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DAVIS, HOPE: The Daytrippers

As independent cinema becomes more prolific in the US, with it emerges a new group of actors with acting, not stardom, on their agenda. Hope Davis is one of those, whose starring role in the highly acclaimed comedy/drama The Day Trippers has done much for the career of this New York-based actress. PAUL FISCHER chatted with her during the September 1997 Toronto Film Festival, where her latest film, The Myth of Fingerprints, was being screened.

Hope Davis is running late for our interview in the midst of the frenetic Toronto Film Festival. But she has the perfect excuse, she hurriedly explains. "I got stuck in the damn elevator. That can only happen to me." Davis is no stranger to film festivals. Her first two films, The Day Trippers and The Myth of Fingerprints, have been screened at both the Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals. Both are independent and more importantly, they both explore the fragility of the modern American family. Not quite coincidental, the actress explains as we settle down to our interview at Toronto's Sheraton Hotel. "This is what a lot of the young film makers living in New York seem to be dealing with. Writers who are in their late twenties tend to be thinking about their families. I'd say about 90% of the scripts that come to me are about family stuff." So setting apart these films is a challenge, and in the case of both of these films, she says, "the difference in telling these films apart was the director."

"I really loved this character,"

In The Daytrippers, Rita (Anne Meara), is the shrill, forceful maternal head of a suburban family. When the oldest of her two daughters, Eliza (Davis) is troubled by suspicions that her husband Louis (Stanley Tucci) may be having an affair, this mother from hell loads the whole family into the Buick station wagon and descends on Louis’ Manhattan office for some sleuthing. ("I saw it on Matlock," she says, as she checks the speed redial to see who he's just called.) The family - Rita, Eliza, the wild younger daughter Jo (Parker Posey), Jo's boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber), and Rita's downtrodden husband Jim (Pat McNamara) - spends the day together tracking the elusive Tucci through the city. "I really loved this character, but I also loved how really unsentimental the script was, and how true it seemed," Davis explains. "Here was this woman trying to lead a really good, honest life as a teacher, happily married, loved her husband, was smart - yet her life was falling behind her and she didn't know it. I thought that this was the way it really WAS in life, in that people can love each other and still lie to one another and create falsehoods." Even though The Daytrippers is just being released, it was made some two years ago, and was the actress's first major film experience. "What I liked about doing this, was that my character is so reactive, she doesn't talk a lot. Being my first film, I was SO nervous, I was happy to be dealing with the camera and just reacting."

"When I met him I was very impressed with him." on writer/director Bart Freudlich

She soon followed that experience with the critically acclaimed The Myth of Fingerprints, which also stars E.R's Noah Wyle and Julianne Moore. The film tells of a trio of siblings returning to face their dysfunctional family and inner demons during a Thanksgiving dinner. Davis plays the wildly erratic girlfriend of one of those siblings. It was also the first feature film from writer/director Bart Freudlich. "When I met him I was very impressed with him. He was just 26 when we met, which is amazing, and I wanted to work with him. I also wanted to play the part, which is so far away from these neurotic, depressed and freakish characters I often do on stage. And even though it's ME who gets stuck in elevators on my way to interviews, I'm not like that, am I?" Davis says that she found it easy to identify with the family craziness explored in The Myth of Fingerprints and this particular character who stands out from the staidness of a repressed family. "You know how it is when you're with your whole family, then suddenly this stranger walks in and puts your whole family in perspective. Then sometimes you think: my God, my family's terrifying. The character I play in Myth makes this family realise how tense they all are, and how none of them can TALK; she tries to kind of connect to people a little bit."

"The kind of work that's going on there is what I love to do," on NY

While most of us think of the American movie industry as being synonymous with Hollywood, New York's film industry, which has spawned both of Davis' films, and the likes of Stanley Tucci's Big Night, is growing at a rapid pace. Davis has no desire to move to the West Coast. "I was born and raised on the east Coast, and I love to do theatre as well." In fact, her next outing is a play, a production of Chekhov's Ivanov, starring Kevin Kline, no less. At present, she's wrapping another New York-based film for actor/director Stanley Tucci. "The kind of work that's going on there is what I love to do."

Originally, it was actress Mira Sorvino who got Davis interested in acting. "We were neighbours and her mother taught a drama class when I was very young, which Mira and I attended. She was a wonderful drama teacher and I just loved it from the very beginning." Davis grew up in New Jersey, is the only actor in her family, which she laughingly describes as "your relatively normally dysfunctional, nuclear family, much like in these movies I'm doing." Which is possibly why she finds these films so appealing.

Though she is happy to devote her time to the New York stage and screen scene, Davis is happy to look at the occasional Hollywood film if the right project comes her way. "I might end up doing one early next year. After all I have to put food on the table, so sooner or later I'm going to have to venture into that arena."

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Hope Davis

Photography by Judy Kopperman


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