Actress Mackenzie Davis on “What If”

Plus: Breathe In, Halt And Catch Fire, and Skeleton Art

Aug 08, 2014 Web Exclusive
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As recently as last year a film festival was the only place you could catch Mackenzie Davis’ work. That’s changed in a big way: since the beginning of 2014, the actress has been all over the place. She landed her first major role in Drake Doremus’ Breathe In, which came out earlier this year and starred Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce; she also appeared opposite Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan in the comedy That Awkward Moment. This summer you could catch her in a starring role on the AMC series Halt And Catch Fire.

In Michael Dowse’s new romantic comeday What If—which hits theaters today—she stars alongside Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, and Adam Driver. Mackenzie Davis sat down to take with us in New York to talk about her recent roles and her quick rise to stardom.

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): Earlier this year I spoke to director Drake Doremus, just before Breathe In was released. He was excited to talk about your work in that movie. You’ve been in so many other things since doing that film. Is it safe to say he discovered you?

Mackenzie Davis: Oh, yeah. It feels funny saying that, because it feels like something you’d read about other people. But he did. He gave me my first job. I probably need to grow out of this at some point, but every new job I get, I’m like, “Thank you, Drake, for hiring me the first time.”

What was your audition like for him?

It was an improvised audition, the same way he shoots his films. There was a story, and you were sort of working around that story and being spontaneous. But it was sort of interrupted and really drawn out: I had the audition, and then a month later I had a callback. I was in Montreal and had to take the night bus home to go to the callback. But I didn’t hear anything, and a month later I got a call that was like, “Go meet Drake Doremus in DUMBO in 45 minutes.” Then he said, you got the job. Well, I couldn’t have predicted that!

He shoots in an improvised style. How was that as a transition for you into your first major role?

It was the best thing that could have happened, because I went to a theater school that was all improvisation. I just couldn’t have done anything but that. The idea of being on a film set with Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan… I just didn’t know any of the technical things that you just learn through experience. So I was just so happy he was like, just go do whatever you want and we’ll capture it.

You’ve done so many other things since then, and they’ve all come out just in this past year. Has this surge in your career felt as fast to you as it looks from the outside?

No, and it feels so weird to hear people say that to me. What felt weird, and wonderful, and emotional to me was actually getting the jobs. I never knew if I was ever going to work, and then I got to work. That happened two years ago, so you’re seeing the stuff now. I like working. I’m really happy the movies get to come out, but it’s really exciting for me to actually get to work on them. A lot of these were in the can and waiting to be released, and they all just happened to come out in one eight month period.

So how did you connect with [What If director] Michael Dowse? He would have cast you in this movie before any of your films with big roles had come out.

I auditioned for Chantry but that role was already filled. He was coming out to Los Angeles and we got lunch together and got along really well. Then I was driving up to Canada and I got a call saying that I got the part.

It was just great timing, and wonderful. I love all the characters in this movie, but I was really excited to play Nicole. She’s really funny and strange.

You and Adam Driver play Daniel Radcliffe’s best friends and sort-of romantic advisors. How was it working with Adam?

It was great. Obviously he’s enormously talented, and very funny, and he’s a real individual. But he’s also extremely kind and lovely, and smart and interesting. So I liked him on all of those notes.

And Daniel Radcliffe?

He’s an angel! An absolute angel sent from heaven. He’s a lovely human being who is so talented, and who I can’t believe—having grown up in this industry—is as kind a person as he is.

I spend most of my time talking to people about how good I think Daniel is. I don’t think I’ve seen him in a year and a half, but all I do is be like, “He’s the best person!” I come off like a real freak in all of these interviews.

I have to bring this up because it was just so bizarre, but your recent Conan interview

It was so bizarre… [Laughs]

Was that your first talk show?

Yes.

Did you ever imagine you’d be on TV and talking about making artwork ou of animal bones?

I didn’t think I was going to be talking about that, even though we did have a conversation beforehand. But I don’t know, I don’t really have an opinion about it. I had a really nice time. I love Norm Macdonald, and I love Conan O’Brien. I thought it was really funny and fun, and I talked about something I actually am very interested in and love to do.

I’m curious if you can clarify what sort of animals you make?

They’re hard to describe. It’s on a piece of canvas, and it’s a two-dimensional side shot of the skeletons of the creature that I make up. They’re probably so much more childlike than what anyone imagines. [laughs] Like, I think I’m a real artist but they’re really just a little girl’s fantasy thing. But yeah, they’re framed, two dimensional skeleton creatures.

I tried 3D, but I made this mistake… It was a real learning curve, figuring out how to retain the integrity of the bones. I was using bleach to whiten them at first, but you need to use vinegar. Or you need to neutralize the bleach with vinegar after you do it, and I wasn’t. So I had all these bones that I had bleached, and over time they continued to erode. Anything I made that was three-dimensional would crumble in on itself. But two-dimensional, it’s fine.

You also have Halt And Catch Fire going on AMC right now. Do you have any preference between film and TV work, or are they too different to compare?

They’re both different and the same, in a way. [Laughs] It’s all about the role, I guess. I don’t think I’d be doing TV if it wasn’t this show and this character in this particular moment. Or, I’d be doing another TV show, if the role had attracted me this much.

But it was all about the role, and not about the desire to do TV or to do film, or have that specific direction with my career. I just loved [the part] and loved the show, and I was really interested in exploring it. I have a great deal of faith in the creators and the cast is amazing. As far as preference goes, doing both is probably the ideal scenario. You know, doing the show for four months, and while on hiatus being able to do whatever interests you is just a dream schedule.

You’re in the film Kitchen Sink, which is just over the horizon. It sounds wild.

Yeah, it is. [Laughs] I wonder what it will be like?

Can you tell us about it at all?

Sure! It’s crazy. It was really, really fun to film. It’s like a mashup of The Breakfast Club and every horror genre. It’s really gory and really funny and satirical. I got to fly around and try to attack Vanessa Hudgens, which was a dream.

**

Mackenzie Davis’ latest film, What If, opens in theaters today. For more information about the film, check out its website. Please check out our interview with the film’s director, Michael Dowse, or read our review.



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