Devin E. Haqq is an actor and filmmaker who hails from Nashville, Tennessee. He was a Finalist for the HBO Access 2020 Directing Fellowship. His feature film, “Ambition’s Debt,” won many awards and his sci-fi thriller feature script, “Malsumis,” was a Finalist in the 2021 SreenCraft Sci-fi & Fantasy Screenplay Competition. He has since developed a feature film with Inkubate Entertainment (“Kong: Skull Island”) and collaborated with acclaimed television writer and playwright Keith Josef Adkins.
As an actor Devin has appeared Off-Broadway at the Barrow Group, Epic Theatre Ensemble, HERE Arts Center, BRIC Arts Media, and most recently in the New York premiere of David Harrower’s Knives in Hens at 59E59 Theaters. He has also appeared in numerous regional theatre productions. He is the voice of the hit boxing documentary series, PBC Fight Camp, on FOX network and FOX Sports. He is a graduate of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s MFA program and recently discussed his career via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for acting and how did you break into the industry?
Devin E. Haqq (DEH): As crazy as it sounds, it just sort of popped into my head one day. I was in my last year of college, majoring in Business Administration, and feeling uninspired about what was next. I knew I didn’t want to look for an office job after graduation. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. And then the thought popped into my head, “What about acting?”. I had always excelled at my roles in the church Christmas pageants and the elementary school plays, but I never considered theatre as a career choice. But that lightbulb came on in my head, so I went to the campus bookstore and purchased two plays by William Shakespeare. It was like reading a foreign language! However, I knew I was on to something, so I auditioned for a play in the Drama Department, Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage. I got the part. Had my stage debut, caught the bug, and discovered my calling. Shakespere seemed like the greatest challenge for me at the time, so I went on to study classical theatre and received my M.F.A. in acting… and the rest, as they say, is history.
MM: You act in movies and on stage, so do you prefer one medium over the other?
DEH: Yeah, I actually don’t have much of a passion for acting in movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting/performing at all levels and in all mediums, but there is nothing that compares to live theatre. Films are cool, in that you get to be immersed in the reality of the world being created and that’s awesome. There’s so much attention to detail in film. But as an actor, you spend most of your time sitting around waiting while the director, cinematographer, and crew are having all the fun, making creative decisions. On the stage the actor carries the story from the time the curtain goes up until the final bow. Using the power of transformation to engage the audience’s imagination, in real time, an actor goes on an emotional journey and gets immediate feedback about how it’s resonating in the space. Nothing else compares to that experience in my opinion.
MM: As an actor, which roles have been your favorite so far?
DEH: Before the pandemic I was blessed with the opportunity to play the Duke in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare. It’s the third largest role in the cannon, coming in just behind Hamlet and King Lear. I loved working on this character because it was a huge challenge. I had all these notions about who this character was and what his journey should be and by the end of that process, all of my ideas had been reshaped. The same goes for the role of Jim Harris in Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings, which was originated by Paul Robeson. Again, a huge challenge. Playing this iconic character that not too many actors have attempted. I guess I get a thrill from that. I love playing characters with deep wells that have a lot to say. If you ask my mom, she’d tell you that I’ve always been a loudmouth.
MM: What kind of character is your “dream role”?
DEH: My dream role is a character whose story has social and political implications, who goes on an epic journey of transformation. Whenever I tackle a character like this, I feel that I too am changed in some way. I want my process to mirror that of the character’s journey, in that I too will be transformed by the experience of doing the play. I want to come out of it as a new person, with more knowledge and insight than I had at the start. These are the kinds of roles I crave to work on; parts that will inspire me, challenge me, develop my empathy, and provide a vehicle for my own personal growth.
MM: How did you get into filmmaking?
DEH: After I moved to New York to start my career, it became very clear that I wasn’t on the fast track to achieving success and acclaim. And I’m not very good at waiting around for things to happen. I decided to learn how to produce my own work, initially as a way to create roles for myself. I took jobs on sets as a PA to learn what goes into making a movie, read a lot of books on the subject, spent a lot of time driving cube trucks through the city cooking up ideas for projects. Then I connected with filmmaker Josh Wick and helped him produce his first feature film, Alyssa & Sara. It was a baptism by fire for both of us that solidified our friendship. Over the years Josh and I have collaborated on many projects. Instead of going to film school, I was fortunate to have real-world on-the-job training, which I think is more valuable in many ways.
MM: What inspired you to start writing and what’s your favorite creation to date?
