David Costabile

David Costabile

James Minchin/Showtime
David Costabile as Judge Smith

David Costabile as Judge Smith 

Ursula Coyote/Showtime
Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner and David Costabile as Judge Smith

Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner, David Costabile as Judge Smith and Giovanni Ribisi as Dan Cogdell

Courtesy of Showtime
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April 14, 2023
Online Originals

David Costabile's Trial Run

The actor portrays Judge Smith in the new Showtime limited series Waco: The Aftermath.

With his latest role, David Costabile carries on a family tradition ... sort of.

The actor plays Judge Smith in Showtime's Waco: The Aftermath, a five-part limited series examining the fallout of the 1993 standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas. The role allowed Costabile to draw inspiration from his own life: his grandfather was a judge, as is the actor's brother-in-law.

Costabile also read up on the controversial legal figure, who oversaw the trial of the Branch Davidians charged with conspiracy to murder FBI agents, but said he found little quality video of Judge Smith to inform his performance. "You do want to be true to history, but this is not a documentary about this time and these people," he explains, adding that he looked for "something that was authentic and enlivening" as he played him.

It isn't the first time that an opportunity to tell this story has come his way. In 2018, Showtime released the limited series Waco, which covered the fifty-one-day stand-off between the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and the Branch Davidians, and resulted in a deadly shootout and fire.

"There was talk of me doing something in that first series, but I wasn't available at the time," he recalls. "I was disappointed." When this project got the green light with the original show's creators and showrunners — brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle — one of the producers on Billions recommended Costabile.

"It was exciting and very interesting to be able to work with them and come back to that story," says Costabile, who has played Mike Wagner, right-hand man to Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) on six seasons of Showtime's Billions. "I was fortunate that they found a place for me." (Waco: The Aftermath will debut on streaming and on demand for all Showtime subscribers on April 14, before making its on-air debut on April 16.)

The script offered "balance to what could have been an unbalanced story," says Costabile, who relished the challenge of creating an air of suspense even though the outcome was known. "You want to suspend the audience in some way so they say to themselves, 'Maybe it could go a different way?' You want them to feel like the decision is being made in front of them even though it has already been made."

The series, which boasts an ensemble cast including Michael Shannon (George & Tammy), Giovanni Ribisi (Sneaky Pete), and J. Smith-Cameron (Succession), also foreshadows the escalation of militias in America. "That aspect was very intriguing and propulsive in terms of the acting and connecting with the story of this trial," Costabile says. "Even though it's a period piece, it feels as present as it could be."

Returning creators and showrunners Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle direct all five episodes and executive produce Waco: The Aftermath alongside Michael Shannon, Taylor Kitsch, Andrew Gettens and Lauren Mackenzie. Also serving as executive producers are David C. Glasser, David Hutkin, Bob Yari and Ron Burkle of 101 Studios, as well as Gary Barber of Spyglass.

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