In an at times haunting, thought-provoking look into mental illness and medical conditions of the brain, ABC’s new dramatic series, Black Box features a stellar cast led by Kelly Reilly as brilliant neurologist Dr. Catherine Black, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and Vanessa Redgrave, who plays her therapist Dr. Helen Hartramph. However, in this rollercoaster ride of a series which is also stunning visually, there is a very familiar face to daytime soap fans who is also one of the main characters in the cast of Black Box! And that would be … former One Life to Live star, David Chisum (Ex-Miles Laurence) who plays Catherine’s brother, Joshua Black!
In Black Box, Chisum sheds his often cast “bad guy” persona, and plays the “good guy” and Catherine’s protector. And that sets the stage for familial drama ten times over when you see how the brother and sister’s lives are intertwined.
On-Air On-Soaps had the opportunity to chat with David to get some insight into his new role and to catch up with him since his Llanview days! But what we loved the most was David’s candor and humor as he told us the story of how he got cast in Black Box, and what he thought of his OLTL character’s turn from disfigured lost soul to one of the most evil villains with quite the reign of terror! And the story of David’s first day on the set of One Life is also one for the records books, too.
Don’t miss the season premiere of Black Box this Thursday, April 24th at 10PMET/PT in the episode entitled, “Kiss the Sky”… and now here’s what David shared with us!
What was the casting process you had to go through to land the role of Joshua?
DAVID: I have never been asked that … and it was excruciating (laughs), but I am glad you did ask! So here is the deal. I went and saw Deborah Aquila. She is one of the top five casting directors on the planet. I don’t see her very often, so it was just an honor to be in the room with her. I did my first audition and I got a pretty good response. I could tell leaving the room I made a good impression. I felt really comfortable. So I get a call the next day telling me they wanted to ‘put a pin in me” meaning they need to know what is happening with other jobs I might have and what not. At the time, I had gotten a part on Crisis on NBC that was recurring. So then I did not hear from them for a month, and I was like, “Well, I guess that is over with.” I was really upset about it. Then they called shortly thereafter. I went in and met with Black Box producers, Amy Holden Jones, Ilene Chaiken, and Debra, to just talk. The visit we had was amazing. We talked for about 30 minutes about the character and the similarities between my life and Joshua’s. It was like no audition I ever experienced. I think I understood them and vice versa. I genuinely enjoyed the visit. So they then said they wanted to test me, and another month passed! Then, they finally called to set up the test with ABC, and to tell me that I was going to meet Kelly Reilly (Catherine). I went and did the test and got along marvelously with Kelly. So they told me they still had the “pin in me”, they loved my test, and that they were going to get back to me. But by now, another month has past.
And this was still going on? Yikes!
DAVID: Yes. So now this is like the third month and time is moving on, and in the back of my head I am talking to my wife telling her, “I really hope this works out so I can play the role of Joshua!” And they had a deadline, and the deadline comes and they say, “We need five more days!” I am thinking, “Oh, my God! They are doing this mad search for the role of Joshua! And they are going to offer it to a ‘name’” I started feeling kind of negative. Now, on the deadline of the fifth day I get a call saying, “We would like to test you again.” And I am like, “Oh, my God! What do I have to do to pull this off?” (Laughs) The deal was: Amy and Ilene were pushing for me and they thought I was perfect for the role from the first scene I did. I just did not have a lot of clout and a big name. Obviously, Black Box is a big project and it was green-lighted for 13 episodes. It had a lot of great actors involved in it. I think the network was doing due diligence and searching everywhere high and low. The night before my second test, I got three new scenes, and Kelly wasn’t there for the test this time. The night before I also skpyed with Ilene and she told me what they were looking for. And it wasn’t like I was down, I was ready for it! The day after the test I got it. It was an incredible ride!
You must have had a moment of “Thank God” after all you went through, and when you were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief?
DAVID: Here’s the truth: after One Life to Live I had to reorganize my personal and professional life. We moved the entire family out east and then the writers’ strike hit and I had to rebuild things. And thankfully, I got a couple guest star and recurring roles on primetime, and did some roles in films and a few commercials. So, financially I was able to make it stretch. I gained some momentum and changed my talent representation and it kind of steadily built. And looking back on it, I am more prepared for this type of responsibility now with this role in Black Box from all the life experience that I have gathered … more now then I ever could have been ten years ago.
You mentioned there were a lot of similarities in your life and that of Joshua’s. How so?
DAVID: I have done a lot of physical labor and landscaping and what not in my own life, so his work world is very familiar to me … the way he operates, the way he moves, and the responsibility of the people he has to employ. It’s not like I am going to play some 16th century English king, I knew this guy! Secondly, I am deeply dedicated to my family and that is exactly what I thought about Joshua. That comes first. With Joshua, he has made huge sacrifices, and I will. Lastly, and most important for his character development, he is the one in the family who was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He is Catherine’s pillar to fall on.
Joshua was never diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
DAVID: Right. His mother and Catherine have been, and his father is out of the picture, and Joshua is a confidante of Catherine’s. I had a similarity in my own life. My father was blind at 41 and had to retire. My sister got macular degeneration of the retinas genetically from my father, I didn’t. And there is a certain sense of guilt, like “survivor’s guilt” that comes with that. And there’s a lot of gratefulness that I don’t have it, and understanding for those who do, which is what Joshua feels too.
In the pilot we learn that Joshua and Catherine’s mother killed herself. Do you think the writers would at some point down the line make him bipolar, too?
DAVID: The way I understood it, if Joshua were to be bipolar it would have showed itself at this point in his life, especially since it runs in his family. Since Katherine is a neurologist, she would see symptoms and signs. I don’t see that ever coming up, but of course, I don’t write the show, thankfully! (Laughs)
How was working with Kelly Reilly (Catherine)? She is fantastic in the pilot episode!
