At the 2021 ESPYs, viewers probably heard Vernon Davis’ work without even realizing it.
For the event, Davis, a former NFL tight end, was the voice viewers heard when presenters were announced or the host, actor Anthony Mackie, needed a set-up of his own. For Davis, who retired at the conclusion of the 2019 season after a productive career as a pass catcher, the gig was part of continuing journey into Hollywood, which includes acting and producing in addition to voice work.
I read the interview you did with ESPN where you were talking about bringing your football work ethic to the creative work you are doing now. But I’m curious: Was this always the path you wanted, or did you ever consider coaching or scouting or some kind of career within the game?
I’ve always been intrigued with the world of arts. Music to dancing to acting, producing — I’ve just always had a passion and just a desire to do it, so in college, I studied art. So when I arrived in the NFL, I opened up an art gallery called Gallery 85 in San Jose, California, so that really stimulated me in a way that made me want to pursue it even more. And while I was playing, I started working on some projects of my own, I showed up in a few films — Baywatch, Hell on the Border — and it’s been a great journey so far.
Did you have any teammates who you shared that passion for art with?
No, not that I can think of. I think I was probably the only one when I was playing ball. I can’t really recall anyone that was pursuing the arts, acting and painting and things of that nature. I know my teammates just gave me hard time. They used to tease my a lot. [laughs].
What appealed to you about doing work like voiceover work for the ESPYs?
It’s different, it’s different. But I have to give thanks to my manager, Henry Penzi, who really pushed and inspired me. Without him, I’m not sure I’d have been able to pursue this. He told me “Vernon, if you want to be an artist, you have to take on these different things even if you’re not familiar with them because you’ll never know. Maybe you’ll do it and fall in love with it. You just have to try it.”
So once he told me that, that really resonated with me. I said, “Ok, let me try it.” And that’s how I ended up doing this, with him going to bat for me and really pushing me to do it. It’s totally different, but like any challenge, I’m up for it.
How did you approach preparation?
Once I got the script, I really familiarized myself with the words. And that’s all it is — familiarizing yourself with the verbiage and understanding and owning those words. And once you do that, you start to feel comfortable and you just go out and have a good time.
When you were playing — and attending the ESPYs — did you ever think about the back-end production?
No. Every year that I decided to go to the ESPYs, I’d sit in the audience and never thought in a million years that I’d be behind the scenes being the voice for the ESPYs or even the host. I never imagined it.
It’s different types of work — you aren’t gearing up with lifting and training for this like you would have for an NFL season, I’d assume — but are there any similarities entertainment work and the NFL?
I think consistency is everything. As long as you’re consistent and consistent in your approach, you’ll find that the same method falls under everything else. Like when I was playing ball, I would catch 200, 300 balls before practice ended. I did that every day. And whether you’re preparing for an acting role or you’re about to be the voice for a show, you prepare and use the repetition process and it allows you to feel comfortable and familiar. And you just develop this stamina and you’ll go out and do really well.
Did you go back and watch any film or any old Oscars or ESPYs and apply some of your approach to the ESPYs?
Ya, that’s another form of preparation. You want to go look at the past and listen to how they did and then make it your own. When I found out I would be doing this, first thing I did was listen to former voices and go off of that, understand what they did and start making it my own. So what does my voice sound like?
Do you still follow the NFL — or any other sport — as much and in as much detail as you might have when you were playing?
I’m still intrigued by the sports that I always have been. Football is always going to be my No. 1 sport. It paved the way for me and it’s something I’ve been in love with since I was a kid, so I’m always going to love that. But I’m open to being a part of and supporting other sports, but football is always my No. 1.
Are there any recent NFL storylines that have grabbed your attention?
No, but I’m always looking to see what rules change. I think that’s something that’s really been at the top of my list and something that’s always at the top of my mind. Playing the game, I’ve seen so much change in these rules when it comes to football. But what’s different now? It’s always changing.
What’s the last piece of art you’ve watched or consumed that’s stuck with you?
I’ve been watching Masterclass videos lately. And the last video I watched was Natalie Portman. She talked about the difference techniques that she uses when she’s acting, so that’s one thing that really stuck with me.
For movies, are you a movie theater person or have you become more into watching movies at home now after the last year-plus?
I’m a movie theater guy. I think I can get the same experience at home though. Over the last year, I’ve been watching a lot of movies on Netflix, Hulu, you name it. But I’m a movie theater guy. So if I can go to watch a movie, I’m going to the movies. When I was in L.A. two weeks ago, I went with some friends of mine — Carmen Electra, Henry Penzi, some others — and we went to go support our buddy Paul Walter Hauser and his new movie, Cruella. So we went to go show some love to him and that was a lot of fun. It was about 12 of us and we took up a whole row and it was a lot of fun.
Paul Walter Hauser is kind of genius I think.
Ya, he’s awesome. Not only is he a great actor, but he’s also a great person.
Anything you watched at home, be it on Netflix or Hulu that clicked for you?
The TV series All-American. I’ve loved that. That’s something I keep going back to, it’s great. It’s very captivating. I’m very familiar with all of that because my life was like that.