After breakout role on The Game, Hall is focused on becoming one of Hollywood’s elite

American Actor Pooch Hall speaks with a vernacular stew that opposes anything feeble from the jump. “I’m not intimidated. Not to be cocky, I’m not cocky, but rather, I’m confident,” he boldly asserts.

It’s clear that he’s sure of himself. One would of course have to be if laced boxing gloves and black eyes were an anterior to the comparatively safe devices of an actor’s script and studio camera.

For most, the idea of weakness is an evadable trait within the boxing ring. The environment is unforgiving, demanding and a space Hall comfortably called home in his early years. The actor had a fruitful background as an athlete, who amassed a 23-0 professional boxing record and excelled equally in college football and track in his hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. Superior physicality and boldness was not asked for, but demanded in this world, and in much the same vein, Hall’s Hollywood trajectory has been one challenge he’s faced head on.

“I don’t fear no man so it’s like, what’s [the] challenge? I don’t fear him,” says Hall, when asked about the intimidation factor, or lack thereof, working alongside Jon Voight — a decorated Hollywood veteran that plays a gangster father to illegitimate son, Daryll (Hall), in Showtime’s Ray Donovan. “He’s a great actor, but he’s also my dad away from my dad to where he challenged me to be better.”

Better would certainly be an accurate statement when tracking the course of Hall’s acting career. What began as a career doing work in commercials progressed into film appearances in Lift and Black Cloud. An elevated role as football star Derwin Davis on The Game later solidified his name in popular television. The prudent actor now finds himself an outlier of surrounding success through Ray Donovan, which led to an upcoming role in The Bleeder. The dramatic film, inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, squarely places Hall in the shoes of the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. If anything can be taken from Hall’s disposition, it’s that he’s not one to back away from opportunity.

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Pooch Hall as Daryll in Ray Donovan (Season 4, Episode 6). // Photo courtesy of Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

” . . . You’re not even supposed to make it as an actor. It’s on the one percentile; you have a better chance at hitting the lottery. So I always welcomed the challenge.”

YOU HAVE A PRETTY IMPRESSIVE AMATEUR BOXING BACKGROUND, 23-0. I’M CURIOUS. WHEN SOMEONE HAS A RECORD LIKE THAT, IT’S NOT TYPICAL THAT THEY’D SHIFT TO BECOMING AN ACTOR. WHAT, IN PARTICULAR, ATTRACTED YOU TO ACTING?

I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts. It’s a tough city, and I was always a tough kid, so I was always getting into action heroes, science fiction . . . I always had a natural ability to want to fight, not to where I’m starting trouble in the street, but I was a fighter. So I would always want to overcome adversity or I would want to take down the bully. It worked in my benefit to be the person that I love, where I’d want to box. I think there are a lot of things in acting that equate to life and mirror each other. That’s a huge challenge because as an actor you’re not even supposed to make it as an actor. It’s on the one percentile; you have a better chance at hitting the lottery. So I always welcomed the challenge.

ONE CAN SAY YOU WERE COMFORTABLE IN THE RING, BUT TELL ME ABOUT THE MOMENT WHEN YOU FIRST BECAME COMFORTABLE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA? BECAUSE THEY’RE OBVIOUSLY TWO VERY DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES.

I think you got to get over that fear. I played football; I played in front of hundreds of people. Boxing is different. You show up and it’s mano a mano (man-to-man), it’s me against him and everyone is watching. So if you’re nervous you’re not going to be able to execute . . . So for me, when [I’d] win, sometimes they’ll have the local news there and they’ll interview you, etc. I [was] just speaking from the heart; I was never really camera shy or anything like that. In school I was always making people laugh. I loved to do oral reports and read out loud. It kind of just worked to my benefit. I was always comfortable in my own skin to where being in front of a camera didn’t bother me.

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Jon Voight (l) as Mickey Donovan and Pooch Hall (r) as Daryll in Ray Donovan (Season 3, Episode 12). // Photo courtesy of Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

“I surrender myself to the character, his flaws, his strengths, vulnerabilities, issues, and I become Daryll.”

IN TERMS OF ENVIRONMENTS AND YOUR ROLE WITH RAY DONOVAN, HOW DID IT FEEL IN COMPARISON TO YOUR TIME ON THE GAME?

I think with Ray Donovan, it’s like you’ve made it to the big leagues. When I was in The Game, I was the man. It’s like you being in college and you’re the man, and then you get to the big leagues and sometimes they don’t let you start right away, sometimes they want to develop you, let you start like a rookie. So as the season started to progress, I started to do more. There’s a distinct difference between The Game and Ray Donovan. The people on Ray Donovan, they’re all veterans and they have a sense of experience. In The Game, it was a series that was on CW (CBS Warner Brothers television network) for three years. They gave it a shot and cancelled it. BET (Black Entertainment Television) picked us up and then we broke some records and got a lot of attention and it really strengthened my notoriety and it kind of put me on the map. What that did was allow me to show my skills to where people like [those on] Ray Donovan and Showtime were like, ‘this kid could play over here in the league.’ So I got the opportunity and now I’m working with Oscar award-winning actors and writers and I’m holding my own. I’m where I’m supposed to be. I do thank The Game for giving me that opportunity.

