David Ramsey Interview: Star of New Series 'Outlaw' on Diversity in Television: 'I Applaud NBC'
Thirty-six year old Michigan native David Ramsey is best known for portraying pot smoking guitarist and confidential informant Anton Briggs in the Showtime TV series Dexter. The actor stars with Jimmy Smits (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, The West Wing) this season on the new NBC drama Outlaw, a show about a U.S. Supreme Court justice who leaves the bench to return to practicing law. Outlaw airs on Friday nights at 10:00 Eastern.
Ramsey’s television appearances include All of Us, The West Wing, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Ghost Whisperer, Wildfire, For Your Love, Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds. He has starred as the lead character in two biopics; Houston Astros pitcher, J.R. Richards, in Resurrection: The J.R. Richards Story and as Muhammad Ali in the FOX biopic Ali: An American Hero.
"I applaud NBC for doing it and hope the other networks remain diverse in their casting, in writing, and other jobs. When I say diverse, I just mean representative of the people who are watching the shows. That’s all. It’s not just about African Americans; it’s about Latinos, women, gays, conservatives, liberals, and the whole landscape."
Feature film Mother and Child starring Ramsey, Samuel Jackson, Naomi Watts, and Jimmy Smits will be released soon on DVD and the actor has completed the film Nailed, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel, and James Marsden.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): David, congratulations on the birth of your son! Are you getting any sleep with a newborn in the house?
David Ramsey: Melissa, oh my goodness! Let me tell you, girl, wow! This is a game for the younger, okay? It’s wonderful and it’s just endless boundless energy! He’s always, always up.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations also on the new series!
David Ramsey: Thanks. This is a lot of fun. I think it will get better as it does along. It’s not a regular procedural show. It takes things right from the headlines like Law & Order and other procedural law shows, but it also has heart. It’s really a family drama in the guise of a courtroom drama.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The pilot was met with mixed reviews. What was the general feeling of the cast after the first episode aired?
David Ramsey: The general feeling was, “Whoo, that’s over!” But more seriously, we all know where the show’s going and though the pilot was good, it really wasn’t a complete representation of the full charm of the show. There are some elements there but we felt like the following shows will really give a much better representation of what the show could do. We are looking forward to the future.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you become interested in the series?
David Ramsey: I got the script and liked the character. His name is Al Druzinsky so they weren’t looking for a 6’3” African American guy (laughs). But, I heard they were open so I said, “Great, I love the character.” I then found out Jimmy (Smits) was in it. Jimmy and I had worked together before.
We worked on Dexter, Season 3; I was his legal aide when he was running for president on The West Wing, and then the feature film Mother and Child. He and I had never really gotten a big chance to work “together” in these things, but we of course talked and knew each other. When I heard Jimmy was doing it, I was like, “Wow, great, a Jimmy Smits show!” Jimmy was the big deal for me, almost as big as me liking the character.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Conan O’Brien is one of the producers of Outlaw. Is he on the set?
David Ramsey: Conan has a representative from his production company, David Kissinger (of the Kissinger fame) who works on the show. He’s more of the hands on liaison of Conaco (Conan O’Brien’s company). Conan is busy gearing up for his new show so his hands are full.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your character is liberal and Jimmy’s character is a conservative so there are many opportunities for conflict.
David Ramsey: Yes, that in many episodes is an understatement because we naturally find ourselves at great odds with each other. When you’re talking about immigration reform and racial profiling and one person comes from a strict conservative belief and another person comes from a liberal belief, you’re going to have conflict.
The show is reflective of the American consciousness at large because you obviously have people who look at these issues from vastly different points of views. The show isn’t scared of that. It is reflective of the conversations that are going on in the land so it’s smart in that respect. But what it doesn’t do is go way way way left and way way way right and begin to throw stones at each other and insult each other. The liberals and the conservatives should keep helping the victims and that should be the goal. Al and Cyrus have that as a common thread. They both want justice for the victim.
Even though they fight it’s smart because at the end they come to a place where both are not incredibly happy, but both are pleased with the outcome, if you will. In this two party system you’re not meant to have one person win. You’re supposed to have the innocent win and somehow the liberals and the conservatives mesh their views some way or another so that the innocent can win. I think it’s so smart of John Eisendrath, our creator/writer, that he’s not scared of the conflict and doesn’t take one extreme side and bash the other side.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): All views are basically respected.
David Ramsey: Right and you may not completely agree, but you compromise. I think most people will reason it out and take the middle road. That is where justice is.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your character was adopted by a Jewish couple.
David Ramsey: Yes, we will reveal that also in the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will there be a dynamic between Al and his parents?
David Ramsey: There is a huge dynamic there. My parents and I and Cyrus’ father were all liberals. Somehow or another the wayward, womanizing son (Cyrus) became a conservative (laughs). We just don’t know how that happened. That’s part of the funny dynamic of the show that we’ll get into later on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Al and Cyrus not only differ in political views, but Al is a family man and Cyrus is single.
David Ramsey: Yes they are opposites. He’s Latin and I’m African American. We come from two different worlds. I’m Jewish, he’s not (laughs). Two different worlds, yet we’re best friends and fight on the same side. That’s America. You’re not supposed to agree on every single thing but you’re supposed to find a way to do what’s right. That’s the American experiment and I think it’s really smart.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): NBC has used the word “diversity” to describe the new fall season. Do you think that television has become a long way as far as putting African American actors in lead roles?
