Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis had some rather fortunate luck with her first film out of the gate: she was cast alongside Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones and Amy Ryan in Drake Doremus’ drama “Breathe In.” Not only was it a plum gig, but her small but crucial performance seized the moment and that year at Sundance she was dubbed one to watch by many (including us).
Davis has since landed roles in “That Awkward Moment” alongside Zac Efron and the festival crime hit “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” This week she turns up in another supporting, but important role in “What If” starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. Much like her conspicuous lover in the film, played by Adam Driver, Mackenzie’s rebellious, cynical, but romantic Nicole character steals most of the scenes she’s in. The 27-year-old actress also co-stars in AMC’s undervalued “Halt & Catch Fire” (a show you should be watching). Alongside Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy, she's part of a trio of computer pioneers and mavericks trying to break big in the industry during the 1980s.
With all this cooking, we recently chatted with Davis by phone about “What If,” “Halt & Catch Fire” and more.
What drew you to “What If” in the first place?
I think that the writing probably did it. I thought it was really funny and really jumped off the page. It made me laugh out loud a number of times on several read throughs. That’s a good sign too. it was a really fun thing to spend time on.
Titled “The F Word” in Canada, it’s probably a surprise to many that F really stands for "friend" rather than "fuck." And it’s interesting, the term “friend zone” is pretty common now, but not really a popular term back in 2008 when the script was written.
I have no idea when the "friend zone" originated though. I guess it was ahead of the curve. I don’t know. You know in Canada we find out about everything about six to twelve months earlier.
I forgot you're Canadian. What were you working on in Canada before you broke out with “Breathe In”?
Nothing. I never worked. I came down here for school and then I started working when I graduated. My first film was “Breathe In.” Then I really only worked here and the one Canadian film I've done is “What If.” [ed. Technically she had a very small role in “Smashed” and appeared in one episode of “I Just Want My Pants Back”]
That “Breathe In” reaction must have been nice, it being your first real role.
It was really a lovely thing to be a part of. I feel lucky for that to be my first experience.
What was the aftermath of that experience like? Hectic?
I think everything for my career was quicker than I imagined it. I got [“the Breathe In” role] when I graduated from school. I was imagining a long life of being a stone cold loser. Then I got a job which was really nice, then I got a great agent, a great manager which was really nice. I was doing a lot of set ups and you know I got to start working in LA.
I guess it was like six months before I got my next job and that was fine. I was just happy to be auditioning for good stuff all of a sudden. I wasn't auditioning for these garbage roles or student films or things that I didn't really love that much. I got to at least be in the running. Before I deluded myself to thinking I was in the running, but I was definitely under the impression at the time. Now that I look back I probably definitely was not in the running, but I was happy to be in the room.
Tell me a little bit about the character that you play in this movie, Nicole. She seems to me like a cynical optimist.
Yeah, I think her optimism is surrounded in cynicism, but she is really like a hard core optimist. She like believes in true romantic love and believes in taking risks and is actually kind of the most romantic person in the movie. But she just says it so bluntly that you think she's like a war veteran. The war of love.
She’s nice and complex that way, cynical and harsh on the surface, gooey inside at heart.
I think she's a bit of both, but the movie itself ... I guess I think the essence of what she's saying is sort of saccharine. Like it's very sweet but it sounds like somebody who's actually lived, and so it's not fall in love with the first person you meet. But if you find somebody that's worth fighting for, then do these very big, romantic things for them, because it's worth it.
She's a very honest character. And I love the [scene right before she gets married]. She's like, “I'm scared shitless, this is totally out of character but I'm choosing to believe in love and I'm going to do these really corny and romantic things because of it and that's just what you have to do.” I like that about her. About choosing the path that seems like its most traveled. But she's doing it very bravely with her eyes wide open.