Davidson, Jaye 1967(?)–
Jaye Davidson 1967(?)–
“What makes a good actor?” Jaye Davidson asked Rolling Stone interviewer Jeff Giles rhetorically. “It’s not a question of being theatrical, is it? It’s a question of being real.” The costar of the 1992 sleeper hit The Crying Game relied on a natural presence to play a film character whose “real” identity comes as a surprise to most audience members. “The movie is about how you just never know. You never know what you will be attracted to—or who you will love—until it happens to you,” Davidson ruminated in Rolling Stone. The well-kept secret of The Crying Game —that the woman Davidson plays in the film turns out to be a man—was nearly shattered when he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Entertainment Weekly called Davidson’s portrayal “the most talked-about not-talked-about performance of the year.”
His English accent notwithstanding, Davidson was born in Riverside, California, to a white English mother and a father of African descent; he was, however, raised in Hertfordshire, England. The actor is cagy about discussing his parents, especially his late father: “We shan’t even mention him. My mother would be very annoyed,” he noted in the Rolling Stone interview. Davidson did, however, emphasize his “fabulous relationship” with his mother. “We’ve both got a great sense of self-worth,” he explained. “And when we find something that we want to do, we do it hammeron. We really do it. My mother’s very correct and very beautiful. She’s to be admired. She brought three children up and worked full time and ran a house—all on her own.”
After high school, Davidson worked for Walt Disney’s London offices—inside a life-sized Pluto costume—and later became a fashion assistant. “I bought the fabric,” he told Giles. “I made sure that everything was smooth in the workroom. And I scrambled all over London on the Tube [subway], looking for buttons. It was great.” When asked if, after tasting the world of cinema and achieving stardom, he could see himself as a fashion assistant for the rest of his life, he replied in the affirmative: “I don’t want the responsibility of making a picture of a bloody dress. I want to make [the designer’s] vision real.”
Acclaimed Irish writer-director Neil Jordan addresses
At a Glance…
Born c 1967 in Riverside, CA; raised in Hertfordshire, England; son of an English businesswoman.
Worked as employee of Walt Disney corporation and as fashion assistant for David and Elizabeth Emmanuel; actor in film The Crying Came, 1992.
Awards: Voted best newcomer by National Board of Review, 1993; Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1993.
Addresses: c/o Miramax Films, 375 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10013.
issues of politics, race, gender, and identity in The Crying Game, a film that turns on the compelling relationship that develops between an IRA (Irish Republican Army) captor and his prisoner, a black British soldier. Jordan told Time’s Richard Corliss that for the key role of the hairdresser Dil (the British soldier’s love interest), he ’ ’needed a man with a very particular kind of femininity.” Producer Stephen Wooley admitted to Entertainment Weekly that the filmmakers “combed London” looking for the right person. “We tested and tested for that role.” The twenty-five-year-old Davidson was spotted by a casting assistant who saw him at a wrap party for British filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Edward II.
Offered an audition, Davidson—by his own admission rather inebriated—refused. “I said no and staggered off,” he told Janet Maslin of the New York Times. “Afterward, I didn’t even remember any of it happening.” Even so, the film’s casting personnel, unsatisfied by the parade of transvestites seeking the part, kept after him. Though he had been working for fashion designers David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, he soon found his employers’ business going under. At last Davidson relented and read for the role; his unstudied poise and integrity appealed to Jordan, and he was offered the part.
“When I was told I had got the part,” Davidson recalled in Time, “I just put the phone down and laughed my head off. But when I saw the whole script, I thought, dear God, how am I going to do this?” Jordan noted that “at first Jaye was shaking. But an extraordinary quality came through: an elegance, a sense of inner dignity, an emotional purity. And a beautiful woman. “Costar Stephen Rea, who also received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Fergus, the IRA terrorist who falls for Dil, told Rolling Stone, “If Jaye hadn’t been a completely convincing woman, my character would have looked stupid. Everyone would have said, ’That’s one sick Paddy.’”
