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Monday, November 30, 2020

Devon Sawa Talks ‘Hunter Hunter’ and Working With Bruce Campbell & Glenn Danzig on Upcoming Horror Movies [Interview]

Devon Sawa has arguably had a larger impact on pop culture than most other actors who were working in the early 2000s. We are no longer “fans” of anything, we “Stan” them. The very term now deeply embedded in the lexicon was co-opted from the name of a character Sawa famously portrayed in Eminem’s multi-platinum hit “Stan” (2000).

Sawa seamlessly transitioned from teen heartthrob to pop-horror icon playing Anton Tobias in 1999’s cult classic Idle Hands. He then starred as Alex Browning in the cultural phenomenon that was Final Destination (2000), which spawned a five-film franchise.

His latest film Hunter Hunter, a psychological horror-thriller, is set to release just in time to bloody up the holidays. Following that, he is also starring in Black Friday and Death Rider in the House of Vampires with none other than Bruce Campbell and Glenn Danzig, respectively. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Sawa about his upcoming projects and a lot of his past work including the iconic video for “Stan.” 

What can you tell us about Hunter Hunter?

It’s a film that—man, I don’t even know how they got me the script, but somehow the script landed with me. I think it was a million and a half budget, it was shooting in Winnipeg. The script really just spoke to me. You know, Blumhouse is doing all these really cool movies where they’re horror, they’re smart, they got more of a psychological thriller going on, and this movie kind of fits in that world. These horror movies that are coming out lately—other than, you know, Crawl, which I love—but most of these horrors that are coming out lately, that are doing well are smart, they’re smart films—Hereditary, all these films like that. So, this was kind of like that. There’s no one chasing anybody with a knife, there wasn’t pointless gore and whatnot, it was just really done well. And the ending, on paper it was like whoa, we’re gonna do that? And when they filmed it, it just surpassed that. It was phenomenal. You know, I’m happy that I got on it and did it. 

I know you can’t talk about it too much yet, but can you discuss what themes are covered in the film?

It’s basically, it’s about a family. They come from a long line of hunters. My character’s father is a hunter, his father was a hunter, but in the changing world, the changing times, you know, no one’s looking for beaver pelts and that kind of stuff. So, they’ve got to make a decision whether they can live in this world anymore; make a living and survive out in the wilderness. And then it just takes a turn. They run into some other stuff. That’s the overall kind of gist to it.

What about your character? He seems really intense.

Yeah, he’s intense. You know, this character I really had to—I’m not a hunter. I’ve never gone hunting. I’m not against hunting. I think that if you’re hunting for meat and whatnot it is what it is. So, it was a stretch for me. I had to figure out a way, because I had to skin animals in the film—not real animals—but, you know, I had to be a skinner, but I had to do it in a way that was just second nature. He’s a hard man and he’s been living out in the woods and it was a stretch for me. I’m a city guy.

Devon Sawa in ‘Hunter Hunter’

How did you approach that headspace?

Well, the thing is I got the script and within a week I was on a plane going to Winnipeg, and within a couple days of arriving in Winnipeg I was on the set. So, preparing for it was—I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. So, the director, Shawn Linden, he comes from that world. He’s not a hunter, but he’s an outdoorsy guy and he knows about all that stuff. So, I really had to be a sponge on set, and I had to listen and trust. It was a lot of trust. It was a lot of “this is how we sharpen the knife,” or “this is what we do when we—you know, we don’t want to cut here, we want to cut”—and I had to absorb all that as quickly as possible. Luckily, I already had the beard growing, so that worked out. Yeah, the preparation was just a lot of getting to set and between setups, having these conversations with the director on who this guy is and what he does and how he does it, and trying to make it appear that I’ve been doing it all my life.

That’s something you run into a lot with the indie world.

Well, there’s two ways it goes, and it doesn’t ever go [both] ways. It either goes “Ok, you got an offer on this movie. Do you like it? Yeah, you gotta leave tomorrow.” There’s that way, or there’s the “Hey, here’s a script. They really like you. They’re thinking about going next month.” And that ends up being six months. 

