New York, where David Boreanaz (to clarify, the name is pronounced Bor-ee-ah-nuz, and it's of Czech origin) was born, is a long way--geographically and culturally--from Los Angeles, where he now lives. It's the width of a continent, but also the span of several mindsets and climates. In Buffalo the winter cold seizes hold and doesn't let go for months. Blizzards, snowstorms, bitterly cold temperatures are the order of each winter. Winter is a season that doesn't touch L.A., a place where palm trees grow and the sun shines with a rare intensity, even through the smog. In Buffalo, the local dish is a pork and beef hot dog cut and mashed in the grill until it becomes a tube steak. In the City of Angels it's whatever the trendy cuisine of the week might be, served up by a celebrity chef to celebrity guests. They're two different worlds.
But David's story doesn't actually begin in Buffalo. It starts a couple of hundred miles away, in another country--Toronto, Canada, where, he says, he was conceived. His father, who went by the name of Dave Roberts--it played better than the more ethnic Boreanaz--was an entertainer who played clubs andtheaters. It was a nomadic existence, really, but one Roberts enjoyed--his only desire had been to entertain people. He traveled around the Northeast, which included stints in Ontario and Quebec, making people laugh and smile. Sometimes his wife would accompany him, and the trips would seem more like vacations than work. And she went with him to Toronto in August 1970, where the first intimations of David Boreanaz became a twinkling in his parents' eyes.
Home for the family, though, was Buffalo. Perhaps it wasn't the most romantic city in the United States, with more than its share of gritty reality, rather than the open dreams of the West, but it suited them. They were working people, even if Roberts's work was somewhat different from being on the line in a factory or pushing paper in an office.
David Boreanaz pushed his way into the world on May 16, 1971, born under the sign of Taurus, the bull. While Roberts was on the road, it was his wife Patti who stayed home with David and his two sisters, Beth and Bo. The three of them grew up with the idea of performing as a completely natural part of life; they saw it in their father every day--how could it be anything else but normal?
An entertainer's life was fine for a man with few ties or responsibilities. But with three kids, Dave Roberts needed something that was a little more secure, if he was going to provide well for his family. He wanted to be around more, to watch his children grow, to have something that seemed more stable. So when he applied for--and won--the job of weather forecaster on Philadelphia television station WPVI in Philadelphia, he was overjoyed. It meant a move, ofcourse, but that was fine. He'd have a job where he could be in front on the public, could entertain (he wasn't a meteorologist), and which was well paid. He'd be home every night. It was as if he'd been offered the perfect job.
Being a face on television meant that Roberts inevitably became something of a minor celebrity in Philadelphia. He was recognized on the street more than he'd ever been during his years as a traveling entertainer. A generous, outgoing man by nature, his attitude to the people who'd stop him had a deep effect on his son.
A lot of times when David was growing up he'd be out with his dad when fans would come up and say, "You're Dave Roberts!" His father acknowledged his fans enough to take the time to stop and talk to each one of those people, setting a solid example for David in later life.
Something else that David took from his father was performing. Although he probably couldn't really remember seeing him on stage often, somehow the idea was buried in him. Like his father, he wanted to perform.
That first came when David was four. With his own Rumplestiltskin Theater, he put on little plays at home for his family. Pictures of David back then show him with long, curly hair that was blond--the darker shade came in as he grew older.
A lot of kids put on plays for their families and friends; however, it doesn't necessarily mark them out as future actors. Besides, at four no one has a real sense of what they want to do with their lives. It's all play, as it should be, experimenting.
But not many kids find their vocation when they'reseven, either. David did. His moment of revelation came when his parents took him to see a revival of the musical The King and I, which saw the late Yul Brynner reprising his role as the King of Siam. It was a night that just hit him.
"I was in the third row, and I was just blown away by his performance," he remembers. "I just knew I wanted to be the king, I wanted to be an actor." Of course, there was a huge difference between a sevenyear-old's idea of an actor and reality. Some would perhaps have pursued the goal immediately, trying to get children's roles on television, to be in commercials, or things of that nature. It didn't happen that way for David. His parents had enough experience of the business to know they didn't want that for their son--at least, not when he was young. If he still wanted to act when he was older, when his ideas were real, they'd happily support him. For now, though, what they wanted was for their kids to have a normal childhood. And that included time in the country, most specifically at a farm, where David developed the great fear of his life--chickens.