DEH: I always wrote out of necessity because I was constantly trying to come up with the next thing I could make. But I never considered myself to be any good at writing. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to collaborate with Keith Josef Adkins on a script we developed for a studio that I began to recognize my own potential, as well as the beauty of screenwriting as an art form. That time I spent with Keith, who is a seasoned and accomplished writer, was another sort of crash course in the essentials of screenwriting, which elevated my work to a new level of proficiency. I’ve written a few stories that I’m very proud of, but my favorite right now is the piece I wrote during the pandemic. It’s a sci-fi thriller, entitled Malsumis, about a group of astronauts who encounter a strange alien virus while on a perilous journey to Jupiter. That script was recently named a Finalist in the 2021 ScreenCraft Sci-fi & Fantasy Screenplay Competition and has opened up new doors for me in the industry. I’m now being read by executives at some of the major studios and taking generals with literary agents and managers. All because I was couped up at home for a year and a half with nothing to do but write.
MM: What was it like to win so many awards?
DEH: It’s always good to be recognized for the work you do, but I don’t put too much stock in awards. I guess it’s great on some level because it creates a perception, for certain people, that you are somehow ‘worthy’ of their attention. But I understand that these awards are quite subjective. It’s a matter of who sees/reads your work at a specific time and how they respond to it. The awards I’ve won might have gone to someone else if a different set of judges had been on the juries. It’s all subjective and, in a lot of ways, luck (or timing) that determines these things. I try to keep my head down and keep putting out work that I can stand behind and be proud of, no matter whether it wins awards or not. My directorial debut film, The Assassin, didn’t win anything and I am just as proud of it as I am of the more celebrated work I’ve done.
MM: You also do voiceover work, so what’s that like?
DEH: Doing voiceover work is the best! When I was a kid, I would tape record myself as I played with toys and narrate the action, doing all of the different character voices. In fact, my very first acting job, I think I was 5 or 6, was a voiceover for a cartoon PSA about seatbelt safety in Ohio. So, to be doing this work now at the highest level feels like my life has come full circle. It’s not easy though. It’s probably the hardest work I do. It takes a lot of energy and the directors for these VO projects are very specific in what they need from you. But it’s also a lot of fun and I’m constantly learning with each new project I get to do. I would totally be happy just narrating documentaries and voicing animation characters or video games for the rest of my career. Well… let me think about that statement for a minute. I’ve also learned to be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. LOL!
MM: What are your ultimate career goals?
DEH: My ultimate goal is to reach a level of success that will allow me to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the film/tv landscape, bringing forth stories that place people of color and other marginalized groups at the center of the narrative. We’ve come a long way. And there has been great progress recently. But we still have miles to go before we rest. If I can be a director that’s able to get anything I want to make greenlit or have a position as a showrunner (or executive producing director) of a television series, I would use that power and influence to create empathy in our society by promoting representation in the media.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and what topics would you like to address artistically in the future?
DEH: In furtherance of my ultimate goal, I recently received a grant from the New York City Artist Corp to create an event for the public. I’m using the grant to produce a one day mini-film festival event called FAMfest, which will take place on Monday, October 25th at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan. FAMfest is a film festival celebrating the lives, art, and stories of people of color. Admission is FREE to the public. You can find out more about FAMfest and reserve seats at: https://www.famcreative.productions/famfest
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
DEH: The event will take place and be presented in two distinct blocks. Showcasing the following films:
Block 1 will be an Art House Matinee at 2pm, screening a feature length filmed staged reading of Black Picture Show by legendary playwright and artist Bill Gunn. Directed by Awoye Timpo and starring André Holland (The Knick, Moonlight, Castle Rock). Running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes. Q&A with filmmakers and cast immediately following the presentation. Moderated by Keith Josef Adkins (writer for P-Valley, The Outer Banks, For the People).
Block 2 is Shorts that Shine at 7pm. A curated selection of 10 short films that encompass a wide range of genres and styles. Program running time is approximately 2 hours. A panel discussion will follow on the topic of Representation in Media: In Front and Behind the Camera moderated by Keith Josef Adkins (writer for P-Valley, The Outer Banks, For the People) with Radha Blank (Director|Producer|Writer|Actress: 40 Year Old Version, She’s Gotta Have It, Monster), Karen Pittman (Actress: The Morning Show, Yellowstone, Luke Cage), and Atit Shah (Producer: Remember Me, Money, Brown Nation).
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To learn more about Devin, visit his official website and/or follow him on Instagram @devin_e_haqq