Well, this was bound to happen at some point. It may as well happen now.
Whenever I am asked/freely spout to anyone who will humor me about my favorite actors, I begin by listing off the well-known stars: Hugh Jackman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Farrell, Chris Pratt… Always, the final name on the list is Jack Davenport, the latest addition to this group (who I have lovingly dubbed, “The League”). I usually state his name with some slight hesitation and, for some reason, I twist my face up in a way that I hope reads as, “You know him?” I have found that due to the age and nationality of those I am typically speaking to, the answer is largely, “No.”
The conversation then goes either one of four ways:
1.”You know Pirates?” “Yeah?” “The guy Elizabeth dumps for Will.” “Ohhh…”
2. “You know Smash?” “Yeah?” “The egomaniacal director.” “Ohhh…”
3.”You know Kingsman?” “Yeah?” [Makes slicing sound with mouth and gestures with elaborate hand motions] “Ohhh…”
4. “You know [exhausts all three of these options]?” “No, I still don’t. Please stop asking me, and let me and my wife return to our dinner in peace, ma’am.” “Oh. Well, he’s…Jack Davenport. Look him up. …and enjoy your meal.”
Well no longer, my friends! Though I have covered my love for Pirates of the Caribbean extensively, particularly my adoration for Davenport’s portrayal of the stuffy, bewigged antihero James Norrington, I wish to spread awareness of this actors’s existance firstly to my immediate circle of friends and colleagues, but also just to merely state my reasons to the universe of why he’s extremely cool, incredibly underrated (at least in the United States), and deserving of a J.K. Simmonsian renaissance. Without further ado, let’s dissect (Kingsman pun definitely intended) the work of actor Jack Davenport.
The remainder of this post contains spoilers for The Pirates of the Caribbean original trilogy (2003-2007), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).
Jack Davenport was born to actors Maria Aitken and Nigel Davenport in London, England in 1973. Though belonging to the same occupation within the film industry, you couldn’t get more divergent performers: Nigel was known for such prestigious films as Chariots of Fire, and Maria has a fantastic comedy background. She directed the fast-paced, farcical stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award, and appears in one of my favorite comedies, A Fish Called Wanda (1988).
Davenport really never set out to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become an actor. He took a drama course during a gap year and was asked to work on some projects which earned him some connections. He then grew interested in working behind the camera, and took the advice of his mother and wrote to her friend from A Fish Called Wanda John Cleese to ask to work on his upcoming film, Fierce Creatures (1997). His letter was transferred to casting, and boom – that’s how you become an instant zookeeper!
His big break came with his casting on the hit British TV series, This Life, which followed the mid-90s boom of content depicting the lives of young professionals in metropolitan areas a la Friends and Sex and the City. Through Andrew Lincoln, Davenport’s This Life co-star and the man currently portraying The Walking Dead‘s fearless leader Rick Grimes, Davenport met actress Michelle Gomez (Doctor Who fans, it’s your time to shine!). The two were introduced while Gomez was playing the sole female performer in the original theatrical version of Trainspotting. According to Gomez, Davenport would wait for her at the stage door after many performances, and please pardon me as I melt over how adorable that is. Gomez is most recently known for playing the female incarnation of the Master, Missy, on recent seasons of Doctor Who. Though I would hardly call myself a devoted Whovian, her performance as Missy is teriffic, and she is overall a very skilled comedic actress. Take a look at a one-time stand up set she did on completely on a whim. She’s amazing:
The two married in 2000 and have a young son named Harry. Also, very important note, Andrew Lincoln was the best man at their wedding. I can only hope that like his Love Actually character, that he too organized a wedding flash mob.
Professionally, Davenport then made a grand entrace into Hollywood with 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. His character, Peter Smith-Kingsley, was written for the film alone, and does not appear in Patricia Highsmith’s novel upon which the film is based. Peter’s inclusion to the plot adds a further exploration to the homosexual tones that the film explores, providing the titular Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) with an outlet of pure, unconditional happiness. It was the pursuit and rebuffing of this happiness that causes Tom to kill Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf in the film’s first act, and therefore Peter’s character serves as a perfect counter to Dickie entirely. Davenport’s role is not only integral to Tom’s character arc, but also the conclusion, as his eerie, unsettling utterance of the film’s final lines leave viewers completely numb and horrified by the twisted beauty that is The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Then…Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ll save you any sort of analysis, because I might start typing and never stop. Quite simply, his performance as the agonized Commodore James Norrington who fails to get the girl, fails to take down his enemy, and fails to, well…live, is remarkably well done. More on this later.
Davenport’s career traverses projects on both large and small screens, including TV series like Coupling, Swingtown, and the Steven Speilberg-produced hot mess of a show that will forever remain my guilty pleasure Smash, and films like The Libertine, Pirate Radio, Kingman: The Secret Service, and A United Kingdom. One could say his career between film and television has been…SPLIT! (I have had years of practice, folks. The Kingsman puns will never stop)
- As an actor…
Derek Wills, Smash: Force of directorial authority who undermines, belittles, and sexualizes the female leads of a Broadway show.