You’re from Canada, aren’t you?

I am. I’m from Vancouver.

So, you were well versed in shooting in an environment like Winnipeg.

Well, Vancouver is like the tropics of Canada. It really is. It’s not as cold as Toronto or Montreal, and Winnipeg takes the cake for the coldest. We were shooting there in—started in September and went through October. We got a record snowstorm and we had to shut down the set for a couple of days. It was brutal. It was brutal at times, but it really plays into it. There is nothing that helps with the creepiness of the movie like being cold and uncomfortable and wet, you know. It all just kind of played into it. And we couldn’t get a lot of the equipment as far as heaters or tents up into some of the locations, so you just kind of gotta huddle around, and it just all kind of plays into the film. You know, they had these backpacks on us, and we were carrying rifles, and there’s not a lot of places to set it down, so you just start feeling the fatigue and the weather and it all kind of just works with the whole thing. 

I feel like there’s a big twist coming somewhere in the movie…

There’s some twists. There’s multiple twists. I’ll say this, you know, sometimes I’ll read the comments below the YouTube thing and someone will be like “this isn’t about a wolf” and it’s like, way to go genius. It really isn’t about a wolf. I mean, there’s a little bit to the wolf. But yeah, there’s some major twists. I can’t really speak about it because the movie is just about the twists. It’s kind of like, it’s that smart kind of Sixth Sense, or whatever, any of these movies. It relies on these twists. Especially the ending. It’s—I don’t think people are gonna see it coming. It really is kind of—it’s like the Blair Witch Project ending where you just kind of go ‘whoa, what the fuck?’ It’s got that strong ending. 

What can you tell us about Black Friday at this point?

Black Friday came to me at the beginning of the quarantine and it was just me at this point. I read it and it was the first time I felt—I hadn’t done anything like Idle Hands or Slackers in a lot of years. I felt like after Slackers I didn’t really want to revisit comedy at all or that kind of comedy. And I read this script and it’s a lot of fun. It’s comedy but more like The Boys. It’s serious but people are going to find it amusing. And then [Bruce] Campbell coming on to it was like—I mean, I based the character of Anton Tobias off of Campbell’s performance in Evil Dead 2. When I first got the script for Idle Hands it was about a mother that got possessed. There was one little bit where my hand got possessed before she did. That scene was in the addition and I went into Sony and did this whole—now looking back at this I basically ripped Campbell off. I was such a gigantic fan as a kid of his, and my friend and I had done the hand stuff so many times. We had a trampoline, and we would flip ourselves. You know, I was a twelve-year-old kid that was in love with Bruce Campbell’s characters in those movies. And I went into that Sony room and I did that.

Bruce Campbell, I’ve always been a gigantic fan. So, he came on second and I was like [mind blown]. Then we get this young cast of up and comers, and we’ve started shooting it. And we’ve relied on old-fashioned filmmaking. Robert Kurtzman, the SFX team, has all prosthetics. It’s like you walk onto where we’re shooting and there’s rooms of like heads, and a whole team of people painting, and we got hydraulic bubbles. It’s like we’re back in filmmaking. I’m sure there’s going to be a few where they’re gonna have to do CGI because there’s some car throwing and all this stuff, but we’re back in old school prosthetic world. I’ve veered completely from the question but I’m just so excited to be on this project. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re shooting chronologically, so the first week it’s been a lot of just normal stuff, like the stuff in the toy store where we’re just employees and setting the story and whatever. We just started on Friday night getting into the creature shit. You know, I get attacked and battle it out with a skateboard. It’s just awesome stuff, man. It’s really awesome stuff.

That sounds like a fucking blast.

It’s so cool. And next week we get into some really—I mean next week, Monday, Tuesday, and the following week, it’s all creatures and shit like that. And it’s a very original kind of creature.

There’s been a lot of filmmakers returning to practical effects lately because it just looks better having an actual monster on set instead of something CG.

We had the team that did the [old lady] from Doctor Sleep. That [old lady] was awesome. It was frightening, the old lady in the bathtub.

Have you ever worked with Bruce Campbell before?

