SVAKI DAN MAN: Gio DeVal

You’ve most likely seen him a time or two on our website and social media, but we’ve never properly introduced you to Gio (our original campaign model). In this interview, we delve into the creative journey and daily rituals of Gio, a multifaceted artist, actor, and model. Gio shares his experiences, inspirations, and aspirations, offering insights into his diverse career path and passion for storytelling.

Tell us about yourself.

Gio: Well, I spent a lot of my adolescence around my sister, who was a huge movie buff and an episcopal priest. We would bond over movies, and creatively, I think that planted a seed. It wasn’t until I took improv in college that I got started, leading me to acting, writing sketches, and eventually directing. 

While directing a show in college, a mentor suggested I learn all aspects of theater to communicate better with designers, sparking my journey as a hybrid artist. I started light designing, then writing plays and sound designing in grad school. 

It’s funny, leaving grad school, I thought I would solely be working as a sound designer. Mostly because I had a great mentor, Tei Blow,  but the pandemic shifted my focus, as I was also exhausted spending so much time in front of a screen. Now my primary focus is performing, whether that be acting or modeling.

What are your creative roots? What inspired you to pursue acting and playwriting? 

Gio: I watched a lot of movies growing up and often visited my older siblings at the movie theater where they worked. I remember reciting the lines to Batman in a packed theater once and everyone was just laughing. 

The first movie I ever saw in theaters though was with my older cousin. He was babysitting me when I was five years old. He was the cool, more creative cousin and the movie ‘Friday’ had just come out. He really wanted to see the midnight release but the issue was I had insomnia and he couldn’t leave the house if I was still awake. So he took me with him. 

And there I was, watching this Rated-R movie at age five and I just thought it was the best thing in the world. A group of strangers sitting in darkness, laughing, giving commentary, talking back to the film. There was this sense of community with strangers that stuck with me.

So, I think it was those formative memories of watching movies with family that sparked it.

What made you take that step from watching the movies to to actively participating in the creative process? Were there art classes or offerings at your school?

Gio: Quite the opposite. Where I’m from  in Virginia, there was no arts department. Which is probably why I didn’t do so well in school haha. But when I moved to Maryland you had to take an art class to graduate. And the only art class I could take was theater. In fact, I wanted to take photography, but that class was already full. And so, theater it was – I ended up loving  it. 
 
Yet, after that class, I avoided doing theater for a very long time. I just felt that theater was too unpredictable, and so it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I pivoted away from psychology and decided that I wanted to do something in the creative field.

Did you have a specific vision when you entered the creative field? Were you going in with the dream of becoming a big movie star…

Gio: … No, it was nothing like that at all. What I’m doing right now still surprises me, honestly. I love experimental theater. I always loved improvisation, specifically long form improv. Doing the things most people would shy away from – I love that stuff.  

When I was in college, I  remember looking up to everyone at the Maryland Ensemble Theater. They were just awesome people. And I wanted to be like them. The ensemble was making theater in this tiny basement, yet creating a whole world  – and I was all about it. And so no, it wasn’t wanting to be a movie star or anything like that, I was more fascinated with how they could transform a tiny basement into entire worlds. 

For me it’s like this: You read a play or a story and there are pictures in your head. And I’ve always just wanted to be able to share those pictures. That’s what led me to grad school – I just want to tell stories.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have  imagined that I’d be working for brands I begged my parents to buy or being on the networks I would watch as a child. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just getting started, but I’m incredibly grateful.

How did modeling fit into your journey?

Gio: Great question. You know, I was really bad at modeling in the beginning. 

Did I tell you the story when we first met about how I initially got into modeling? It was back when I used to work in production management: I would schedule productions for the students, and occasionally sound design some of the plays, but the job included setting up the student’s  headshot sessions. And so, one day, the creative director asked for someone to just stand in so  they could test the lights… and so I did. And I remember her looking at me and shaking her head saying: ‘You’re too handsome to be bad at this.’ I couldn’t even smile right and that really irked me. Whenever I’m bad at something, it really irks me. So, I started practicing. I would turn my camera on a set timer, take 10 photos, and just practice modeling for hours and hours at home. 

