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D.B. Woodside on Lucifer, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and learning harsh lessons from 24

Photo: Maarten De Boer/Getty Images / Graphic: Nick Wanserski
Photo: Maarten De Boer/Getty Images / Graphic: Nick Wanserski

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: This year not only marks the 20th anniversary of D.B. Woodside’s first TV appearance (Steven Bochco’s Murder One) but also finds him with a starring role on a prime-time series. Over the course of the past two decades, Woodside has popped up in films as diverse as Romeo Must Die and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, but if his face looks familiar, it’s probably due to his regular or recurring roles on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Hellcats, Parenthood, Suits, and 24, not to mention a number of one-off appearances on other series. Currently, Woodside can be seen playing the big brother of the titular character on Fox’s Lucifer, now in its second season.

Lucifer (2016-)—“Amenadiel”

The A.V. Club: How did you originally find your way into Lucifer? Was it a standard audition, or did they come looking for you specifically?

D.B. Woodside: It’s a little bit of both. I came in at this point in my career where I’ve been very, very blessed, very lucky, and very happy with my career. But I was a little, shall we say, exhausted of playing guys in suits and ties all the time. Anybody that really knows me knows that’s not how I am. That’s not really my personality. I’m a very physical person, and I wanted to get back to doing a physical role, something similar to back in the days of doing a show like Buffy. And this project came up. My manager and agent told me about it, and they made a few phone calls. The producers were interested in me, I was interested in them, we met, and the rest, as they say, is Hollywood history.

AVC: How much research did you feel that you needed to do for the role? Or did you just go in based on what they were giving you?

DBW: I went in based on what the script was. Once I was sure that I had the job, then I did check out the comic book, but I was quickly told that it was going to be loosely—very loosely—based on the comic book, which gives the writers freedom to kind of create their own mythology.

AVC: You and Tom Ellis, who plays Lucifer, have a very good onscreen camaraderie on the series. Did you find that pretty easily?

DBW: Yeah, because Tom’s great. What we found out is that we’re very similar in the way that we date women. [Laughs.] And he has three girls, I have one little girl, so we’re both fathers, too, so we have a lot of that in common. We’re both people that don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take the work seriously, and… we just have a great time working together and hanging out.

AVC: Were you happy with the way the first season progressed in terms of developing Amenadiel as a character?

DBW: I was, but, you know, I’m always going to be one of those actors who’s a perfectionist. I think what’s great about this time of people that we have is that no one is comfortable with just having a successful show. We always want to make things better, because we’re artists, and that’s what we do. So even though people love the show, for us it was about looking at things that worked really well last year and focusing on that, and coming into season two with a little bit more of a focus.

When you’re doing a season one, you have the network, the studio, the fans… Everyone is trying to really figure out what the show is. If you’re fortunate enough—which we were—to get a season two, then everybody comes back with much more of a laser focus, and that’s what we have this season. If you thought we were excited last season… [Laughs.] Our friends are probably annoyed with us about how happy we are and how much we love our jobs, but it’s true. It’s just an amazing place to work.

AVC: Is there anything that you brought to your character that wasn’t on the page when you initially got it?

DBW: There’s a certain kind of gravitas that I think the character needed to have. The show in general is a hoot. It’s hilarious. It’s very funny, but I like to believe that Amenadiel brings a little bit of weight to some of those scenes that call for weight. He brings some seriousness to some moments, especially moments where we’re talking about what is sin, what is good, what is evil, facing our humanity. And at the same time, I think there’s something about having Lucifer as a brother that forces Amenadiel not to take himself so seriously, and that’s something we’ve definitely explored this season.

AVC: At this point, Amenadiel is a shell of the angel he used to be.

DBW: Yes, unfortunately, he is. Before season two premiered, I was saying that you’d definitely get to see him cut loose, but that he’d also be going through a lot of pain this season. That’s something that I found very exciting. Amenadiel, not so much. He did quite a few bad things last season, and this season—the first third of the season, especially the first six episodes—was about the chickens coming home to roost and him having to deal with the consequences of his actions. He’s been in a lot of pain, dealing with being vulnerable, being fragile, and that’s been exciting. As an actor, that’s been absolutely thrilling to play, because you have so much room to play within that. I thoroughly enjoyed the first six episodes of Amenadiel’s journey.

AVC: Not only did you get an onscreen mother this season, but you got a new brother, albeit briefly.