No. I spoke to him on Twitter a few years ago. I had to confess my love for him and where Idle Hands came from, and he sent me a nice little message. I never knew that we’d be working together. I wish I could go back and tell twelve-year-old me that you’re gonna work with this guy one day on something just as wacky as this stuff.

It is pretty interesting that so many newer filmmakers are reverting back to practical effects. It does look a hell of a lot better.

Well, I did a movie with Glenn Danzig, a vampire spaghetti western, that—yeah, and he’s gonna use all—he’s dumped a lot of his own money, like millions of dollars into digital effects. Like, I think he dumped two million dollars into digital effects on these vampires, and apparently it looks really fucking badass. But we had this crazy team of computer guys on set all the time and supposedly they killed it. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I don’t know. It was an interesting film to shoot, to say the least. It was quite wild.

What movie is that?

Death Rider (Death Rider in the House of Vampires). Got Eli Roth in there. It’s cool. We all just had a real good time shooting that and Glenn Danzig is a character. So, we’ll see with that one.

I didn’t know he was making another movie.

Yeah, I never knew about the first movie when I was shooting the second movie with him. I think a few days into shooting it, they were like ‘have you heard of Verotika?’ I’m like, ‘no, is it good?’ It was just—silence. But this one, he had a cast of actors and a lot bigger budget.

I’m sure having a cast and budget is going to make a huge difference.

It’s going to make a huge difference. Glenn Danzig is an unconventional director; I will say that. It’s wild working with him. Like, I worked with Fred Durst too, another rock musician, but Fred Durst was much more—grounded than Glenn Danzig was. Glenn Danzig was wild. It was a wild experience, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. It was very interesting.

Devon Sawa in Fred Durst’s ‘The Fanatic’

How would you compare the two as directors?

Fred Durst is very educated in film. He wanted to do things the conventional way, whereas Danzig was gonna do shit like a fucking rockstar, you know what I mean. Danzig was like, “Yeah, that might not be how film people do it, but we’re rockstars and we’re gonna do it this way.” Whereas Durst was a little bit more like, you know, he had a shot list and was working with the DP and this and that, so. It was just two different ways. They were both wild.

I was curious about how Danzig would prepare for a film.

He had a vision. He had a vision, and he was going with it, and we’ll see when it comes out. He was very, very strong and stubborn at times about what he wanted, and we’ll see. He’s a wild guy, man. Fucking Glenn Danzig.

So Death Rider already wrapped?

Death Rider’s shot. It was shot last year. I think that the Corona virus shut it down for about five months of post-production. I can say this, I’ve heard some of his soundtrack. He did the soundtrack for it and I went to the studio to listen to him lay down some tracks. And because it’s a spaghetti western, he’s kind of got that Sergio Leone vibe going, but it’s all fucking, like, punk/metal shit. It’s pretty fucking cool. I don’t know what the film’s gonna look like, but the soundtrack’s amazing.

ranking scream imitators

Devon Sawa in ‘Final Destination’

So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Final Destination franchise.

You know, the story goes like this as far as not going back for the sequel, just before I talk about my favorites and whatnot. So, I did that movie when I was like twenty, I think, and I was partying and I wasn’t in the position to go back for the sequel and everybody felt that, so I didn’t. And so, the second one, it kind of stung a little that they killed me with a brick. But after that, it became exciting to watch because every one they cast new, young actors and it became exciting to watch what they’d do with the material, with the concepts, with the project. Five is definitely my favorite. I think that CGI got to a point where it was becoming flawless and five utilized that a lot. I saw it in 3D as well, and it worked great for that movie. And, you know, it was a smart ending, the twist. I’m happy that it’s gone as far as it’s gone and launched a couple of young careers. It’s a great franchise.

What is the craziest direction you’ve ever gotten on a film?

