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INTERVIEW: Mackenzie Davis Opens Up About How We View Female Characters and Irresistible

Mackenzie Davis in Irresistible

Mackenzie Davis has had quite the career already. With movies like Blade Runner 2049 and Terminator: Dark Fate under her belt, she shows a different side to her impressive ability as an actress in the new film Irresistible. Playing Diana, whose father is running for mayor in their small Wisconsin town, she brings a power and intelligence to the film that is both quiet and intimidating.

We got to talk with Davis about the film and what it means to play characters like this and how she doesn’t want it to be a conversation about playing these different kinds of women, but just focus on the character in general, regardless of gender (which I thought was incredibly interesting).

TMS: Just to jump right in—because your career is incredible, so I have a lot of questions—but with Irresistible and Diana, I think it’s really cool because she ends up being this kind of mastermind by the end of the movie, so I wanted to know what kind of drew you into her as a character, and working with Jon Stewart and Steve Carrell and everybody to bring this movie to life?

Davis: Well I was really, you know … Hearing that Jon Stewart was making a movie with everyone I was just like, “I’m in! Can I have a role, is there anything I can do?” And then reading the script, I thought it was one of the smartest scripts I’d read in years. It’s really depressing reading scripts all the time. There are not a lot of great things being made, and you also get so used to the structure and how predictable everything is, and this script I found funny and smart, and also it genuinely surprised me, every sort of shift in the narrative that came up I could not have seen coming, which is really rare.

And, yeah, I was excited by every single person who was involved, and I loved the role and the role really surprised me, and yeah, working with Jon. So it was an easy decision for me.

TMS: It’s a really interesting film to be a jumping-off point for a lot of conversations with how the American government is set up, and what I liked about it was it makes fun of both sides. It’s just not like “we’re going to pick apart one side of the government.” It talks about the whole system, and so with this kind of film, do you think that’s really important to bring to light especially with the kind of unrest—I know you’re from Canada, but the unrest that’s in America right now?

Davis: I’m from Canada, but I’ve lived here for eleven years, so I’m extremely invested in what’s going on. And I think it’s really important because I think the things that are happening with the current administration and have been happening with that side of government are egregious and horrific and have been for a long time, but the longer I live in America, the more I feel that way about the Democrats, and the more I feel that way about the whole thing and how your electoral system is set up.

And every new piece of information I learn about how things work here, I’m more and more deeply upset by it and not because of partisanship, although that is problematic and really frustrating, but because this system is f**ked up. I mean, Jon’s central point is that how we elect people in this country is fundamentally flawed and truly insane and no way to produce a great candidate or someone who is going to enact social change.

It’s just sort of this amalgam of buzz words and parts that might possibly appeal to a focus group. It’s just wild, and yeah, I think targeting that rather than one or the other side is important and truly where the focus should be, because everything else is a symptom. This is like the driving force that we need to dismantle.

TMS: I am the kind of person who likes to point out that the electoral college is a racist and outdated system that no one feels the need to address—

Davis: Yeah, yeah.

TMS: And what I like about this movie is that it tackles how we pick our candidates as well, but what I like about your character is that she comes off as that character that you’re kind of like, “Well, okay … where do you stand?” and then ends up being this incredible woman who is commenting on society. And with the twist at the end of the film, it’s like she went from being like “oh well, she’s helping her dad” to “oh no, she’s awesome,” and is that important, as an actress, to find those characters and bring those to life because they are so rare and different from what we normally see?

Davis: Absolutely. I mean, it’s so exciting to have a character that surprises you, like I said, and then, I don’t know … She’s very observant—almost to the point of becoming part of the furniture and not really engaged in a lot of stuff, just sort of there for a while. And having that payoff, in the end, was obviously—the interest in the whole thing is the payoff, so then you can work backward and be like, “Oh okay, how can I make myself as invisible as possible to these people who, to be honest, aren’t paying attention to me anyway.” But yeah, I love her, and I loved her backbone and her smarts and her quiet.

TMS: I think, with your career—because I’m a huge nerd, so I first really recognized you from Blade Runner [2049]—but from Blade Runner to Terminator and even to Diana, you play these characters who have these strong principles by the end, and is that just something that you instill in these characters or is it something that you are actively searching for to bring to the screen?

Davis: I don’t know. It’s hard to know what attracts you to people, and I mean, I, very early in my career, knew the sort of people I didn’t want to play, and that sort of narrows the field. At first, it was really outward expressions of confidence or power and agency, and then that sort of feels boring, maybe. I know I just did Terminator, so it’s not a linear storyline, but then you want to find people who have a different kind of strength like a very quiet, internal strength or people who aren’t obvious shitkickers or powerhouse intellectuals but who are occupying a space of strength and agency that isn’t cast in a traditionally male form or that is translating for people to immediately associate it with a strong woman but you can identify some sort of strength in her anyways.

I don’t know, I guess I’m attracted to characters, but I’m usually attracted to stories that are in some way colliding with what I’m thinking about at that time and what I feel preoccupied with—and whatever you’re reading or obsessing over politically or emotionally or the things in your life in that moment—and you find a script that either has those things intrinsically or you’re able to read all the things you’re interested in to the script that maybe never had them. I don’t know which comes first.

TMS: Do you think that Diana, in a story like this, is an important woman to look at just because, like you said earlier, she kind of just hides herself in the fabric because that’s just where her situations leads her in that moment and then reveals her … well, I guess not her “true intelligence,” but reveals her true motives by the end, and is that because we often either see the very extremes of those women or the very quiet woman who never has reveal by the end. Do you think she’s an important character to look at for the future and how we to start to change how we see women in cinema?

Davis: I think we’ve made a lot of progress on changing the sort of reductive roles women have been given in the last few years that I have been faced with, and that I have watched the face of female stories expand dramatically in the last few years, but I don’t think there’s a singular thing, and I totally understand where you’re coming from, but we never ask that question about men because we assume that men contain multitudes and we don’t need to be like “is he a this?” or “is he a this and is he a this?”

So, Diana is a great character, we do not need to make a million Dianas like we do not need to make a million Xena Warrior Princesses, neither do we need to make a million … I don’t know, another example that’s on the other side. But you want the sort of monopoly of a human person and for it to not be a strong female character or a wife. Cause those are the only two options.

TMS: Yeah and sorry, I agree with you. I hate the idea that we have to look at a female character and not just be like “She’s just a female character and this is who she is.”

Davis: Yeah.

TMS: So … I really loved that answer.

You can watch Irresistible on demand now!

(image: Focus Features)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.