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Mrs. Davis’s Chris Diamantopoulos Pushed for JQ’s Banana Hammock

Photo: Unique Nicole/Getty Images

Spoilers follow for “Great Gatsby 2001: A Space Odyssey,” episode seven of Mrs. Davis.

“Great Gatsby 2001: A Space Odyssey,” the seventh episode of Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, may not be the finale, but it’s where we arrive at our first big ending. Wiley (Jake McDornan), wishing to spare his comrades in hunting the titular AI enemy, tricks the rebellion into blowing up their own base. No one is as devastated by the revelation of Wiley’s duplicity than JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos), Wiley’s second-in-command and most trusted confidante, who is left standing confused, angry, and dressed like a character out of Mad Max, realizing his friend has disappeared from his life.

When Diamantopoulos was first approached about playing the muscle-bound action-hero wannabe, he had no idea what to make of it. “I couldn’t tell if it was a drama; I couldn’t tell if it was a comedy,” he said on a phone call from Montreal, where he’s already filming his next project. Through our conversation, the only thing more apparent than Diamantopoulos’s passion for play is his eagerness to work, whether he’s recording himself reading script pages over and over again, or staging an entire scene’s blocking in his own home. There’s seemingly nothing Diamantopoulos won’t do to make something work, even if it means getting sand in his butt crack.

How was the role of JQ presented to you?
It was the scene where I do the PowerPoint presentation in the second episode, without context. I couldn’t tell if it was a drama. I couldn’t tell if it was a comedy. So when I met with Tara and Damon, it became clear to me that there was definitely a vein of humor there, which made my shoulders drop a little bit because I love playing in that world.

We had a great meeting, and at the very end of the meeting, Damon goes, “What if this guy had an accent?” He’s like, “What about Australian?” And in my head, I was like, “Fuck no, not Australian. It’s such a hard accent to do. I’ve never done it before.” And I remembered Russell Crowe’s Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech vividly. So I did Russell Crowe, and Damon just started laughing. And he’s like, “Yes, do it like that, please.” So we did the whole scene like that. He was like, “Yep, that’s the guy. You got the part.”

My first day was that six-page scene. And look, preparation is everything. It’s an actor’s best friend. I knew that scene to the punctuation, and I practiced it based on the way that it had been written. This is the genius of what Tara and Damon have done: They wrote precisely what they wanted to see. So when I showed up and Owen Harris, the director, took me to the set, it was as I envisioned it because it’s what was on the page. When Owen said, “Are you comfortable going through as much of it as you can?” I said, “Let’s do the whole thing.” And it became clear that Owen and I were aligned. Betty was aligned because she knew it. Jake was aligned because he knew it. So it wasn’t difficult. I mean, it required stamina, but it wasn’t shot in a way to break it up. We did a full take on every angle.

When it comes to those huge blocks of text, are you a rote learner? Do you just read it over and over again?
Oh, no. There’s a secret, and everybody should do this. You do what I call learning it in Italian. You take the scene, you put your Voice Memo on, you press record, and you read from the top of the page. I read everything that’s written on the page — not the page number, but I read the stage direction and I read everyone’s lines. And I read it at a cadence, almost like a metronomic cadence — I read, and read, and read. And nice and slow, make sure that I don’t trip up. If I trip up, I erase the recording, and I start from the beginning. Once I get through it without tripping up, I keep the recording going. And then I up the tempo. If I trip up, I erase everything. Start again, slow.

The process, depending on how long the scene is, probably takes about an hour to record, maybe an hour and a half. Then what I have is probably five recordings of me saying all the words, which then I can listen to when I’m going on a hike, or while I’m brushing my teeth, or when I’m in the car. It’s all quite monotonous, I’m just absorbing the words.

So is your phone just full of all your lines from every project?
No, no. I delete them. I delete everything. When I’m done with the scene, I rip it out of the script. I don’t hold on to anything.

