From the classroom to blockbusters: Greg Tarzan Davis' trajectory might have seemed unlikely to some. Two turns alongside Tom Cruise later, however, and his one-way path to the industry's highest ranks feels predestined.
Suit FLANEUR, jewellery THE GREAT FROG
*Interview and cover shoot completed prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Words ZOEL HERNÁNDEZ
“I always thought you can manifest and go after your goals,” explains Greg Tarzan Davis. The actor started off as an elementary school teacher until he finally took the plunge to follow his passion for acting, moving to LA in 2018, a scenario he had never deemed plausible previously. "I used to tell my kids [to manifest and go after their goals], but then I realised I wasn't doing it myself.”
Ambitious the idea might have seemed, but Davis’ career took off in no time. In 2021 he joined medical drama behemothGrey’s Anatomyand in 2022 scored a turn in the critics and box-office-approved, Tom Cruise-led Top Gun sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. One turn alongside Cruise would lead to another with his appearance in the film serving as the impetus for his casting by and alongside the star in the seventh installment in theMission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,released this month.
Filmed during the pandemic and featuring also the likes of Rebecca Fergusson and Simon Pegg, the film finds Davis’ character, Degas, hunting down IMG Agent Ethan Hunt, tasked with fending off The Entity, a fictional, evil version of AI chatbot ChatGPT. But it’s the first-class stunts that keep you on the edge of your seat, with monumental scenes featuring motorbikes hurtling off cliffs or a nail-biting persecution on a Fiat around the sinuous streets of Rome.
Sitting down with Man About Town, the New Orleans-born actor delves into the pressure of joining a world-famous franchise, clocking up another film alongside Cruise, his yearning to give romantic comedy a try and how he manages to never accept defeat.
Hi Greg! It’s release day today. How are you feeling?
It's exciting, dude! We've been filming this film for three years now and finally having it come out for the general public to see feels unreal. Especially after having the first premiere of the film in Rome, it almost feels as though the world has already seen it, but the world hasn't seen it yet. So, it's exciting.
How has the reception been so far?
So far, we are 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is freaking cool. I can't wait to see what everyone else says about the film.My phone has been blowing up because a lot of people have been able to see it on earlier screenings and they've been mind-blown. It's been very positive.
How did you get the role of Degas? What was the process like?
I guess I can say my audition was my performance in Top Gun: Maverick. That's how I got it. I got a call from Christopher McQuarrie, who is the director and writer, and he said that he and Tom Cruise enjoyed what I did on Top Gun: Maverick and wanted me to be a part of Mission: Impossible’. They literally wrote this role for me. They even named the character after the French painter, and I’m from New Orleans. Christopher said: “We don't know what the role is, but would you like to join the franchise?” It was a no-brainer. So, I said yes.
How did you become an actor? Tell us a bit about your background.
I started off as a teacher. Acting was something I always wanted to do growing up, but I never thought it was possible because no one in my family was in the entertainment industry. It all seemed like a farfetched idea. But I've always been a person who encourages following your dreams, I always thought you can manifest and go after your goals. And as a teacher, I used to tell my kids all of that, but I realised I wasn't doing it myself. So I told myself I had two years to make this thing happen. Why did I give myself a time limit? I don’t know. But I also said that if it wouldn't work out, I could go back to teaching. Fortunately enough for me, it started happening within the first year of me starting my career, and I haven't looked back since.
Mission: Impossible is an extremely famous franchise. Did you feel any pressure stepping into it?
Definitely. You feel pressure because you're trying to find your way in a franchise that is already established with characters that are already there amongst a whole bunch of new characters who are joining. And you have to do these crazy stunts too, so you do feel a bit of pressure, but it's all pressure that you put on yourself. Having just worked with Tom, I knew what to expect, but at the same time, there's nothing that can prepare you for Mission:Impossible. But all of the pressure I had, I put on myself.
This is your second time in a Tom Cruise film. How was working with him again?
