David Ajala has been in the ensemble casts of some epic movies like Fast and Furious 6 and The Dark Knight, and the British series of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. But now he’s front and center in USA’s new series, Falling Water.
Ajala plays Burton, a man chasing a woman in his dreams, literally. Eventually his story will intertwine with the dreams of Tess (Lizzie Brochere) and Taka (Will Yun Lee) and answer key mysteries in their lives. We spoke with Ajala after a Falling Water panel for the Television Critics Association this summer. Falling Water premieres Thursday, October 13 at 10PM on USA.
Does being on Falling Water mean there’s no more Beowulf?
That’s right. There was talk of trying to do the two at the same time but it just didn’t work out logistically. Then Beowulf didn’t get picked up for another season.
Are you happy to be in nice suits and warmer environments?
Oh, for sure. Beowulf was a challenge, physically and on so many other levels, just in terms of logistics and keeping warm and shooting in minus three Celsius. It was really tough. So it’s great being on his. I get to wear suits and aside from the vanity level, it’s just a really great project to work on. It’s character driven and it’s great working with Lizzie and Will. They’re just wonderful actors to work with and the producers are fantastic.
Do they give you a specific direction for how Burton behaves differently in dreams?
I think it’s just what’s helped us to navigate through the dream world is understanding that in the dream world, there’s more possibilities. That’s what it is. For example, if Burton in real life was someone who isn’t necessarily confident in front of women, in the dream world he’s able to access that and be a version of himself where he is able to be confident in front of women. It just opens up a lot of possibilities.
Do you feel like Falling Water is significant progress for diversity that there’s no white male in the three leads?
I think it seems like with this show and with the three of us in the show, it’s reflecting something that’s very normal. When something is so normal and organic, you don’t necessarily speak about it but you notice it when it’s missing from the equation. Of course there are lots of shows which have a predominantly strong white cast, male and female. I think this show is just reflective of somewhere as diverse as New York City where we’re all living on top of each other. If we’re all living on top of each other and having to bump into each other on the subway and what have you, how is that any different from potentially in our dream world that we collide in each other’s dreams because we’re so close. This is closer than six degrees of separation. It’s a lot more intimate. It’s saying, “I may not know you but I could see you in a dream tomorrow.”
What was your initial take on Burton and how has it changed throughout the season?
He’s developed a lot. At first he has a real, as Blake describes it, an internal monologue. He doesn’t give much away. Not that anyone does. You don’t really speak about your emotions and he’s one of the people that doesn’t do that. He’s ex-SAS so he comes from a very different background and I suppose he’s just trying to find simplicity in his life. The simple truth gets changed all the time so he goes on a real journey throughout the season.
Do you feel very separated from Lizzie and Will in your individual storyline?
We come together soon and then we start coming together more frequently, but it is weird because we’re on three different stories and we don’t really interact as much. When we do come together, it’s always the best days because of the energy of all three of us together.
Was Burton written as British?
So the way this thing is, and my management can vouch for me, I didn’t know this but the character was written to be a white American male. Then I did a self tape from London and sent it over and something clicked for Blake, Gale, Juan Carlos [Fresnadillo] and the rest of the creatives and it just worked out. I find that so special, how something clicked and was impactful enough for them to see something different. It’s so cool. It’s a huge compliment.
Does it feel dream-like on set when you’re shooting the dream sequences?
No, in fact we have a continuity lady on the set who is wonderful. Her name is Nancy. She helps us. A lot of the times, going from the dream world to the real world, there’s not much in between the two. That’s the seed which the show is trying to sow. It’s trying to say what would happen, how would we feel if we got to a place where there was a real blurred line between the waking world and the dream world? That’s a conversation that we’re having.
I can relate to the dreams on Falling Water because they’re just surreal enough that you know they’re not real. Like you’re in a public place that should be full of people but no one else is there. Can you relate to those dreams?
Yeah, for sure. And it’s simple things like that, as you just said. You can be in an environment where there would be a lot of people around but on this occasion, there aren’t. There’s no one around so you can see there’s something slightly odd about the logistics of things. As the language of the dreams evolves and as viewers become more accustomed to the language and the stories that you’re telling, you’re going to get more and more excited about it because you’re going to become more and more invested in these guys’ different journeys.
What would you most like people to know about Falling Water?
I think the most important thing I want them to know about Falling Water is it’s a show that’s going to sow a seed to challenge our understanding of our dream world. And to hopefully encourage us to embrace our dream world.