With roles in Oscar-nominated films such as Silver Linings Playbook, The Thin Red Line, The Perfect Storm, and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Dash Mihok has plenty of experience under his belt. You might also recognize him from Felicity, but his latest television project makes that sappy one-time The WB staple look like Disney fluff.
Mihok co-stars on Showtime's Sunday night drama Ray Donovan (currently in its second season), which centers on the titular character (played by Liev Schreiber) and his back-and-forths in Los Angeles between being a family man, a Boston-bred gangster, and a professional "fixer" righting all of Hollywood's wrongs. Mihok plays the troubled Bunchy, a sexual assault survivor and addict whose questionable behavior leaves older brother Ray to constantly worry about him and their ex-convict father's (Jon Voight) bad influence. When the dysfunctional South Boston-bred Donovan clan isn’t stirring up trouble with the FBI, they’re hanging out at the boxing ring owned by their brother Terry (Eddie Marsan), coming to terms with some family secrets of the past.
Mihok talked with Complex about his role as Bunchy, that time he got to burn Red Sox paraphernalia for work, and what really goes down at some of those seedy Los Angeles parties.
What was it about the series that originally attracted you to the role?
It was hands down the best pilot script that I had read in eight years, and it’s such a rich, very in-depth character study off the bat. I read it and I went, “Wow! This could be a great show.” And looking at Bunchy, he just had so much to offer and so many places to go, and such dark issues but such humor and heart. I just thought it would be a really wonderfully rich character to get to play, and it doesn’t happen very often that it’s something you look at and say, “I wanna do that,” that you get, so I’m very blessed.
Like you mentioned, Bunchy deals with a lot of psychological and emotional issues, like molestation and addiction, and it’s really dark stuff. Was there any sort of research that you had to do to mentally tap into that aspect of the character?
Well, sure, I mean I did a lot of research about people that have been molested by priests and I actually got to talk to some people, and that was very eye-opening. There are some great websites and a lot of support groups for people that this has happened to. As far as addiction goes, I did some research but everybody knows someone who’s struggled with it, so mainly I just tried to imagine it. It’s impossible to really get into that world without just kind of going for it.
So, imagining the horror of something like that happening to you as a child, and then it obviously emotionally arresting you and making you feel ashamed about your life for many years to come...there are some people that this happens to and they actually have families and it doesn’t happen until later on when they go through kind of a mid-life crisis, and I know Bunchy obviously never got that far. I think that the beauty about the series now is you’re gonna get to see him actually evolve and hopefully gain some ground. I’m sure he’ll struggle again because it’s a life-long process.
What’s the most challenging part of playing Bunchy?
It’s really skating that line of him being such a tragic character but having heart and humor, and being honest. I think it’s really easy to just play somebody who’s addicted, or just play somebody who’s molested or just play somebody who’s naive, but to blend them all and really skate the line of humor and drama at the same time and not go overboard in either way and keep the performances honest has been a challenge.
On the show, family is a really essential element to the plot. What are your thoughts on some of the family dynamics between the Donovan brothers and their father Mickey, and even Ray and his children?
At the core of it, I think that as screwed up as they are they all really do love each other. They all really do stick together and they care what happens to one another. Even Mickey, even though he can be so poisonous, the good thing is that I think it’s easy for us to love one another on-screen because we really enjoy each other off, and we really admire each other’s work and get excited to see what people do. It gets you juiced for your own things when you see somebody bringing their A++ game, and you get to do the same. With the writing, I think everybody gets a shot at doing some really great things. The Donovan family will be forever dysfunctional but at the core there’s love and honor, and families that love each other and stick together get through a lot of hard times. It’s easier to split up and run away than it is to stay.
What’s it like to play Jon Voight’s son and Liev Schreiber’s brother, and work with all of these very talented actors and writers?
First of all, they come in with these scripts and they still surprise me sometimes, and I’m like, “Oh, wow! They’re gonna do that?” and that’s exciting. So you start off with that, and then you have hyper-professional, incredibly gifted people. Like I said, it’s really a joy to get to watch everybody and I think that Liev said it best when he said, “This is a cast of supporting actors.” I feel like we are; we all want to elevate it to the best. It could be off the page and it’s a real joy. This year we haven’t had as many scenes together as a family, but last year especially when you put us all in one room, it’s like rehearsing a play for two weeks in an hour because everybody’s making sure they’re taking care of their character, but they’re also taking care of the piece as a whole and we’re all very giving to each other so it’s been a real pleasure.
