The star of “About a Boy” explains the TV business and the plight of the tall man.
PLAYBOY: In “About a Boy,” you play a bachelor who becomes a surrogate father figure for an 11 year old boy. Have you learned how to be a better parent by playing a half-assed parent?
DAVID WALTON: In a way, I’ve learned what not to do. For instance, when Will, my character, took Marcus to a party that basically had prostitutes at it. I’m definitely not going to do that as a parent. But in a weird way, Will can be a good dad. A lot of people talk to kids like they’re idiots. Despite the fact that Marcus is half the size and a prepubescent, Will talks to him like they’re equals. I try to do with my own kids. When I’m telling my two-year-old that you don’t throw a dish on the floor, I explain it as if they’re a 25-year-old that hasn’t quite figured it out yet. This method isn’t working at the moment, but I’m going to stick with it.
PLAYBOY: Your co-star, Benjamin Stockham, is just 14 years old. Do you treat him like a peer?
DAVID WALTON: I do, yeah. And it’s easy because he acts like a 70 year old man. He’s very smart. When we’re on set, he’s either studying or arguing with adults using deductive reasoning and powerful logic. He outwits me constantly. I’ve been studying Socrates just so I can keep up with him. Next time I see him, I’m going to bust out some old-school argumentative rhetoric on his ass.
PLAYBOY: “About a Boy” was originally a novel, and then a 2002 movie starring Hugh Grant. Convince us that your show is better with some trash talking. How are you more awesome than Hugh Grant?
DAVID WALTON: Hugh’s got such a charming way about him. But he’s got that quintessential iconic butt-cut flop hair. It’s not good. It really does look like buttocks, don’t you think? I need to talk to the hair stylists on our show and see if we can do an ode to Hugh. I’d like to have one episode where I’ve inexplicably got his butt-cut hair style. Let’s see if Hugh and I can go toe-to-toe.
PLAYBOY: TV is unpredictable. Your show could be cancelled before this interview gets published. So let’s cover our bases. First, let’s assume “About a Boy” is doing well. To what do you attribute it’s amazing success?
DAVID WALTON: It really comes down to the stories and the writing. The characters are relatable and it’s hard not to fall in love with them. That’s really the main reason the show is such a massive hit, and keeps winning so many awards. It’s because it balances laugh-out-loud humor with gut-wrenching, heart-warming stories. It just feels like you’ve gotten a big, sweet hug at the end of your 30 minutes. And we all want hugs, right?
PLAYBOY: Okay, now the less sunny option. “About a Boy” is cancelled. What happened?
DAVID WALTON: Well, it’s one of these things where the writing was so good and so sophisticated and compelling that people just didn’t understand it. We were ahead of our time. I mean, it’s a shame, but I guess people in America just want to turn on their TVs and not think. You know what I mean? You want to be able to read a magazine while they watch television.
PLAYBOY: Over the last decade, you’ve starred in six TV shows that were quickly cancelled. Are you cursed? Have you pissed off any gypsies?
DAVID WALTON: It really did feel like that for awhile. But then logically, if you look at the numbers, only one in 10 series go on to a second season. And we made it to two seasons with “About a Boy.” That’s on my seventh show. So in a way, I beat the odds. Mathematically, I’m a lucky guy. If I’d gotten to, like, my 10th show and it was pulled off the air, I’d start to worry. At double digits I probably would’ve taken a turn for the worse, mentally.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a plan B? If the TV career went down in flames, how do you make a living?
DAVID WALTON: I had two Plan Bs. For awhile I was convinced I was going to become an investment banker, because I went to Brown (University) and a lot of my friends work on Wall Street. There was another time, after a long drought, where I seriously considered going into the cold-calling business. Basically a telemarketer. During one really terrible pilot season, in which I hadn’t gotten anything, I went in and started learning how to cold-call, which is just about the most depressing thing you can learn how to do. All day you’re being hung up on by people who hate your guts.
PLAYBOY: You grew up in a large family, with four sister and two brothers. Did your parents not know about birth control?