DBW: Yes! Michael Imperioli joined us very briefly, and that was one of my favorite episodes that we’ve ever shot. It was called “The Weaponizer,” and we really got a chance to see Amenadiel going through it, with everything finally coming to a head and coming out. And Tricia Helfer playing Mom this season, she’s just been on fire. She’s so much fun to work with. I personally love acting opposite her, because she pulls so much out of me and out of every actor in this cast. But I love working with her and playing her son. We have really amazing chemistry.

AVC: You and Rachael Harris have also had some great scenes together, both last season and this.

DBW: Oh, yeah, working with Rachael is fun. I only jokingly say that Rachael is the hardest cast member for me to work with, because she’s so damned funny that it makes it really hard on me to try to stay focused and stay in character. But I love those Dr. Linda/Amenadiel scenes. We have shot some of the funniest scenes that Amenadiel has had in the series to date, one of them being in the winter finale. I loved the scene with Amenadiel and the steering wheel. I just thought that was comedy gold. And I also loved the one a few episodes before that—I believe it might’ve been in “Lady Parts”—where he goes to her looking for some advice on what to do about a problem, and she mistakenly thinks he’s talking about being impotent. And there begins a whole series of jokes.

AVC: Can you say anything about what’s coming up for Lucifer in the New Year?

DBW: Well, things have been coming to a head for some time. They exploded in the winter finale, and we ended on a pretty incredible cliffhanger. We’re coming back in January for three weeks, I believe, and then we’re going off the air for a few weeks, and then we’ll be coming back for the rest of the season. But I’d just say for people to come back after Christmas, because we’re going to give you more of what you love—some comedy, some drama, and some scary stuff—and we just want people to keep on watching and bring more and more friends every week.

Murder One (1996-1997)—“Aaron Mosely”

AVC: It would appear that your first on-camera role was also your first gig as a series regular, and on a remarkably high-profile series. That’s not a bad way to begin.

DBW: What I remember most about that is being mentored by Anthony LaPaglia. He was just amazing, and he was an actor that I loved, and I was a kid. I was a baby! It was my first time in Los Angeles. I had basically just graduated from college at Yale, and I was super young. I didn’t know what I was doing and was easily overwhelmed. But I was having the time of my life.

One of the most vivid memories I have is of my first day at work. I lived in the Valley at the time, and I was driving over Beverly Glen to go to Fox, and I came to that stoplight right there at Beverly Glen and Wilshire. It was about 5:30 in the morning. Nobody else was out. I’m sitting there waiting for the light to turn green, and I remember that all of a sudden I looked at myself in the mirror, and I had a huge smile on my face. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m not a morning person. So the fact that I had this huge smile on my face at 5:30 in the morning, going to work, meant that I had made the right choice. That’s the most vivid memory that I have.

AVC: How did you find your way into acting in the first place?

DBW: My parents really took school seriously, so it definitely wasn’t something that my family wanted me to go into. I think they wanted me to be a lawyer, maybe going into politics on the policy side. I always played football, and one day in high school, when I got hurt, I had to sit out for about two weeks. And it was hard to watch this other guy playing my position, so I decided to take a walk around the high school to blow off some steam. And I heard some music coming from the theater wing. This was a wing that I really never went down, but I went down there and snuck into the theater, and I got lost in that world. I think it was Brigadoon, and I was watching a tech rehearsal. It was unbelievable. I slipped in the back—no one knew I was there—and I sat there, and I stayed there for, like, three or four hours. And I realized I’d caught the bug just from watching.

AVC: Since your parents were hoping for you to do something other than acting, at what point did they decide, “All right, I guess this is going to work for you”?

DBW: Well, they probably don’t want me to say this story, but the truth is, it was very hard for them to accept that I was an actor. When I switched my major to it, they were unhappy. When I went to grad school for it, they were unhappy. It wasn’t until I got into Yale. There was something about the prestige of that school, with that name, that relaxed them. I think in their minds they felt, “Well, he’s still going to do this acting thing, but the fact that he’s going to have a Yale degree behind him means when it doesn’t work out, he can go somewhere and teach.”

Viva Laughlin (2007)—“Marcus”

AVC: At the time, it was definitely not something that American audiences had seen much of, with it being a musical TV show. What were your thoughts when you first heard about it? Did you think it had a shot?

DBW: You know what? I thought there was a shot, but the thing is, for me, when you get cast by Hugh Jackman… that’s as much thought as I needed to put into that one. He was—and still is—one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. The guy’s incredible. And when I got that phone call, I dropped everything. I didn’t really know if the show was going to be successful or not. Of course, I was hoping that it would be. But just the chance to get to act with Hugh Jackman, I think any young actor would’ve jumped at that. And I jumped at it.

