An interview with Dan Donohue, Calvin Rumple on Damnation

Meet the man behind the suit.  Dan Donohue, (Calvin Rumple, Damnation) and get to know the actor that brings him to life.
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How did you get started acting?

I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid but I had no idea how that might work – becoming one. I’d never met a working actor. And, other than Bing Crosby, I’d never heard of an actor who’d hailed from Spokane, where I grew up. So, the notion of me somehow becoming an actor was an obscure one. I tucked the dream away for a long time. But, when I was in high school, I learned that actor, Craig T. Nelson, had grown up in Spokane – and had gone to my school. I was excited about that! I had one of those, ‘What one person can do, another can do’, realizations and my interest in acting sparked to life again. Craig T. had found a way. Turns out, like many, he studied acting in a college theatre program and went on from there. I had no idea that was even an option! It seemed tangible, sensible, and doable – three things I’d never associated with acting before – and rarely have since. I followed his lead and dove into a college theatre program. It was a good fit for me. And having those first footsteps to follow was empowering.

What was your first job as a professional actor?

My first paid acting gigs were summer stock theatre jobs. I did pretty well lining up that kind of acting work for summer breaks during the time I was studying at Whitman College. I was a tall, gangly lad with bright red hair and a rumbly low voice. I ended up playing a lot of old men, wizards, and goofs.

How do you decide what job you take next?

Sometimes it’s as simple as, the next job is the job you take next. I like to keep busy. But if I have two job offers in front of me – if I need to choose between one or the other – I compare the quality of the writing, the character arcs, who’s directing, and the sort of challenges that each part might present. Roles that make me nervous are typically the ones I find most satisfying to play.

What’s been your most challenging role to this date?

I played Hamlet in 2010. That was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had as an actor. The play was produced by The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has been an artistic home for me on-and-off for over 20 years. I was able to spend the better part of a year preparing – working on the text and collaborating with director, Bill Rauch – before HAMLET rehearsals began.  We rehearsed for 5 weeks and followed with an 8 and a half month run. I was extremely proud of the production. To live with Hamlet for that length time was an unforgettable experience.

What’s your favorite part about acting? The most difficult?

One of my favorite parts about acting relates to what is most difficult. To me, the most challenging roles tend to be the most rewarding because they inevitably expose your limitations as an actor. It’s rough on the ego – it’s humbling – but it’s also a great opportunity to take inventory, to grow, and to evolve in your work. That evolution is incredibly gratifying. It’s why actors love to work on Shakespeare. Those roles make you better because they demand so much from you.

How did you hear about Damnation?

I had the good fortune of working with Tony Tost, on LONGMIRE. I’m a huge fan of Tony’s writing – and a big fan of Tony, in general. I’m not sure how I first heard about his pilot for DAMNATION, but it was on my radar, early on. I was eager to work with him again. So I crossed my fingers (I’m told that sometimes works) in hopes that there would be a role for me in it and that I would eventually get the chance to audition. Happily, both wishes panned out.

What about the show appealed to you?

The brilliant writing. The deep, gritty, and very American story. And, of course, the banker every farmer loves to hate: Calvin Rumple.

Do you relate to your character at all?

I do. Calvin’s made some bad choices. He’s created some dangerous alliances. I don’t need to approve of his behavior to be able to play him. But I do need to have an understanding of what prompts him to behave the way he does. Within that, there is plenty of shared humanity to be found. I think that much of Calvin’s behavior is prompted by fear. I can relate to that. To a certain degree, I think most people probably can. I’ve never been in Calvin’s situation, but I can relate to, and imagine, how he might feel – the kind of fear he must carry around with him. Calvin is walking a tightrope. For him, it’s life or death, and he’s afraid. He’s afraid of losing everything. He’s afraid he made a deal with the devil and afraid of what it might cost him. He’s afraid that he has gone too far, that he is losing control, and that he is in way over his head. I think he’s particularly afraid that people might discover how afraid he actually is.
He’s afraid he’s going to get killed. He should be afraid. I’d be afraid too.

Have you worked with the other cast members before?

I hadn’t had the pleasure of working with any of them before my first day on set. It’s an incredible cast. Though, I had a jarring introduction to most of them on that first day. One of the first scenes I shot was a mob scene outside the bank where 50 actors, playing loud and angry farmers, ferociously spit hateful insults at me. Poor Rumple. Just another day at the office.

How does this show compare to others you’ve worked on?

DAMNATION has been unique and amazing. As we shot the season, there was a rare quality of kindness, respect, and bonding – both on and off set. It was clear how proud everyone was to be a part of show and proud of the work being done.
Check out the trailer to see what all the excitement’s about:

What’s something about you that would surprise fans?

I played “Scar” in THE LION KING, on Broadway and in the national tour. I performed the role over 1700 times. Making children cry was my bread and butter back then. (That might not be so surprising.) DAMNATION related, here’s a bit of trivia: We filmed a short Calvin Rumple scene for one of the episodes (it was ultimately cut) in which I had to eat a Twinkie. During the course of shooting that scene, I ate 12 Twinkies. And lived.
Coincidentally, like acting, getting paid to eat Twinkies was also a childhood dream.
Want to see more?  Be sure to check out brand new episodes of Damnation every Thursday night at 10:00 pm on the USA network.