Moist and Uncomfortable: Devon Sawa on The Philly Kid

From child star to After Dark Action star, Devon Sawa talks MMA training, 'Nikita' and that classic Eminem music video.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The Philly Kid is one of five inaugural titles in the After Dark Action lineup. The company famous for 8 Films to Die For in the horror genre is branching out into the ass-kicking genre with five films hitting theaters and VOD on May 11. The Philly Kid stars Wes Chatham as an MMA fighter and Devon Sawa as his troubled brother Jake. We spoke to Sawa about his career path from kids movies to cult films and grown up butt kicking.


CraveOnline: Do you get to be kind of the Mickey character to Wes Chatham’s Rocky?

Devon Sawa: Totally, yeah. I’m the guy, we grew up together, we’re like brothers, we’re real close, we go to jail together. I get out first and I kind of go down the wrong path. Because we’re so close, Dillon has to get me out of some stuff. I’m in his corner and I’ve got love for the guy.


It looks like you’re training him too.

Yeah, he’s got me in his corner for sure.


Did you try any of the training with Wes in solidarity?

A little bit. He got there two weeks prior to shooting and I got there a week, and we did a lot of hanging out, trying to get that brotherly feel going. We did a little training, weight lifting and stuff.


What training did you try yourself?

I’ve been doing MMA for a while so I was hitting the bags a little bit, but my character isn’t really the fighter, so I was just hanging out. I was just in the background making sure he was not eating salt and a lot of chicken breast and vegetables.


You’ve actually practiced MMA?

Yeah, I do it as a hobby. I started Muay Thai in Thailand. I’ve trained in boxing, jujitsu, a little wrestling. I’m a big fan of the sport first.


Have you had bouts?

No, I’ve sparred but I’m just a hobbyist strictly.


What does MMA do for you in your personal life?

I spend a lot of hours watching it, that’s for sure.


Does the exercise and training give you something for daily life?

I started it just as a hobby to be in shape, to learn some new stuff but it’s actually helped me in film. I did this TV show that it translated into and I’m going to keep going because I want to be able to do films that have a lot of action in them.


You mean it helped you with the fight scenes in “Nikita?”

Yes, sir. Definitely. When I auditioned for it, they didn’t know I had fight training and when I got there, eventually by the third episode, they weren’t dressing a stuntman anymore for me.


We’ve seen this type of character before, the schemer who gets his friend into trouble. How do you make him unique and believable?

I felt there’s two ways you can play this. You can make the audience hate this guy which is very typical. The way I played it is you like the guy. You’ve got love for him. He’s not a bad guy. He just makes bad decisions. You’ve got to like him or else you’re not going to believe that the Dillon character is going to help him out. That’s what’s different about this guy.


He makes bad decisions, but does Dillon helping him out teach him to make better ones?

He’s learning from his own mistakes. Dillon’s helping him get out of it.


You’re ringside or in the gym. How bad do the sweaty feet stink?

[Laughs] It got pretty sweaty in there, especially shooting in Baton Rouge. We were in this place called The Texas Club. We packed a lot of people in there, a lot of fighters. It got moist and uncomfortable at times. There were some smells.


How long was this shoot?

The shoot was about a month, a little bit over.


Was it more indie style?

Very indie style. It had that indie feel where everybody’s on set to make a good film. The actors are there strictly to make the best film possible. No egos or anything like that. It was a great feel.


With After Dark Action backing it, were there any similarities to a studio film?

We got feedback from the higher ups often but it was only good feedback. Other than that they let us do our thing. The script never changed it. Unlike a big studio film, the script never changed. We weren’t reshooting because somebody didn’t like something, but at the same time you’ve got Joel Silver behind it. They were digging it the whole time.


Can you believe that Final Destination is still going?

I can believe. I think it’s a great concept and I think that every director and every new cast member along the way has pulled their weight. I went to the premiere of number five and I was just blown away. It was great. I think it’s the best kind of movie to have the 3D play in.


Was there any ever talk of having you survive for part two?



Death always gets you.

I’m sure there was some talk but for whatever reason from the higher up, they wanted to start fresh. The same guy can’t run around cheating death for five films.


Well, Ali Larter survived for 2 but not for long.



Has Idle Hands become a cult film now?

Yeah, I was very proud, the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles plays a lot of cult films and cult classics. They played it last year and I couldn’t have been more proud.


What feedback do you get from the film at screenings like that?

People love it. It’s funny because people are still seeing it for the first time nowadays. It’s a weird kind of cult hit. You either hate it or you love it.


What about Wild America?

That was in my teen years. It was a while ago. I had a blast shooting it. We were in Savannah, we were in Calgary, we were all over the place. A lot of animals, it was great.


One of my readers had a Little Giants question. Did you choose Icebox or Debbie?

I believe at the end it was Icebox all the way.


Are you going to be on more “Nikita?”

I hope so. I’m hoping to. I think Maggie Q is killing it on that show and I love being a part of it whenever I am. It’s just waiting to see if the agents and everybody work it out. If I was a betting man I’d bet you’d see me back. It’s open for sure.


How much feedback do you get from the “Stan” music video?

Tons. It’s a great video. It’s still to this day one of the better videos out there. It tells a story with a start, a middle and an end. It’s like a mini movie. it’s kind of like the “Thriller” video that Michael Jackson did. It’s kind of like a mini movie. I get great feedback from it. People love it.


And that was back when people wrote actual letters.

Yeah, right? That was back in the fan mail days. People still write letters though. I still get letters. I’ll be on set and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door and it’ll be five or six letters from different people so there’s still some.


None as dark as Stan though I hope.

No, no.


How did you manage that transition from child actor to continuing working actor?

Wild America was the last movie I did as a chid/teen actor. I took two years off and came back and wanted to do stuff that was edgier, darker. I took SLC Punk. I took Idle Hands, I took Slackers, the Eminem thing. I just wanted to get away from the Wild America/Casper/Now and Then stuff. Not that I had anything against it. I was in that stage where I wanted to do stuff a little grown up, edgier, darker.


Does that become any kind of typecast too once Hollywood sees you doing a lot of dark roles?

No, because Idle Hands and Stan and SLC Punk were darker and then Slackers was a very light comedy. I’ve been very fortunate the way things are going. It’s hard because there really is no manual on how to do it. There’s no real game plan. I’ve been fortunate. Being a child actor I got to do and see a lot of things that a lot of kids wouldn’t have ever saw and I’m very fortunate. To be able to jump into roles after that as a young adult was fortunate and to step away for four years and come back now and start right off the bat with “Nikita” and have three movies coming out, I’m lucky, fortunate and no complaints.


Is there a full on action hero role in your future?

I hope so. I hope I can do the character roles like Jake as well as kick some ass as well.