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Robert Davi - Interview

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 19 / 1 / 2024

Robert Davi - Interview

"I recorded a song in Italian," Robert Davi chuckles. "It was in 2020, and you can find it on YouTube. It was about what was going on at the time. The song is about a man who gets to a bridge. He's about to jump, when he hears a voice from an angel, who tells him that 'it's not so bad.' There's the voice of a baby, and the love of a woman. He is reminded of the beauty in the world." Clearly invested in the beauty of the world, Davi is ringing to speak about his appreciation for storytelling, both as a singer and an actor. Much of it stems from his heritage as an Italian American, and Davi notes the similarities between his background and my own. "You guys had potatoes, and we had pasta," he cackles. More seriously, he spins a yarn about Ray McNally: "I was in Dublin the week he died for the premiere of ‘Licence to Kill’, and I addressed him to the crowd." Davi, a noted follower of tradition, says it was important to bring McNally back to his country of birth, and asked the audience to join him in celebrating the late actor. The interview begins on Zoom (Davi is wearing a Santa hat), before technical problems drive us to carry the conversation over the telephone. During the early stages, I inform him that ‘Licence to Kill’ - the James Bond vehicle that features a menacing turn from Davi as nefarious drug baron Franz Sanchez - is my personal favourite in the series. "I want everyone to say that," he responds.But it's a film he's obviously very proud of, and compliments Timothy Dalton in a performance that might be the closest in tone to the original books. "I always say Dalton is the father of Daniel Craig, and it's a shame he didn't get his third Bond. [Producer] Cubby Broccoli always said it takes three films for a Bond to get accepted. I mean, ‘Goldfinger’ was Sean Connery's third!" Davi brought genuine menace to the series at a time when it was embracing near self-parody, which might explain why his performance and the film itself holds up in the grittier Craig era. But he's equally passionate about his music, explaining that he discovered his voice by chance. "I was singing in the shower after [sport] practice," he says, highlighting his desire to keep it hidden from his classmates. And yet word quickly got out: "Sister Gabriel Gerard asked me if it was me singing. I was in a Catholic school, you see. Anyway, she suggested I join the Glee club." Like any teenager, he was reluctant at first, but changed his mind when he got there. "There were three or four Catholic Irish girls there, and I said to myself : 'This ain't a bad gig I got here.'" It was his mother who pushed him as a singer ("It was my mom's persistence," he smiles,) and harnessed his voice in a variety of mediums. "I used to sing at Latin masses," Davi explains. "I wish they'd bring back Latin masses. I won a gold medal at the New York State solo competition. I was a big fan of Sinatra, Tony Bennett and an Irish tenor called John McCormack. In an Italian household, there are two important figures, Eoghan: Sinatra, and The Pope!" Like many teenagers, Davi enjoyed The Beatles, and has been known to perform 'Hey Jude' and 'Something' during his concerts. "They changed music," he says. "It changed from the American songbook." Does Davi see a similarity between himself and Rod Stewart, another disciple of American music? "No," he says. "We have very different voices. I studied opera. I studied how to perform a three part story." When I inform him that I notice similarities between his voice and (The Divine Comedy singer) Neil Hannon's, he says, "Get in contact with him, and we can do a concert together. I mean, I did a concert with Roger Cicero in Germany." Davi's acting credits include such action classics as ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Predator 2’, but he can see that I'm anxious to talk about Bond. "Those books were incredible. They started being popular around the time of Kennedy. I think ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’ was his favourite." He won't be drawn into what he considers to be his favourite book, but concedes that ‘Casino Royale’ set the ground going. "Timothy and I decided that from the beginning that we would be mirror images of each other," he says. Is it fair to say that there's a sexual undercurrent between Bond and Sanchez? "Oh yeah. I mean, it's also there between me and Benicio [del Toro]. You get that in Latin culture, and that was something I brought to it. I think we were ahead of time with that." Not half! John Glen, who directed five Bond films, calls ‘Licence to Kill ‘his best work, and considering the ambition - Bond is stripped of his honour, badge and social circle in the first hour - he's not wrong to single it out. "John was wonderful to work with," Davi beams. The pair worked together again on ‘Christopher Columbus: The Discovery’, which was released to celebrate the American Quincentenary in 1992. "There were problems on the shoot," Davi sighs. "Not with John, but with the production. But it was wonderful to work with these great English actors, and a great English crew. There was Marlon Brando, who I'd met before, and Benicio. Benicio called me his mentor during ‘Licence’". Davi is currently working on a film where he plays an Orthodox Jew "who saves three hundred Jewish girls in 1942," and hopes to perform in Ireland in the future. At present, Davi is touring across America with his Jazz combo, performing under the moniker ‘My Kind of Town Tour’. By the time this article will be published, Davi will have played two nights at Boca Raton (December 3rd and 6th, to be exact.) “I have an album coming out in 2024,” Davi confirms. "I studied acting under Stella Adler, and I enjoy being an actor,” Davi continues. “But I guess what comes from my heart, and makes me happy is singing. I directed a film in 2007 called ‘The Dukes’, where I sang. I was encouraged to take it up again after years. " "I worked with Phil Ramone.." He stops himself. "Phil wasn't one of the Ramones [chuckles uproariously]." I'm familiar with Ramone - he produced Paul McCartney's excellent 'Return to Pepperland'. "Yes, he worked with McCartney. He also worked with Streisand; all of Billy Joel, basically. Well, we worked together on my first album [‘Davi Sings Sinatra -- On The Road To Romance’], and Phil said I was the heir apparent to the American Songbook." What Davi brings to his craft goes far beyond mimicry. You can sense that he finds a purpose from his personal life, much as he would to a character on the big screen. "I sang for Tony Bennett," Davi says, the emotion evident from his voice. "It was for his ninetieth birthday." That said, he doesn't see the difference in scale and size, stating that he's played to tens, hundreds and thousands of people in the process. This reminds me of a Cat Stevens quote: No matter the size of the audience, integrity is paramount. "Yes," Davi beams. "I love Cat Stevens. I haven't covered him yet, but I'd like to." More impressively, he tells me about the time he worked with Bob Dylan. "I worked with him on a video called 'The Night We Called It A Day'. We had a great time together, and we worked for seventeen hours over four days together. It was a great experience, and at the end, he told me he learned more about acting from me than anyone else." I can't think of a finer compliment than that!

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