"I think I developed that fear when I was a little kid because I used to chase them at a farm and torment them and they would torment me. I must have been three or four."
Well, maybe not perfectly normal. There was no public school for the Boreanaz children. Dave and Patti wanted their kids to have the best education, the best start in life, that they could manage, and that meant the more exclusive prep school route. And why not? It was a perfectly natural impulse.
The obvious choice for David was Malvern Prep, probably the best-known preparatory school in Philadelphia,and one with a national reputation. It was a place where David could have been involved in school drama productions, but instead he preferred to hide his light under a bushel--he was just another kid, albeit one who was quite big and strong.
Size meant, inevitably, football, and David did play on the team. And that, of course, meant that he was labeled as a jock. But, like any pigeonhole, he didn't fit neatly into a stereotype. Just because he wasn't acting himself didn't mean that his love of theater had vanished. Philadelphia wasn't far from New York, and David would often go with his parents to see stage productions.
"I was always around the theater in [New York]," he says. "It grew on me as I grew older."
With its uniform (including a tie) and code for hair length (David had no choice but to wear his short), Malvern's aim was to turn out good citizens who'd been well educated, and well prepared for college. It was a school where the boys participated in things; that was expected of them, the same way good grades were the norm, not the exception. Parents were paying for the best, and it was the school's job to deliver.
So David was a good kid. He studied hard, and played football until his junior year, when he was injured and had to quit. Every day he rubbed shoulders with the sons of Philadelphia's moneyed elite, the kids whose fathers were in business, politics, all sorts of things. The one common factor was that they were all successful, and most expected their children to be successful too. Straight teeth and good looks were common in the hallways. By the standards of most public schools, the place was a dream. There were very few disciplinary problems, the students all wanted toachieve, and there was a real sense of school spirit. But things like that were the reason people paid a lot of money for their kids to attend Malvern.
Like most teenagers, David both belonged and stood outside from the different cliques. Playing football gained him entry to the group of jocks, even after his injury stopped him playing. But his love of theater was something that set him apart from all that, something he kept hidden for a long time, in the way boys often submerge their softer side, for fear of ridicule. But he did learn one important lesson--"I found that it's okay to cry. I had a big problem with that and I always thought if you cried you were a sissy and you were pushed away and teased." But he managed to get past that, and realized later it was a good thing.
Most kids strive for the grail of coolness, of being admired by their peers. To this day, David isn't sure if he managed it, or if he really cared. One of his idols was the Fonz, Arthur Fonzarelli, the leather-jacket-wearing cool character on the sitcom Happy Days. Whether David managed the same level of cool in his own life, he doesn't know. The most important thing is that he was happy with himself.
What was it about the stage, about creating roles and characters, that intrigued him? It was hard to say. Maybe just the act of doing it, of creating this illusion. In many ways it was the creating that captivated him, as much as the acting, all the steps involved in a production. The technical side was every bit as fascinating as the artistic side.
There were plenty of subjects he could have considered study at college. He was a bright student, well grounded and well liked. He'd made good grades all the way through school, and scored high in hisSATs. While any possibility of a football scholarship had fallen by the wayside, the academic field was wide open to him. But if he was going to attend college, it seemed to him that it should be to study a subject that truly interested him; otherwise he'd simply be going through the motions, and there was no point in that. And so, in his senior year, he sent out his college applications to study film.
For someone so enthusiastic about live drama it seemed an odd, even unlikely choice. Yet there was a certain logic to it. There were far more jobs in movies and television than there were in the theater. It was a field that was expanding, where someone with a degree and a good background could find work--or so he believed. He'd certainly thought the whole thing through.
His original intention was to get a job on the production side of the business and work behind the camera, rather than in front of it. He loved the whole process, the preparation of both film and television. While television, he noted, had a much quicker turnaround time, film took longer, but the actual process' of making a movie was more satisfying. They were both art forms, but of two different kinds, the difference being somewhat like the difference between watercolors and oil painting--separate but equal.
