In 2014, Mackenzie Davis has been everywhere and all at once — though the way moviegoers have experienced the actress’s meteoric rise isn’t how she has experienced it.
"It’s weird," Davis said of talking about performances she committed to film many months earlier, "because [acting is] a very specific emotional thing, in the great sense of that word. … It’s probably a learned skill."
Moviegoers first got a look at Davis this January in "That Awkward Moment," playing Chelsea, a randy wingwoman for Miles Teller’s pick-up artist, Daniel. This spring brought "Breathe In," with Davis as a high-school grad who sees her father (Guy Pearce) becoming attracted to an exchange student (Felicity Jones). This summer, AMC debuted the series "Halt and Catch Fire," with Davis playing a computer hacker who works for, and sleeps with, a charismatic start-up founder (Lee Pace).
This weekend, Davis again can be seen in theaters as a supporting player to Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in the romantic comedy "What If."
On Davis’ timeline, things are a little more mixed up. "Breathe In" was her first major movie role, and it debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival — more than a year before it was released. "What If" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, under a different title — "The F Word" — that the MPAA vetoed for U.S. theaters. In contrast, "Halt and Catch Fire" wrapped its first season last April and premiered just months later.
"It’s funny how fast TV goes, compared to film," Davis said in a recent phone interview from her Brooklyn apartment.
"What If" was also filmed in Toronto, which was convenient for the Canadian-born Davis.
"I was fleeing the [United States] because my visa expired," she said. "It was wonderful. I’ve never worked in Canada. I left after university." (Davis grew up in Vancouver, B.C., and attended McGill University in Montreal.)
She auditioned for the lead role, an animator named Chantry, but it had already been filled by Kazan ("Ruby Sparks"). Instead, director Michael Dowse ("Goon") met Davis about playing another character, Nicole.
"We had a lovely lunch together," Davis recalled. "We had ice cream sundaes."
In "What If," Nicole hooks up with Allan (Adam Driver), the college roommate of Radcliffe’s character, Wallace. Their love affair moves quickly, in marked contrast to the hesitancy between Wallace and Chantry.
Nicole is funny, which Davis said was one of the character’s more appealing aspects. "She’s very unrestrained by anybody’s expectations. … She’s an iconoclast 100 percent of the time."
Working with Driver, who stars on HBO’s "Girls" and has been cast in the seventh "Star Wars" movie, was a plus, Davis said.
"I never met Adam until our first day," she said. The scene, set during a karate match, had the two young lovers making out in the bleachers. "We were having to have our hands and mouths all over each other," she said, adding that the lack of rehearsal "makes you not overthink these things. You don’t have time to feel trepidations."
Working with Driver has another advantage: He’s 6-foot-3, closer to Davis’ height, a long and lean 5-foot-10, than Radcliffe and Kazan, who are 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-4, respectively. (Her "Halt and Catch Fire" love interest, Pace, is 6-foot-4, and Teller, with whom she shared scenes in "That Awkward Moment," is 6 feet tall. "Either I’m lucky, or I’m not getting parts I don’t know about," she said.)
Something else Davis’ roles have had in common: a healthy attitude about sexuality. In "What If," Nicole and Allan make out regularly and in every possible location. In "That Awkward Moment," Davis’ character, Chelsea, is refreshingly guilt-free about being sexually active.
"It’s such a simple, obvious thing that people have sex lives," Davis said. "It’s an essential part of everybody’s life that I know. Isn’t it funny that by virtue of [‘What If’] being progressive, it’s revealing of how regressive most movies are?"
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