Mackenzie Davis is a Canadian award-winning actress. She made her film debut in Smashed and later appeared in Breathe In, That Awkward Moment, and The F Word, the latter of which she received a Canadian Screen Award nomination. Davis appeared in The Martian as a NASA engineer and has joined Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Alcon’s Blade Runner sequel. The actress just won her first Tribeca Film Festival award for Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature.
Sophia Takal is an independent writer, director, and actress named by Film Magazine as one of the “25 New Faces in Film” in 2011. Takal’s directorial debut, Green, premiered at South by Southwest and won the Emerging Female Filmmaker Award. Sophia produced and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries (SXSW ’14) and Gabi on the Roof. Always Shine is her second directorial film.
Tribeca-Film Festival Best U.S. Narrative Feature nominee, Always Shine, is a a psychological female-led thriller directed by Sophia Takal and written by Lawrence Michael Levine. Starring Best New Actress (Tribeca Film 2016) Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald, Always Shine tells the story of two estranged friends, both actresses, whose reunion trip takes a dark turn when personal jealousies and external pressures wedge an even further divide between the two. Always Shine brings into focus the complex relationship between women and unrealistic Hollywood standards.
The first time I spoke to Mackenzie Davis about starring in my film, Always Shine, I was struck by her openness, intelligence and honesty—qualities she continually brings to her work. We lived in the same house together in Big Sur for a month with the cast and crew, working together to create a fulfilling artistic experience for everyone involved. Mackenzie consistently put forth 110% of her energy, was relentless in the pursuit of her craft, and pushed the creative limits of risk and vulnerability.
Since then, we’ve remained close friends and continue to bond over the notion of femininity and what it means to be a woman today. We spoke about how to live authentically in a world that tries to define us narrowly, her experience working with a tight-knit crew, and how she remains a positive feminine force in a society that can breed so much hate, fear, and indifference.
Sophia Takal: What drew you to Always Shine?
Mackenzie Davis: I liked the idea of bringing my subjective experience I had in the world; always reacting to constant feedback since childhood that I was always too much or never enough; the experience of being a woman and desperately trying to find that groove in which it was acceptable for me to exist. I love that you took all of these quiet internal struggles and transformed them into an actual external thriller. Cultural and social cues are so powerful because they are silent. You can’t immediately relate your experience to another person, but you brought that to light by modeling this silent, strangling, claustrophobic experience and making it into something scary, loud, and present. It was the first time I had seen someone do that.
ST: What do you look for in the roles you decide to take on?
MD: I think when I first started out it was pretty simple in that I wanted to play a character who was sharp and attentive—someone who didn’t exist as a prop for the main character. But the more I work, the more I want to keep pushing myself to be in somewhat uncomfortable situations. There are some characters and types of dialogue that I feel really comfortable and easy doing, and I’m trying to find more roles that encourage me to be more embarrassed and open.
ST: What makes a project creatively or emotionally fulfilling for you?
“There are some characters and types of dialogue
that I feel really comfortable and easy doing,
and I’m trying to find more roles that encourage
me to be more embarrassed and open.”
— Mackenzie Davis
MD: Definitely the collaboration. I find the constant traveling and uprooting any sort of continuity in my life really lonely, so being away on shoots where there isn’t a sense of community and collaboration really bums me out. It just doesn’t feel worth it to spend so much time alone and far away from the people you love if you’re not building something meaningful and communal with the people around you. If the movie is good when it comes out a year later that’s great, but what I care about is the experience of making it, because that’s my whole life. That’s what was so thrilling about making Always Shine with you. Not just living together, which was a dream, but the actual day-to-day life with the cast and crew. It made me feel like everyone was on an equal plane creating this thing together and you eroded the shitty actor/crew divide that exists on most sets. The whole world you created made every person’s job as valuable as the next, which made everyone really own what we were doing and feel responsible for each other.
ST: Did the process of making Always Shine change you or teach you anything?
MD: Well, it gave me unrealistic expectations about how I always want to work, because you’re the only person who works that way.
ST: What is your favorite memory from our shoot?
MD: Please don’t be offended by this, but it was when everyone in the house did the Top Chef-style quick fire challenge. We could only use $10 and ingredients from the Big Sur general store. I’m so competitive, but only about stuff that has no real weight (card games, running to the top of a hill, quick fire challenges), and I look back on that night as a time I could have actually died from too much adrenaline or from climbing a tree to pick a lime.