WITH YOUR ROLE AS DARYLL ON RAY DONOVAN, ONE OF THE THINGS I NOTICED IS HOW REAL THE CHARACTER COMES OFF, ESPECIALLY HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH MICKEY (DARYLL’S FATHER). WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE TO MAKING THIS CHARACTER COME ALIVE ON YOUR END?

I don’t like to fake anything because then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. People would be saying, ‘oh, I don’t believe him as an actor.’ I surrender myself to the character, his flaws, his strengths, vulnerabilities, issues, and I become Daryll. You put yourself in these little situations and scenarios and sometimes it’s hard not to feel that pain. You’re talking about a kid that wants to be accepted; he kind of struggles with identity. I think you’re going to see a lot more from Daryll in season four, which we’re filming now. I just think that Daryll is one of Ray Donovan’s favourite characters . . . I’m Pooch, and I’m a beast and I’m just waiting for my shot.

YOU’RE MORE INTIMATE WITH THIS CHARACTER THAN ANY FAN. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT PLAYING DARYLL?

He’s still undiscovered. There are so many places that we could go with Daryll and it’s undiscovered territory. I like him because he’s funny. I would like see a lot more of Daryll’s strengths, to be honest, to be a little stronger and that’s definitely the difference between Derwin Davis and a Daryll. Derwin had a confidence about him that allowed him to become the man. It’s kind of hard to become the man when you’re the man standing next to the man, standing next to the man. It’s almost like I’m a rookie Kobe and I’m playing with Magic and Kareem. These guys are legends and I’m just soaking it all up. These guys are people that have just been my family, they make you better and they help you get jobs.

Pooch Hall as Daryll in RAY DONOVAN (Season 4, Gallery). - Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: RayDonovan_S4_SINGLES_PH_0004.R

Pooch Hall as Daryll in Ray Donovan (Season 4, Gallery). // Photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith/SHOWTIME

“You start to play in all these different worlds and you take something from that to your own life. So then you don’t take things for granted, you put things into perspective . . .”

SO THIS IS MUHAMMAD ALI WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HERE IN YOUR NEW ROLE IN THE FILM, THE BLEEDER. THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME. DETAIL FOR ME HOW YOU FULLY PREPARED FOR THIS ONE, BECAUSE HE’S OBVIOUSLY A FIGURE YOU CAN’T HALF-DO.

Liev Schreiber and I trained a lot together. We sparred, we worked out and he was the one who came to me and said, ‘I feel you can do this. You have a lot of similar qualities to Ali. Everybody loves you. You’re a people person. You’re not afraid of the camera and you can box. You have a charisma and charm about you that was similar to Ali.’ . . . I trained real hard, got to learn a lot about Ali. He was this guy who was not only a great boxer, but he was a showman, a professional and he loved people. I think he looked at life a little bit different, that’s why he’s so special. I don’t think it was where he judged people . . . The fact that he went through so much and overcame adversity and fought when cats really fought, my hat goes off to that dude man. That’s my guy. To get to play him and just channel that, it’s pretty amazing.

YOU’VE WENT FROM VARYING ROLES LIKE IN FILMS LIKE STOMP THE YARD 2 AND SHOWS LIKE THE GAME AND RAY DONOVAN AMONG OTHERS. COMMENT ON HOW YOU’VE EVOLVED AS AN ACTOR BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED FROM THOSE EXPERIENCES.

How you learn fam, is that you become these characters and each character, they come from different worlds, different experiences, different upbringings and different parts of the country. What happens is that you embody these characters and take on whatever issues or life experiences that they have and you use them as your tools, and then you perform. For instance, I played a lawyer on TV, and you really work your way around a courtroom, and learn the lawyer language, and your mindset is different. You start thinking and acting like a lawyer and some of the stuff and research that you do, you take on a little bit of what a lawyer would take on and it’s just like wow. You start to play in all these different worlds and you take something from that to your own life. So then you don’t take things for granted, you put things into perspective and you start thinking like a lawyer. What would a doctor do, what would a guy who’s on the run do, what would a guy who’s in a fraternity do? Say you’re doing a war movie, my hat will go off to the soldiers and the men and women of the national armed forces, because it’s like wow man, I didn’t really get to experience war, but I went through training, boot camp. You take these experiences and they’re kind of real.

YOU’VE MENTIONED AT A POINT THAT YOU’D LOVE TO WORK WITH ACTORS LIKE DON CHEADLE, ROBERT DOWNEY JR., BEN AFFLECK AND MATT DAMON. WHY THESE SPECIFIC ACTORS?

These are guys who have achieved the highest level and I’m always willing to learn. What’s crazy is that I’m working with two of the best. Everyone on [Ray Donovan] is a veteran and a lot of them have experience that I want to experience and that’s one of the reasons why I keep working hard and continue to get projects. I have no relatives that are in the industry [and] we didn’t come from a lot of money. Everything I did I worked hard to get here. Then you look at the last two films I just did, I worked with Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid and Naomi Watts. I’m doing my thing so obviously I’m doing something right and I just think that I have what it takes to be in that same elite category as them. You got journeymen, you have recognizable names in this industry, and you have superstars who you meet that are next level, like Jordan, Steph Curry and LeBron. That’s the highest elite level of basketball player and that’s the level of actor that I want to be. I just think that I’m going to get my opportunity because I’m not afraid and I’m too good not to get a shot.

Photos courtesy of Showtime Networks