Getting to Know Actor Dominic Burgess

What do Doctor Who, Batman Begins, Star Trek: Picard and Staffordshire oatcakes all have in common? Almost nothing because of that last one. But there is one man who can claim affinity to all four: the beary talented and handsome Dominic Burgess, an L.A.-based actor working his hardest at his craft in the city he travelled faaaaar across the pond to do it in.

By the way, Staffordshire oatcakes are sort of like pancakes, but only in the way that Doctor Who is sort of like Star Trek.

Tall, gregarious and approachable, Dominic commands a lot of presence just entering a room. So it’s no wonder he’s been working steadily in an industry where the applicants grossly outnumber the jobs—more so than in most others. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Feud: Bette and Joan, The Flash, Monster–The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and Modern Family are just some of the series to recognize his ability to bring unique characters to life.

Recently we spoke to him to get a peek inside his world.

Dominic Burgess. Photo by Jeff Lorch

Bear World Magazine: Let’s start with some background questions. Where did you grow up?

Dominic Burgess: I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, England. It’s a city sort of right in the middle of the country. Nestled in between Manchester and Birmingham. If you find yourself passing through, stop in for a Staffordshire Oatcake, they’re yummy. Stoke was placed on some “30 worst places to live in the UK” list earlier this year…

BWM: Where did you start acting?

DB: Where did I start acting… for kicks? Or professionally? If you want the deep dive, I guess at high school? Cabaret, Death of a Salesman, Volpone, Twelfth Night and such. That’s where I fell in love with it enough to want to go to drama school and pursue it as a career. Professional answer? My first film credit was Batman Begins. I took some friends to the Odeon in town and died inside when the moment passed… I never made the screen, but my name survived the credits, I guess? Then I did an episode of Doctor Who, which was VERY much my jam (Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor growing up).

BWM: What other cities have you lived and acted in?
DB: Well… Stoke-on-Trent, then London for drama school. I trained at a place called The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, which imploded a couple of years ago under a cloud of embezzlement by members of the board I believe.

London wasn’t really my town, I found it very hard to get any kind of traction going; my first set of agents never spelled my name correctly in correspondence and when I parted ways with them, I swung by their office to pick up the “rest of my headshots” that they never got around to sending out. They gave me back 99… out of 100… the hundredth was the one that they presumably had put up on the wall of their office? I was heartbroken. 

BWM: When did you relocate to L.A.?

DB: Funnily enough, Los Angeles had always been the goal. I grew up on Star Trek, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and such, so I think I’d always sort of had Los Angeles in my sights. I started the visa process pretty soon after graduating drama school, and then landed here November 2007… just in time for the writer’s strike (timely, timely). But what IS wild, is that in the first three weeks of being in Los Angeles, I’d met more casting directors than I had after three years in London. It was just an immediately better fit for me. This is my city. I love it. Whenever I travel, when I fly into Los Angeles it always feels like coming home.

BWM: Who were your early influences as an actor, both on the screen and in your own life?

DB: Gosh, influence-wise, I don’t know if there was a particular person? There wasn’t particularly a huge arts scene in Stoke-on-Trent, and there wasn’t really anyone championing me in my decision to go into acting. I’ve always loved film and television and telling stories? Like I mentioned, shows like Star Trek and The X-Files were what resonated with me. So I’d say that there were shows and movies that moved me — Alien and Aliens, Gremlins, Lord of the Rings — a lot of genre stuff I suppose? I just love wonderful storytelling and rich worlds.

I guess as you grow older you sort of look at the kind of roles that you can play and look towards the trajectories that actors like you might have had? I’ve always loved Brendan Gleeson’s work, Alfred Molina, Ian McKellen… and I’m enamored by Gillian Anderson, Cate Blanchett… I get lost in their performances. They’re magnetic.

As Mr. Vup in Star Trek: Picard

BWM: You have quite an impressive resume, from Star Trek: Picard to Feud: Bette and Joan. What is your favorite TV or movie role that you’ve had, and why?

DM: Thanks! Listen, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that working on Star Trek: Picard was one of the highlights of my life. The tears of joy I cried when I got that call. I remember everything about the audition, the fitting, the prosthetic tests, Jonathan Frakes flinging open his arms and screaming “welcome to the family” when I first met him. Just, what a joyous experience. From racing home after school so I could watch episodes on BBC 2 to getting to play in that sandbox. Unfathomable.

And there’s so many others; Feud was wonderful, Dr Death was a treat to work on; I’m very fortunate to do what I love doing. And you know, nine times out of ten, working on a set or show is the most delightful experience, and there’s bits and pieces of each job that you can walk away from feeling fulfilled. I’ve been fortunate to make lifelong friends from shows, or film in the most wonderful places. I’m very lucky. I try to not take anything for granted.

BWM: Do you often get auditions for gay characters, or only some of the time? When you see that your character is queer, do you feel any particular way about that?

DB: Oh boy… big question… This is going to be a long rambling answer. I hope I do this one right. Do I often get auditions for gay characters? I guess? Sometimes? I’m not sure; hard to say what’s “often”… If a character is listed as gay, I’m more than happy for my reps to let casting know that I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community, sure. Off the top of my head I guess there’s Victor Buono from Feud, and there’s a wonderfully delicious character that I’m playing in a new Apple show coming out later this year.

