Thanks to streaming services, such as Netflix, that give shows an extended life after their natural life-spans come to an end, David Denman is, perhaps, most well-known for playing Roy Anderson on the American adaption of “The Office“. However, Denman, a character actor with an impressive range, has had a vast filmography beyond the hit NBC series. A Juilliard graduate, Denman has worked with such acclaimed directors as Steven Soderbergh, Michael Bay, Joel Edgerton, M. Night Shyamalan, Doug Liman, and Tim Burton, playing characters spanning a skittish CIA analyst, an eccentric used car salesman, an oblivious husband in a stale marriage, and real-life security contractor Dave Benton.
In his latest film, “Brightburn,” as Kyle Breyer, Denman plays the concerned father role. A unique twist on the Superman mythos, “Brightburn” reimagines the scenario of an all-powerful, Man of Steel-esque alien landing on Earth with a malevolent plan instead of one involving him destined to be Earth’s benevolent, righteous protector. Breyer must make choose between stopping the havoc he believes his son has been wreaking in the small rural town of Kansas, or his love for his child.
Recently, I spoke with Denman about his favorite “The Office” moment, some of his career highlights, preparing for the role of Breyer, how James Gunn‘s controversial firing and rehiring from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” by Disney, boosted the film, his future plans for directing, and more.
You’ve covered both film and television throughout your career. If you could pick a career highlight, or highlights, what would you choose?
That’s an interesting question. I really love this movie I did called “Puzzle” a couple of years ago with Kelly Macdonald. I hadn’t seen anything like that with a woman, coming-of-age story, and I thought that Kelly was so amazing in it. We had such a good time making it. But I got to do so many different things along the way. My first movie was “The Replacements,” and growing up, I always wanted to play sports. I never really did. I was always doing theater. And here I was in a professional football stadium shooting a movie with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, who was my childhood idol. I’d seen every movie he’d ever done. You always remember those first, exciting experiences with nostalgia.
I loved my time on “The Office.” It’s crazy to see, with the streaming services, how many fans there are of the show now. I get high school kids constantly coming up to me [as] super fans. I think it’s more popular than it ever was when we were on the air, and that’s pretty crazy to be a part of something like that. Not very often do we, as artists, get involved in something that becomes a cultural kind of thing like that did.
What’s your most memorable experience being on “The Office”?
There were so many good ones. But there was an episode we did called “Booze Cruise,” and we shot it in the harbor at Long Beach. We shot all night long, and then we had to leave in the morning and shuttle off of this houseboat. And Steve Carell and I jumped on a pontoon boat and blazed through the harbor. That’s always been my memory of being, “This is the coolest job in the world. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I laughed all the time on that show and had a blast.
How does acting in an intimate on-set experience as “Puzzle” compare to acting in a larger-scale action-horror film like “Brightburn?”
Surprisingly, a lot more similarities than you would think. “Brightburn” was made on a pretty modest budget, and James Gunn is someone I’ve known for a very long time. And Liz [Banks]- they’ve known each other for years. They did one of their first movies [“Slither“] together. The director, David [Yarovesky], is one of James’s oldest friends, so it was a real family experience of, “Hey. Let’s all get together and make a movie.” There are only a few characters in this, so there was a real intimacy between all of us creating that family. [Like in “Puzzle”], most of my stuff plays out like a Greek tragedy between Tori and I. This dynamic between the two of us trying to figure out what’s going on with our son, and fighting amongst ourselves, and her having blinders on and only wanting to see the good in our son; and me having red flags popping up left and right, saying, “something is going on here. We gotta do something about it.” But by the time we figure it out, it’s too little, too late.
When James was fired from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” were you worried that this film may not see the light of day?