It was fun! I couldn't ask for a better opportunity. Coming into this industry and working with the biggest movie star in the world… and he's willing to be my mentor, a friend, a person I can come to for advice, to be my support. Also, being a part of these huge franchises of his, which are his babies, is such a blessing.
We have a lot of funny moments together. Tom is a funny guy. I just don't think people really pay attention to it. The stunts and his focus on his hard work outshines how fun the guy is. But he's always about jokes. He's quick. He's like rapid-fire and won't let you slip on certain things.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from Tom Cruise?
That’s so tough. I've learned so much from him. I guess the biggest thing I’ve learnt from him is that everything that happens to you or for you is because of you. You basically control your life. It's no excuses. So, if you like what's happening, continue producing those results but better. If you don't like what is happening, then you figure out how to make it better. There are no excuses.
Not knowing who my character was throughout the filming of the movie. We had ideas of it, but we didn’t know exactly what was going on. We didn't have that because of the way Christopher and Tom make films, but after watching the final product, you’re like, “Okay, I see what y’all were doing. I trust you. Get it. This is perfect. Thank you.”
Did not knowing who your character was exactly give you extra freedom?
It allowed me and my co-stars to create the character with McQuarrie. When he called me the first time, he said they didn't know what this character was or what he was doing and he meant it. He wanted us to be able to find out what this character is and where this character goes. So, it gave me the freedom to go in everyday on set and play and explore more options.
How do you prepare for such a big role?
It's hard. It's not easy to prepare for a role you don't really know. But when it comes down to the stunts, you're very prepared because Tom is all about being competent in everything you do. When it comes to the character, you trust your filmmaking ability. You also start to trust yourself as an artist and give your talents and your creativity to the character and explore more.
That exchange of ideas must have created a really good atmosphere on set. What are your favourite memories from it?
Each location had its very own special memory for all of us. In Rome and Venice, it felt like we were in a summer camp. We were always sleeping together and everything. We had a movie room and on our off days, we would all just go in there and bundle up and we'd watch movies. We were playing different games like running charades. In Abu Dhabi, we were living on a cruise ship for a couple of weeks. It was so cool to be on a cruise ship while it wasn't moving.
You’ve done Top Gun’ and now also Mission Impossible. What do you enjoy the most about action films?
My favourite part about action films is being able to do the stunts. You don't always get a chance to do them in a lot of big action films that we see today, but you can do it with Tom because he's all about the practicality of everything. And also with these films that Christopher and Tom do, it's more about the character instead of just the big set pieces. I enjoy action films with such thrill and character journey.
Do you have any impossible missions in your own life? What would you like to accomplish next?
I would like to have my own franchise. But it's not an impossible mission because I’ll have that someday. It's a mission, though. I'll say that. However, I think a franchise comes from a good first movie that made a lot of money and then you decide to make a number two, and a number three, four or five. Eight movies later, you have one of the greatest franchises in history.
Is there any other genre you’d like to give a try next?
Romantic comedy. I want to do a romantic comedy because I love poems. So, if I didn't do one in my life, I wouldn't be happy. It'll scratch that itch that I have.
After stalking your Instagram, I saw a very interesting quote in your bio – “I don’t get tired because I can’t get tired. Champions stand up.” What does that mean to you?
It’s this module that I have for myself. It pushes me to motivate myself. Whenever things get hard, whenever things get challenging, it helps to remind myself that I won't accept defeat, I have to keep going. And I can't get tired because I have too much to do, too much to prove, too many people counting on me. And a champion always rises whether they win or lose. They're always gonna stand up with grace. It just reminds me I must hold myself to a high standard and I must continue to be that individual champion.
How would you define yourself in three words?
To describe yourself… Of course, I'm gonna say all good things! I should say a bad thing, right? I’ll say… charismatic, caring and too energetic.
What's your favourite film of all time?
Hitchwith Will Smith. I wanted to be him so bad when I grew up. I was like: “He's a ladies’ man, I want to be him.”
What music artist are you listening to the most right now?
Kevin Gates. He is my favourite artist right now. Or Drake.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is out now in cinemas
Interview taken from Man About Town Autumn/Winter 2023.