DAVID WALTON: I’d rather not think about it, if that’s okay. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Laughs.] Actually, the story that always gets told is, after the fifth child they were all done. And then, when I was about nine months old, a little surprise came and my mom took my dad out to his favorite restaurant in Boston, The Ritz Carlton. He was like, “My wife is wining and dining me. This is so sweet.” But it was all because she was planning to break the news to him that not only was she pregnant again, but she was carrying twins. I’m pretty sure the evening ended with him storming out of the restaurant.
PLAYBOY: What kinds of psychological abuse did your sisters inflict on you?
DAVID WALTON: I can’t really even get into it, because they have lives and I don’t want their good reputations to be tarnished. But, on the very light side, they’d do things like pin me down and let their spit just sort of dribble down inches from my face and then slurp it back up. There was a lot of weird, hormonal transference, if you know what I mean. They’d be having trouble with the boys at school, so they’d take out their frustrations on their cute little brother who’s got glasses. I mean, we’re not talking anything illegal, but we’re definitely talking things that are weird. They’d cross-dress me and take pictures, and I always looked super happy in the pictures, which is really confusing. It was all very scarring.
PLAYBOY: You played Jesus at a church pageant when you were four years old. Did it give you a messiah complex?
DAVID WALTON: Not really. But it was a great lesson in comedy. I took it very seriously. It was a retelling of some gospel story, and I was supposed to be Jesus, pulling on a big net of fish. And it was really hard to pull up. It weighed like 3000 pounds. But I put everything I had into it. I was intensely focused. I guess the congregation was expecting something different. A 4 year old goes up there, he should be shy and giggling and not really that into it. But I was fully committed to the task. And they started laughing. I had no idea why they were laughing; I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just trying to lift this goddamn net of fish. And that’s really when comedy works the best, you know? You can’t be trying to be funny. As an adult actor, sometimes I’ll muddle it up by over-thinking things. So I try to remember, what would 4 year old Jesus do?
PLAYBOY: Your official acting debut was in a 9th grade production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” where you played Petruchio, a character who has also been famously portrayed by Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, John Cleese, and Morgan Freeman. How did your performance compare?
DAVID WALTON: I’m not going to get cocky and claim I was just as good. But it was close. I was 14, and I’m pretty sure my voice hadn’t changed yet. I don’t think those guys knew how to do a prepubescent Petruchio, but I sure did. The plot is quite sexual, so that made it even more confusing that my voice was high-pitched and girly. I’m glad there’s zero video footage. I made sure of that.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of disappearing footage, we’ve heard rumors that your first TV gig was a McDonald’s commercial, but we can’t find evidence of it anywhere. Have you tracked down and destroyed every copy?
DAVID WALTON: No, it’s out there, but you wouldn’t know I was in it. It was my first on-camera gig and I was playing a basketball player. The whole idea was, we’re super tall kids ordering Big Macs, and in order to create the super tall effect, the camera pans up and just stops at our neck. So I had all my friends and family gather around the TV to watch the commercial when it first aired—it was my national television debut and proof that I was a real actor—and all they saw was my neck. That’s a nice way to get humiliated right out of the gate.
PLAYBOY: You’re 6’4″, which is ridiculously tall. Have you ever had problems kissing shorter actresses? Or shorter women in general?
DAVID WALTON: I never think of it as an issue, because I can just lean down and do it. But when you’re kissing on camera, it becomes an issue visually. It looks like a skinny dinosaur creature is trying to kiss someone. It doesn’t look good. It does not look like the classic romance kisses. If an actress is 5’3” and I don’t bend down to kiss her, she would probably be kissing my lower sternum. She’s got to stand on an apple box, while wearing a nice four-inch stiletto, and we’re in business.
PLAYBOY: When did you become a giant? Were you a tall kid?
DAVID WALTON: It happened when I was 13. In one year, I shot up eight inches. I went from 5’4” to six feet. The doctor examined me and said I was going to keep growing like that. He predicted I’d grow to a minimum of 6’9”. Which, as a teenager, is just devastating. I felt like a freak. I walked out of his office and just sat in my mom’s car and cried. But then I started lifting weights and smoking a lot of pot, and my growth spurt slowed down. It all worked out.
