Canadian-born Devon Sawa started acting while in elementary school at the ripe old age of eleven. As the young actor explained during a recent Dallas interview, “The teacher thought I had a little too much energy” and suggested that performing might be a good outlet for him. What began with a kind of therapeutic intent morphed into a career; after doing commercials and TV shows, Sawa made his feature debut in a brief turn as the human side of “Casper” (1995), and has since gone on to star in such pictures as “Idle Hands” (1999) and “Final Destination.” Now he’s playing Dave, a handsome campus huckster, in the college comedy “Slackers.” He’s the head of a trio of senior con-artists forced by a wild classmate named Ethan (Jason Schwartzman) to help him woo the pretty coed Angela (James King) he’s obsessed with–or else face expulsion when he reveals their scams to the school administration. It will come as no surprise that as Dave attempts to interest Angela in Ethan, what follows is a youth-oriented variant of “Cyrano de Bergerac” in which the girl falls for him instead of the fellow he’s trying to help.
“We’re not selling any messages or teaching any lessons [in ‘Slackers’],” Sawa freely admitted. “It’s just, basically, go have fun, go have a laugh.” In the search for amusement, the picture goes to considerable extremes, with gags that are decidedly over-the-top. “We just decided, before we started doing it, that we were just going to go for it,” he added. “We might have a lot of people saying ‘That’s not right, dude, that’s a little bit too much’–for instance, the dancing penis and the lesbian makeup and the nudity and the gimp and all the other stuff–but it’s funny. It’s definitely got an audience.”
Sawa said that the shoot itself was great. “Crazy stuff happened all the time,” he recalled, “all day long. That’s what made it fun.” He described King as “a very smart girl, fun to work with, very talented,” and added, “Jason was a blast to work with–he was hysterical. There were literally scenes where I was crying at the end, he was so funny.” By comparison to the maniacal Ethan, Dave is far more subdued, something Sawa felt was needed as balance for the movie to work. “It’s very deadpan, straight humor–I enjoyed doing that,” he said, after his own extravagant role in “Hands.” “The director [Dewey Nicks] was [aiming] to keep the character that Schwartzman [played] up and big and kind of nuts, and [shaping] Dave’s character to be flat and deadpan. That way the two characters complement each other, and it’s that much funnier.” He and Schwartzman have since reteamed for an episode of MTV’s “Cribs,” in which they chose to spoof the series itself. “It’ll be different,” he laughed, “if they use it. It may never come on!”
Sawa said that his work in “Slackers” represents his only experience of college, and added that, after playing a highschooler in “Hands” and a collegian this time around, he was moving on to more mature roles. “I like to do different things, to keep it edgy and different,” he explained. “Now I’m going to do more of a romantic comedy: in the next movie I’m playing an advertising executive. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be able to do something more dramatic.” He noted that such a turn would probably take him back to an independent film, perhaps with writer-director James Merendino, in whose “SLC Punk” (1999) he gave a memorable supporting performance as a strung-out drug addict. “That’s where you have more creative input and can do different stuff,” he said. “I’m sure if a studio had been controlling ‘SLC Punk,’ it would have been a lot tamer.”
“Slackers” is a Screen Gems release.