James Norrington, Pirates of the Caribbean: Force of maritime authority who becomes blinded by ambition trying to stop Jack Sparrow.
Allistair Canning, A United Kingdom: Force of colonial authority who tries to prevent the freedom of a nation and the marriage of an interracial couple.
Peter King, White Famous: Force of production authority who misinterprets race issues and generally makes things exceedingly difficult for our protagonist.
At face value, one might notice a few similarities when examining Davenport’s filmography; They are all seemingly unfeeling antagonists who are in postition of power and will do anything to keep it. It would be easy to assume that Davenport has therefore been ruthlessly typecast. One could make the same conclusion from the filmography of his wife, who has jokingly stated that she was “born with the face of a villain.” Though secretly, as a proud Slytherin, I would love to dub the Davenport-Gomez’s “The King and Queen of Villains,” both of these performers have an added level of nuance to their roles that make each of their characters distinct, complicated, and make viewers ravenous for more.
Davenport has stated his intentions to not become, “England’s next sneering villain,” and he accomplishes this by effortlessly adding a level of humanity to his roles, villainous or otherwise, that evoke such a level of audience empathy that it is nearly impossible to not be at least slightly disappointed when even the most heinous of his characters are vanquished.
One main tactic he uses to achieve this sympathy is what I call the, “Instant Heart Shatter” look, or IHS for short. The roles he typically plays don’t emote in wildly shifting ways, as they’re usually of the “British stiff upper lip” variety. Davenport plays the conflict between emotion and repression like a master. This manifests itself in the form of IHS, where the amount of hurt, disappointment, resentment, and agony his character feels is communicated to the camera with a single look. The below gif of Norrington depicts the IHS expression in action, but seek it out and you will easily find it, such as in Ultraviolet, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Smash, and many more.
- As a human…
“If you can think of the set as a playground, and you’ve got the person who can transcend all the different cliques and make everybody laugh, it’s Jack Davenport. He is one of the funniest men I have ever met in my entire life. He will always bring a smile to everybody’s face, it doesn’t matter what’s going on, how hard the day is – if you go see Jack, you’ll brighten up. Jack is a fantastic actor and a joy to be around.”
Fellow actors and crewmen have said the same about Davenport when working with him. Making a film is a tedious, strenuous, and chaotic process. But when it comes down to it, it is a business with the purpose to entertain a mass audience. Any way to alleviate some of the stress on set through simply being a decent human goes a surprisingly long way and makes the outcome so much better.
That also leads me to what perhaps appeals to me most about Davenport – he recognizes his occupation exactly for what it is, and though caring deeply for his craft, never takes it too seriously. A recent article about his latest role in the show Next of Kin even made note of how incredibly modest he is when discussing his profession. He never seeks out the typical pomp and circumstance that accompanies fame or recognition. He is incredibly private and is dedicated to making sure there is a clear distinction between personal and professional life.
Getting a Davenport project is a rarity. Picture working in an office. Someone orders donuts in the office every so often, and in your cubicle, you sometimes look up to see the donut delivery guy walking your way. You get super excited, and why wouldn’t you? They’re donuts, and they are rather unexpectedly coming right towards you! At the last minute, though, the delivery guy walks right past you and delivers the donuts to Brenda. Frigging Brenda. Then about two years pass without the donut guy. And then one day, suddenly, that same delivery guy is back with the donuts! But guess what– This time he’s stopping at your cubicle. Those donuts are meant for you.
Okay, in that elaborate metaphor, Davenport content is the donuts, the delivery guy is the movie distribution companies and/or television networks, Frigging Brenda is usually Europe, and you are…well, you. Compared to other League members, Davenport’s work is few and far between, and when it does happen, there’s always a risk it won’t go wide. I often joke that he is the most expensive League member, as in order to view his projects, I have had to purchase films online for obscene prices and buy subscriptions to premium channels. One recent event that caused me to lose about ten years off my life was when he landed a TV series called Doomsday. It was sold to ABC at the same time as the now mega-hit series The Good Doctor, but was dropped at the last moment, spent a considerable amount of time with its fate in limbo, and finally settled at SonyTV who intends to release it with what they call, “global distribution.” Yet it has been a full year without any progress or updates. In the allegory of the donut man, this would be the equivalent of the the donut guy walking right to my cubicle, right up to my desk, and looking me straight in the eye as he dumped the entire box into my trash can.
But despite all of this, his fans find the content that he keeps working and releasing. I have located a following of dedicated fans on Tumblr, and they are a delightful bunch with a great sense of humor, all waiting for whatever new content reaches us if it ever reaches us. I think we’re all holding out hope for, as I said before, a J.K. Simmonsian renaissance, where Davenport will get a role that stands so far apart from his previous filmography that will cause both critics and audiences to turn their heads.
…but if that never happens, we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine because we know Jack Davenport will be fine. We’ll be fine because we are fans of an actor who is both careful in his craft and gives it the same regard he would any other job. We’ll be fine because we…
…are the Davenhoes.
…yeah, I’m still workshopping that name.
Photos from Giphy,except for the thumbnail image. That was totally me at Halloween this year. It was a time.