by Diane Leverich
Everyone loves a good “bad guy.” I sat down with David Senatore, the voice of Gerald–Unwritten’s primary antagonist–and asked him some questions about the podcast.
David Senatore has worked for professional and community theaters as an actor, director and costume designer. Currently, he is voicing children’s puppet shows.
Diane Leverich: You play the main antagonist (Gerald Wagner) of Season 1. Are there any particular challenges associated with acting as the “bad guy”?
David Senatore: I actually like playing the “bad guy” as they tend to be more complex, more challenging to develop in an honest and believable way. I will now follow that statement with a cliche: the most challenging part was determining Gerald’s motivation. Even though this was voice acting, the words still had to have meaning and purpose behind them. So I had to discover Gerald’s history; decide why he acts the way he does, thinks the way he does. From that, you build your character’s arc to ensure his personality is evolving over time. For a bad guy, that means not revealing their true nature too soon in the story. Typically you can search the script for clues, but our script wasn’t finished when we started recording, so I wasn’t really certain where this character was going or how he would get there. I had some idea, but I was still totally surprised by the ending!
In order to portray Gerald as a fully realized character, I wanted to come up with his personal history and motivation. This led to some long email exchanges with Chris on everything from why Gerald was championing gay rights to why he says “God bless the shrimp!” Getting into Gerald’s head turned into a fun challenge. But once I was in there, I really wanted a shower. He really was vile. Because of that, I’m glad I was just his voice. Trying to embody Gerald as a physical character would have been even more of a challenge for me. With the voice acting, I was able to separate myself from Gerald by envisioning another actor in my mind, somebody that wasn’t me, that had to do all the creepy physical things, and all I had to focus on was capturing the nuances of that performance in his voice. By the end of the show, I really wanted people’s skin to crawl when he says “Call me Gerry.” I hope I was able to do that.
DL: What about Gerald Wagner makes him so threatening?
DS: Threatening. Wow, interesting word choice. Threatening is typically synonymous with menacing. It’s a hostile word. And I never really thought of Gerald as being hostile or menacing. So he does cause people to feel vulnerable, and I think that is due to his charm.
As the show progressed, and I dug deeper into Gerald’s mindset, I realized — Gerald truly believes he has done nothing wrong. There is no remorse. No consideration of others. Even when he’s being accused of something truly deplorable, he can rationalize; he believes he is innocent and the problem is with the other person. We see this when he states the accusations are due to a character’s mental instability rather than any wrong he may have done. Gerald embodies white male privilege. That to me was the most terrifying aspect of Gerald.
DL: Do you have any hopes for how things will play out in Season 2?
DS: I’ve already asked the producers if Gerald can die the death of a thousand paper cuts. Fingers crossed!
(Secretly, I’m hoping Chelsea hits Gerry with her car in the university parking lot. Totally by accident of course.)
As the voice of Gerald, I have to wonder just how far he will go, and what will ultimately become his downfall. There were some things introduced in Season 1 that I’d like to see explored further. What, if anything, becomes of Greg’s complaint against Elaine. I can totally see Gerald latching onto this as a way to further damage Elaine’s credibility. And what about Sarah? Will she confront Gerald or believe him?
And I want some happiness for August. The poor guy. He deserves better.
Seriously though – I was shocked by how Season 1 ends. From a story standpoint, you want a happy ending. And for Gerald, I guess it WAS a VERY happy ending. But as a listener – it felt WRONG! But I get it — that’s the point. So many women who have encountered a Gerald in their lives get this same kind of treatment of having their voice taken from them. The Geralds in the world win. And that is wrong. So. Very. Wrong. And that’s why Unwritten is so important. It gets us talking about these issues. So I am hoping for some justice in Season 2. Because we can’t let Gerald win.
DL: What are some future goals you have for yourself in terms of acting, directing, or costume designing?
DS: I’ve worked in some component of staged theater for over 30 years now, and I would love to get back into it and find a good theater to work with (and there are plenty in the Dayton area). But I know theater is very demanding on one’s time, and with my current “pay the rent” job, I don’t have that kind of time to give. Right now, days and times that typically would be a theater rehearsal or performance, so doing theater in any capacity just isn’t feasible. I don’t know, maybe someday I’ll find an odd opportunity to work in theater that will fit into my work schedule – be it as a designer or assistant – who knows. Or even better, I’ll get asked back for Unwritten Season 2 and Gerald will finally get what he deserves!
DL: How did you hear about/become interested in this project (Unwritten and the Dayton Writer’s Movement)?
DS: DWM had an open posting on a community Facebook page. I liked that it was voice work, something I’ve done before, as I knew voice work tended to be more forgiving with its rehearsal schedules. So that’s how I heard and why I was interested. At the time, it was just another audition. It wasn’t until I was neck deep in the project that I realized just how awesomely ambitious Unwritten was, and that I was part of something truly groundbreaking and amazing!