AVC: Were you startled that they pulled it as quickly as they did?

DBW: I was. They definitely didn’t give it a shot. Wasn’t it just a few years later that Glee came on the scene and was this massive success? So I definitely think that CBS could’ve stood by the show a lot longer than they did.

Parenthood (2011-2012)—“Dr. Joe Prestridge”

DBW: Parenthood was incredible. It was a show that I hadn’t really watched until I was on it, and their creative process is so different from any other show I’ve done in my life. It’s probably why every single actor you’ve ever talked to who’s been on Parenthood loves that show. Because you literally walk on there, and you more or less get to say or do whatever you want, as long as it’s authentic, as long as it’s coming from you, they’re really open to improv and to having it be ultra-naturalistic. There’s something about that that was just beautiful.

Scarred City (1998)—“Forrest”
Numb3rs (2008)—“Jonathan Schmidt”

DBW: I think Scarred City was the first movie I ever did! It was the first time that I filmed in New York City, which is where I’m from, born and raised, and there is nothing like filming in New York, man, especially as a New Yorker, growing up there. I was blessed to see Chazz Palminteri and the way that he works and the stories that he would tell. That was a really exciting time. And the writer-director of that was Ken Sanzel, who used to be a New York City cop, and Ken went on to be one of the executive producers of Numb3rs. Many years later, Ken called me up and asked me to do a role. And, of course, I ran down there and did it, because Ken’s a great guy, and Ken gave me my start in film, so I would do anything for that guy.

Romeo Must Die (2000)—“Colin”

DBW: That was my first big, splashy studio film. The funny thing about that one is that the casting director called me in. They were interested in me for that role, and it was the first time that I didn’t audition and didn’t read. She told me that all I had to do was go into the office and meet with Joel Silver. So I walk into Joel Silver’s office, we sit down, I think the guy asked me three questions, and then he said, “All right, kid, you’re hired! Get out of my office!” And that was the audition. And that film is also one that’s very personal to me, because I got to be good friends with Aaliyah and her brother, Rashad, and their mom. Aaliyah was an incredible human being, just someone who was taken from us way too young and way too soon.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)—“Robinson”

DBW: That was a film that was—in a weird way—hard for me, simply because we were living in Vegas. Vegas is a hard city to live in. It’s just never quiet. It never calms down. It’s this great place where I think it’s fantastic to get with a bunch of guys, your friends, and that’s the city you go to for two or three days. You get wild and crazy, and then you’re crawling back to the plane, still reeking of booze, just happy to get home and then it’s over. You had a great time, but you’re happy that it’s over. Kevin was great, everyone was fantastic, and it was a lot of fun. It was just a hard city for me to live in.

The Temptations (1998)—“Melvin Franklin”

DBW: You’ve picked one of my favorites. The Temptations is something that’s very dear to me, and it’s dear to me because it’s one of those shows that the entire family can watch, and it’s one of those shows that comes on every single year. No matter where I am, no matter how I age, no matter what city I’m in, there is someone who always brings up The Temptations. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

I love all those guys to this day. It was the longest thing that I’ve ever worked on. We were together for about six to seven months, so we really became The Temptations. Before we even started rolling, we were together in Los Angeles for two months learning all the songs, learning all the dance routines. We really bonded, and we really became those characters. It was just something that was a special time for me, working with special people.

AVC: The Temptations are one of those groups where everyone knows their biggest hits whether they realize it or not, but when you got the role, did you just dive headlong into an exploration of their whole catalog?

DBW: I did, but at that time… The Temptations were my dad’s favorite’s group growing up, so I hate to admit it, but it was way before my time. You know, I knew two or three of their hits, but I didn’t know them. I didn’t know their music. But I had my dad there, who really told me a lot about how they were, about how they dressed back then, and what that meant at that time to see these four or five dark-skinned black men who were elegant, who were smooth… There was just something very, very special about that project that I will always hold dear to my heart.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (2002-2003)—“Principal Robin Wood”

DBW: Buffy was the show that I had to do. I had to be on that show. I think I drove my manager crazy. And when they turned the character and made him into the son of the original slayer, which meant that I got to be badass as hell, I got to do some crazy stunts, fight training. Working with Sarah [Michelle Gellar] was fantastic, working with James [Marsters] was great… It was a blast.

