Show business wasn’t on former NFL tight end Vernon Davis’ mind while he racked up 7,562 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns across 14 seasons split between Washington, the Denver Broncos, and the San Francisco 49ers — where he spent the majority of his stellar pro football career. Now, the two-time pro bowler and Super Bowl champ is throwing himself deep into every role and project he receives.
Davis, who majored in studio art at Maryland, has filmed several movies over the past year-plus where he takes on meaty roles, including one with John Malkovich (The Chariot) and two with Bruce Willis (Gasoline Alley and A Day to Die). He recently filmed George Gallo’s upcoming serial killer thriller Muti, which is in post-production, alongside Morgan Freeman as well.
On the other side of the camera, Vernon has founded two production companies — Reel 85 and Between the Linez Productions.
San Francisco serves not only as the city where Davis would spend most of his storied NFL career, but where he’d get the entertainment bug, taking an acting class at the Shelton Theater of the Arts.
“With that space and from there I just continued to put myself in the atmosphere where I would be able to engage with actors and producers and things of that nature, and after I retired, I had a plan,” Vernon told Forbes over the phone. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to do these two films that I have right here. I’m going to produce these films, I’m also going to act in these films, and then from there we’ll see where it takes me.’”
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One of his first big breaks came in 2016 when he was in a sketch on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer.
“We were ball players and we were looking at guys in the grocery store living their everyday life as if we were looking at football. So we kind of switched roles there,” Vernon said. “We were in the grocery store and I remember one of the guys carrying groceries and it was either myself or Michael Strahan and we were commenting on him as if he was about to drop the grocery bags, ‘He’s about to drop it!’”
As he did around football, Davis is constantly learning both behind and in front of the camera when working on films. He asks questions every chance he gets and takes advice from accomplished actors to heart.
At this stage in his movie career, Morgan Freeman is the actor who’s both impressed and influenced Vernon the most.
“He was amazing. He was incredible, man,” Davis said of the legendary actor. “He’s an actor and he’s also like a coach on set. He was giving me so many tips and reminders in the scenes that we were in together. It was incredible.”
“We had a scene where I had to… if you’re looking at it and you’re watching, you would perceive that I was threatening him. So as I’m walking and I say that last little line, he said, ‘I want you to whisper it because it’s a threat,’” Vernon recalled. “‘At the end of that sentence, I want you to say it like this (whispering).’ It’s just the little details.
“In acting, it’s just about the little things like in everything else, like football. The little details, all the little nuances that you need to have in any career path or whatever it is that you’re doing, you want to make sure that you have those little details.
“You always forget those little things, the little things are the ones that creep away from you. So you have to remind yourself to always work on those things because if not, they’ll slip your mind.”
Learning how to successfully compete in a hard-hitting pro sport like football has certainly given Vernon an edge over the fierce competition in entertainment.
“I think once you learn to be competitive, you’ll always be competitive and that’s something that will follow you for the rest of your life, because the desire to be great, to be the best at something is always going to be there so you just have to hold onto that,” Davis said.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great, wanting to be the best. I think everyone should be that way. So once you have that feeling you’ll always want it. I think there’s a lot of correlation there when it comes to sports and entertainment because you’re performing and you’re up against so many people, especially when you’re auditioning; you’re auditioning against so many people.
“When you get up in front of that camera, you always want to give your very best effort, just like you would when you’re walking out on the field and those cameras start rolling, the jets are flying over the stadium, whoever is singing the National Anthem, once they start singing you’re getting in your zone… It’s the same way with the camera. Once everything starts rolling, you’re feeling that adrenaline. Then when [the director] calls action, you have to perform. You have to do your very best.
Davis starred in and made his film producing debut with A Message from Brianna, which screened at the 2021 American Black Film Festival in early November.