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Playing the Heavy

Actor Robert Davi has made a career of playing tough guys with a signature cigar.
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 4)

That could change, though, with "Profiler." With the series in its infancy, Davi and co-star Ally Walker have been working closely with the writers and producers to flesh out and establish the characters. To make their characters realistic, Davi and Walker worked with a retired FBI agent, and they have been deeply involved in the creative process.

"A project like this is a living, breathing thing," Davi says, resting up for dessert. "The artists--meaning the actors and writers--are the ones going into the pit, journeying into another world, and we know when something is working and when it isn't. If it's not working, we go back to the writers. It's not about ego; it's about quality work."

It's also about expanding your skills. "I get frustrated if I don't have the creative process, I get frustrated just being a monkey," Davi says. "Even Shakespeare had collaboration." Because he likes to be so involved in the process, Davi can easily envision himself directing or producing one day. In fact, he has a story in the works now that he wants to direct.

But at this stage, Davi's focus remains on acting and turning "Profiler" into a major success. He is thoroughly enjoying the impact and visibility of doing a weekly TV series. "The reach and power of TV are incredible," he says. Each week, "Profiler" reaches a viewing public that is larger than a feature film that grosses $200 million, Davi says. How is that possible? Because the week after a "Profiler" segment is shown in the United States, that same segment is shown in 44 countries around the world, thanks to advanced technology and a vast network of foreign distribution.

The pace of the show is grueling. In essence, the "Profiler" team is turning out a small feature movie every eight days. With that kind of daily grind and pressure, Ally Walker says it's good to have a veteran like Davi playing opposite her and keeping things loose. To keep her relaxed and somewhat off-balance, she says Davi constantly slips into rollicking imitations of Bogart or Italian gangsters.

"I love Robert," says Walker. "I think he's one of the funniest people I've ever met. And we're trying to inject some of that into the show. Because that's how intelligent people are; they relieve stress with humor." Walker knows what she's talking about. Her father's a scientist, her mother an attorney, and Ally studied biology and chemistry in college and worked for a time as a researcher in genetic engineering.

Beside intelligence and humor, Davi and Walker have another basis for a lasting friendship: cigars. Walker grew up among cigar smokers in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When she was trying to quit smoking cigarettes, she would often light up a small Montecristo instead. She still enjoys Montecristos on occasion and she also likes a fine Romeo y Julieta. Still, as a cigar lover, she will never be a match for Robert Davi.

"Sometimes I start early, sometimes with a robusto at 9 a.m., before the gym," says Davi. "I average about three cigars a day, but I can get up to six or eight cigars a day when I'm smoking heavily. Why do I love cigars? I could say the obvious, that it's comparable to opening a great bottle of Champagne, or seeing a great boxing match, or having a great red wine at dinner, that sort of thing. But it's not that. I get a certain craving, a certain idea."

In "Profiler," Bailey Malone often gets that same craving, and the script writers have learned that they'd better keep their cigar intelligence up to snuff: Davi is a stickler for cigar accuracy. During the shooting of one early segment, Bailey Malone was meeting with a shadowy informant and the dialogue called for him to say, "Ah, a Cohiba." The problem was that the prop involved was a Montecristo No. 2, not a Cohiba, and Davi kicked up a ruckus. "Bailey would obviously know a Cohiba from a Montecristo," he says. "So I made the writers change the dialogue."

By this stage of the lunch, Davi has knocked back his filet, a mountain of fries, a big salad and even a tasty biscotti or two. Sated, refreshed and ready to go home for a nap, Robert Davi seems a happy man. And why not? Here's a guy starring in a big TV series, he has the original Guess Jeans model waiting for him at home, and Monte's and the Grand Havana Room treat him like a king of the realm. And besides, as he heads out into the bright L.A. afternoon, what is this man cradling in his hand? A long, lush Fuente Fuente Opus X, just begging for a match.

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