If one grew up in the 1990s, one knew who Devon Sawa was. Whether his name was overheard from a pesky sister’s list of current celebrity crushes, spotted on a Tiger Beat magazine cover, or his face seen on the big screen in films such as Little Giants, Casper, Now and Then, and Wild America (with fellow teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas). In 1999, Idle Hands marked a paradigm shift for Sawa, allowing the actor to assert himself as more than the pretty face on the cover of adolescent magazines. With the success of Final Destination, The Guilty, and Eminem’s immortalized “Stan” music video kicking off the 2000s, Sawa settled down with his family and successfully meddled in real estate during his brief retirement, but the acting bug came back with a vengeance.
Today, Sawa is, arguably, busier than he’s ever been as an actor, having released three films over the past two years, with more than five projects also in production or post-production. It’s a testament to both the actor’s work ethic as well as his determination to take on more fulfilling, demanding roles.
On the cusp of his film Hunter Hunter, a white knuckle thriller about man versus nature and the duality and implosion of human nature, I had an opportunity to speak with Sawa about the making of Hunter Hunter, its unexpected themes, his evolution as an actor, his childhood acting career, and what he has in store for the future, among other topics.
What intrigued you about this project?
Script. I got the script. I read the script. And it started off, much like the movie, where you think, “Yeah. This is just one of those run-of-the-mill films that takes place in a cabin, and yada yada yada.” And then it just starts twisting and turning. And I like what happens to my character because I, in my own egotistical, actor way, thought that I was the guy that would save everything. And it went where it went, and it was brilliant.
You think it’s going to be a man versus nature deconstruction, but then it becomes a man versus man, and then it becomes the best of human nature versus the worst of human nature.
It takes a real great turn. I remember, when the director talked to me, he used the Game of Thrones actor [Sean Bean], in the first season, that went out, because, “That’s what I wanted to feel like. I want that feeling.” You’re going to hate me, but I’ve never seen Game of Thrones.
Well, when you do get around to it, you’re Ned Stark. There’s a lot of showing, not telling, in Hunter Hunter – Scenes of tense silence that built effective tension. How do you approach these types of scenes compared to more dialogue-driven scenes?
There were some conversations with the director. There were scenes that were very silent, and very skilled, and very grounded that I originally thought of playing bigger, because it’s very easy to do that. It’s very easy to like, “Okay. Well, nothing’s happening, so I need to do something.” And the director and I discussed the stillness and, “Just let people’s hearts thump. Let’s just ground it and let it be still.” So props to the director for working that out with me.
And in this film, you’ve got a beard. You’re a little bit grizzled, and unkempt, and stoic. Your character moves with almost an obsessive purpose. How has your acting technique evolved as you’ve grown into the industry
Well, I’ve had to evolve so many times, I’ve had to switch it up. And also, acting, in general, in the mainstream has evolved. It’s different than it was in the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s. It keeps getting different, better, more realistic. I try to watch a lot of my peers and see what they’re doing. The ones that are at the top of the game. The Ben Fosters, the Tom Hardys. It’s all about realism and grounding characters. That’s what I’m going for, which is a lot different than my days of Final Destination or Idle Hands.
In terms of character choices in this film, you leave Anne (Camille Sullivan) and your family. Is that choice made more out of obsession or protection?
In this old school world, where I’m the man of the house, we’re already having conflict with that. She wants to move. She wants to evolve with the rest of society because no one’s buying pelts anymore, or beaver meat, or whatnot. And he’s very much traditional, and he’s grown up from generations of hunters. And this is just what he feels that he needs to do to protect his home. And that’s what he goes out to do.
I loved the slow buildup. And the ending is just this giant crescendo. Were you expecting that execution when you finally watched it for the first time?
We did it all on paper. The script is great. It’s a page-turner. And you put it down, and you’re like, “Oh, that was great. That was a great script.” But to see all the elements come together – the special effects in the ending, the music, the score, the acting – all of that all put together just blew my expectations. It was all done so perfectly.