David Ramsey: I think so. First of all, what NBC is actually saying is “more colorful.” They’re actually using the words “more color.” Obviously you can read into that a number of different ways. But I think if you want to read into that as being they are taking baby steps to diversify the roles that may traditionally be less diversified, then I think that’s a fair way of looking at that when they say “more color.” I think it’s applaudable.
J.J. Abrams has employed two African Americans in Undercovers this season. NBC picked up that show. Terrence Howard (African American) and Alfred Molina (Latin American) are headlining Law & Order: Los Angeles. There’s Blair Underwood who’s playing President Martinez in The Event. The president is an African American of Cuban descent and he’s married to a Latin wife, So, listen, should we just say, “Great it’s fine.” We shouldn’t even have to mention that in 2010/2011? I think the idea of not mentioning it is the fear. I think you should have the conversation.
Television used to talk about these things very broadly like with Maude and All in the Family and these big racial shows that we’re scared to touch on today. Since the conversation can’t be had in a public forum and if someone does talk about it in a way that may be seen as racist, then you’re labeled a racist. It’s just gotten all muddled. I think you have to have the conversation.
You have to say, “Look, we’re doing something that should have been done years ago and we should talk about it now so our children don’t have to talk about it 20 years from now.” It will be normal for our children to see a black president in prime time or a white woman as president in prime time or any other minority in prime time.
You will see a representation of the American landscape on television and we should talk about it now so that our children don’t have to talk about it later. That’s what that generation of Maude, All in the Family, and The Jeffersons were trying to do, but unfortunately we got pushed back so now we’re having the same conversation they were having 25 years ago when we should have been beyond that.
We stopped talking about it because it’s taboo and people were very sensitive and you didn’t want to offend anyone. Now 30 years later we’re having the same conversation when in reality we shouldn’t, so hopefully we won’t be scared to talk about it and can flesh it all out so that we’ll exhaust ourselves with the conversation and our children won’t have to have the conversation. It will be just normal for them.
I applaud NBC for doing it and hope the other networks remain diverse in their casting, in writing, and other jobs. When I say diverse, I just mean representative of the people who are watching the shows. That’s all. It’s not just about African Americans; it’s about Latinos, women, gays, conservatives, liberals, and the whole landscape. I’m very proud to be on this network that is taking such a big broad step. Hey, a Latin guy and a black guy are heading up a show in primetime. I think that’s great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I do, too. Have you always wanted to be an actor, David?
David Ramsey: Since I was about 13, but before that I wanted to play football but I was 9 or 10 and too young for that. At 13 I got bitten by the bug while watching my brother act in a church play. He was someone I admired and looked up to … still do … and I just wanted to be like him. Girls really liked him when he was acting, too. I was like, “Yeah, this acting thing might be for me.” At 13 it was all about the chicks.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Girls liked football players, too.
David Ramsey: They did, but you had to pay a price there. You had to earn their love. It was literally no pain no gain. As an actor, I could be a lover not a fighter.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there any chance you might be returning to Dexter?
David Ramsey: Here’s the thing about Dexter and Anton Briggs in general. Anton and Debra were obviously in love and Anton left. Deb said he’s too good for me and I’m just a mess, goodbye, so he left. Everyone’s been saying, “That’s no way to leave. You’ve got to come back.”
I spoke with the producers before the beginning of Season 5 and there was some talk about bringing Anton back, but that was all talk and we just don’t know. That talk was with Clyde Phillips and he’s no longer with the show. He was one of the creators. We’ll see what happens next. I can tell you this, when you don’t die on Dexter you have a tendency to come back and then die. It may be a good thing I’m off in TV land someplace … alive at least.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have some films coming up.
David Ramsey: Mother and Child is about to hit DVD. That has been running for a while. Sam Jackson and Jimmy Smits are also in the film. It’s a very good story. I do have another movie called Nailed with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel coming out. It’s kind of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type of story.
Jessica plays a mid-America waitress who accidentally got a staple gun nail in her skull. A shot from the nail gun hit her in the skull. She goes to the hospital but didn’t have health care coverage. She couldn’t get the coverage because she had a preexisting condition (laughs). She and some other people who may be labeled as “misfits” decide to march on Washington and they bring their cause to Congress.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds interesting and very topical. David, how has being a father changed you, other than lack of sleep?
David Ramsey: You knew that was the first thing I was going to say, right?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes I did.
David Ramsey: Well, it’s still changing me. I tell you this, I was reading to my son one of the many books he was given as a birth present and I couldn’t get past page 3. I just started bawling. I closed the book, gave my son to my wife, and left the room bawling. I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been kind of a ruffian in parts of my life.
Obviously I’m in love with my wife, but I’ve never felt anything like this. People say it all the time and you’re like, “Yeah, well, whatever, okay.” But I’ve never felt anything remotely close to this type of love. It’s not just love, it’s protection, and it’s connected to second chances, hopes and dreams. It’s all of these things wound up in this life that looks like you. I mean my child looks like me. This is the most amazing thing.
There are emotions I’ve never felt before. So how has it changed me? It’s changed me in the fact that I … even though I’ve always looked at the big picture, I think about it a little differently now. Ultimately we remain immortal this way and that has become a resounding theme. That immortality has to be protected and nurtured and when I think about what NBC is doing and the conversation about diversity on television and our children hopefully will not have to have the conversation, it becomes much more real.
When I look at my child who did not come here with any of these preexisting notions, who gets all of this stuff plugged into him, I hope that some of these strives I’m making on TV will be a moot point by the time he’s 40. The birth of a new show and the birth of my son have been very interesting and rare in my life so it’s something that I’m still putting together. It’s a great ride.
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