ISU Alumnus stars in Hollywood short film “Doe”

Emily Urban

Timothy Davis stood on the deck and looked out over New York City. As he gazed down at a little bodega and basketball court, he noticed the scene seemed familiar. He played on that basketball court as a struggling artist many years ago. Back then he only knew he wanted to be an actor in New York City. Now, as he stood on the balcony during a break from filming “Billions,” Davis revelled in the fact his dream had come true.

Davis is a successful actor with a role on the Showtime original, “Billions,” and his latest adventure, the short film “Doe” is currently making the festival circuit. But Davis’ younger self would not have seen his success in acting coming when he attended Iowa State.

“I don’t think I thought about having a career of any sort,” Davis said. “I knew I generally enjoyed being creative. So when I went to Iowa State I was interested in writing because that seemed to be a tangible career path.”

With half a mind in journalism, Davis soon discovered writing wasn’t for him and considered quitting school. His friend joked he was being dramatic and should take an acting class. Davis took the opportunity, and blew through the theater program at Iowa State.

“I just absorbed everything in the theater program at Iowa State I could,” Davis said. “I kind of manufactured my degree to get out early and went to New York soon after.”

Davis said he spent over a decade in New York as a struggling artist before moving out to Los Angeles and scoring his role on Billions.

The short film “Doe” presented itself unexpectedly but turned out to be a rewarding experience for the actor. While working on a project with his friend, Mark Mathias Sayre, Sayre gave Davis the opportunity to star in the film, his first leading role.

“It felt like a film that was shot a much longer time frame with a much larger budget,” Davis said. “I was really grateful for that opportunity. I didn’t have the expectation that he would keep his word on it. I am certainly grateful that he did.”

Davis plays John Hutton in the film, a man who wakes up with no memory of his past. After years and starting a family of his own, a man appears who claims he had the same experience. Hutton — now armed with the knowledge he is not alone and his unique set of skills — sets out to uncover his past before it destroys his future. Davis said Hutton is unlike any other character he has ever played.

“I had this idea in my head that I would become a literal polyglot,” Davis said. “I was already mildly fluent in Portuguese, which my character speaks in the film, so that came in pretty handy. I also speak in the film, besides obviously American English, French and Mandarin. The Mandarin was kind of the most terrifying.” 

Davis personally connected with his character. As a big believer in constant personal evolution, John Hutton proved to be a way for Davis to tap into the parts of his past that make him feel sick and learn from his past.

“I don’t know if I trust anyone who has no regrets… I don’t think dwelling on that past is helpful either, but doing what John does which is ‘ok how do I make this right now?'” Davis said. “What is the behavior I have to engage in now to correct for mistakes I have made? I think that is valuable.”

Not only is this Davis’ first role in a feature film, but it’s also an opportunity to work with Oscar-winning actress, Mira Sorvino, someone he has looked up to since his days at Iowa State. Sorvino won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Mighty Aphrodite.”

“I thought she was a fantastic actor, so the opportunity to have a scene with her was extraordinary exciting for me that required me to take a moment take a breath and remember what my job was,” Davis said.

While Davis hopes that this role will open doors for him in a business that runs on “a blasé chaos,” he mostly hopes the audience will find value in the film and his performance.

“I hope that one of the messages to take away from ‘Doe’ is accountability for our history, intended or not, inherited or not,” Davis said. “That there are things in our past that we carry that at some point we must be accountable and that we have a responsibility to somehow make those things right.”

From struggling artist in New York City, to the short film and TV star, Davis has maintained a curiosity for the unknown and a hope that his work will touch people. What would he say to his younger self and college students?

“Talent is your floor, work is your ceiling,” Davis said. “Specifically for actors I say talent is your floor, rehearsal is your ceiling. I spent a lot of time in my youth very worried about whether I was talented or not and expended a lot of effort in short of a fixed mindset and whether I was talented or not… I would spend a lot more time honing my work ethic and a lot less time worrying over whatever innate abilities I might or might not have.”

“Doe” is currently making its rounds in the film festival circuit and will be at the Other Worlds Film Festival in Austin, Texas.