those fresh every night. That way I don’t go out cold. As years go by you learn a lot of things. It’s very easy to get distracted. My advice is to review before going on.
DD: Have you ever forgotten your lines?
CD: Yes, I have forgotten my lines. It’s called ‘going to the white room.’ You open your mouth and nothing comes out. It is the worst feeling, especially if you’ve done the show for years.
DD: Do you have to like/love a character in order to play them?
CD: No. I’ve had roles where I didn’t like the person I had to become, but I did it anyway. These days unless it’s an outright villain who gets his comeuppance, I won’t do it. Right and wrong have to be clearly defined. I played a pimp once. I didn’t like him. I played it full out. It was acclaimed.
DD: What is it about the stage? What does it do for you?
CD: It challenges you. It’s not easy to go in front of 2,500 people every night and perform. It’s a challenge. It’s also enlivening knowing there are real live people out there. You can’t say, “cut, let’s do that again.” You have to bring it now and experience it night after night and share your emotions, lines, moods, and songs every night, and do it fresh because that person out there may not have ever seen it before. It’s where I started. You can tell a whole story under those lights.
DD: You’ve been in the business a minute. Aside from money, which we all need, what gets you excited these days to go to work?
CD: Getting a role in a really fine dramatic TV series. Getting a role period. It’s great to know I’m still wanted and can pull this off. It’s uplifting to know you still got it and have a good time doing it as well. I also want to encourage and help young talent.
DD: Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished in your life?
CD: I am because this has been fulfilling. When I try to belittle myself – there are those who tell me I’m out of my mind. I did pretty good for myself. I sure did achieve a lot. I thank God every day
DD: What are you most proud of in your career?
CD: The show, Amen. I loved that character. It was the closest character to being myself. Rev. Reuben Gregory is a part of Dr. Clifton Davis.
DD: What did you expect from showbiz and what did you get?
CD: When I got into showbiz, I expected to have the joy of performing on stage. That was it. I had seen a Broadway show and I thought that was it. I wanted to have that performing experience. Eight months after that I was in the chorus of Hello Dolly and having that experience. That’s all I expected. I didn’t’ expect to be a star or famous. I didn’t even expect money. I didn’t think about all of that. I thought, ‘yes, I could make a living.’ It’s been rich and rewarding. This has been a blessing from God who had to save me many times along the way. I have friends who love and respect me. I have wonderful memories that I will cherish. And hope for my future. There is more in store.
Darlene Donloe is a seasoned entertainment and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, LA Stage Times, The Wave newspapers, LA Watts Times, Black Meetings and Tourism, This Stage, Los Angeles Sentinal, EMMY, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Grammy, and more. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.