Raw talent

From a savage Puck to a naked Marquis, actor Giles Davies has quickly established himself as one of Tampa Bay's best.

Giles Davies is easily one of the most talented actors in the Tampa Bay area. I first saw him in April, 2009 in Elizabeth and Edward at Gorilla Theatre, and pointed him out as the best thing in the show. I was equally convinced a month later by his Friar Laurence in Studio@620's Romeo and Juliet — I noted that he seemed to have wandered in from, of all things, a Shakespeare play. Further performances have been as successful – and in this year alone, he's been a savage Puck in freeFall's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a dubiously innocent South American doctor in A Simple Theatre's Death and the Maiden, and a manic, sarcastic (and literally naked) Marquis de Sade in Jobsite's Quills. Davies' arrival on the Bay area scene was sudden, but in 30 months he's established himself as a performer not to be missed. How he reached our sandy shores is a question I've been meaning to put to him from the beginning.

So finally I did: I sat down with Davies at the Barnes and Noble Café in South Tampa and asked him to explain everything. He told me he was born in 1971 in Hong Kong to British parents, who divorced when he was six months old. His mother met her second husband — an American — when they were both acting in Fiddler On The Roof at one of the several Hong Kong community theaters.

Davies himself started performing at age 5, and was instantly hooked: "It was something I always loved to do, and people seemed to love me doing it." Then, when he was 14, his stepfather got work in the States, and the whole family moved to Indianapolis. Davies found the place terribly cold and flat: "It is the mirror-absolute-opposite of Hong Kong." But he acted in school productions, and tried to develop his craft. By the time he played King Arthur in Camelot, though, his interests were turning to punk rock,

"If I was going to go through singing, it was more about rage," he said.

He majored in theater at Ball State, but his punk look was so "extravagant," the theater department was reluctant to cast him. "Half my head was shaved, the other half was maybe an inch-and-a-half long and I would spike it out. I would spray-paint it. And then I had a rooster, you know, maybe three or four inch Mohawk out of the front, and a really long tail at the back. And I'd wear a lot of black eyeliner that I'd design on the side of the face." Still, a stint in Sartre's No Exit made the professors take notice, and before long he was cast in The Tempest and in Othello. He agreed to compromise on his hair (he still keeps it dramatically long), and acted as Charles Dickens in a one-man show that he's returned to repeatedly over the last 20 years.

After Ball State, he spent several years traveling the world (Malaysia, Thailand, Belgium, England), finally ending up Stateside as an MFA student in performance at Ohio State. After graduation he was hired by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, where he stayed for nine years, playing Richard III, Coriolanus, Brutus, and Vladimir in Godot. Finally, though, he was ready to try something new (and "I also got very tired of the winter, being a tropical creature"). When his girlfriend in California suggested they visit her family in Sarasota, he discovered Florida — and "the vegetation is very similar to Hong Kong, it's warm, I really did like it." A trip to see a friend in Gulfport turned into a new housing opportunity, and within a week Davies heard about an audition at the Gorilla. "And I've been pretty lucky ever since then."

Will he stay here? Yes, mostly. He's about to return to Cincinnati to play a role in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, but he'll be back. And he has a message for us locals: "You need to fight against the belief that the best work in the country is coming out of New York. That's not the case. And cultivate a direct appreciation for the artists that are working within their own community. ... These are your artists. They are staying here because of you, they live here because of the money that you give the theater. And if you like these artists, come see and support their work."

Certainly, one reason to go to the theater recently has been to see Giles Davies. He's that good. He's that surprising.

I suspect that he has many more gifts still to bestow.