Actress Mackenzie Davis is probably about to go from a "who's that?" to a "that girl." In only her third screen role, Davis gives a breakout performance in "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," a crime thriller that recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and plays again Sunday at Fantastic Fest in Austin. The film is directed by the sibling duo of Zeke and Simon Hawkins from a script by Dutch Southern.
The story, as Davis recently put it, is a "sort of noiry, dirty Southern thing" that references the pulp fiction of author Jim Thompson in its tale of small town ambitions, bad deals, double-crosses and good love gone sour. Davis plays a girl name Sue entangled in a romantic triangle with two best friends, B.J. and Bobby (Logan Huffman and Jeremy Allen White). A weekend of fun funded by stolen money gets the trio wrapped up with a local crime syndicate to no good end. The film manages to be twisty and straightforward at the same time, taking a roundabout route to inevitable conclusions.
Davis' first film role was in Drake Doremus' "Breathe In." Since shooting "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" she has been very busy, with roles in "The F Word" with Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, "That Awkward Moment" with Zac Efron and Miles Teller and is currently finishing work on Robbie Pickering's horror comedy "Kitchen Sink." She will also appear on the television series "Halt and Catch Fire," which begins production this fall for AMC.
Davis landed her role in "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" in a manner strangely in keeping with the movie, though she swears the story "sounds more callous than it is." Her boyfriend at the time had the script to audition for one of the male leads. Davis was reading the female part to help him as he rehearsed.
"I was reading sides for him and something changed as I was reading," she said. "I was suddenly like 'Oh no, this is my role; I need to be Sue.' So I called my manager and asked, 'Have you heard about this weird little script?'"
She got the part. He didn't. (And that guy is no longer her boyfriend.)
"Sue is such an unusual character," Davis said. "If I had criteria it would just be that I want to play active people who can solve problems, not people who have things thrust in their lap and need somebody to solve their problems for them."
Davis missed being in Toronto recently for the premieres of "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" and "The F Word" because of emergency appendix surgery. She was nevertheless back at work on shooting "Kitchen Sink" within a week or so.
A Vancouver native, Davis, 26, studied English lit at McGill in Montreal with a minor in gender studies before heading to New York City to study theater, moving to Los Angeles about two years ago. She acknowledged that her gender studies background gives her a somewhat unique perspective on the machinery that surrounds women in Hollywood. (For example, should an article be accompanied by a nondescript image from a movie or a more playful swimsuit photo? See above.)
"I'm really aware of the conversations that surround young actresses in Hollywood," she said. "I always get myself into a hole with these conversations and I get weirdly quoted and I sound militant and like I'm not thankful at all, and I'm so thankful of everything that's happening. But I'm an active observer of the machinations of this world."
With so many projects soon to be coming out, things may soon change very quickly for Davis.
"People keep asking me this question, 'Oh, you have all these projects coming out, do you think your life is about to change?'" she said "And my life changed back when Drake cast me in his movie, because I was working in a real thing and I was able to audition for real things and people were starting to let me in the room, which is such a big deal.