Let’s talk about the Australian accent more. I feel like that is one of the hardest accents to do.
I had four days. My accent gets better as the show wears on. What I did in this instance was, my good buddy, who’s also my contractor, happens to be an actor and a stand-up comedian. His name’s David Sweetman. And his name is what he is, he’s a sweet man. And he’s got a great voice. I was like, “David, can you read this for me?” He’s like, “Yeah, mate, no problem.” So he read my first day’s lines so that I could listen to them. I was tremendously helped by him.

I was not sure whether you were supposed to be Australian when I was watching it the first time. Then I Googled you and it felt almost like a little joke because of how often you Google an actor and find out they’re actually Australian.
Look, I love Australia. I worked there. I filmed The Starter Wife there. I love the people. But you know how many roles I’ve lost out to Australian actors? Over 150, okay? So there was a little bit of, “Haha! This time I got it.”

I want to ask a little bit more about JQ as a person. There’s the scene where you drop a guy off a roof —
By accident!

… By accident. We find out it’s a work, but JQ seems genuinely rattled. Did you see him, the character, as being a good actor himself?
So much of what we see within JQ, the essence of JQ, it’s all manufactured. It’s armor, right? JQ was a man who had a purpose. He was good at something, and the algorithm rendered him impotent. I’m not sure that JQ was exactly a Penn graduate or anything. He fashioned himself after a little bit of Bruce Willis from Fifth Element, maybe a little Tyler Durden, and that’s the armor that he hides behind. So yes, definitely he’s a good actor because part of the mission is being able to dupe people, because nothing is above the mission, and the mission is destroy Mrs. Davis.

Let’s talk about the moment in episode seven where you and Wiley are confronting each other and you get down to your underwear. Was that on the page that the clothes were coming off?
It was on the page that JQ asks Wiley to take his shirt off, and that then JQ decides to show him that he’s also not wearing a wire. When I went in for my costume fitting, they had a bunch of boxer briefs for me. I said, “I think he’s either got to be naked, or he’s got to be in a G-string.” I mean, come on, this guy wears a snap-at-the-crotch, orange wrestler’s jumper. This guy’s not wearing nice-looking Calvin Kleins.

I didn’t think they’d go for it. I laughed so hard that day because it was ridiculous. First of all, I was orange as a Cheeto. The amount of spray tan that was on me, you didn’t want me sitting on your white couch. My hair was bleach blonde, it looked like plucked chicken feathers. I’m wearing a fucking banana hammock. I called my wife, like, “What am I doing for a living? Where did I make a wrong turn?” And we’re in the desert, and sand’s blowing up my crack, and I remember the sound guy being like, “Where are you going to put your mic?” I was like, “Oh my God.”

Well, where did they put your mic?
Those are the secrets!

It feels like in the last several years, every time a male actor takes off their shirt, everyone is more cut than ever, and in that scene, you do look like a guy who would fret over eating a bagel. I’m wondering what your relationship is to that kind of fitness lifestyle?
That’s very kind of you. I will say this, I’m nowhere near as ripped and cut as some of these guys are. My brother is in the fitness industry, and he raises an eyebrow anytime he hears some of these guys say, “I’ve never touched anything, it’s all just chicken breasts and broccoli.” My brother’s always like, “Yeah, right, chicken breasts, broccoli, and a whole lot of other stuff.” I certainly don’t have a physique that warrants the question of “Did you ever do any steroids or anything like that?” And I never have. Looking at my body, you can tell it’s my natural body.

Truthfully, as annoying as it sounds, we were eating all day on set. You get there and you have a breakfast sandwich. “Oh, there’s a muffin, okay.” My genetics are pretty good, I thank my father and my mom for that. I’m turning 48 soon, and I’m realizing that I can’t get away with the same shit that I used to get away with, but I’m in relatively good shape. I think the tan helps. I train and I exercise, so I look all right.

But you’re right, you see some of these guys take their shirts off and it’s like, “Holy shit.” And you realize what goes into that. Obviously, it’s a hell of a lot of work, but there’s no human way that people can look like some of these people look like without a little bit of help. Here’s the deal, the drugs work. They do what needs to be done. It’s an interesting process that I, frankly, am too scared to try. I’ve never even smoked pot, so I’m not the guy to attempt it.

