When actors are asked about their career motivations, they often default to “just wanting to do something different.” Judging by her resume, however, Mackenzie Davis really means it. Over the course of only seven years and just over two dozen roles, the actress has already done a little bit of everything, sliding from indies to mainstreams films and back again, and that’s not about to change, even with Davis stepping into her most high-profile role yet.
Best known for her work in indies like “Breathe In” and “Almost Shine,” the actress is currently filming her biggest film to date: a “Terminator” reboot in which she’s rumored to be playing a “soldier-assassin from the future.” It’s the kind of movie that seems poised to catapult the 31-year-old performer into a different stratosphere, but before that, she’s still diligently stumping for her latest indie.
That role — likely the last indie audiences will see her in for a while, at least until all this “Terminator” stuff is over — in Christian Papierniak’s comedy “Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town” is an appropriately off-kilter one. As the eponymous Izzy, Davis is tasked with the kind of role some might deem unlikable — Izzy is a hot mess who spends the movie attempting to get across Los Angeles in order to break up her ex’s engagement party — but the actress is so charming that you can’t help but root for her.
Davis said she was mostly chasing directors when considering the roles available to her. “It’s like dating,” she said. “It’s an interesting process. As a film-watcher, I love directors, obviously. I like people have a strong point of view and I want to be in movies with a strong point of view.”
Fittingly, it was “Terminator” director Tim Miller that drew Davis to the currently untitled reboot. Davis said her interest in the film started with her first meeting with Miller. Plus, she added, she just really wanted to be a “part of this lineage of the future warrior.”
Early looks at the film’s production have indicated that Davis will indeed be part of the franchise’s lineage of strong women, and the original “Terminator” badass, Linda Hamilton, has been spotted on set in full Sarah Connor regalia. The pair will also be joined by Colombian actress Natalia Reyes, cast as a character new to the franchise who is stuck in the ongoing battle between man and machine.
When IndieWire spoke to Davis in May, she was preparing to dive into production on the film, but the actress was still keen to talk about yet anotherbig project, a horror feature loosely based on the Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw,” which she had just wrapped. It’s the first horror film Davis has tackled, though she’s previously dabbled in creative indie thrillers with dark edges. For the actress, it was just another new thing to do.
“It’s just something I hadn’t done before, and that’s kind of the only way to stay interested is to just keep doing the thing that you haven’t done before and hoping that people let you do that thing,” Davis said.
Davis first broke out in the 2013 Drake Doremus drama “Breathe In,” stealing the show from fellow stars Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, who play an exchange student and her host father who embark on a passionate, forbidden affair. While both Jones and Pearce are excellent in the film, it’s Davis’ work as Pearce’s horrified and heartbroken daughter Lauren that dominates its hard-won emotion.
Within a year, Davis was being tapped for smaller roles in bigger films, from a supporting part in the Zac Efron rom-com “That Awkward Moment” to a gig as a NASA scientist in “The Martian.” Davis never lost her taste for indies, though, starring in films like “A Country Called Home” and “Always Shine,” while also finding the space for something like “Blade Runner 2049.”
But with “Terminator” next on deck, it’s reasonable to wonder if Davis is finally making the full jump from indies to tentpole films. She promises that’s not the case. “No, I like small movies,” she said when asked if her indie days are behind her. “I think it’s just where the script is and where the directors are … I don’t think there’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotten to this level in the video game, you can’t go to the indie level again.'”
Davis is also keen on taking cues from the other women around her. While Jason Reitman’s inventive “Tully” made less than $13 million at the box office, the experience was pivotal for Davis, who got to work in tandem with co-star Charlize Theron in service to telling a story written by screenwriter Diablo Cody, another woman she admires. Asked about how Theron’s work ethic influenced her approach, Davis was effusive.
“I don’t know what the right words are for this, but she’s like a tradesperson,” Davis said. “There’s nothing precious about what she’s doing. She’s not applauding herself or her commitment, or her ability, or for the great lengths she’s going to her commitment or her character. She wouldn’t make a big deal out of being a Method actor, and nobody feels like they have to cower because of this great performance she’s putting on. She’s just doing really honest work.”
She added with a laugh, “Then I follow her around, and she just is a total cool dude, who between takes jokes around, and then is totally available and chill, and then does the work.”
Over the course of her relatively short career, Davis has also found time for the small screen, including a four-season stint on the series “Halt and Catch Fire” and starring alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the Emmy-winning “San Junipero” episode of “Black Mirror.” Like many performers these days, Davis draws no distinctions between acting for film and television.
“It’s the same thing, it’s the same work,” she said. “It’s just, it’s a big commitment doing TV. [‘Halt and Catch Fire’] was one of my first jobs, and it just happened. …But you sign a seven-year contract with television, and the idea that [by] reading a single episode you can have a deep indication of how you’re gonna spend the next potentially seven years of your life, it’s a big leap of faith. I don’t know if I’d get so lucky again.”
While the work itself may not be so different, Davis admitted that her television gigs do seem to be the ones that get the most attention. Asked what people on the street recognize her for — it doesn’t happen a lot, she promised, but it does happen — and Davis had a quick answer. “‘Black Mirror,’ she said. “It’s like 90 percent ‘Black Mirror,’ ten percent ‘Halt and Catch Fire,’ five percent other. I am amazed at the huge scope and the reach of ‘Black Mirror.’ It’s such a testament to Netflix.”
For a while there, it seemed like everyone had seen “San Junipero,” but despite the impact of the streaming giant on her career, Davis hasn’t lost faith in the theatrical realm. Looking back on “Tully,” she said, “I want people to go to the movie theater and see this lovely movie because we don’t get to have this many lovely movies. If you like smart movies, and you like this sort of wave of authentic, interesting, unusual characters, it’s important to go to movie theaters, and sit there and have this collective experience of being in a cinema.”
She professed innocence when it came to box office analysis, and when asked about the widely reported underperformance of Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” she laughed as she remembered hearing that the first weekend take was going to be in the millions. For an indie actor, that sounded pretty good. “I think my understanding of what it needed to make is a bit stunted,” she said.
Needless to say, she’s still figuring out how to formulate her long-term plans. “I wanna do everything that I haven’t done,” she said. “I wanna do all of it.”
“Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town” is in theaters on Friday, June 22. The untitled “Terminator” reboot will arrive on November 22, 2019.