David Schifter is a versatile American actor seen in the semi-recurring role of Detective J.D. Walker on ID Discovery Channel's "Lt. Kenda: Homicide Hunter," and Tyler Perry's "The Have & Have Nots." He began life in front of the camera as a teenager as host of a New York cable TV show "Spotlight on Teens." He later spent a successful 14-years as a TV news investigative reporter at the local and national level, earning numerous awards including three Emmy nominations and the coveted Emmy itself. In 1999, David took the ultimate career risk by walking away from everything familiar to begin a career as an actor. In 2017 he won a LA IndieFest "Best Actor" award for the lead role in an African-produced film in Nigeria. In 2019 he co-starred with Michael Pare' and Nicholas Turturro in a thriller set at the beach titled "The Penthouse." A native New Yorker, David loves living a beach lifestyle in North Carolina and traveling worldwide for work. He is also a firefighter and EMT in the city where he lives which he says gives him the true feeling of giving back to his community.
David Schifter, thank you for this interview. My readers might not know much about you Your career is wildly impressive. Can you tell us a story on how you got your start in the film industry? https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1074373/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
I never thought I’d be an actor. I thought I was always on track to be a TV news reporter, which I did for about 15-years. I was working for an NBC affiliate when I had the opportunity to do a walk-on role of the soap opera “Another World.” I guess I caught the acting bug. A few more years passed and I ended up in TV news management as News Director of a station in Wilmington, NC where there was a robust film industry. I did some background extra work and realized I wanted to take it further. I told my boss, went home and told my wife I wanted to be an actor. She said, “I didn’t marry an actor.” So that was the beginning of the end of that. I started taking acting classes, doing smaller films and student projects just to get together material for a demo reel and then sought out an agent. The rest is history.
Do you have a story you wish everyone knew? Could you share it with us?
I grew up in Manhattan in the 80’s and one Saturday we got this thing called cable TV. It was an endless stream of channels. That first night I was flipping channels and landed on this live show on what was called a Public Access Channel with this Italian looking guy answering a phone and taking all kinds of obscenities. I had never seen anything like it. It was called “The Crank Call Show,” and you could call in and say anything you wanted. A few weeks go by and I call up after the show and talk to the host. I ended up being invited to watch the show live the next week. After some time I thought of an idea for a show for, by and about teenagers. I called it “Spotlight On Teens.” We had topics of the day, live interviews with celebrities and took phone calls. It was hairy at times with taking live calls but I did it anyway. I hosted the show for four years all through high school and when I went to college I hooked up with a local radio station and got on as a DJ and newscaster. In my senior year, I got an internship with a local TV station and they actually put me on as an on-air reporter. This was a first and I often got the lead story, which honestly pissed off the paid reporters. But I was in early and left late. I spent more time at the TV station than at campus. It paid off because I had a job lined up at a little station in Bluefield, WV right after college graduation.
Can you talk about your latest film? Also, what platforms can people view your it on? “The Penthouse” starring Michael Pare’ and Nick Turturro. was released in April of 2021 and is still on Amazon.
The story is a thriller in the vein of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” where a resident of a high rise overlooking a marina sees something he wasn’t supposed to. We ramp it up to a more sinister level. I also just completed a thriller set in the mountains called, “Black Balsam.” It’s set around the holidays when a family buys a mountain cabin. But the resident who is the son of the now deceased owner doesn’t want to move from the only home he’s known. And when he’s forced to, things don’t go well for the family. We expect “Black Balsam” to be released in early 2022. I should mention that I wrote and produced both of those movies. Enjoy!
What can you tell us about any upcoming productions?
I am in pre-pre production with another feature that you’ll find very timely. It’s an action story. Stay tuned for more on that.
Can you tell us who or what inspires you as an actor?
I enjoy playing someone I’m not. I play a lot of cops and other law enforcement roles, I’ve played a serial killer in an episode of “Evil Lives Here.” When I first began acting, the only roles I would get were news reporters! I thought will I ever get out of news? I just got to play a firefighter in a couple episodes of a news Netflix series called “Echoes.”
Can you tell a story about your other work in the numerous murder series you have been in.
I was lucky enough to book a recurring role for several seasons as Detective J.D. Walker on the Discovery ID true crime drama “LT Kenda: Homicide Hunter.” I loved working on that show. Actors love series work because you get cast once and work lots!
Who are some people in the film industry you would love to work with one day?
I think this bird has flown, but I always wanted to work with Jack Nicholson. I think I’d be very intimidated but it would be awesome. I’d also like to meet Dustin Hoffman….again. In 1978 he was filming “Kramer vs Kramer” in New York and a scene was shooting right across from my grammar school. During a break he was standing on the sidewalk and I went up to ask for an autograph. He said no and that he was busy. He was standing there picking his nose and turned down a 12-year-old’s request. He’s very talented but I always will remember him for that.
David Schifter played Imperial Captain Rysard.
Dreams: what project or script or actor or actress would be a dream for you to get to work with?
Anything “Star Wars.”
Mr. Schifter, the classic question: what charity do you work with and can you provide a link to it so others can see too please.
I have a Bassett Hound named Humphrey. Named for that because he jumps on your leg and goes to town. But I digress: My wife and I fostered him after he was found in the North Carolina mountains lost. No one ever picked him up from the kennel so the Carolina Bassett Hound Rescue took him in, fixed him up and fostered him to us. We failed miserably as foster parents and adopted him. I am a big supporter of saving the hounds. Their website is: https://cbhr.com
What advice would you give an aspiring actor or actress?
I give the following three steps of advice. Get onto a set as an extra. You will either love it or leave it but at least you can saw you were in a movie or on TV. But it will give you the chance to see how a set runs. Who does what, what do things mean and you’ll eventually understand how to ‘work the camera’ to lesson your chance of being a micro-second blur on screen. Next, get a couple of headshots. Have a friend who is not half-blind take some photos of you looking like you on a good day. What I mean is, don’t glamour yourself all up or wear sunglasses or a hat. Keep the background blurred. Have a shot smiling for commercial work and another straight faced or intense for film/TV. Next, audition for student projects. These are great because some kid has a grade riding on doing a good job and some of these scripts are really good. So if you can get a few roles on these you can use the material to put together a demo reel. Last step: Get an agent. And never pay a fee for representation. The relationship between actor and agent is like any other. It’s give or take. They pitch you for roles, you get the audition and do a great job, book the role and you both get paid. Reputable agents get paid a commission on what you make.
A final question. What question do you wish I had asked? And what would the answer be?
In your introduction you mentioned that I am a firefighter. I wanted to mention how that happened. Four years ago if you asked if I wanted to be a fireman I would have said no way. Too late. My wife saw an ad on facebook posted by our fire department that she thought was like a citizen’s fire academy. You know, ride a fire engine, learn the history of the fire service, learn about fire prevention and get a certificate. Well, they were actually looking for volunteers. I was intrigued but I took it further and the department sponsored me to attend the fire academy. I am now a certified firefighter and also an EMT. While I really enjoy acting, something was missing and that was the service to others that I felt when I was a reporter doing investigative journalism. I’ve always been one to help people. Never stood by when someone needed help. There’s nothing more satisfying than service to others.