‘The Nanny’: Daniel Davis Landed His Role as Niles for an Interesting Reason

Daniel Davis didn’t consider himself a star when he walked into his audition for The Nanny. Yes, he had worked steadily in Hollywood since 1980. He even had several impressive credits to his name. Still, he wasn’t exactly well-known. His lack of star power had him believing that the audition was futile. Davis went on to land the role of Niles, the mysterious and sarcastic butler. The eccentric sitcom ended up being a surprise success. Even today, Davis is recognized for his time on the series, opposite Fran Drescher and Charles Shaughnessy. Davis revealed the unconventional reason he ended up portraying Niles, and he would never have expected it.  

Daniel Davis was up against Roddy McDowall for the roles of Niles in The Nanny

Davis is still instantly recognizable as Niles. Most fans couldn’t dream of another actor attempting to play the part. Davis, however, insists that another actor could have easily taken on the role. He spoke with the Daily Mail in July 2020 and admitted that he was positive that he wouldn’t get the job after seeing his competition.

Daniel Davis, Fran Drescher, Charlese Shaughnessy and Lauren Lane pose for a promotional photo for 'The Nanny'
The cast of ‘The Nanny’ | CBS via Getty Image

Davis recalled that he was up against Roddy McDowall for the part of Niles on The Nanny. At the time, McDowall was a well-known character actor who certainly brought some star power to the table. McDowell had been in Planet of the Apes. He also appeared in Overboard and had lent his voice to several animated projects. He even appeared in multiple TV shows before auditioning for The Nanny. Davis recalled that he wondered why he had even shown up to CBS if McDowall was his competition. He walked out of the room, convinced he didn’t get the part.

Fran Dresher called Daniel Davis to tell him he got the part for a somewhat offensive reason

Davis recalled that his fears vanished when he received a phone call from Drescher an hour after he left the network’s office. He told The Daily Mail that Drescher informed him that she had no interest in working with McDowall because the show would become “the Roddy McDowall” show. He revealed that Drescher then told him that it was “the Fran Drescher show.”

Roddy McDowall (1928 - 1998) in a headshot for the film 'That Darn Cat!'
Roddy McDowall | Archive Photos/Getty Images

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According to Davis, his lack of name recognition worked in his favor. His acting chops, experience, and ability to put on a believable accent all helped him land the role. His status as a less famous actor than his competition, however, pushed him over the top. Davis signed on and appeared in every season of the series. His character’s deadpan delivery of jokes and putdowns also made him a fan favorite.

How many seasons of The Nanny are there?

Regardless of why he landed the role, Davis made the part his own. Niles was a fan favorite for the entirety of the series. All told, The Nanny aired for six seasons. The show premiered in November 1993. CBS aired the finale in June 1999. In total, the cast filmed 146 episodes before their cancellation; Davis appeared in 145 of those episodes.

The Nanny came to an end in 1999 after ratings dwindled. Up until its final seasons, fans had tuned in to see the sexual chemistry between Fran and Maxwell. When the pair married, much of the chemistry was gone. Fans left the show in a mass exodus, leaving CBS with no choice but to cancel the once-popular comedy.