PLAYBOY: You got a BA in psychology at Brown University and studied psychology. Convince us that your degree wasn’t a waste of time. Explain the difference between the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.
DAVID WALTON: The Id is basically all your subconscious impulses that are dark, and there’s no moral code attached to them. They’re just your basic needs to love, kill, whatever it is. Your Ego is this filter that’s managing your whole body and making sure that your Id isn’t completely taking control. And then your Superego is your enlightened self, where you’re judging right from wrong. But I’m all confused now, because most people these days talk about Ego as being this Id-like thing, where it’s the enemy, and if you’re doing things for your Ego, you’re being misled. I thought Id was the bad thing, and Ego and Superego were the good things. But now Ego’s bad. And Superego isn’t even talked about anymore. I guess I’m going to start operating entirely from my Id.
PLAYBOY: One of your first jobs was selling knives. You were the number one knife salesman for Cutco in 2003. Do you remember your sales pitch?
DAVID WALTON: Oh, yeah. Are you currently enjoying your knives? Well, let me tell you something, the most dangerous thing in the kitchen is a dull knife. A lot of the extra effort you use to cut things is actually what makes the knife go askew and you cut yourself. What you really need is a 440-gauge, stainless-steel, triple-rivet technology in a thermo-resin handle. Because without those things, you’re going to be doing a lot of slipping around. And honestly, if it isn’t a Cutco knife, you’re just playing with fire. I have a form I could e-mail you, and we could start you out with a studio set, which is a nice beginner. It won’t cost you more than a couple hundred bucks, and I’ll even throw in the super shears, which can cut a penny, and are dishwasher safe.
PLAYBOY: Wow. That’s pretty impressive. Were you ever tempted to sell knives during an audition?
DAVID WALTON: I actually did it. I probably owe my whole acting career to knives. I was in this Off-Off-Broadway play called “One Day On Wall Street,” and a Fox executive came and saw it, and it got me a meeting with Marcia Shulman, who at the time was the Executive Vice President of Casting at Fox. I sat down with her and we started talking, and at the time I was pretty broke, so I was trying to sell knives to any single person I saw, and she was no different. She liked the pitch so much that she bought a set of knives and she gave me a holding deal—a $75,000 holding deal at Fox—which meant they flew me out to auditions in LA. That messed me up for a solid five years, as far as being delusional about how things work in Hollywood.
PLAYBOY: Amanda Peet has called you “George Clooney mixed with Matt Dillon.” Are those the two actors you’d pick that best describe you?
DAVID WALTON: Maybe there’s some similarity in the eyebrows. Both of those actors have bushy eyebrows. The comparison I get most often is C. Thomas Howell, mixed in with some Ace Ventura because of the hair. I travelled to Italy once and the owners of this small restaurant in Ischia—a tiny island off the coast of Italy—were convinced that I was Jim Carrey’s brother. Not just convinced, they demanded that I was Jim Carrey’s brother. They made me take pictures with the entire staff in the restaurant. So, I guess the answer to your question is, I look exactly like Jim Carrey’s brother.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been shirtless a lot, from the Christina Aguilera film Burlesque to the pilot episode of “About a Boy.” Do you do anything special to make sure your torso is screen ready?
DAVID WALTON: In the case of Burlesque, I hadn’t been too disciplined about working out prior to that movie, and I remember walking into the trailer and Stanley Tucci was sitting there without a shirt. He is just completely jacked. The guy is shredded. We had a morning-after scene together where we’re both shirtless, and I made the call right then and there that my character had to wear a blanket for the entire scene. For the “About A Boy” stuff, I’ve got a “no shirtless” clause in season two. So now I can eat craft service without having to worry about things. But there are ways. When I did Think Like A Man, Too, all the guys in that movie were literally doing push-ups the entire time. We’re talking thousands of push-ups a day as a group, just getting nice and disco pumped for every single take. If you ever see an actor in a shirtless scene where their face is bright red and they’re breathing hard even though they’re supposed to be relaxed, you know what’s happened right before the cameras roll.