To move on to a sillier question, how many phones did you end up smashing on this project?
I probably cracked about ten of them, maybe 15. But it was so much fun to do. There’s something neat when filmmakers find a way to use the cell phone in a way that will allow for a little bit of cinematic legend. I think that it was brilliant of them to find a way to bring a cell phone into play as a mechanical device, not a digital device. It was like a fucking tool. It’s so gratifying to actually do that.

Were they real-feeling phones? What were they made of?
Yeah, they were totally real-feeling phones. I think they were real phones that they found, flip phones, and they repurposed them to be phones that they could crack open. The thing is, we could only crack them once, so we would do all of our coverage and pretend to crack those. Then when the shot was specifically favoring the phone, they’d be like, “Are we cracking it this time?” Because we only had a finite number of them.

You’re also a voice actor, and you’ve booked the voice role in that you are actually Mickey Mouse. What’s the difference between how you prepare for a voice versus a screen role? I think a layperson might assume the voice is easier.
It all just depends on what your version of easy is. One of the things that I love about the voice stuff is I’m unfettered by any possible insecurity from a physical standpoint. Now, that doesn’t make it easy, because then I have to imbue all of the emotion and the range of motion just in my voice, which presents its own level of difficulty. In general, it is easier to prepare for voiceovers for me because I have a vocal agility. I’m able to bend and shift my voice. It’s something that I’ve always had as a weird, stupid human trick.

I became an actor because I like playing, and I like playing as hard and fast as I possibly can. So one of the neat things about VO is that I can be a 600-year-old wizard. I can also be a dinosaur. I can be a car. I can be Doc Seismic on Invincible. I can be in Peter Griffin’s world in Family Guy, or I can say, [as Mickey Mouse] “Well, huh, go on. Come on, Minnie, let’s go.”

I’m also a huge Silicon Valley fan, and it struck me watching you as JQ that Russ Hanneman and JQ share a little bit of DNA. Would you agree?
Yes. Sometimes I get heated when I talk about this. Someone will say something like that and then I’m like, “Well, gosh, darn it, one of my favorite actors in the world is Jimmy Stewart. I mean, all of Jimmy Stewart’s characters are pretty fucking similar.” I rarely play myself onscreen. I borrow from a lot of people around me, and I put them onscreen because it’s fun to do. And playing an unabashed douchebag has its merit because you don’t give a shit if people are going to like you because you already know they hate you, so fuck them.

When I did my first audition [for JQ], it was much closer in cadence to that Silicon Valley–esque character, particularly because we’re talking about tech, and I think that’s probably why Damon was like, “What if he had an accent?” Because I think it was like, “Let’s pull this outside of this.” And what the accent did was short-circuit me outside of something that was comfortable, that was easy for me to play because I’d done it and I’d done it well. So what does he share with Russ Hanneman? Well, there’s an energy, a bravado. There is a “I know more than anyone else in the room” quality. There’s a Napoleon complex. It’s fun to be a dummy who thinks he’s smart.

Okay, last question: Do you think JQ will forgive Wiley?
Oh, what a beautiful question. How heartbreaking. What attracted me to JQ was the level of energy and how big and vast the character was. But truthfully, what kept me engaged was that there is this vulnerability. He’s a broken man. He’s childlike in his affection for Wiley. And to be betrayed in a biblical sense, I mean, it really is, “Et tu, Brute?” It broke my heart. But I think he’ll forgive him. It’s interesting, I think JQ’s love for Wiley would allow him to move mountains. And we find out, obviously, that Wiley’s actions weren’t to discredit or destroy JQ. They were quite the contrary; they were actually to save him, right? I think JQ would travel the world hoping to find forgiveness for Wiley, but he would also stop at nothing to exact his revenge.

Mrs. Davis’s Chris Diamantopoulos Wanted a Banana Hammock