Actor David Tennant: From charmer to control freak
NEW YORK >> In person, David Tennant has charm aplenty, but nothing like the control freak he plays in the new Netflix series "Jessica Jones."
As the villainous Kilgrave, he plagues the show's title character — a lapsed superhero played by Krysten Ritter — with superhuman persuasion. Kilgrave's every wish is Jessica's command.
"There wasn't a massive amount of research I could do to play a mind-controlling psychopath," says Tennant. "At first glance, Kilgrave's power might sound attractive. But what would it really be like to live with?"
Viewers are invited to explore that at their chosen pace, since all 13 episodes of "Jessica Jones," based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, are available for streaming on the Netflix website.
Tennant says he's "properly hooked."
"My character doesn't really get going until episodes five or six or seven," he says. "Not being heavily featured in those early episodes allowed me to join them as a viewer without having to stare at myself."
Kilgrave is only the latest in a stable of varied, vivid characters tackled by the Scottish actor. They include a singing-and-dancing lawman in the TV crime drama "Viva Blackpool"; the 10th Doctor in the hallowed "Dr. Who" franchise; Barty Crouch Jr. in the film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"; and a detective investigating murder in a quiet British village in the hit series "Broadchurch" (plus the same role in the U.S. version that aired on Fox).
Tennant grew up in a small town outside Glasgow. He was the son of a minister, whose line of work, he notes, entails a certain element of theater, "so I'm sure that, somehow, watching my father 'perform' must have inspired me."
Shielded by youthful idealism from any recognition that "trying to make a living as an actor is a bloody stupid idea," he was accepted at age 17 to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and has been working since he was 20.
Now a boyish-looking 44, he is asked to explain his acting process. He bursts out laughing, with his insistence that he doesn't have one underscored by the T-shirt he happens to be wearing that proclaims, "Anybody Can Do What I Do."
But then, playing the good sport, he gives it a shot:
"It's a bit like wearing in a pair of shoes," he begins. "You put them on your feet, and at first they squeak and hurt and you can't really walk. But you LIKE these shoes, so you work away at it until the shoes feel comfortable."
He shakes his head and chuckles again: "What am I saying?!"
A model of humility, Tennant counts himself among those actors "just waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and go, 'Enough, man! We've all had a laugh. Now it's time to stop pretending you're any good at it.' You exist in a constant sense that you're balancing on some very shaky floorboards and at any time it's going to collapse, and you'll be left looking for a job at Starbucks."
But if that's the case, Tennant's balancing act continues to go well, "and I'm very grateful," he says. "Within the small range of choice you have as an actor, I do tend toward things I haven't done before. My response is, 'What an unusual thing to be asked to do! I should probably say yes to that.' And I feel very lucky that, thus far, my spectrum of choice has been broad enough to keep things bubbling along.
"As an actor, you just want to keep joining the jobs up — and keep feeling a little scared."
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