In his day job, Roxborough’s Dave Dougherty serves our law-abiding citizenry as a member of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. As a 30-year veteran of the office, who handles violent crimes against juveniles, Dougherty is stoic and forthright. Yet, it’s his night gig that gets him attention in the entertainment pages, rather than the news section: He’s an actor who has worked in regional theater and had bit parts in Philly-shot flicks such as In Her Shoes and Invincible, and now, My Big Gay Italian Wedding, which opens Friday at Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel Superstar Theater.
As a kid at Second and Shunk in South Philly, did you have a penchant for acting? Did you have acting heroes?
I knew in my heart I wanted to perform — somehow, some way — and after stints doing haunted houses and a few garage bands, I went into the Navy at 17. So acting had to wait. I first noticed Sylvester Stallone when I was 14 after Rocky came out. More important, I noticed him because he came from Philly. If a bum from the neighborhood could act and write, so could I.
But you moved into the law, as an officer of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office no less.
The thing to do for work as you returned from the service in those days was to apply for fire, police, prison, and sheriff’s jobs, any city job for that matter. The sheriffs called first, and I took that with the intent to move to the fire department to be near my friends. Well, in my first year, I handled high-profile cases — serial killers Gary Heidnik, Harrison “Marty” Graham, and Phil Leonetti. not to mention Nick Scarfo and his whole gang. It was a very exciting job, and I was getting on TV as a bonus, from moving these guys through City Hall.
Is acting a respite of sorts, or is an officer of the court not allowed a respite?
I’ve probably handled over 30,000 prisoners in my 30-year career. I’ve seen it all, and I am uniquely suited to do adult crimes against juveniles because of my vast experience as a sheriff and steady temperament and a father to a son. I find acting is a respite and an extension of who I am, my understanding of people, and the experiences applied.
So then how did you wind up acting?
12 Monkeys was shooting in front of Wanamaker’s. I watched them from a window on the second floor in City Hall. I was fascinated as they ran take after take, kept resetting. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, they get to shoot retakes and get another bite of the apple. I can do this.’ So I took an acting class at Wilma, my one and only class, I might add. I learned enough to develop a good monologue that I still use today at auditions.
What was your first meaningful gig?
I did an interactive comedy show called The Soapranos from New York that played our tristate area for three years starting 2002. Think Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, only with a mob twist as Tony’s retiring, and we’re giving him a send-off in song and dance. I did a Bobby Darin set, a lot of improvising, and plenty of old gags. I was cast the week after I auditioned, and soon thereafter, I got headshots and an agent, in a kind of backward way of how you normally get into show business. I have been very lucky to have worked ever since.
Were you nervous upon hitting the stage? After all the work you have done, are you nervous now?
Preparation is key to success in front of a live audience. I was a lot more nervous and unsteady when I started. Now I just enjoy the whole process. Next week, I’m doing a photo shoot for City Gym at Hotel Monaco, and I just booked a small independent film, A Mothers Will, shooting in Jefferson City, Mo., in August. I’m very excited, not nervous to have these gigs lined up and to keep working. Not bad for a blue-collar guy trying to make a go of it in this crazy business called show.
Dealing with violent crimes against juveniles, do you bring any of that into your acting? Or is the whole point to keep that separate?
I apply some Buddhist principles into my work both downtown and acting. I think it’s important to manage not only your information diet but what you internalize into your thinking. I do try to empathize and understand what I see and hear and can bring certain elements to the table if need be for a role.
What do you think directors and casting peeps see in you? What is your strong suit?
Without a doubt, my regular-guy persona and salt-of-the-earth upbringing. I have a good energy, and, at the end of the day, the people casting both have to like your acting abilities and you as a person.
In My Big Gay Italian Wedding, you play the father of a gay man getting married to another man. Do you have any personal experience in or with the LGBTQ community?
I had a gay uncle who passed from cancer, a fun guy who had a great spirit and laughed all the time. That helped me in this project. I also don’t act any differently to my son in this play as I would to my own lad, whom I love unconditionally. I did play a gay father coming out to his son in a student film a few years back. I thought I did a good job.
I don’t know how close to retirement you may be, but are you looking forward to doing this – acting – full time?
Yes, yes, yes. I am close to finishing up my career as a soldier with the sheriff’s department downtown and moving into performing full time, as well as writing more and more, in addition to the two scripts I have penned. I have one already on a Philly icon and an iconic event steeped in Philly tradition. Know any interested parties?