Sundance: Mackenzie Davis takes center stage

Thesp impresses with portrayal of daughter in Drake Doremus' 'Breathe In'

Who: Mackenzie Davis, actress
What: “Breathe In
Where: Public screening at the Eccles at 3:00 p.m.

Variety has been writing about up-and-coming thesp Mackenzie Davis for the better part of a year, but today is the first time she’ll truly be in the spotlight, as Drake Doremus’ “Breathe In” premieres at the Eccles in Park City.

Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan play a couple whose marriage is threatened by the arrival of a foreign exchange student (Felicity Jones); Davis plays the duo’s daughter.

“At first glance, we’re this perfect little golden wealthy family. Then this exchange student comes in and uproots everything in everyone’s life. She’s like this wild ingredient that gets thrown in and exposes all the cracks in this family, and there’s a lot of female tension between Amy and Felicity over who is Queen Bee,” explained Davis.

Pic finds her playing a champion swimmer, something Davis had to fudge prior to winning the role. “I’m not a skilled swimmer, so I definitely lied to them when I auditioned. I’d go down to the YMCA down the street from me in Brooklyn, but I’m not so coordinated. I thought I was progressing but no one was actually watching me, so when the big race days came on set it was humiliating because I would cross the pool diagonally,” she laughed.

While she had a small part in last year’s Sundance pic “Smashed,” Davis actually filmed that movie after “Breathe In.” Both were produced by Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling of Super Crispy Entertainment.

“Drake and Jon from Super Crispy have been amazing fairy godmothers to me. I was the smallest fish on this set and felt very nestled by them,” said Davis.

Davis had just graduated from theater school when she was sent on a trio of auditions, one of which was for “Breathe In.”

“Everything in my life came after auditioning for Drake,” said Davis, who was excited by the opportunity to work with a budding young filmmaker.

Davis was at Sundance last year for “Smashed,” which served as her introduction to the small world of film festivals.

“I was barely part of that movie but I wasn’t going to squander the opportunity to go to Sundance,” she said. “I remember being so paralyzed seeing my name onscreen. It was like an out-of-body experience to actually see it happen.”

Now that she has one Sundance under her belt, she’s excited to return to Park City with a higher-profile role.

“In the indie world, it feels more like a team makes these movies rather than people just being slotted into their parts and performing their roles. Each movie was like a little team traveling together and I’m excited to come back and be a real part of a team.”

Davis is repped manager Brandon Bisig at Thruline Entertainment as well as UTA, which is selling domestic rights to “Breathe In.” Several agencies expressed interest in signing Davis, but since UTA reps Doremus, it had seen rushes.

“If they still wanted me after those then okay. I signed with them because they care about building long careers. I had Visa problems and almost took a bunch of things I wouldn’t have been happy doing, but they encouraged me to be patient.”

It’s safe to say that patience has paid off, as Davis recently wrapped indie pic “The F Word” with Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan and still has one day left to shoot on the romantic comedy “Are We Officially Dating?” with Zac Efron and fellow Sundance star Miles Teller. Thesp said she looks up to Laura Dern because “she makes really interesting choices. She’s not just doing studio or indie movies, she chooses roles based on what moves her and always brings the weirdest element to her characters.”

“‘Breathe In’ was such a big deal for me. It was my first anything. Before that, I was going through Backstage Magazine and applying for student films. This experience has been so overwhelming, but I’ve slowly acclimated to the idea that I might be able to keep doing this. The first two or three movies I did, I’d be around famous co-stars and totally pretend like I didn’t care, but inside I was shaking. I’ve been weaning myself off that.”

“Breathe In” screens as part of the Premieres lineup on Sunday (8:30 a.m. at the MARC), Tuesday (6:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City), Friday (2:30 p.m. at the MARC) and Saturday the 26th (9:00 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library).

One in a series of profiles on filmmakers and talent from the Sundance Film Festival 2013.