When Dawan Owens graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000, he wasn’t planning to be an actor. But taking opportunities as they arise became a recurring theme in his life.
“It wasn’t about foresight,” he says. “This is God leading me in the right direction. It’s not that I’m any different; I just think I’m a regular dude who’s been blessed to be around the right people and who knows when to listen.”
Owens, who stars in the OWN Tyler Perry soap “If Loving You Is Wrong,” grew up in Baltimore and came to Pitt and walked onto the football and baseball teams.
He initially was interested in computer science, but a counselor nudged him toward information science.
“I thought, this is great because I really was big on breaking things down, and I love computers, and that’s what it was: be the middle person between those who were so computer literate they couldn’t talk to someone who wasn’t [and others] and I could fill that niche,” he says.
He was recruited out of college by Accenture, trained in Chicago, worked in Tampa, Fla., and traveled to India for a job that included “follow the sun” methodology.
“I worked 13 hours a day, sometimes 17 hours, and on one project I worked 60 days straight,” he recalls. “On one project I had eight people under me: four in India, four in the U.S. You’d follow the sun so when it goes down in one country, now they’re up [in another] and nothing is ever dropped — it’s worked on 24/7.”
His Pitt grad friend, actor Lamman Rucker (“Meet the Browns,” OWN’s upcoming drama “Greenleaf”), called to check in on him and Owens mentioned how he couldn’t stay in that field forever. Rucker remembered Owens expressing an interest in comedic acting and suggested he try standup. So Owens went online and researched standup comedy and took improv classes while working in Washington, D.C.
Within six months Owens was opening for comedy stars such as Bobcat Goldthwait. A fellow D.C. comic suggested Owens should move to Los Angeles.
“I was like, ‘I should?'” Owens says. “Again, I was just listening.”
He made a plan to move to LA within a year, despite his mother’s misgivings, and after the move in 2008, he started taking three acting classes a week.
“I felt like I needed to catch up to people who already had all the training from college,” he says. “I needed to find a way to close the gap.”
He appeared on Comedy Central’s multiplatform competition series, “Open Mic Fight,” landing in the Top 12, and booked a part in a Comedy Central pilot that went nowhere. He took a break from standup to concentrate on acting. A “CSI: Miami” casting director suggested he try drama, which led to auditions and roles on “Criminal Minds,” “Southland,” “Hit the Floor” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” before booking “If Loving You Is Wrong,” which debuted a year ago.
“If Loving You Is Wrong” follows a group of husbands, wives and friends who live in a middle-class neighborhood. Owens plays drug dealer Quan, but that wasn’t the role he initially wanted.
Owens auditioned for the leading-man role of Lushion. But when producers recast the role of Lushion’s girlfriend, the new actress did not look to be the same age as Owens.
“Tyler said, ‘I can’t have you be Lushion, but I’d love to work with you and there’s this other character called Quan I’d love for you to take,'” Owens recalls. “At this point I was just like, this business. I was so excited I had booked the character I wanted. …
“People don’t know what to do with me. They say, ‘You’re kind of a leading guy, you’re attractive, but you’re not super big, not the bouncer guy. You’re one of those people who have to find their way. You’re not Idris Elba and you’re not Kevin Hart.'”
He thought about his options and decided he really just wanted to work every day as an actor.
“If it’s not about the industry and being bitter about what’s going on, then it’s an opportunity, take it,” Owens recalls. “So I got to portray a person who was not me but represents where I originally grew up on the west side of Baltimore.”
“If Loving You Is Wrong” films on Perry’s speed-of-light schedule, filming 22 episodes in five weeks (most prime-time dramas film 22 episodes over nine months).
“It’s almost like acting camp,” Owens says. “We go down [to Atlanta] and don’t have time to do anything other than be ready to shoot your scene. You get one take, maybe two, and then it’s onto the next thing.”
The role of Lushion eventually went to Charles Malik Whitfield.
“When I first saw him I thought, I’m gonna have to Nancy Kerrigan you or something, but I love him like a brother now,” Owens says.
In the meantime, Owens continues to audition for leading man roles.
“I’m just continuing to work,” he says, “and push the envelope.”