By Oliver Webb
Daniel Augustin is an actor, director and producer known for Rap Sh!t, How I Met Your Father and David Makes Man. I spoke with Daniel about landing his first role, working with Issa Rae, which part of the filmmaking process he enjoys most, and his industry inspirations.
Did you always want to pursue a career in acting?
Daniel Augustin: I always wanted to pursue a career in the arts and storytelling.
Did you go to acting school?
Daniel Augustin: A few different ones. The first one wasn’t a school at all, it was the plays at church. They were the first thing I can really remember and then 9th and 10th grade at high school doing improvisation classes. I was more focused on sports like football, basketball and track. I got a football scholarship, to go play at Nebraska. Anytime I was doing the sports related stuff, storytelling and filmmaking took a backseat. It was something that played a role in my life seasonally, until it became the driver around 2016.
The classes that I took after high school and college were probably the most important ones because those were where I really started to learn how I could apply certain things to the industry. Everything else before that was for fun. I started taking classes with Lori Wyman in North Miami Beach. She’s a legend and has been casting for years. I started with her around 2014 and took classes with her every time I could. I started to take other classes and deciphered which ones made the most sense for me.
How did you land your first role?
Daniel Augustin: My first role was for a web series. That’s really where I began to scratch the surface again and reconnect with what I remember enjoying so much about acting from the high school days. That was around 2013. When I started taking classes with Lori, I got an agent and started sending myself for roles. I was auditioning like crazy and I got my first role doing a commercial with Christian Slater for Hewlett-Packard. After that, I got a Footlocker commercial with Ndamukong Suh and DeMarcus Cousins. That was around the time of Black Lives Matter and something like that was on one of the license plates.
Bit by bit, after each commercial I started to learn more about the industry, either by way of me continuing to audition for commercials and not get some of them, or by way of auditioning for co-stars and guest stars but not really getting any of those. I also did background work, which was my first time seeing acting on TV and film on such a big scale. I did background work for HBOs Ballers. That was season one and two and after I started asking more questions and getting more specific. The more specific I got the more the process and results started to change.
Could you discuss your role on Rapsh!t? What’s the process like working with Issa Rae?
Daniel Augustin: The process was creative and collaborative. She’s a very creative person. Sometimes she will come and pitch jokes to you and sometimes she will ask questions about the joke, or the character, or the scene. We’ll go back and forth and have a dialogue. There have been times when I’ve been on shows and you don’t talk to the person who created the show, let alone the director. It’s been a very cool process with Issa. The three C’s being cool, creative and collaborative.
You’re also a director. How has acting informed your work as a director?
Daniel Augustin: My career as a director and editor assists my career as an actor and vice-versa. When I’m working as a director, I’m getting a chance to work with actors and I’m getting a chance to communicate with them. Then when I take that footage and go back and edit with it, I’m learning again because I’m getting a chance to learn through these performances and I’m sitting down and working through them meticulously. I’m remembering what happened and I get a chance to think what I could maybe do the next time. When I go back on set the next time, it’s almost like I’ve had more years and hours of experience because I have different data in my brain now. Now when I’m on set as an actor it’s easier for me to have different conversations with the DP about certain things that they may be thinking, and it makes it easier for me to understand what anyone else needs or is going through perhaps. I think that alone also makes it more collaborative. I think the editing and directing gives me more hours on set as a whole, which helps me as an actor because I’ll be able to think about different things sometimes that I don’t think would be on the page.
When it comes to directing, editing, and acting, which role do you enjoy most?
Daniel Augustin: I’ve actually been writing a lot lately and I’m enjoying that a lot. It can be strenuous and tough, but I feel like screenwriting might be the one. I’ll say directing firstly and then screenwriting. Screenwriting feels like it might be more rewarding as I get to see all those thoughts performed and see how that story comes to be. Acting is very beautiful, but at the same time it can be very limiting because once I’m done with my work, I have no control of it anymore. As far as the work that I do bring, I’m bringing a performance that was based on something someone else wrote, which is still fun. Directing is a really beautiful craft too because you get a chance to see how people are performing.
Is it ever conflicting working with other actors who have very different methods to your own?
Daniel Augustin: That’s always conflicting, but that’s the sign of the kind of human being you are too. It’s the same thing in the home. For example, my wife is different from me and that changes as often as it needs to, for her, or for me. Being able to go with the flow, I think, is what makes for a great scene etc. When I see how a certain performer prefers to behave, or prefers to be treated, I feel like I make a better scene partner by being able to see that on them from afar and not needing them to clarify and giving them the space that they need. It makes me happy when I don’t get in people’s way, unless of course I am supposed to. I have my own process that I bring, but I like to be human within the process.
If I’m the actor on the scene and it’s the director in particular who has their own process and they only want to focus on the shots, or the technical side, then I might need to let them do that and it’s a matter of reading the room. That makes a big difference as opposed to just coming there and just trying to implement what I want. It’s a matter of trying to let people do what they need and see where I fit in in that process. I’ve got my own process, so I’m not going to worry about theirs, just mine and I’ll let everything flow in.
Who are your industry inspirations/heroes?
Daniel Augustin: The first people that come to mind are Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Issa Rae, Steven Soderbergh and Tyler Perry. They are really inspirational to me. Clint Eastwood was doubted so much at the beginning and for him to be able to have done what he has done in his career the way that he has and branded himself the way that he has is absolutely amazing. Same for Denzel Washington and to constantly raise the bar and now he has his kids doing it too. That’s so beautiful from a human perspective how he has been able to do that as this industry can be challenging in so many different ways. Issa Rae, besides the fact that she changed my life, I’ve been following her since 2013, even before that. I’ve seen what she was doing with the web series. It’s mind blowing to see what she was able to accomplish. Tyler Perry is unquestionably one of the boldest and most courageous inventors and entrepreneurs that I’ve ever met. I love Steven Soderbergh’s work because he is doing what he feels he needs to. He’s directing, editing and working as DP on projects. I think it’s amazing that he has had the career that he’s had. When I see those five people it’s inspiring. I’m going to add Viola Davis to that list as well. These are people I look at and it inspires me to see their journey. They all have amazing journeys.
What are you currently watching/reading?
Daniel Augustin: I’ve been watching Billions and Californication on Showtime. I’ve just watched Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party on BBC/BritBox. I’ve also just finished Shrinking and Ted Lasso. I’m also watching Deon Cole’s Average Joe on BET+, so quite a few things.