Like I was saying earlier, it’s kind of what I wanted to get back to, because I felt like that’s what I love to do. And Lucifer is giving me a chance to do more of that. And hopefully DC/Warner Bros. will take a look at me for the role of John Stewart as Green Lantern. [Leans into the recorder.] Which is something that I would really love! [Laughs.] This is not the first time I’ve pitched myself for this, but now that I’ve done it again, I’m waiting for my phone to ring, WB. Just waiting for my phone to ring.

AVC: What was the experience like to become part of the Whedon-verse? Certainly you find yourself under the microscope in terms of fandom.

DBW: Joss is great. I don’t want to insult anyone here, but he’s probably the most intelligent person I’ve worked with. He’s like a savant. He has this very literate sense of humor, so sometimes he’s cracking a joke, and if you’re not familiar with that part of history or you’re not familiar with that genre, you’re going to miss it. He’s a very, very smart guy. But he’s also a guy who just likes to have fun. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes the work seriously. There’s something really nice about that.

AVC: How far ahead did you know what your character’s ultimate fate was going to be?

DBW: Joss cracked a joke when we were shooting the finale of Buffy, where he came over to me and he said, “You know, I’ve got to be honest with you. When I was writing this, I was going, ‘Does he die? Does he live? Does he die? Does he live? And you caught me on the day that I said, ‘He lives.’” [Laughs.] So that was great. I’m happy that Robin Wood is still out there somewhere kicking ass. And I know for a fact that Wood and Faith are together somewhere.

Hellcats (2010-2011)—“Derrick Altman”

DBW: That’s a show that I wish had stayed on longer. Sharon Leal wound up being one of my favorite people to work with. That was a lot of fun, especially when I got to show everyone that I was a dancer. I still get asked about that. Once again, it was one of those shows where it was different, and I think it was also ahead of its time. But the dancing on that show was for real. Like, those dancers could really dance. And they cast actors that could dance. Paul Becker did the choreography on that. It was a show that had a lot of heart. It was a lot of fun, and I was just sad to see that one go.

More Dogs Than Bones (2000)—“Truman”

DBW: That was also a fun film, because I got to work with Mercedes Ruehl, Debi Mazar and Joe Mantegna, who gave us all a lesson that I follow to this day. Joe was sitting us all down at the time, and he said, “Everything in moderation… including moderation.” I like to live my life by that one. Thank you, Joe!

That Awkward Moment (2014)—“Harold” (uncredited)

AVC: What’s the story behind the lack of credit for your appearance in That Awkward Moment?

DBW: It was actually because of Michael [B. Jordan], because we had been on Parenthood together, although we didn’t share any of the same scenes. They had some kind of sight gag in there where they needed someone who looked like Morris Chestnut. And Michael B. Jordan said, “I know the guy!” So I came on for one day in Los Angeles to work with Michael, and we could not stop laughing. I mean, I would love to see the outtakes. But I love that guy. I’m so proud of him, and I’m really happy for all his success. He’s a guy that deserves every good thing that comes to him.

AVC: Have you ever been mistaken for Morris Chestnut?

DBW: Oh, yeah. Morris and I get that quite a bit. But Morris is a great guy. I think that the way to kind of maybe end which one is Morris and which one is D.B. is to cast us in a movie together as brothers. I think that would be great. Right now we’re on the same network, which I think maybe confuses even more people… and we share the same publicist, which I think confuses even more people.

The Law And Mr. Lee (2003)—“Branford Lee”
Back (2009)—“Dr. Kevin Stern”

DBW: The Law And Mr. Lee was a pilot I did for CBS where I was playing Danny Glover’s son, and Danny’s character had spent, I think, 15 or 20 years in jail, got out, and was trying to reconcile with his family, which was proving to be extremely difficult. I grew up watching Danny Glover in all those Lethal Weapon movies and To Sleep With Anger and The Color Purple. He was just a powerhouse actor. And to be able to occupy the same space as Danny Glover was one of my dreams come true. He was a true gentleman, a true professional, and absolutely brilliant.

AVC: Not to pour salt in another wound, but you did another pilot a few years later that didn’t get picked up: Back.

DBW: Back is one of my favorite pilots that never made it. It was incredible. Skeet Ulrich was great, man. He was great, and that pilot was magical. I really don’t know why that one didn’t get picked it up. It was this kind of mysterious story surrounding 9/11. We got a chance to shoot before they even started building [the memorial]. It was a painful place to visit, and to see it… You know, we had special permission to really be on the grounds and to look at it. Everyone started crying as soon as we walked to the space, myself included. You could just feel the loss there. You felt as if the air had shifted when you walked to the space.

