Before the Scene: Devon Sawa

by AJ Buckley on September 8, 2014

2104480_big-web photo by Ben Mark Holzberg/CW

This article originally ran in the 2014 September/October issue of Scene Magazine.

Devon Sawa is a veteran actor from Vancouver, Canada. His feature film credits include Final Destination, Idle Hands, Casper, Little Giants and the Baton Rouge-shot actioner The Philly Kid. On television, he recently finished his role as Owen Elliot on Nikita. Sawa can next be seen starring in Punk’s Dead and The Exorcism of Molly Hartley.

What made you want to become an actor?
I was acting as a child. I was on stage and I really, really loved that, but for a different reason than now. When I first started on stage, it was just a way to channel my energy. Then as a young teenager at thirteen, fourteen years old, I started seeing movies like Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove. All these great films with these great actors and it’s something that I wanted to do. I just wanted to do what they were doing: the Pacinos, the De Niros and the Jack Nicholsons, the Dustin Hoffmans. It just appealed to me. I just wanted to do it.

What was your biggest fear?
I didn’t have a lot of fears. Not being able to perform well, maybe. I was quite fearless as a young man. I think that’s why I succeeded is because I was so fearless. I would go into a room, an audition or whatever, with no care in the world. I think that’s why I was able to be successful early: the lack of fear. Which has changed so much! If I could go back to the way I was as a young man, as a teenager, with no cares, no family, no rent, no nothing like that, and walk into some of the rooms with that feeling? I’m sure I would do a lot better in there! It’s crazy. I did that movie called Idle Hands and I had to audition for the studio. I walked into the studio and threw myself over a table and into a wall, using my hand like it was possessed. To think about doing that now in one of those rooms is ludicrous. It’s insane.

What was your lowest point?
There was a point when I was twenty-four, twenty-five when I took four or five years out of the business. And the reason I did it is because after Final Destination, I did a couple other movies that were decent, and then I started to do these movies that I just didn’t care about. I just lost the drive. And it didn’t turn out very well. I just needed to step back and reassess whether I was doing it for the love, or if it was more important what club or what party was going on at the Playboy Mansion. I lost touch with why I was really in the business. That was probably my darkest point. And then, for five years, I went back to Vancouver, I went to Thailand, to Laos, to Vietnam and just traveled around. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to save a lot of my money, so I was able to do that. And just kind of refigured it out that acting was something that I really really loved and wanted to do. Four or five years later, now I’m doing it for love and not for what I was doing it for back then.

What kept you from walking away?
I missed it! When I took that four or five years off, I started to do some other stuff. I got into the real estate business and started to do it, and I didn’t like it. When I was a child actor, my parents talked me into investing all my money into real estate. I saw when I was twenty-five that it was all invested. I just saw how successful it was, so I bought a little apartment building, a seven-unit apartment building in Vancouver and I went through each apartment one by one with different teams of people, renovated them and fixed them up. It was definitely an experience. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it was definitely a good experience.

Although I was getting successful in it, I just didn’t like it like I did acting. I liked getting into characters. I liked meeting new people, doing something for three months, and then doing something else for three months. One day I got a script from my old agency. I guess someone at the agency didn’t get the memo that I had stepped away! They sent me a script, I saw it and I thought, “What the hell, I’ll audition.” And I auditioned, and the next week, I was meeting with management and I was back in the business. It’s crazy.

What did you walk away from?
I sold everything. I sold my house in the Hills in Los Angeles, bought a plane ticket back to Vancouver where I’m originally from and just moved back there. I just left, and told my agents that I needed a break. I was no longer with my management. And that’s it. That was it. I just walked away from L.A. I walked away from my life, basically.

Who was your closest ally?
My wife now. And my mother. My mother’s been very supportive over the years and I have a very supportive wife. I just had a child with her. Well, she had the child, of course! She did all the hard work. We had a beautiful boy eight months ago and life couldn’t be better.

What were you doing before the audition that changed your life?
I was doing theatre in Vancouver. I was traveling around with a theatre performance company to all the different elementary schools and performing. You know when you’re in school and there would be an assembly once a week and a group would come in and perform? That’s what I did for a while. And one day, I put myself on tape for this national casting call for the part of Casper the Friendly Ghost. I put myself on VHS, sent it down and a week later, I got a call from my agent in Vancouver, saying “Spielberg would like to meet you tomorrow. Could you fly down?” And that was it. No looking back from there. It was crazy. I truly believe that my VHS tape and FedEx package was at the right place, at the right time, on the right assistance’s desk. Cause I’m sure they saw a lot of other people that were fully capable of doing that part. It was just luck. Luck got me there. I’m very grateful.

What were the words that kept you going?
Don’t give up. That’s the one you hear all the time. In this business, you get so close, so many times and then you don’t get something. Don’t give up. That’s how I live. Don’t give up. In this industry you’ve got to have really thick skin. It’s crazy how close you can get and then it doesn’t happen. And then you’re on to something new and then that gets close. I joke with my agent all the time about how many second place ribbons I have.

How have you changed?
I don’t take everything so seriously anymore. I know I’m in it for the long run and I just don’t look at everything so seriously. Before when I was in my early twenties, I took everything way too serious: how things did at the box office, what the critics said. God forbid there was Twitter back then, because that would’ve killed me. I just took everything to heart and now I’m a little more relaxed.

What words do you have to inspire others?
Don’t give up.


 

A partner in Scene Magazine and the president of Louisiana Entertainment Publishers, AJ Buckley has starred for the last eight years on the hit CBS show CSI:NY. Originally from Dublin and raised in Vancouver, he has spent the last twelve years in Los Angeles acting, writing and directing. He recently finished producing and starring in North of Hell, and currently stars in Justified’s fifth season on FX. Find out more on Twitter @AJohnBuckley and at www.ajbuckley.net.