It's possible that the careers of his sisters had some influence on his decision, too. Both of them worked in movies and television. Bo, the older, was a costumer, whose credits included Barton Fink and Escape From L.A., while Beth had gone into television, working as a production coordinator on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. None of the Boreanaz acorns had fallen too far from the tree; to a greater or lesser degree,show business seemed to be in their blood.
At that time, the idea of acting for a living wasn't in David's mind. He knew full well all the trials and tribulations it would involve, and all the sacrifice. Most actors never made a living. They hustled for parts, even small parts. It was much better--and much more secure--being on the other side of the camera. He admired the actor's art, but somehow he couldn't see himself doing it. While for many, acting was mostly about a "look" he knew there was much more involved.
Even on his graduation--he graduated early, in 1987--David was a good-looking boy. He hadn't really grown into his face yet, but the heartthrob was already there. The face didn't have the same brooding quality, and his hair was curlier, but it was still unmistakably David Boreanaz.
There weren't that many schools with good film programs. NYU had a strong reputation, and New York was close to Philadelphia, almost commuting distance. But what David needed was somewhere far enough away to really seem "away," where he could be off on his own, to grow. And the answer came in the form of Ithaca College, in New York. Located in the center of the state, some forty miles from the Pennsylvania state line (but a good distance from Philly), it was a prestigious private school--which translated into costly.
Ithaca was one of the colleges to which David applied, and they were happy to accept someone with his record and SAT scores. His future--at least the next four years of it--was set out.
After the big-city life of Philadelphia, Ithaca was something of a shock for David. It was a college town, with fewer than thirty thousand full-time residents, although that population swelled during the academic year. Apart from Ithaca College, the city was also home to Cornell University, an institution with a long and proud history.
Although, in real terms, Ithaca wasn't too far from anywhere (Syracuse, for example, was only forty miles away), it remained fairly isolated in the Finger Lakes area of central New York state. There weren't going to be too many distractions from learning (unless, of dourse, you counted partying).
Ithaca College itself had been founded in 1892, although back then it was the Ithaca Conservatory of Music. It quickly gained a strong reputation, and by the 1930s boasted more than two thousand students. The change to a full university happened over the next couple of decades, although the college remained on its downtown campus until the 1960s, when a new, purpose-built campus was erected in the South Hill area of town, away from the center, overlooking Cayuga Lake.
It was a lovely area, a planner's dream, green and airy. The buildings were modern but still authoritative.
As a private school, Ithaca College kept admission low--even today there are fewer than six thousand students--to allow a much better student-to-teacher ratio; in Ithaca's case, it currently stands at 12:1, astonishingly low by the standards of most universities. That meant the education was more personalized, and professors had a chance to really know their students, which worked to everyone's advantage. It wasgeared mostly to the four-year undergraduate program, with very few graduate students pursuing advanced degrees. The biggest plus, in David's case, was that the film program at Ithaca was nationally acknowledged as one of the best.
Prep school had instilled a strong work ethic in him, and he brought that with him to New York. David had never been one to spend his free time partying his brains out. Excess simply wasn't a part of his nature. He understood full well that his parents were paying a lot of money for his education, and he wanted to make sure they got full value. Let the others waste every penny and waste four years of their lives; he was there to learn.
That didn't mean he became a complete recluse or some kind of film nerd. He was still the sociable person he'd always been. But, freed from the pressure to conform that had existed at Malvern Prep, he could be much more himself--somewhat introspective, someone who was happy to stay in his dorm room and read a book when he wasn't completing an assignment. He made friends, had girlfriends, but to most he was an anonymous figure on campus. The injury he'd suffered in his junior year at school had ended any football prospects, and that had always been his main sport. So now he simply blended into the pleasant scenery at Ithaca, worked hard, and maintained good grades.
He'd never rebelled against his parents, or gone through those years of teen angst. He'd been luckier than many, inasmuch as his parents had always encouraged him to do what he wanted to do, rather than mindlessly conform. And they'd always been supportive of his decisions. There'd been little for him torebel against, really. So he went off to college quite well adjusted, his feet firmly on the ground, with a very clear vision of what he wanted to do in life, and the amount of work it would take to achieve that.