24 (2003-2007)—“President Wayne Palmer”

DBW: That’s a tricky one for me, because I was on the show for three seasons, and the first two I absolutely loved. I thought it was fantastic. I felt like the guy would do anything to keep his brother in power, and there was something really powerful about that: These two very strong, very intelligent black men constantly at odds with each other, but at the same time belonging to the same family. I mean, they’re brothers, so there’s only so much pushback you can give your own brother, you know? So I personally loved it when the two of them were working more together. I think season six, for so many reasons, was a miss. And I personally missed Dennis [Haysbert]. I thought he was the best president. I thought he was the most noble president, and I felt like it was really tricky, because I don’t think Wayne Palmer had actually been established enough as a stable individual to all of a sudden during the off-season be promoted to be president. And it was something that I was uncomfortable with. But as an actor, when you’re given an opportunity, you’re not really going to think about it. You’re just gonna jump in there and see what happens.

I learned a lot about myself, about acting, about network television during that one year alone. It’s something that I’ve said publicly, and it’s not necessarily easy for me to say, but I would say that that didn’t work. That was something that unfortunately was a failure. But it was something that I learned more from than any of the successes that I’d had that came before that year, and the success that I’ve had in my career after that. It’s something that I try not to run away from, because I feel like too many times we can focus on our success, and I don’t think we learn much from success. I think I’ve been very lucky, but I think we learn a whole ton of information from the things that we do that we fail at. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a high-profile fail.

But it was something that I learned a lot from, and I’m still so proud to have been a cast member of that show. Every once in awhile when I talk about 24, that’s the part that stings a little bit, but I’ve matured a lot since then, so I’m able to look back on my 24 years fondly and look back on that particular year as presenting me with a tremendous opportunity for growth. And grow from it I did. The growth was extremely painful. [Laughs.] But I’ve learned a lot about network television, I’ve learned a lot about the press, and I also learned a lot about my own individual talents and how resilient that I truly am.

Suits (2014-2016)—“Jeff Malone”

DBW: Before Lucifer came along, I really wanted to join that cast. I was angling to join that cast. I loved being there, I loved the material, I loved the guy. And to this day, I still do. I always say that Lucifer I’m married to, but Suits will always be my mistress, and anytime that Suits calls, I will come running. It doesn’t matter. Now, the last two seasons of Lucifer, I did double duty, and those were some of the most tired days I’ve ever had, going from one coast to the other, working 12- to 15-hour days, and then getting right back on a plane and going to Lucifer and finishing up. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Monk (2009)—“Dr. Matthew Shuler”

DBW: I was only there for two days, but I was always a fan of Tony Shalhoub. I’m a Yale School Of Drama grad. He’s a Yale School Of Drama grad. It was amazing just being able to watch him work, and just being next to him and seeing his talent and his charisma brought to every single take. I mean, the guy is just unbelievable with what he can do. So it was a pleasure for me to be able to get on that set during their last season and an incredible opportunity to have a front-row seat and see a guy go out on a high note.

Halt And Catch Fire (2014)—“Simon Church”

DBW: That was also another one that I really wish they would’ve brought that character back. There was something really exciting about that character, really smart. And I loved working with Lee Pace. He’s an amazing actor. And the producers on that show were whip-smart, and I love working with smart people. I still watch the show, I’m still a fan, so they’ve still got me. It’s just that—selfishly—I wish that I would’ve gone back to that show, because I had such a good time.

The Inheritance (2011)—“Henry”

DBW: That was a horror movie I did one winter. I believe it was in Minneapolis, and it was in the middle of December, and it was absolutely freezing. I’d never been more cold than I was shooting that film. It was something that was different for me. It was fun. I wish it had turned out better. I wish that we had gotten more time to play with the script. I thought that it was a really interesting concept, but unfortunately we just weren’t able to execute it as well as I think anybody had hoped. But it was fun.

I will say that I had a fantastic time shooting up there. The people were really nice, and I loved the cast. And this was also the movie where I met my daughter’s mother, so that’s something that we will always have. It was a really interesting time in my career as well as personally, but it’s still something that, to this day, if I see it on some cable network or something, I’ll find myself stopping for a minute or two, smiling and remembering where we were during that time and what was going on in my life at that time… and then changing the channel and watching something better!