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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 12.18.20] Canada horror

Devon Sawa is no stranger to the horror genre but in the second phase of his career, he's become a little more selective about the projects he attaches himself to. The latest is Hunter Hunter.

The new horror film from Canadian writer/director Shawn Linden stars Sawa and fellow Canadian Camille Sullivan as Joseph and Anne respectively, a couple living with their daughter in the remote woods away from society and most other people. The family traps and scavenge for survival, living off the land. It's a hard life but one that the family embraces but when they become the target of a wolf, their already difficult task of survival is made even harder. And then there's an unexpected turn...

Hunter Hunter is both exactly what the trailer suggests but also much more: a great character study, a solid thriller, and a fascinating family drama with a collection of great performances. I recently had a chance to speak with Sawa about making the film, how he prepares roles, and Glenn Danzig's upcoming movie Death Rider in the House of Vampires.

Hunter Hunter opens in select theatres, on digital and on-demand on December 18.

Quiet Earth:You've spoken in the past about your love for horror. What do you look for in a project and what was it about this movie that drew you to it?

Devon Sawa: Well, first off, touching the horror thing, I'm a huge fan. First of all, with horror, it's not something that my agents and managers want me to do as many horror films as I've done, but it's my peeps! I feel like I've been doing them since, Idle Hands. So I feel like it's just such a habit, such a connection with that group of people. And I love the films and I'm legitimately a fan so I love being in them. I read a lot of these horror scripts and I'm trying to be a little bit more choosy and this one came along and it spoke to me because it's so different.

It started off like one of these run of the mill horror films and it's in the woods and there's probably yada yada, yada, this is going to happen. But then it just starts taking these twists and turns and it was a page turner and I felt like I had to be on board and I moved very quickly. I read it on Monday and I was on a plane Thursday and we were shooting the following Monday. That's how fast it happens.

Wow. This particular story is also a very intense character study and a family drama as well on top of it being a really fantastic horror film. How do you prepare when you only have such a short amount of time? How do you even begin to prepare for getting into this mind?

Well, luckily when I read it, I had had something to reference. I went to this horse camp when I was 12 or 13 years old. And there was this man Bobby his wife that ran this camp up in Northern Canada. It was a very secluded place. It was a camp for two weeks out of the summer, but he was a very hard man. You could tell he was raised by a father who was raised by a father and they all did the same stuff, and she was a little bit more loving, but still very hard and stern. That's who I thought these characters were right off the bat. That's where I drew the character from.

As far as the stuff that was going on in the film, the hunting, the skinning, the trapping, all that stuff came with just getting to set and being a sponge and always listening. There were a lot of people on set everybody from the director and a couple of other people that were very knowledgeable in this stuff. I just took the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth, as they say, and just listened. I was sharpening the knife and learning where to cut on the fake animal. Everything had to look authentic and I had to also look as if it was just second nature so it was just a lot of quick learning.

You and Camille Sullivan have a really great shorthand. It feels like you've been together for a long time and now knowing that you didn't have a long time to prepare for the role, I'm wondering how the two of you worked together to build that natural feeling that there is to your relationship.

Well, Camille has been doing this for a long time, and I think the big thing you can do is just not overthink it. I build a kind of a backstory and kind of think of what were these people doing last week? What were they doing last year? What were they doing five years ago? And you kind of think about that before and if I build a back story of like, we went into town for a dance Wednesday last year, and that was the only time we could get me out but we had the greatest time and if I think about that right before we shoot a scene, there might be a little smile that comes in the middle of the scene because of that story that I built in my head that really didn't exist but it's just there for me now to grab and that's kinda how my process works with the whole thing.