DAVID: Kelly is a phenomenal talent, just straight up. She is one of the most talented actresses I have ever worked with, and she is as good as they get. The thing I love about working with her is that she is open to discussing things. She is a collaborator, and she is very bright and experienced. Her suggestions are usually the ones we end up going with. I have had a few good ones, but she is just on top of it, and for her to manage 12 hour a day work days minimum, 5 days a week, she works her tail off. We shot two episodes at a time and we shot out of sequence. Kelly is going from manic, to being a doctor, to having a breakdown with Joshua, to loving her daughter. I mean, all over the board and this girl came with it every time we worked. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her. I think I have done some of the best work of my career in Black Box and I think a large part of it was because I was so grounded and in the moment with Kelly. I also got to work with Laura Fraser (Reagan), who plays my wife in the series, and she is off the charts talented too.
In Black Box, Joshua and Reagan have been raising Catherine’s child. He and his wife adopted her?
DAVID: Joshua adopted his sister’s child. Catherine was diagnosed during her pregnancy so it was overwhelming for her, and her partner was no longer around. Joshua felt responsible. Granted he was probably then in his early 20’s and married to his high school sweetheart, and adopting his sister’s child secretly and in agreement. Basically, it was a closed adoption.
So that will be cause for friction throughout the series?
DAVID: There are little bombs and things that happen throughout the 13 weeks that will be surprising!
Now we have to talk some One Life to Live! First, they made Miles this disfigured “Elephant Man” type character … and then he became this villain! Is that what you thought would happen to the character?
DAVID: So … this is how it went down. (Laughs) I got the audition and I did the test. I bombed the test the first time. I came back for a second test and I nailed it. And then I came back to New York to shoot it. A couple days before I was to shoot they called me in and said, “We need to fit your mask!” (Laughs)
O.M.G! (Laughs) This is right out of the movie Soap Dish!
DAVID: (Laughs) And they go, “You know the prosthetics?” And I go, “What do you mean? I don’t know what you are talking about?” And the guy goes, “What do you mean?” So I was like a day away from shooting and in this chair with everyone going, “Maybe we should put the tumor over there … what do you think?” And I am like, “What the hell is going on here? Wait! I am going to be on a soap opera with a big tumor on my face?” I remember I was staying with my aunt and uncle and I slipped down some steps, and I broke my big toe my very first day of work! So here is this Californian, schlepping in the snow, to a bus, to a subway, to a walk with a broken toe. And on my first day, I shot with Michael Easton (John), Trevor St. John (Walker/Todd), Kassie DePaiva (Blair), and I mean … all the regulars. They were all in the room for my big reveal and right after I shot that scene, I went to the doctor who told me my toe is broken. They gave me the soft boot thing to wear, and when I came back I went into make-up for four hours and then shot the flashback scene with Dr. Spencer Truman (Paul Satterfield) … the heart surgeon who performed plastic surgery! (Laughs) And from there the whole storyline got twisted! I was flying by the seat of my pants.
How was working with Trevor St. John during your time on One Life?
DAVID: Trevor was fine to work with. We had a few little moments, but it was all good.
Have you seen anyone, or been in touch with any of your former OLTL cast mates?
DAVID: I am thrilled for Melissa Fumero (Ex-Adriana) and her success on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I would run into her a lot auditioning. I have talked to David Fumero (Ex-Cristian) once or twice in the last couple of years. I saw Trevor at an audition a few years ago. I had been in touch a few years back with Michael Easton, who is a great guy. I love Michael. I bumped into Brittany Underwood (Ex-Langston) recently, and she looks great and is in great spirits!
Do people still recognize you from One Life?
DAVID: You know, I get an odd look every now and then. (Laughs) At this point, people talk to me about the one episode of American Horror Story I did, because I guess it was influential to the series and people remembered it. I was on a plane recently and a man remembered me from a zombie movie I did. He was from Japan and liked zombie movies, I guess. (Laughs)
You usually have been cast as the bad guy, why do you think that is? And what is it like to have this opportunity to play “Mr. Good Guy” and on a primetime series?
DAVID: I do usually play some bad guys and Miles on One Life to Live was really twisted. But I try to play the bad guys with some humility and vulnerability, if the role is right for that. Rarely do I get to play the good guy, and the guy that you would like to hang out with. I feel like Joshua Black is as close to me as I have ever played. And part of the problem before was that it was hard for me to play close to myself, and acting outside of myself. So part of playing those darker roles were protection for me, because I did not have to play myself, or anywhere close to it. In addition, I wasn’t up for the series regular roles in these cases. I was playing the bad guy, or the guy that they were going after. I think those two things had a lot to do without it. I am thrilled to be playing Joshua, because I can play likeable. It’s fun to experience stuff that I kind of experience in my life to some degree. Most important: My mom is absolutely thrilled that I don’t kill someone, and I don’t die, and I am trustworthy in Black Box! (Laughs)
In closing, how would you explain Black Box to someone to get them to tune-in and check it out?
DAVID: I think it a thoughtful, sophisticated family drama that incorporates mental illness. There is a strong medical through line about discoveries of the brain. We haven’t really discovered that much about the brain, but we are constantly making in-roads in the medical field, and there are a lot of unchartered areas that we will look at throughout the course of the series that are so intriguing.
So, what do you think of David’s new role in Black Box? Is your interested piqued at checking out the season premiere? What did you think of David’s performance as Miles Laurence on One Life to Live and what became of the twists in the category … and his comments about his first day on the soap? Let us know!