We already had distribution with Sony before all of that went down, and we were immediately reassured that the movie would still go out. In a strange twist-of-fate, it was actually the best thing that could have happened to this movie, because, initially, they wanted to release the movie in January. And then they liked it so much, they wanted to move it up to November. And then they decided, “Let’s hold off for a minute and figure out how this is going to play out and assess the situation.” And that gave the filmmakers the opportunity to really reexamine things in the movie that they may want to do some reshoots .
They always had intended that maybe they would do reshoots at some point. You have such a limited time to try to make a movie like this with a limited budget that, James is smart enough to know that there are things that are going to fall through the cracks, so let’s leave ourselves the opportunity to solve those problems later on. But by giving more time, it got them the chance to re-edit the movie. And I think it got better. But there was definitely a moment of, “Whoa. What is happening, here?” I’m grateful that everything worked out the way it did. Because here we are on memorial weekend. It’s pretty crazy for such a modest film to go from that to this.
And the pushback of the release also really built anticipation for the film.
Yeah. I think so. It all worked out.
Your character, Kyle Breyers, is, in a lot of ways, a stand-in for Jonathan Kent. You love your son, but you’re conflicted when you discover the horrible truth about him. When you read the script and began preparing for the role, what was the biggest hurdle to overcome in bridging the gap between you and the character?
I always fall into those logical things, where I’m like, “Well, I wouldn’t do this [laugher].” Any normal parent would go, “Hey! He’s chewing on a fork! Maybe we should do something about this.” But the problem is that once you start unspooling it and putting too much logic, then you don’t have a movie. That was the hardest challenge; living within the parameters of this, new genre, if it will, of logic. I watched it again last night, and it goes so quickly that it doesn’t give you a chance to think too long. With any of these types of movies, if you keep the pace up, you can get away with a lot of stuff because any horror movie, it’s always like, “Don’t go back in that room! Why are you walking in there?” That’s what’s fun about them.
For me, there are many things where I would hope, as a parent, I would step in a little sooner to see some of these problems and do something about them before they become what they become. But then again, I’m not raising an alien child that I know of, so I don’t know if there was much that they could have done in this situation to change things.
In a lot of ways, this film pays homage to James Gunn’s filmography. How hands-on was he as a producer throughout principal photography?
He was there every day. He was very helpful. He was what you hope for in a producer that’s smart and able to point out the things that you all, as a team, maybe aren’t seeing in the moment. There are definitely moments of comedy. He said, “No, no, no. You should try it like this. Just get another version of it so that when you get in the editing room, maybe you might want to play with this.” Some of those things made it in. Some of the things are a little too over-the-top [laughter], to be quite honest. But ultimately, his guidance was incredibly influential for all of us.
You’ve worked with some of the most unique and innovative directors working today. Have you ever thought about directing a film?
Yes, I have, actually. I plan to do it. It’s just when you’re not a writer, it’s really hard to come up with that project as an actor. I did watch Joel [Edgerton‘s] process [in “The Gift“], which was really inspiring. I feel very comfortable being on set, working with the crew, leading that, and knowing what I want, vision-wise. But following that all the way through to the get the movie to where it is today, where we’re about release it, there’s a whole other step of filmmaking that I’m just not as privy to. I’d want to probably produce something before I throw my hat in the ring to direct, just to have that confidence. But that’s definitely a direction I plan to go in my career next.
Speaking of next, are there any projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
I did this little Dolly Parton series for Netflix, and I had a blast doing [it]. I grew up being a huge Dolly Parton fan, and it’s basically an anthology series where each episode is a different song of hers made into a little movie. And the one I’m in is a Western. So, they called and asked if I wanted to ride a horse, and shoot a gun, and work with Dolly Parton. I was like, “Uh, yes. Hello.” So, that was a no-brainer on my part. And I like to say, “She’s better than advertised.” She’s just an amazing woman, and so lovely. I’m excited about that, but that won’t come out until the fall at some point. But that’s it right now. I’m just sort of waiting to see how this plays out and figure out what I’m going to do next.
“Brightburn” hits theaters on Friday.