With her son in her arms and her Wheaton terrier named Charlie at her feet, actress Hope Davis (“About Schmidt,” “American Splendor”) took time to speak with me about her latest film “Duma,” directed by Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”) via phone from her home in New York.
Davis, 41, originally from New Jersey, started her film career when she landed a role in the sci-fi thriller “Flatliners,” which starred Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts. She then went on to receive other roles in films, including 1996’s “The Daytrippers,” 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” 1999’s “Mumford” and 2002’s “The Secret Lives of Dentists.”
In 2005, Davis’ stock rises with four films finding theatrical release. These are “Duma,” “Matador,” starring Pierce Brosnan, “Proof” starring Anthony Hopkins and “Weatherman” starring Nicholas Cage.
In “Duma,” Davis plays a mother of a child who runs off on an adventure through South Africa with a cheetah by his side.
What was your experience working with cheetahs for the first time?
I was definitely afraid of the cheetahs. The cheetahs were on set the whole time. We had a special animal trainer who came from Los Angeles. There was actually a team of animal trainers teaching us. (The cheetahs) were animals trained for the purposes of the film, but they were still definitely wild animals. We had to have a lot of instruction as to how to work with them because they are extremely wild predatory animals. We all had to learn how to be with them and not excite them in the wrong way. These are not dogs. These are not trained show animals. We were all very respectful to them.
Shooting in South Africa must have presented some challenges.
Yeah. All of my stuff was shot in South Africa. We were in Johannesburg. It’s a city where everything is surrounded by gates and guarded by people with machine guns. It’s a very different way of living. I never had been to Africa. It is an extremely beautiful place and it looks nothing like anywhere in the states. Even the color of the earth is completely different. It was very exciting to be there and to see what type of state that country is in politically. It was a dangerous place with a powerful landscape.
What was it like to work with Campbell Scott again?
Campbell and I are old pals. I actually called (Campbell) to tell him that I was going to be in South Africa a month before we left. He asked if I was working on that Carroll Ballard film. I said yes. He said, ‘I wanted to be in that. Did they cast a male lead?’ I told him that I didn’t think they did. So, I called the casting director and told her that he really wanted the job. When I got to South Africa I didn’t know if he had gotten the part, but a few weeks later he came to South Africa with the role. (Campbell) is a huge fan of Carroll Ballard and his films “The Black Stallion” and “Never Cry Wolf.”
You’ve worked with many Academy Award-winning actors in your career (Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicholas Cage). Is this something you strive for when accepting a role – trying to reach accolades like theirs?
You never know what the path of the film is going to be. Sometimes something looks really juicy on the page and then the film doesn’t make sense when it’s finished. No one ever thought “American Splendor” was going to get past HBO. We didn’t even know it was going to get a theatrical release. You never know what to expect. I really just look at the role and the director, which is everything about the experience.
So, you’ve been in the film business for 15 years. Do you feel like you have made it?
I’m very happy with the work that I do get and the types of directors that I get to work with. But you’re always looking for the next job, so you never feel like your ‘there there.’
Did you have any pets growing up as a child?
My father was allergic to animals. We had a couple of turtles but they didn’t last.