The Accidental Actor

Photographer Curtis Knapp, featured in the Fall 2018 issue of NOCM, was gracious enough to introduce me to David Shiflett at Café Envie in the French Quarter. Curtis explained that David was a famous actor, intriguing since the man I saw drinking coffee that day was dressed more like a hobo. It turned out that this attire was not accidental, as David is a character actor in the Horror genre.

David’s career however began accidentally, in the years following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He originally moved to here as a retiree, seeking to help the city recover by volunteering in the clean up efforts. He ended up being discovered by Hollywood South.

“I’m originally from South Carolina where I started out in the 1970’s as an Industrial Photographer for a large textile company called  J.P Stevens. I’ve raised five children and I am a grandfather.

I had several careers before acting. In fact, I didn’t start acting until I was officially retired.

I was living in the French Quarter when I befriended an actor named Steve Zahn. I drink coffee every day at Café Envie and he was renting an apartment upstairs from the coffee shop while filming Treme for HBO. He talked me into becoming an extra.

Originally, I told Steve that I was retired and didn’t really need the money. But he persuaded me by arguing that it would be a good legacy to leave my family, because they could always watch my work in films and television shows long after I’m gone. I started doing extra work on Treme and then True Detective. I enjoyed making friends on the sets.”

David appeared in twelve of the thirteen episodes of American Horror Story’s Freak Show. Within each of those episodes he can be seen four or five times. He is cast primarily because of his looks and he’s become a favorite in the Horror genre.

Carnie from American Horror Story’s Freak Show

“This is my character in American Horror Story. I wore that outfit every day for 5 1/2 months. We would only wash it every two days. The dirt on it is imbedded so that it doesn’t wash out. That same costume, except for the shirt, was worn in Petticoat Junction. There’s a company in Los Angeles that owns several warehouses of costumes, which it rents out to different film and television productions. Each costume has a barcode inside it that, when scanned, lists every production that the costume has been used in and which actor wore it.”

This year David acted in three productions where he had principal parts: The Purge, Voices, and Easy Does It.  The Purge, a TV Series, premiered in September 2018 and has since been renewed for another 10 episode season. Voices and Easy Does It  are still in post-production.

Voices is a Horror movie filmed in Mobile, Alabama for Netflix. Without spoiling the plot, we can tell you that David’s key scene is part of the finale. It involved a lot of physical work on his part where he received compensation for stunt work in addition to acting. He’s understandably very proud of it.

David can be seen on five shows currently on Netflix, and is perfectly okay with the fact that he’s been typecast.

“I’m always cast as either a homeless guy, a drunk, or some kind of a weird creepy character. I’m definitely typecast. And I love it!

In fact, I was offered a part on the new Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson movie on Netflix called Highwaymen, but I had to turn it down because they wanted me to cut my hair and shave. I really wanted to work on that production because I respect both of those actors so much. But my livelihood now depends on this creepy look I have. Besides, that part was only going to pay $1,000 and it wasn’t worth the other better paying parts I might miss out on.”

Despite his scary appearance, David has a very lovable personality. You easily forget that you’re talking to someone who’s so frequently hired to scare people on camera. Off camera, he’s talking about recipes for peach cobbler and great places to take your family on vacation.

You can see a list of David Shiflett’s filmography on IMDB at

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8609297/

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