PLAYBOY: Your first kiss with your future wife, Majandra Delfino, was on a TV show called “Quarterlife”. During that kiss, were you thinking “She’s the one” or “Snap out of it, man, this is just make believe?”
DAVID WALTON: It was definitely one of those things where you’re kissing and then you’re like, “Okay, I could keep doing that for a long, long, long time.” But of course, you’re both acting, or at least pretending to act, so it’s confusing too. That was the last kissing scene we had on the show, so I had to figure out another way to keep doing it. I had to present my case, if you will. I think it was pretty one-sided at that moment. I got the most out of that kiss. But it’s a very nice feeling when you have a clear goal with someone and you don’t have any reservations. And it was very nice when she finally reciprocated.
PLAYBOY: Both you and your wife sometimes have to kiss other people as part of your job. Is there any jealousy? Have you ever watched her kiss another actor and thought “I’m going to pound that guy’s ass?”
DAVID WALTON: She just had to kiss Kevin Connolly a bunch for her show “Friends With Better Lives,” and Kevin and I fight all the time. I just punch him in the face randomly, and he takes the abuse because he knows he deserves it. No, I’m just kidding. She kisses the nicest guys in the world. She actually had to kiss Josh Duhamel down in Atlanta in this movie with Katherine Heigl and I wasn’t around. Whenever I’d mention the kissing scene to other women, they’d just be so excited for her. And that was not a fun feeling. He is awesomely good looking and, it looks like, in a relationship. My wife and him are not together, which is great.
PLAYBOY: To be fair, you’ve had some enviable on-screen partners. You made out with Zooey Deschanel in a bathroom stall on “New Girl.”
DAVID WALTON: Zooey’s a friend of mine now, but that was literally shot on day one. It was like, “Hey, nice to meet you.” Aaaaaand action. Two and a half minutes after shaking her hand for the first time, we’re slamming up against a bathroom stall. That was very, very weird. I’ve done a few kissing scenes, but I’ve never had to do the… ugh, I cringe just to think about it…. the full sex scene where you’re like—I—I honestly don’t know how people do it. I know it’s super technical and whatever, but I don’t know how graphic I can—I guess this is Playboy, but, uh…. to mimic the act of penetration, it makes my skin just… it gives me goose bumps. Ugh!
PLAYBOY: Many celebrities have taken out insurance policies on their famous assets. Fred Astaire insured his legs for $75,000 each. Dolly Parton insured her breasts for $600,000. Troy Polamalu insured his hair for $1 million. When you become a megastar, what defining part of you needs to be insured?
DAVID WALTON: I definitely would not need to insure my calves. We could lose those just fine and everything would work. And I have a Cro-Magnon forehead, so I don’t think I’d insure that. According to my wife, I need to insure my eyebrows and my lips and my hair, in that order. Wouldn’t that be easy insurance fraud though? I could just shave off my eyebrows, right? Cash in on the policy? I guess the lips wouldn’t be easy. It’d be hard to be a lead actor if I didn’t have lips. Those are tough to graft back on.
PLAYBOY: What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve ever gotten that you’ve actually used?
DAVID WALTON: It’s a cliché, but it boils down to this: Figure out what you love to do the most and only do that. Also, no one cares what you do in your 20s. They really don’t. So take as many risks and stupid chances as you want. But you mean the best wisdom I’ve actually used in my life? Well, I met this former Hell’s Angel, a recovering crack addict, who explained to me in a very gruff voice that (rasping) “Every man needs ten hugs a day to be happy.” So I’ve tried to do that. Ten hugs a day. And for the most part, I’ve done it. It gets a little awkward when you’re on a TV show and you see the same people every day. They start to get suspicious, but what are you going to do? I gotta get those ten hugs a day. Sometimes I’ll just hug my stand-in about five times. It really does make you feel better.