“Slackers”: Devon Sawa Interview

Devon Sawa, star of off-the-wall thrillers such as Idle Hands and Final Destination, has a certain philosophy about what roles he chooses: They have to be edgy, outrageous and go beyond the norm.

In his newest film Slackers, Sawa has chosen wisely once again. This quirky comedy centers on three guys (Sawa, Jason Segel and Michael Maronna), who have managed to scam their way through four years of college, cheating on tests and rarely attending classes.

When an ultra-geek (Rushmore‘s Jason Schwartzman) discovers their secret, he blackmails them into getting him the girl of his dreams (James King). Of course, nothing goes according to plan.

We talked to Sawa about working on this highly creative set, dealing with the shenanigans of Schwartzman, Segel and Maronna and how Slackers isn’t your typical college movie.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It wasn’t what I expected.

Devon Sawa: I’m glad. From the poster it looks a little fluffy, doesn’t it? But it pushes the envelope.

Yes, it does. Did you laugh your butt off when you read the script?

Sawa: The script was a lot different from what the movie actually ended up being. We looked at the script as more of a blueprint. We knew what was supposed to happen, what we were supposed to say but then there was a lot of improvisation going on. There was [Jason] Schwartzman doing jokes and [Michael] Maronna running around in the background, doing something crazy. And the crew trying to control that.

Was this your first experience doing improvisation like that on a set?

Sawa: Definitely. On Idle Hands, there was improv to some extent, but the director [Rodman Flender] didn’t let me go as far as I wanted to. I would go [holding up his hand in attack mode, as per the movie], “Why don’t I just throw myself down the stairs?” but would get nixed. But on Slackers we definitely got a lot of leeway. Dewey Nicks, who was the director and a very funny man, would say, “You know what? We need to get to this point, your character needs to be this way, or that way. Try something.” Then we’d do it. And he would tell us to take it down or bring it up.

How did you get into your character?

Sawa: Dewey had specific notes for each character. For instance, for my character Dave, he wanted him to be very flat, very deadpan. I provided sort of the subtle humor in the group. And with Schwartzman, who plays the villain [Ethan], Dewey wanted him to be over the top, hyper. That way when you bring the two characters together, they compliment each another. And it works because Ethan is bouncing all over the place and Dave is smooth.

You seemed to click with actress James King, who plays your love interest. Was that just on screen?

Sawa: [Laughing.] Yes, yes. She’s a very nice girl. And I tell you, that girl gives a lot of hugs–she’s a very huggy person, always smiling. It made it a lot easier. She was a treat to work with and very professional.

Jason Schwartzman also sounds fun to work with.

Sawa: Jason was actually really hard to work with because we couldn’t stop laughing. We’d continually hear the director yell, “Cut! Dammit, you’re laughing again! When you do it this time, don’t laugh!” Jason is so funny and talented and would always come up with something new, every time. It was like, “What’s Schwartzman gonna come up with next?”

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Jason’s character was the most surprising; not your typical geek. Actually, pretty much in your face most of the time–

Sawa: You should have seen him when they yelled “Cut!” he ripped off those eyebrows and he was a stud!

[Laughing.] You, Jason Segel and Michael Maronna play really good scam artists. Have you ever set up a scam to get out of taking a test?

Sawa:Oh, man, I wish. I spent most of my high school years on movie sets and I’d have like one teacher, which was really bad. You sit there in a trailer with one teacher and you couldn’t skip class, you couldn’t flirt with the girls. There was no prom. I would try and hide from the teacher, try and dodge her after a scene wrapped. That’s about the extent of my scams.

You’ve been acting for quite awhile then.

Sawa: Since I was 11. I was a hyper kid in school and the teacher suggested to my mom she needed to do something with me. So my mom thought to channel my energy, she’d put me in the theater. It didn’t really help but I made a career out of it.

If you weren’t acting, would you still do something in the entertainment business?

Sawa: I would definitely stay in the business, be behind the camera maybe. Be a cinematographer. I’ve always been interesting in the lighting aspect and always listened to what they were saying. But I wouldn’t want to direct. I see how much work it is. It’s a lot of work. You’re the first one on the set and the last to leave. You’re in the editing room. You have to deal with actors like me. I think I’d go nuts.

What do you think about the formulaic teen/college movies?

Sawa: They are what they are. I’ve tried to steer away from them as much as I can and do things that are a little bit outrageous, edgier, something that hasn’t been done. I look for things that are going to challenge me as an actor.

I would say that you have. Idle Hands and Final Destination are both off-the-wall thrillers.

Sawa: Final Destination was the closest thing I’ve done to a teen movie but it certainly had an edge to it. The director [James Wong] made the movie very dark.

What do you want to do next?

Sawa: You know, I’ve never shot a gun in a movie. I want do some kind of action movie, car chases and explosions. I’d love to work with Tom Hanks, too, who is so versatile and always looking to do something different.

Well, if you could say one thing to get people to go see Slackers, what would it be?

Sawa: Have a couple of beers and go see the movie. That’s what I want to say.

Slackers opens in theaters Feb. 1.

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