Davidson was concerned about the intense demands of the role but decided to entrust himself entirely to Jordan. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to be really professional, these people are paying me,’” Davidson told Maslin. Jordan managed in turn to evoke Davidson’s “sad, elfin, ambiguous, direct, unique screen charisma,” according to Corliss. And David Ansen of Newsweek called Davidson “startling good as a woman ready to give all for love.” The National Board of Review voted Davidson the most auspicious newcomer of the year for his performance in The Crying Game. “I think it’s so strange that certain people think they know you because you’ve been in a film,” the new star observed in Entertainment Weekly. “It’s very flattering, but it’s also very scary. I mean, why on earth do they want to know me?”
Davidson returned to the United States late in 1992 to shoot a Gap advertisement with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz and to grant two major interviews: one with Maslin and one with Rolling Stone’s Giles. Maslin’s piece is a tour de force of gender-neutral language, passively maintaining—with the help of photos from the film featuring a gorgeous Dil—the pretense that Davidson is a woman. Giles, however, talks openly with the actor about his real identity, his oddly marginal position as a “feminine” gay man, and other deeply personal matters. Davidson insisted to Giles that he had only dressed in drag once prior to the making of the film: “It was during a Trinidadian carnival [in London]—in 1989, I think,” and involved “a white, silk-crepe, baby-doll dress. I had my hair up, and I had lilies in my hair. It was a fierce look and all that, but it was too much hard work.”
The Crying Game opened as an art-house import and quickly earned the approval of film buffs. The mostly superlative reviews by U.S. critics displayed obvious pleasure in maintaining the principal secret of the film: Dil’s sexual identity. Therefore, when the film moved into the mainstream, garnering further laurels, much word-of-mouth appeal, and finally a slew of Oscar nominations, the filmmakers were concerned that Davidson’s newfound publicity—especially his nomination for best supporting actor—could adversely affect The Crying Game’s momentum.
The actor related his sense of shock after his nomination for an Academy Award when interviewed by Maslin.”You could’ve said to me yesterday that I would wake up and be part of the royal family, and I would have been less surprised,” he said.”The Oscars are [Hollywood stars like] Joan Crawford, Jack Nicholson, Elizabeth Taylor; the Oscars aren’t me.” Describing the experience as resembling”something out of a 50’s movie,” he explained,”I really can’t express how amazed I am. And I am not an unsophisticated person.” Even so, he insisted in People magazine:”To me, an Oscar nomination is irrelevant,” and then claimed to”hate publicity” as well.
Given the nature of his role and the dearth of public knowledge about him, Davidson’s nomination inspired a round of media speculation. Steve Pond of Entertainment Weekly noted that the allegedly publicity-shy Davidson”didn’t seem fragile” during a brief pre-Oscars interview”as much as shy, soft-spoken, and genuinely uninterested in all the hoopla.”
As it happened, Gene Hackman, the veteran character actor who costarred in Clint Eastwood’s western epic Unforgiven, took the Academy Award home.”I’m not a Hollywood person,” Davidson reflected to Pond,”and if they gave it [the Oscar] to me, it would be very insulting for the other people, who are actors.” In an interview with Leeza Gibbons for Entertainment Tonight, Davidson claimed to be unfazed by the film industry and somewhat uninterested in pursuing a film career:”I never really wanted to be in the papers. I came from oblivion. I wasn’t famous before. I didn’t grown up thinking God, I really want to be famous.”
Entertainment Weekly, February 12, 1993, pp. 16-21; March 26, 1993, p. 43; April 9, 1993, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1993, p. 28.
New York Times, December 17,1992; February 18,1993.
Newsweek, November 30, 1992.
People, March 29, 1993, p. 72.
Rolling Stone, April 1, 1993, p. 36.
Time, January 25, 1993, p. 63; March 1, 1993, p. 57.
Additional information for this profile was taken from a taped interview with Davidson by Leeza Gibbons for Entertainment Tonight, broadcast on ABC-TV, April 30, 1993.
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