Fast forward to my first modeling gig a few months later, which was also on my 30th birthday. And I was nervous! I knew I wasn’t as good as the other models so I just watched everyone else work and stole little bits and pieces. Of course, it wasn’t enough,  I was so bad that after the first day they  said: ‘Thank you. Happy birthday! We don’t need you for tomorrow.’ Haha! I just continued practicing and a few months later I was signed by two agencies, quit my job in production management, and started booking more and more.

And then modeling became the gateway that led me back into acting.  As a model, you often don’t know what’s going to happen on set. Is it just pictures? Will you be on video? You just have to improvise and figure it out. So, a couple of times I would show up to set and would say: “Okay! We’re doing video today.” The director would  say ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’… which is kind of like acting. I started booking more commercials, then got a theatrical rep. And when I started auditioning theatrically I realized: Okay, I’ve got to practice to get better at this too.

In describing your current mix of work, do you feel like this is where you want to be?

Gio: There’s a lot of things I want to do in addition to building on what I’m doing now. The biggest one is, I want to direct and teach. Actually, let me start there. I’ve had some amazing teachers in my life that sparked a fire in me and were so generous with their gifts. I feel a certain responsibility to do the same for the next generation or  anyone who’s interested honestly. 

At the same time, I want to continue to grow as an artist myself. I just feel you have to constantly learn and grow if you intend to teach others, that’s why it’s called a process and not an arrival. But in terms of my dream? I’d love to continue working as a performer and one day run an acting studio or theater department, direct every now and again – I think that would be a really cool life. 

Right now I’m just enjoying the journey. I’m enjoying the fact that I get to learn so much about acting, myself, humanity and life in the process. I can tell stories and be part of the stories that I would consume as a child. I think that’s what’s exciting to me right now. So it’s just trying to get better every day and whatever happens later down the road, happens.

This is a slight tangent… but I am curious: Do you have a different mindset on days where you know it’s commercial work for a sock company versus a more creative outlet in theater?

Gio:  My answer to this will be a tangent too…

I was on a set two weeks ago. And as context, before the shoot, they had sent out the stylist’s portfolio – that like never happens. Usually you’ll get a script, maybe a mood board, but the stylist portfolio? That was a first.

After every scene, the stylist wasn’t satisfied with how my collar fell. So, after every single take, she would come to me and adjust it. This process went on for many takes over our two-day shoot. And she said to me: ‘You gotta take every shot seriously, you never know which one they’re going to use.’

And so, I think what I’m saying is: I take them all seriously. That’s why this woman has been styling for 20 plus years at the highest level. She put the little, tiny collar that they would see underneath my sweater at the exact right spot regardless if it was a wide shot where they would barely see it or in the close up. 

And so, I feel like it’s my responsibility as the talent to always bring it – no matter if it’s a commercial for socks, an e-comm parts job, or especially theatrical work… I approach each medium with dedication and preparation. Perhaps I take it too seriously, depending on who you ask.

But you know, what’s funny is I have performance anxiety so the preparation puts me at ease. That’s what I love about theater, it’s all about preparation. Even during the first table read there is a certain level of  preparation expected of everyone. Directors have multiple actors and technical elements to manage – they don’t have time to  show me how to do my job too. So I think it’s that mentality that I bring to everything else.

Shifting gears a bit: How do you stay grounded amidst your hectic schedule and diverse range of projects?

Gio: There’s three things in order of importance: Prayer during my morning walks, daily workouts, and spending time with my dog.

1) I started praying during my morning walks two years ago. It started as a gratitude thing, after I found myself being super negative for no reason. Giving thanks, I found five categories in my life that mean the most to me and that I am grateful and praying for: 

  1. My relationship with God, which is hard to define but sometimes you just hear a whisper, and you know: Oh, this is what I need to do. So, nurturing that is something I pray for. 
  2. My relationship with other human beings. I pray for and I’m very grateful for other human beings in my life. You can’t do this type of work alone. You need a support system.
  3. My creative work. I spend some time every morning grateful for auditions, for being on set, or for this opportunity today.
  4. Finances. You gotta eat after all…
  5. (And this is more fleeting): If I’m interested in someone romantically, I always pray for that. But that always comes last. If I just get four out of the five, I’m happy. (Laughing) 

And I just noticed the more that I say thank you during these walks, the more abundance I’ve been receiving, so it’s part of my daily routine. 