Do you spend time off-camera with everyone?
Yeah, everybody has families and we all try. It’s never easy to get everybody together, but when we do we enjoy every single one of us. We like to mess around and blow off steam and talk. A lot of times these things happen and everybody darts out, but we like each other and that’s a real gift. It doesn’t always happen that way.
Boxing is an important part of the show. Do you get to train with the rest of the guys off screen?
I have! There’s a funny webisode they made last year where these guys were boxing. I wasn’t invited but I crashed it anyway and we had a good time. [Laughs.] I have trained with them, it’s a great workout. We work out at Wild Card West with a guy named Rob Garcia, who’s trained a lot of incredible fighters. I don’t get to go often because they don’t want me to be too physically fit, but with boxing training is so hard that we get to push each other to go for it and we’re all really supportive. I hope Bunchy stays sober and gets some sort of boxing storyline so that I can get ripped like the other guys. [Laughs.] Most people get on television and then by the second season they’re all skinny and they look incredible, but it’s not really happening for me yet. [Laughs.]
In real life have you ever witnessed a situation like the ones Ray Donovan fixes?
I’ve never personally been in bed with any dead prostitutes, so no. [Laughs.] I’ve been to some Hollywood parties where things have happened and people have probably needed to get a good lawyer. [Laughs.] But I’ve never witnessed anybody really cleaning up the way Ray does.
Is Hollywood as gritty as it seems on the show?
There are some secret things that go on here that definitely nobody knows about. I don’t know if it’s to that extent, but I don’t get out into those circles probably as much anymore, but I’m definitely clear that it goes on to some extent.
Do you know where they get the inspiration for some of the storylines?
Well, you know, [showrunner] Ann Biderman just has an incredible mind and we have a great writing staff. Things have happened over the years in this town that I’m sure they pull from, but we have very imaginative writers.
You’ve had a lot of roles on network television series and you have such an expansive filmography, so for you what’s different about working on a cable series on Showtime?
I kind of compare this to like a great [miniseries]... I don’t think I’ve ever done a real mini-series, but I love doing film first and foremost. I’ve never done a show that came to a second season, so it’s really been interesting that I get to live with this character and sit with him, and keep creating him, and keep finding other backstories and emotions that he has. The great thing about Showtime is that they really give us leeway and the range to explore the real dark side of stuff. We don’t have commercials so we have those extra 15 or 18 minutes of a show, and you’re allowed to curse and allowed to portray the reality of what happens to some pretty tragic people. It’s fun, Showtime’s been really supportive of Ann Biderman’s vision, and of our talent and what we bring to it. Network just doesn’t go that way so I’m happy to be working on Showtime.
You’re from New York, right?
Are you a Yankee fan?
So how does that work when you’re playing this character for whom being from Boston is so central to his identity?
OK, if you saw season one, there was a day when they said, “Listen, you’re gonna have to burn something down. And it’s gonna be a Boston Red Sox pennant.” So being a Yankee fan that was a really hard day on the job. I remember we had practice runs with the special effects guys, and I just looked at the camera and was like “It’s my job, I have to do this, I’m very sorry!” [Laughs.] But it was great. Here’s the thing, I had never been to Boston, my whole life. Probably because I’m a Yankee fan. The first time I went was just to research this character a little bit and listen to some accents from Dorchester. And you know what? Great town, great people. I was grateful for them embracing me...so I can’t talk smack about that, but if they had me burn another pennant down I wouldn’t say no. [Laughs.]
What else can we look forward to from the Donovan clan in the rest of this season?
More complex story lines, more hijinks. It’s never a dull moment with us. Bunchy doesn’t have a lot of relationships in his life and he’s met some new people and we will see if that continues or if he resorts back to his own ways. If I tell you too much I might get whacked. [Laughs.] But I love you guys and I love New York. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my Yankee hat on my photoshoot because I’m such a hip-hop kid. I make hip-hop music too, so you can look forward to Dash having some sort of hip-hop record later in the year—how about that?