Class of ’66 | “Acting’s like a muscle,” John Doman C’66 is saying. “You have to keep exercising it.”
At age 70, Doman is pretty buff, and he shows no signs of cutting back on his exercise regimen. His current roles include that of mob boss Don Carmine Falcone in the Batman prequel series Gotham; Maura Tierney’s tough, abrasive father on The Affair; and Senator Ross Garrison on the techno-thriller series Person of Interest. He recently played the Archbishop-turned-Pope Rodrigo Borgia on the 2011-14 Netflix series Borgia, and before that he played the arrogant Marine Colonel Edward Galson on Oz.
Given his commanding presence and imposing height, it’s not too surprising that Doman—a former defensive halfback on Penn’s varsity football team—made his mark playing strong-willed authority figures in a wide range of TV series, including Law & Order, The Good Wife, NCIS, CSI, The Practice, Damages, ER, and Rizzoli & Isles. And he’s still best known for playing Deputy Police Commissioner William Rawls on The Wire.
“The Wire has really become, in a way, a sociological document,” Doman reflects. “It was under the radar when we were doing it. The audience wasn’t that big. It was critically acclaimed, but HBO never really promoted it. We didn’t get nominated for anything but a Peabody Award one year; there were no Emmys, no Golden Globes, none of that. But then the DVDs came out and word of mouth started building. It’s much more popular now than when we were actually doing it, which is a strange phenomenon. It’s an international thing too—it’s all over the place.”
Rodrigo Borgia, the archbishop who became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, was arguably Doman’s most complex role. It also reunited him with Oz creator Tom Fontana.
“I read the scripts and I loved it immediately,” Doman recalls. “Two weeks later, I’m on a plane to Prague to start shooting. I actually bought a couple of books [about Borgia] and took them on the plane with me, reading them on the way over. It’s a fascinating period of time.” The show has now been seen in 85 countries, he notes.
Fox’s Gotham, based on characters from the Batman comics, is now in its second season.
“It’s a pretty unique show in terms of the way it’s shot,” Doman says. “The visual look of it is spectacular. Of course, it’s got the background of all theBatman characters. Even though it’s a prequel to Batman, it has a built-in interest because people know these characters from Batman—that’s a huge appeal to fans.”
Doman’s character Falcone, who is targeted by rival mob bosses plotting to overthrow him as Gotham’s kingpin, mentors the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) on his rise to power.
“Falcone’s an interesting character—he’s a villain, but he’s a very honorable villain in his own way,” says Doman. “He’s a complicated character, which I thought was really wonderful.” Even the scene in which the mob boss responds to his lover’s betrayal by strangling her, he adds, was “quite poignant in its own way.”
It was shortly after his three-year tour of duty in Vietnam with the Marines that Doman saw his future in the protean form of Dustin Hoffman: first in Midnight Cowboy, then, one night later, in The Graduate. His portrayals inspired Doman to go into acting—albeit not right away.
“I was so blown away by his performances in these roles,” he recalls. “That planted the seed in my head that I wanted to give acting a try. I didn’t know anything about acting, so I figured I’d go ahead with my plan to get an MBA [from Penn State], then go to New York and get into the ad business, and once I got to New York I’d figure out the acting thing. I just got sucked into the ad business—and it took me 20 years to get out of it.”
As Doman tells it, he only missed his self-imposed timetable to leave Madison Avenue by age 45 and start acting by six months.
“I left when I was 46 in 1991,” recalls Doman, laughing. “I led a double-life for two years while I was in the ad business; I was taking classes at night. My primary teacher was a guy named Robert Modica in New York. I spent a couple years studying with him while I was still working.”
He still takes the occasional acting class, during rare moments of spare time. In addition to acting, Doman, a native of Philadelphia, does voiceover work for Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Fiber One commercials, and the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s also the voice of the Michelin Man in Michelin tire ads. And he admits to loving it.
“You don’t have to shave,” he says. “You can wear what you want to wear. You do it in the studio. It’s fun.
“After working in corporate America for 20 years, basically being your own boss and being free is a great feeling,” he adds. “The work itself is a real joy. It’s challenging in the sense that you have to be able to live with the flipside of that freedom, which is, Will you ever work again? I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve been able to stay steadily employed for 24 years, but you never know. I’m looking for my next job, as most actors are.”