He’s where things get murky I guess: perhaps this is just on me, or it goes for a lot of gay performers… when I see that a character is written as gay in a script, and I put myself on tape, I’m always more conscious of what exactly the creators are looking for… because listen… I’ve had feedback from auditions along the lines of “yeah, we like him, he just needs a bit more… flamboyance… you know?”… or… “think more along the lines of jazz hands”… and at the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve made choices and been told in the room to “not be so queeny.” I’ve been hired and then on a couple of occasions, writers and producers have clandestinely approached and whispered in my ear on set, “just FYI, this character isn’t gay. If you could take it down a notch?”

I wish that a lot of creators could see past old tropes, I guess? Sometimes, as happened recently, I auditioned for a role that in the breakdown was specifically listed as gay… but there wasn’t really anything in the script to support that. So then my mind drifts to, “okay, this guy’s just working a regular nine to five, I’m just going to play it as myself, because… I’m gay… and that should be enough,” right? Can I? Can we? I don’t know. Sometimes when I see that a character is gay in a script I feel this sort of pressure to have to make a choice of where on the line from hyper-masculine to hyper-feminine I need to land, because in the writer’s or creator’s head they envision a “gay character” a certain way… And also I want to make sure that I’m coming from a genuine place for the character, that a role isn’t just artifice, if that makes sense?

Me, as Dominic, I’m just as comfortable getting my hands dirty with some DIY as I am rocking along to and knowing every single line to every single Celine Dion song at Cesears Palace (Get well soon, Celine, I love you). I think because maybe I don’t fit into what some folks might generally perceive as a stereotype, they don’t know what box to put me in. But I also love being unique… but I also want to fit in… THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST! Let me put it to you another way… In all my years of acting (coming up on 20), I’ve only ONCE on screen had or been pursuing a heterosexual relationship, and that was an AFI short… I guess yeah, I’ve played “straight” characters, but they’ve never been viewed through any kind of romantic or desirable lens?

Actually, I guess the gay roles I’ve played also don’t really have a romantic angle to them… maybe character actors are unlovable? How was that? Too deep? This was a mess. And please, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I love my job. I love the diversity of the roles that I get to play. More! More! I’ve rambled long enough. Stop me. Please. 

As Pyscho Pete in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

BWM: Representation of LGBTQ characters has certainly increased in recent years. Do you find it’s no longer un-hip to be gay in Hollywood?

DB: Unhip to be gay? Get out of here. We’re always going to be hip.

BWM: The short film you wrote and directed, Sam Did It with Alfred Molina, seems to have garnered some nice accolades. Are you still on track to shoot your follow-up, Products of War, later this year? What can you tell us about it?

DB: Thanks! Sam Did It was really a delight to work on! It’s funny, because it opened so many doors to so many wonderful opportunities, and then, I’m here, with multiple plates spinning, features that are slowly being pieced together, features that are being redeveloped into limited series… but waiting for the one that goes. But yes, Products of War is one of them. It’s a small WWII drama set on the outskirts of Birmingham during the Blitz. The ideal would be to be able to shoot it some time this year… and if that plate keeps spinning, I have some more shorts that I want to pull the trigger on, including a little (big and chaotic) LGBTQ+ horror proof of concept short that requires lots of practical and visual effects. I don’t know how it’s going to come together, but if Jurassic Park has taught us anything, it’s that “life finds a way.”

BWM: I hear you have a thing for horror movies, particularly in the vein of The Thing, Alien, etc. If you starred in such a film, would you rather be killed by a grotesque puppet or be part of the team to destroy it (assuming more than the final girl survives!)?

DB: Oh yes! Alien, Aliens, Gremlins—ding, ding, ding—love them! And please, let those creatures rip me to shreds, of course! It’s funny, in my career thus far, a whole lot of my roles end in death… Star Trek: Picard, The Flash, The Magicians, Doctor Who, Santa Clarita Diet… I love a good death scene… Unless we’re talking about a long-running franchise, in which case, keep me around until the end and then let me die gloriously?

As Kilg%re/ Ramsey Deacon in The Flash. (Photo by Katie Yu/The CW –© 2018 The CW Network)

BWM: What is something about acting that you think is a misconception, maybe something you didn’t learn until you really started to pursue it?

DB: Gosh… I guess… that it’s always a constant grind? Maybe my younger naive self thought that actors reach a level where work becomes this sort of free-flowing thing where the hustle stops and you have piles of scripts on your desk to choose from… That’s very much not the case. It’s always a constant what’s next?, Oh boy, there hasn’t been any auditions for three weeks, how do I pay my bills come July?, What if I never book a single job ever again?… And I guess, from an outside perspective, friends that aren’t in the industry at all perceive it to be glamorous… but it’s very not. But I still love it to pieces. I can’t even fathom being in any other line of work.

BWM: What advice would you give to a queer actor just starting out?

DB: Find your team. And what I mean by that is, the people who are going to let you be you. The people that aren’t going to tell you to change who you are or scare you into thinking that unless you do something to “fit in” there won’t be work for you. Ignore that noise.

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Homer Marrs

Homer Marrs is the former Gay & Lesbian editor of Time Out Chicago and a former staff writer for Las Vegas Magazine. He has also contributed to American Theatre, Showbiz Weekly, Envy Man, Reno Outlands, and Chicago's Nightspots magazines, and was a literature editor for The McGraw-Hill Companies. He plays music and pursues acting in Los Angeles and happily curates the Bear World Playlist for Bear World Magazine.