2) 54D, which is the place where I work out. Say, I’m having a bad day or a rough start to the morning, there’s something about going full throttle for an hour and doing something that’s difficult, which helps put things in perspective. There is a whole community aspect to the gym as well, so you’re growing and gaining that sweat equity with people who feel like family. Truly grateful to be a part of the community there. 

3) The last thing is hanging out with my dog. I love that little dude. He’s always just present, you know. And my mind is usually in a thousand places at once. So just playing with him, going on walks, training him – it sort of restores my soul. 

So, I think those three things are my resets that ground me every day.

You spend a lot of time with fashion in the modeling part of your life. Have you always had an interest in fashion?

Gio: Funny enough, it’s much less now than when I was a kid. Back then, I would plan out my outfits for the week and iron my clothes every Sunday night for hours. In fact, being from Virginia, I remember one year there was a big hurricane and we had to go inland to North Carolina and stay at my aunt’s. And when we were done packing, there were too many suitcases in the car – that’s because I packed all my shoes, because I felt I had to save from the hurricane. 

And nowadays, I feel like I have to catch up when it comes to fashion. I’ll watch runway shows on YouTube, because it does affect culture. So, now it’s much more educational, whereas when I was younger, fashion was a life. But my fashion sense swings between Paul Binam when I’m going for a more elevated look and J.Cole when I’m just out running errands.

At Svaki Dan, our brand ethos is “Elevate your every day.” How do you interpret this motto in your own life and do you have any daily rituals or routines that embody this ethos?

Gio: For me, it’s studying at the MC² Actors StudioIt’s an  interesting paradox but as an actor, you don’t actually get a lot of opportunities to act, unless you’re on set. And auditioning isn’t really acting. Training at the studio elevates me as a performer and gives me the opportunity to get better every day so I’m ready when the shoot days come.

Even working out every day and getting stronger. And then, tying it back to the morning walks, which help me ensure I am who I intend to be. 

I’m also a crazy person and wake up at 4.30am everyday. And you might have guessed it, I love Kobe Bryant. That’s why my dog is named Kobe.

When I took the step to quit my day job in production management, I had to accept that there was so much uncertainty. When looking at what I could control, I modeled my days after Kobe’s workout schedule. He went to the gym three times a day. For me, one block is studying for acting, for MC². The second block is auditions, and then the third block is working out or more auditions, catching up on my scene work for MC² – it just depends on my workload. And that’s how I show up for my craft.

And so, being in a profession where you never really know when the next thing will come along, having that routine and showing up every day means I feel better and my anxiety about the uncertainties dissipates. Plus, when an audition comes up, I don’t get nervous about it, it becomes like riding a bike. 

Do you have any favorite Svaki Dan pieces, and how do you incorporate them in your daily life?

Gio: You can never go wrong with a white and black shirt showing up to a casting. An all black T-Shirt is the model outfit. Plus, showing up to these auditions, you want to feel good and relaxed. It’s an anxiety inducing event. I have worn my black Svaki shirts so much to castings over the past few months. I love how comfortable and soft they are.  So, it’s really my every day talent uniform.

We just spent the last few hours all across New York: from Harlem all the way down here to Meatpacking… making this the perfect time for an NYC quick fire.

  • Your go-to-restaurant: Sylvia’s is my go-to southern comfort food.
  • Your go-to-coffee spot: Seven Grams Caffe. They have one right by my gym and it’s the best coffee ever.
  • Your favorite weekend activity in the City: I’d actually go outside the City to Beacon and Storm King. If it’s in the City, since we are sitting right near the Whitney, I’d say I’d make myself a good breakfast and then see some art.
  • Your hidden gem for art and culture: Abrons Arts Center. They do great experimental work there.
  • Your escape or feel-good place in the City after a busy week: Kobe (my dog) loves St. Nicholas Dog Park. And I enjoy watching him be happy.

Finally, what can people expect from you next, and where can they follow your journey?

Gio: I’m in some commercials that’ll be broadcasting soon, more modeling work, and I just booked a couple co-star roles for television. The best way to keep up with my journey is my Instagram @higiodude.

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