David Shields, Photography by Lee Malone

British actor David Shields is making a name for himself with his powerful performance as Major Everett Blakely in the World War II drama “Masters of the Air.” Produced by the legendary duo of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the nine-episode series for Apple TV+ follows the harrowing exploits of the Eighth Air Force of the United States Army during the final stages of the war, where airmen risk their lives with the 100th Bomb Group, forging a brotherhood through courage, loss, and triumph.

Shields previously garnered critical acclaim for his role in the global phenomenon “Black Mirror,” the provocative and occasionally controversial Netflix series that explores the dark side of technology. Alongside Paapa Essiedu and Anjana Vasan, Shields delivered a captivating performance in the episode “Demon79” which earned nominations for multiple BAFTA TV Awards.

Prior to his role in “Masters of the Air,” Shields has also been seen in other high-profile projects, including “Doctor Who,” “Treadstone,” and “The Crown.” Hailing from the prestigious Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where he graduated in 2017, Shields has also earned a degree in Theology from the University of Oxford, further showcasing his intellectual prowess and dedication to his craft.

Read on for our exclusive interview with David Shields by Indira Cesarine.

Indira Cesarine: Can you share your experience working on the epic period series “Masters of the Air” and portraying the character Major Everett Blakely?

David Shields: It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’d never worked on a show of such huge scale and scope. Being part of that machine of such a talented cast and crew, and seeing the whole thing in action; being on those sets where they built the whole airbase, planes, working on the volume stage, was such an exciting process. Portraying the character ‘Major Everett Blakely’ was a privilege. I met some of his family when I was over in America recently and it was clear, to me, from the off that my ultimate duty was to try and do justice to the memory of this man. So it was, I suppose, a little daunting, in that respect, but as I say it was a privilege to play this guy who was, undeniably a hero.

How did you prepare for your role as Major Everett Blakely in “Masters of the Air” considering the historical context of the World War II drama?

Fortunately, there was lots to draw on, there was Harry Crosby’s book “A Wing and a Prayer’” and Donald L Miller’s book, “Masters of the Air”, but there were also interviews with his son recorded in the 1980s. There was lots of material to draw on and I could get a sense of his voice and physicality as well as a whole bunch of anecdotes to inform me of what I was doing. 

What drew you to accept the role of Major Everett Blakely in “Masters of the Air” and what aspects of the character resonated with you?

Well, what drew me was the fact that ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’, but Band of Brothers specifically is one of my favorite TV series’ ever. It’s probably the series that I have watched the most on repeat; the first limited series I ever watched end-to-end and so it has a special place in my heart. As soon as I heard that they were making this series as a companion to those former series, I wanted to be a part of it. The aspects of the character that resonated with me – well he is a very disciplined and focused person. I have a little bit of that. But he also knows how to have a good time too – I suppose those two sides are not too far from me. He definitely shares pieces of me, for sure. 

The series had so many incredible scenes of action while showing the good friendships back at the base. Can you share any favorite moments on set?

A favorite moment for me that comes out in the series is that we would have to spend quite long hours up on the rigg in the cockpit of the plane and once up there (it took so long to get up there once the flight gear was on, once in position with all the cameras set up) you were stuck up for hours. To pass the time, we told each other riddles. One of those riddles has made it into the actual show. The one about the goblins. I like those moments when things that happened in between takes, make it into the show. I think that’s quite cool.

What prep work did you do considering you’re portraying a real person? Did you do any military training?  

Yeah, we did a whole bunch of military training. Two weeks of it led by the veteran military advisor, Captain Dale Dye, and so we were marching, doing exercises and often sitting in the classroom getting down to the nuts and bolts of what it was to fly these planes. We also did flight simulator training, so we knew what the flight speed dial was, how to move the yoke in an appropriate way, etc. There was lots of training. 

David Shields, Photography by Lee Malone

Congratulations on the BAFTA TV nominations for Black Mirror’s episode “Demon79”! What aspects do you believe contributed to its nomination for multiple BAFTA TV Awards above the other episodes?

Firstly, can I say it’s very nice of you to congratulate me, but I certainly haven’t been nominated! A whole range of people within my episode have been nominated and the episode itself has been nominated which is fantastic and well deserved. I think that the episode is very unique in that it is a retro-horror movie that is both dramatic and comedic, but also comes with a socio-political critique; so it is a very singular alchemy. I think that’s why it has been so well received. Also, the fact that it’s incredibly well-acted by its leads, Paapa and Anjana and you can clearly see the talent in the crew as well that have put the episode together. I am very pleased it has done so well, and we’ll have to see what happens. 

It looked like it must’ve been fun playing Michael Smart? 

Absolutely. Playing an evil, twisted, nasty character is always fun. He definitely was that. It was an interesting process. He was evil but also had a slight ridiculousness to him, a little bit of sort of Alan Patridge in him despite being so heinous. It was fun playing those two things.

You seem to move easily between different genres and characters. What’s been your favorite? 

I enjoy both drama and comedy and like it when they can be combined. To that end, the character I’m playing at the moment which is in a play by James Graham called ‘Punch’ moves very definitely between comedy and sort of really difficult dramatic moments. Trying to navigate that balance is something I really enjoy. 

You studied Theology at the University of Oxford first before going onto studying acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. What was that time in your life like and did you find it easy moving from studying at Oxford to studying acting?

I suppose what was great about university was that I got a lot of chances to do lots of plays, so I was forever doing Jez Butterworth plays, Tom Stoppard plays, and we did a Shakespeare tour to Tokyo, Japan and so that was a kind of pre-training training ground. Despite that, I felt like there was more work to be done and that’s why I went on to study acting at Royal Welsh College. So, I loved Uni for the plays and that definitely made life easier at drama school having had that bit of experience beforehand. 

David Shields, Photography by Lee Malone

Can you reflect on any specific mentors or influences that have played a significant role in shaping your acting career?

I am not one of these people who is self-taught. I have always leaned on mentors. I have this acting coach called David Penn who I would recommend to anyone, and he has completely flipped my approach to camera acting and approach to the lens. He is all about the lens of the camera and what it sees and doesn’t see. He has played a hugely significant role in my approach to screen acting.

What advice have you picked up along the way that might be useful to other actors starting out? 

Well, it’s David Penn’s advice; Don’t take it too seriously. I kind of think acting is about taking it seriously but also not taking it seriously. Of course, take your job seriously, turn up on time, and know your lines, but I think there is something about when you’re actually doing the work, if you’re taking it too seriously and being too literal about it, you more often than not end up acting too much and you end up killing it, and so kind of being less rational about it, often leads to better performance. Also, be wary of people who give advice! That’s some of the best advice I ever heard because everyone has got their own way into it, especially with acting. Everyone has a unique story, and everyone’s approach is different. There’s only so much you can learn from other people.

Anything coming up next on the horizon you would like to share? 

Yes, the play I mentioned by James Graham is called Punch. It’s a true story about a young man from Nottingham who punched someone on a night out and killed him with that one punch. He went to prison and ended up getting to know his victim’s family through a process called Restorative Justice. It is a story about forgiveness, masculinity, and about Nottingham. It is one of the best casts I have ever been a part of. It is incredibly satisfying and just great to be back in the theatre after so long. 

Next, I am doing a film in France, but unfortunately, I can’t say anything as it hasn’t been announced yet. It’s very exciting and that will be happening in the summer.

Interview by Indira Cesarine
Photography by Lee Malone
Styling by Fabio Immediato
Grooming by Paul Donovan

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