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Exclusive: Devon Sawa Talks Philly Kid, Parking Tickets and MMA

At first, Devon Sawa is a bit frazzled. The 33-year-old actor has just returned to find a parking ticket on his car. Still, shaking off the disappointment (“If it’s the worst thing that happens to me all day, I’m OK with that”), Sawa is enthusiastic when it comes to the subject of his latest movie, “Philly Kid.” Releasing this week in theaters and on VOD from After Dark Films, the movie co-stars Sawa as Jake, the pal of a former NCAA champion wrestler recently paroled from prison, Dylan (Wes Chatham), whose unsavory connections lead his friend into a series of brutal cage fights. ShockYa had a chance to speak one-on-one to Sawa by phone recently, about his movie, his affinity for MMA, great pranks unplayed, and what he made of that twist in the latest “Final Destination” movie. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: What are your thoughts on MMA, which has just really blown up in popularity over the last half dozen years or so?

Devon Sawa: Oh, I’m a huge MMA fan, which is really what drew me to “Philly Kid.” I’m a big UFC follower, US Strike Force, I love all that stuff. My agent told me there was this movie about MMA, and I said, “Let me read it.” It was a movie with MMA, but it had a great story and characters too. …But I do some muy thai and other stuff myself. I go to a couple places here in L.A. and try to keep in shape and keep my mind straight.

ShockYa: Did you have any desire to jump in and take part in any of the action scenes in “Philly Kid” then?

DS: Well, I do another TV show (the CW’s “Nikita”) that I do a lot of action with, so it was a nice opportunity to step out and be behind the action a bit. And Jake is a character that I’ve never really played before — he’s this guy who has no filter, does all the wrong stuff at the wrong time, and gets himself into a lot of trouble.

ShockYa: That relationship between Jake and Dylan seems to be one of duty — of standing up for someone and even helping pay off their debts when you know they’re wrong. Have you ever had any friends like that?

DS: Yeah, those two grew up together and there’s just a deep bond. They go to jail, and there Jake kind of saves his life. But I don’t think Dylan ever feels like owes Jake anything, he just gets him — he knows that he means well, he just gets himself into trouble.

ShockYa: And have you had a friend like that which you were always willing to throw down with?

DS: I actually had a friend something like that — though not to that extreme. He’s a guy who’s just been like a little brother to me, and I had that kind of feeling with him.

ShockYa: Did you shoot “Philly Kid” on location in Louisiana?

DS: Yeah, we filmed in Baton Rouge, which was great for me because I’m from Vancouver and it was kind of like the polar opposite. And I love the South — I love the food, I love the people, I love the feel of the humidity, and it kind of worked its way into the movie. The movie has that feel — just a hot, humid, Southern MMA feel.

ShockYa: Have you had a chance to shoot down there often? I know that post-Katrina a lot of films have migrated there [because of favorable tax incentives], and the crew base has really grown up around there.

DS: It’s my first post-Katrina movie, actually. I did a movie in New Orleans pre-Katrina; right before Katrina, actually.

ShockYa: And do you still live in Vancouver?

DS: No, I live in Los Angeles now. I stepped away from the film industry for about four years, and went back to Vancouver, where I’m from originally. And just recently, in the last couple years, I came back and did a film and started working. I started (acting) at an early age, and from the ages of around 11 to 25 worked pretty steadily and consistently. I just needed a break, to step away and make sure that [acting] was what I really wanted to do.

ShockYa: Were there any pains of re-adjustment with Los Angeles? It can be a brutal place.

DS: I think L.A. is kind of a love-it-or-hate-it type of place, and fortunately I love it. I love Cali — I love the weather, I love the mood, the people, I love the beach, I love L.A. I’m just a big L.A. guy. It’s where I’ve made my home now, and it’s where I plan to raise a family eventually, one day. I love the quick pace lifestyle.

ShockYa: It’s a quick pace when it comes to everything except driving, because then you can just be sitting in traffic. You previously mentioned starting out professionally quite young. Was acting something that you really had an attraction to when you were little? Was there a performance instinct that kicked in even in adolescence?

DS: Yeah, I started in grade five or something like that. I was put into a theater group by my parents because I was a little energetic in school. And I fell in love with performing and the stage, and then I fell in love with the camera working on big motion pictures. It was something I always knew, from an early age, that I wanted to do. At age 25 I was more worked out, and it had become more about what party or what club I was going to, and so I [took] a step away and made sure that [acting] was something I wanted to continue to do. But I’ve always loved to do this, and I’ve been so blessed.

ShockYa: What’s next, what’s on deck for you?

DS: Right now I’m doing a lot of press for this movie, but I have another one coming out in the fall where I have a small but important part in Nick Stahl’s movie that just played at Tribeca. I’m waiting to see if “Nikita” gets picked up for another season, fingers crossed there, and hopefully I’ll be going back on that. Things are good for me now. I might plan a road trip this summer, though, we’ll see. I’m just going day by day.

ShockYa: Finally, what were your thoughts on the plot twist and revelation at the end of “Final Destination 5”?

DS: I think it’s a great series, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I went to the premiere of the fifth film, and I liked it, and thought it was clever. I think they’ve done well with that series. And I actually had someone make a comment to me once on a plane that they loved “Final Destination,” which I felt was strange. Yeah, it still comes it up all the time.

ShockYa: That would be strange, it seems, yes. (NOTE: Sawa’s character has a premonition of a plane crash in the original “Final Destination,” while on said plane.)

DS: Yeah, and I had a friend who, when they were playing “Final Destination” at one of these (repertory) art house theaters in the valley, was begging me to go, sit in the audience and then before the film starts jump up and start screaming that the theater was going to explode, and run out. But I just couldn’t do it.

ShockYa: Come on, that would have been epic.

DS: Yeah, it would have been a good YouTube clip.

Written by: Brent Simon

Devon Sawa In The Philly Kid

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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