The craziest direction I ever got? I think that I always think about—for years, I think about the Eminem “Stan” video. I got to set for that video. I didn’t know anything, what we were doing. I just got to set, and they handed me the lyrics and said, “Oh, by the way, you’re going lip sync this” and I went “Come again?” And I remember doing the first basement scene and lip syncing it. They yelled cut and Dr. Dre came in and he’s like, “Yo, this time you gotta try it with a little bit more rhythm,” and I was like, ah man. For the longest time, I think that—because he said my lips were off a little, and I want to know, I don’t know, like, back then or not, if there was a delay in the monitor, like between the loud speaker and the monitor itself. I know there’s a delay in the monitor. So, I’m wondering if, and I wish I could go back and ask somebody or if I was just that bad. But if there was a slight delay in the monitor and—like the loudspeaker was playing something but my lips were moving differently on the monitor because of the delay. I don’t know, I always think that’s the craziest direction I ever got was Dr. Dre telling me an actor that’s never done any sort of stuff like that to do it with more rhythm. I’m sure I’ve gotten plenty of directions that are wild, but that one always sticks with me. I just think it’s funny in a way.

No. That’s a great one. I would shit my pants if Dr. Dre told me that.

Well, I remember getting there and them handing me the lyric sheet and I was like, “Ah, ok.” And then I was sitting in my trailer—I knew the song, but I didn’t know the song word for word, and I was just trying to learn this over and over. It was crazy. It was crazy. The amount of people I had on my team back then, agents and managers and whatnot, nobody wanted me to do that video. It was a friend of mine came to me and said, “Hey, I have a friend that’s a casting director and they want to know if you’ll meet Eminem about a Stan video.” And Eminem was blowing up at that point, but he wasn’t Eminem yet and my agents and managers didn’t see it. Because no one was doing music videos. There was a lot of stuff back then that was turned down. I remember that High Times approached me back in like ’97 and was like, “Do you want to do a cover for High Times” and I was like “Fuck yeah, I do.” So, I went to my agent and publicists and I was like “High Times Cover!” They were like, “No! You can’t do a High Times cover. That’s ridiculous.” And then like five years later, there’s like Seth Rogen on High Times magazine. 

Back to horror. How has horror changed to you over the years?

It’s constantly evolving and we’re turning to things like—when I first started visiting horror, it was the height of the teen horror films. Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, all those. Urban Legend, Disturbing Behavior, all these teen movies, which is why we did Idle Hands, kind of a, something different. But that kind of went away and horror kind of died down a little bit. Then it came back with these smart Hereditary style films that were different from the slasher films. And now I think it’s going to start taking a turn back to the teen horror films again. I think Scream is going to come out and be huge. There’s going to be I Know What You Did Last Summer on tv. You know, we’re gonna start seeing the reboot of teen horror films. I think that CrawlCrawl was so great. It was just so loony and awesome. I would like to see more of those. I don’t even know what kind of genre it is. I remember going to the theater to see it and it just being a lot of fun. It wasn’t trying too hard. It was just alligators in a house during a flood and people dying. That was it. That was the concept, and it was shot well, it was directed well, it was acted well. And the other one was Ready or Not. That’s another film that was really well done. I like new ideas too. That’s the other thing. I hope that they keep giving us new stuff.

I saw that you’re reading the novel Kin (by Kealan Patrick Burke). I loved that book.

Yeah. I’m only like five pages in so don’t spoil it. Have they planned on doing a movie of that? That’s one of the greatest things about Twitter for me. I don’t think I would have ever found this guy if it wasn’t for Twitter, which is sad. He seems to be really talented. But also, Don Winslow I found somehow on Twitter and is one of my favorite authors now. Thank God for Twitter for giving these guys the platform they need.

What is your all-time favorite horror movie?

It’s a tough question because there’s a lot of different genres within horror. Like, I love The Shining, even though I read the book and I just love the book more. Even though the film is still a masterpiece, I just think the book is so much better. I would have to say that The Devil’s Rejects is up there. Yeah, I would have to say Devil’s Rejects is one of my all-times. Texas Chainsaw Massacre if we’re going back, and Rosemary’s Baby, and all these older films. And a film I really like of recent is Don’t Breathe. The one in the basement, that’s a really good film. But I would say Devil’s Rejects would be my contemporary favorite horror film.

Hunter Hunter arrives December 18th in select theaters and on demand.


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