You talked a little bit already about the process and having to learn so much while on set. Every movie has its own set of challenges, but I expect that in addition to the practical things that you had to learn, I expect that the fact that you were shooting in the forest probably had its own set of challenges. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

The weather was one of the bigger challenges, but it played into the whole feel of the film. We weren't in the coldest time of the year in Winnipeg it was just the beginning of winter and we were about an hour outside of the city in the middle of the forest. We couldn't get lots of equipment up there, we couldn't get a heaters and it all just kind of played into it. We had backpacks on us and we had our guns. And with this wardrobe and traps and the wet, fake furs hanging from the bags and after a few hours you start to feel in your legs and you start to get uncomfortable. The water seeped through your socks and everything just starts to work for the characters to get that edge.

It seems like you're always ready for whatever challenge comes your way. Is that your attitude or is that also a part of the experience that you've had over the years?

I truly love what I do. There's no point going on a movie and working on it if you're not there to give it your all. When I was growing up in the film business, when I was a child actor, there were two types of kids on set. There was the kid whose parents wanted them to be there and wanted them to be the next Macaulay Culkin and then there were the kids that truly just wanted to be there and I've always just really wanted to be on set. Still to this day I haven't lost that. There was a time in my mid-twenties where I stepped away for a little while because I wasn't feeling it very much but I came back and started doing things that I wanted to do and I just love it. I just love being there.

I'm curious about that break. You've spoken about it in the past, how you felt that you were getting sucked into the whole theme of it all. I think it's amazing that you have the insight to notice that it wasn't going in the direction that you had originally anticipated and did something about it. Was it hard to come back and when you came back? Did you have a plan B if it didn't work out in the second round?

Plan B was already in effect. I never had a plan to come back. I had been doing it since I was eight years old. When I left I was on a bit of a downward spiral. My head wasn't in the game and I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was burnt out and I stepped away. And then I was doing other things and I was happy. I had met my wife and we traveled and I was working on an apartment. I was taking this old building and I trying to fix them up. I remember it being a blistering cold day and I was carrying drywall up the stairs and I was fixing up all these units when I got a script snail mail. I guess some agent hadn't got the memo that I wasn't acting anymore.

So I called them and they're like "You want to put yourself on, on tape for that? They'd love to see you." And I was like, OK. And so then I put myself on tape and then all of a sudden I was down in LA and talking to new managers and I just decided that I missed it and that if I was going to do it again, that I would just do it and have fun with it and do what I wanted to do.

Regarding preparation, is that something that comes from experience? How does the process differ when you have move time?

I'm starting filming in January and it's this punk rock tattoo artist. There are a lot of scenes where I'm tattooing people, shirts off, and everything. I've been talking to the director and I started off by asking him what would this guy's favorite movie be growing up as a kid? Not necessarily anything to do with the movie. And he sent me back Rocky and the reasons why, and I asked him for the favorite album and he sent me back this album I've been listening to. I'm trying to lose a little bit of weight and get shredded like one of these punk rockers and trying to find this guy. Luckily I have a lot of time so I've been going through all these steps. It's a lot of fun.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Glenn Danzig film. Can you tell us anything?

I absolutely can. So back when I was 18, I kind of did Idle Hands as an F U to the teen magazines. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I don't care. I'm just going to do it. And that's how I felt when I got the Danzig gig. Glen Danzig is doing the spaghetti Western where it's just going to be blood, guts, and all metal. That's something that could be wild and crazy.

It's unconventional and the soundtracks phenomenal. Eli Roth is in it and he's great but that's pretty much it. That's all I can really tell. Glenn hasn't let anybody see anything and that picture that he sent out... I think that was even from a producer and I don't even know if it's from Glenn and I'm sure he's mad that they even got that. This is like his Citizen Kane or something and good for him. I felt like I went to a rock concert every day at work.

Is that something that you look for now when considering jobs: working with an actor, director, or producer that you admire and want to work with?

Yeah. I've also looked for things that are going to speak to the audiences, especially the younger audiences, because those are the ones that are buying and they're streaming this stuff. What are the kids going to like? There's some of that. Like the movie I'm doing right now, Black Friday with Bruce Campbell is something that the kids are going to like.

Hunter Hunter opens in select theatres, on digital and on-demand on December 18.

Recommended Release: Idle Hands

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