DANIEL DONSKOY | INTERVIEW
Recently seen portraying James Hewitt in The Crown and starring in current hit German TV series Sankt Maik, the Russian-born, Germany-and-Israel-raised, UK-trained Daniel Donskoy chats to Carl Marsh, not about his acting but about his burgeoning singer-songwriter sideline.
Did you always have an ambition to branch out into music whilst still acting, or was it vice versa?
I started in musical theatre, but realised pretty quickly that I didn’t want to do that. I loved acting, and I loved music, and in my mind the most sensible thing to do was to go and study musical theatre, because you get both music and acting. But after about half a year into college, I realised I need to be an actor and a musician, not both together.
I was very lucky because the university supported me – they helped me take master classes for music, and I got to go to New York on a scholarship to the Lee Strasberg. I got into theatre pretty quickly in the UK by doing these West End things, tours, and then all the filming stuff started. When filming began, I thought to myself, “I actually feel this a lot”.
So, music sort of fell by the wayside?
Music has always been there as I had always been writing songs, but for me, it was my safe haven – the one little thing within the industry that is my hobby. I didn’t want to promote or pursue it or anything. Then when I got my first big [acting] gig in Germany, where I was the lead in a TV show [Sankt Maik] for three years, I’d done my first talk show, and some guy from Universal Music in Germany walked up to me and said “We know you do music…” I said, “How do you know?” “We know everything!” But he went on: “If you want to do it, why don’t you? Why don’t you try?”
And something within me that day just clicked – I thought, what am I saving myself for? I love it, and it’s fun, but it was very important for me to start my music career as an independent. I released my first two tracks, and then the major labels came along and said, “That’s good, but how about German pop?”
I think I know what your answer must have been…
And they were offering a good deal, but I didn’t want to do that. In the last couple of years in Germany, there was an influx of German-speaking music again for the first time in a decade, and everyone was telling me to do a German pop album. But I don’t feel it. I wanted to sing in English. I was musically educated on the one side with classical Russian deep haunting melancholia [laughs]. On the other side, my parents only listened to Jamiroquai, The Police and Michael Jackson! So the last thing I would want to do is German schlager pop!
It seems like your calling has always been to music – and I can see you nodding at me…
Yeah, yeah. The thing is, I love acting as it’s a different art form that allows me to delve into so many other worlds. Like, how on earth would I ever know how an Israeli drug lord lives? I wouldn’t. But I get to do that on an HBO series and walk through Zagreb and bang the shit out of everything – that’s fun! Being an actor is very much like being a kid on the playground, and that’s something I deeply value.
I’ve always known I wanted to do it with the music, and it became so evident when I did my first tour last year in Germany. I went on the stage and stood there, and the people were singing along, and I just thought to myself: “Wow, this is it. This is what makes me happy in a way that acting can’t.” You might get that in theatre, sometimes, but when you are filming, you’re in this little bubble of creation, and if you’re lucky, people will see that in two years.
You’ve released a few singles already – when can we expect the debut album?
I’ve written over 150 tracks over the last two years, and I had it all planned, but it all got complicated because I was in the middle of a TV series that got halted. Then a new UK production got pushed back to 2022, and I had to change then my plans of releasing the album and tour to follow it. Then it allowed me a lot of time to write, which was good because it allowed me to reconsider how I wanted my first album to sound. I was nearly done! But I decided to use some of the songs I’d written as singles, and to then write an entirely new album. I was sitting at home thinking to myself, “This is not my introduction”. It’s a weird thing, that I’m a perfectionist in that way, because you only get one debut album. So in that respect – due to lockdown – it was great to have some time to think.
words CARL MARSH