Devon Sawa Reflects on Teen Fame, Career Reinvention and the Role That Got Away (Exclusive)

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For many years, Devon Sawa felt haunted by his acting past.

“It took me a long time to come to terms with Casper, believe it or not, as weird as that sounds,” the now 42-year-old actor explains of his small yet memorable role playing the friendly ghost (in human form) in the 1995 cult classic film. “I probably will hear, 'Can I keep you?' for the rest of my life and it’s part of me, part of my past and I'm grateful. I'm just so darn fortunate that I'm still going at this thing and that I get the opportunities that I get,” he reflected. 

Sawa recently spoke with ET via video chat to discuss Hunter Hunter-- a "quick and smart and different" horror film he couldn't wait to be a part of -- but he also graciously took a stroll down memory lane. While some talents hesitate to discuss beloved projects of yesteryear, to the contrary, Sawa lights up while recalling details of his early work, which includes Casper, Now and Then, Wild America, Idle Hands, Final Destination and Eminem’s "Stan" music video, among others. It’s that earnest humility that has enabled Sawa to successfully transition from kid actor to ‘90s teen heartthrob and ultimately, lauded performer. Through the ups and the downs, he says his journey made him who he is today.

“I think that my ‘Teen Beat’ past affects certain things. That comes up. I've been in casting sessions where that has all come up,” Sawa shares when asked if he feels he gets the recognition and opportunities he deserves after over three decades in show business. While he says his nostalgia factor has never been an issue, he adds that it has been “a topic that kind of weighs me down sometimes going forward.” 

Still, Sawa sees beyond it thanks to an overwhelming sense of gratitude. “I wouldn't be here, where I am today, without that stuff… I've worked with [John] Travolta and [Sylvester] Stallone and Guy Pearce just in the last couple of years, and I just did a scene with Sharon Stone that I couldn't believe I was there,” he marvels. “I’m just fortunate. A lot of actors would give anything to get some of the roles that I've done and I'm forever grateful that I'm here where I am and all the stuff that got me here.” 

Throughout the ‘90s, Sawa worked non-stop. After starring in several beloved family-friendly films, the Canada native pivoted toward edgier projects like SLC Punk! and Idle Hands. He admits though, there is one role that gave him a classic Hollywood heartbreak.

“The Anakin Skywalker role in Star Wars,” Sawa laments of the part that he came close to scoring. “There were five of us going for it, and then they ended up going with Hayden Christensen from Vancouver, and he did a great job, but, you know, I was heartbroken.” 

Sawa, who calls himself a “gigantic Star Wars guy,” was especially exhilarated at the time by the opportunity to join one of his favorite film franchises. “Especially as a kid, to think, to play young Darth Vader in what was going to be the biggest thing ever, nobody knew what those films were going to be, but it was like, everybody wanted those parts and I want to say I came close.” Perhaps Sawa’s dream can still be realized, thanks to the success of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. When asked if he’d be interested in joining, Sawa quickly quips, “I’m down to partner up with Gina Carano to go kick some butt on there!” 

It’s that enthusiastic attitude that describes Sawa’s current mindset, which is in stark contrast to how he says he felt about acting when he reached his mid-twenties. “I went away for a few years, for five or six years,” he explains of his decision to take a break after nearly 15 years of steady work. “It was a break that wasn't a lot of my choice really. It was my agents, my managers and myself sitting down and saying, ‘Hey, I think it's time that we step away for a minute,’ and I really thought about giving it up completely. I had been working since the age of eight or nine. My first project was the original 21 Jump Street. I was going for a long time and I was burnt out and doing things that I didn't want to do and it was more important what clubs I was going to at night and not necessarily the material, and I stepped away and things just changed. Then, I came back to the industry with a whole new outlook and ready to do it differently.”

With a refreshed mentality and sharp sense of clarity, Sawa reveals he made himself a promise when he returned to showbiz. “I swore that I would only do stuff that makes me happy,” he shared. “Not necessarily stuff that my agents think is good for money and career. When I was doing those teen magazines, and Casper and Wild America, I was going that way, and then I decided I was going to rebel as a 19-year-old and stick it to the business. I started doing things like SLC Punk! and Idle Hands and the "Stan" video, and that was my rebelling and I’m back to that again. I'm back to just doing what I want to do, like, doing a movie, the Escape Plan sequel with Stallone. I knew from the beginning that it wasn't going to necessarily catapult me into anything but it was Stallone and I love that guy and I wanted to work with him and that's kind of where I'm at right now.” Bottom line? Sawa wants to “work with good people on good things that make me smile, that's it.”

Hunter Hunter
IFC Midnight

Although Sawa doesn’t do much smiling in his latest film offering, Hunter Hunter, it’s more than apparent he was electrified by the challenge of playing a man much different from himself.

The suspenseful horror flick centers around a family living in the remote wildness, struggling to make ends meet. Sawa plays Joseph Mersault, a savvy fur-trapper determined to catch a rogue wolf that he believes is interfering with his family’s livelihood. Movie buffs are particularly applauding the final 10 minutes of the film, which delivers one of the most unhinged, disturbing plot twists in recent cinematic history.

“The script came to me about a week before we started shooting and I knew this guy was very different than I was. I've been living in Los Angeles for 20 years. I feel like I'm a little bit pampered and spoiled. Not a wilderness guy!” he admits, grinning. “I put all my trust in the director [Shawn Linden] right away and figured out how to be as authentic as possible with this guy. Learn how to skin animals properly, not real animals, we faked it very well, but we still had to look like we knew what we were doing. Everything from sharpening knives, the cigarette process was a little bit challenging… and then, the conditions we were under in Winnipeg, they were dealing with a record snow storm at the time.” Sawa says losing sensation in his feet and having frostbite up and down his legs only served to further help him get into character.

With Hunter Hunter earning praise from critics and fans alike, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Sawa, who has many new projects in the works. He spoke with ET from Boston where he just wrapped filming Black Friday! alongside one of his “inspirations,” actor Bruce Campbell. But Sawa’s favorite role to date? Being a family man in real life to his wife, Dawni, and their kids Hudson, 6, and Scarlett, 4.

“I'm coming back [home to L.A.] for Christmas and we're going to spoil the kids because they've had a rough year with the quarantine, so I'm going to put Grinch aside and try to have the best Christmas ever, just the four of us and the dogs and we're going to put up a Christmas tree and eat good food and open presents and watch Die Hard or something,” Sawa said, smiling.

Hunter Hunter is in theaters, on Digital and VOD on Dec. 18.


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