David had never been a film obsessive in the way many of the other students in his film class were (think Dawson on Dawson's Creek). He didn't need--and didn't want--to be able to quote chapter and verse on almost every movie ever made. What he wanted was to learn the production end of films, to understand, and to develop the art he sensed was inside himself. He didn't need to be a walking encyclopedia of the movies in order to do that.
At the same time, some knowledge of film history was necessary, and that was a part of his course, along with all the other, more technical, aspects. He took it all in, completing all his courses on a strong, if not spectacular, level.
Every vacation would mean home to Philadelphia, and a chance to get together with his family. They were close, the type to stand up for each other, no matter what, and David had learned to value that. He still lists his father, and his grandfather (whom he calls "an unbelievable wise man, full of knowledge") as his heroes.
Of course, college brought changes for David. He was growing, in every possible way. And that meant experimentation. He let his hair grow long, in what he called his "Deadhead" phase (after the band, Grateful Dead), and wore all the appropriate hippie gear. When that became old, he cut his locks short again. But somehow it didn't work; his hair struck out oddly, and he found himself stuck with the nickname Q-Tip Head--not exactly the sort of handle anyone wants togo by. So he shaved the side of his head, hoping that would tame his hair.
He also attempted to pierce his left ear by himself, something that didn't work too well.
"It got infected," he remembers, "and I got this huge bubble behind my ear. I had to go to the emergency room to get it lanced."
But it was college, the time in your life when you're supposed to be able to do that kind of thing, to try on ideas, personalities, hairstyles, and clothes. While not on the curriculum, that's part of the overall education, a chance to learn who you really are--and who you're not.
Certainly David found out who--and what--he wasn't. He wasn't really a latter-day hippie. He wasn't a punk. And trying to stand out from the crowd simply physically disagreed with him. He was at his happiest being ordinary, looking "normal," like himself. That was who he was at heart, where he felt most comfortable. He tried to try other things to understand that. He could look like other people and still be himself; it didn't make him into a sheep, a follower. He still had his personal likes and dislikes that had absolutely nothing to do with any fashion--particularly when it came to music: "I'm very old school," he admits. "I'm a huge Dead Head. I like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan." You didn't have to look the part to feel the part was the obvious lesson. You could just be yourself.
There was no shortage of girls interested in him. He was six feet one, broad-shouldered and buff, and he had the dark good looks that are now his trademark. He dated, but there was no one special. College, for him, was more about studying and learning--about film, about himself--than for anything else.
Like most students, he spent all four of his years there living in the dorms. In Ithaca, apart from the frat houses, there weren't many other choices. And it made his life simpler, to be catered to, not to have to think of his own cooking and grocery shopping, all the chores that would come soon enough, anyway. He was focused, and happy to be attending class, taking care of all his assignments.
And that was the way it went until 1991, when he graduated. There was little to distinguish David from the pack in terms of academics. He was good, not great. He worked hard, and donned his cap and gown in the June heat to accept his diploma. He'd spent sixteen years studying in order to reach this point, applying himself every day.
But he knew a degree in film wasn't a passport to success of any kind. It might help open a few doors--after that, he was on his own. Every year thousands of people graduated with film degrees and tons of ambition. And most of them did what he planned to do--head west, to Los Angeles, and try to find work.
At least he had a realistic attitude. He knew his degree didn't make him the new Scorsese. He understood that whatever work he got would be at the bottom of the heap. He wasn't going to walk into the movies or television and immediately start directing or producing. There was a little more security in a job behind the cameras than in front, but not a whole lot. Yet this was what he wanted to do with his life. This was the pull he'd felt for years, and now it was about to become reality. It wasn't going to be easy. It wasn't even going to be a sure thing. But it was what he hadto do, he knew that. If he failed, well, at least he'd tried. At this point it was all up to him, and somehow that was a comforting feeling; he had confidence in himself.
Copyright © 1999 by Chris Nickson.