Unless you caught last year's indie comedy "The Daytrippers," in which she shined as the suspicious wife of a philandering husband, Hope Davis may be one of those faces you know you've seen before, but can't remember where.
She was there in "Flatliners" (as one of the girlfriends) and "Home Alone" (as a French ticket agent). If that doesn't ring a bell, do you remember the girl Nicholas Cage bench-pressed in "Kiss of Death"? That was her (although she'd like to forget it).
But Hope Davis is about to break, so if the name still doesn't ring a bell, check back in a few months. This fall Davis co-stars in three movies destined to garner attention -- "The Impostors," director-writer-actor Stanley Tucci's follow up to "Big Night"; Lawrence Kasdan's "Mumford," and "Arlington Road," an predicted Oscar contender starring Tim Robbins.
But by the time the first of those films hit theaters in October, she may well have been thrust into the limelight over "Next Stop, Wonderland," a charming but sardonic romantic comedy about fate, rejection and the personal ads that has serious sleeper hit potential.
Davis tapped into lingering distress over her the breakup of her marriage to play Erin, a recently dumped Boston nurse whose busybody mother places a personal ad on her behalf, leading to a string of bad dates, and, very indirectly, to Mr. Right. Co-writer and director Brad Anderson cast her in part because he recognized in her face the relationship-weariness he felt was important to the character.
But today Davis isn't the sad sack beauty she portrayed in "Daytrippers" and "Wonderland." She's in love again, and it shows. A sharp, unassuming Botticelli blonde with an inviting smile, she's a cheerful conversationalist who doesn't go on auto pilot for interviews like many actors do.
When I sit down with her in a conference room at the Monaco Hotel in San Francisco, she starts quizzing me about my laptop computer (she's in the market), then turns to the subject of interviews...
Hope Davis: You know, it's so weird because (I worry) when I do an interview, I always think, "Oh, I wonder if they're going to start with how I walked into the room?" But when I read interviews, I always like that part. I just read an interview about Renee Zellweger in Detour, and it's like, you know, she pulled up in her car and her dog jumped out and this is what she's wearing and she started laughing -- and I love that information.
SPLICED: You don't get a lot of that when you're doing interviews in a hotel room in San Francisco because it's just like this. (Waving around the poorly-lit, corporate-skewed room.)
Davis: Can we pretend I have a dog?
SPLICED: We can pretend you have a dog. You want a big dog or a little dog?
Davis: A nice big dog. With his head on my lap.
SPLICED: And we're in your living room, right?
Davis: No, we can be here. My dog travels with me.
SPLICED: OK, OK. That's good. But you have to be careful when making reservations to find a place that accepts pets.
Davis: Well, pretty much everyone loves him so he can kind of go everywhere. (Laughing.)
SPLICED: OK. Let's get down to business. How did you get involved in this movie? What drew you to the script and the character?
Davis: I met with the director and he'd seen "Daytrippers," which was an independent movie that I'd made, and he thought I'd be really right for this. When I met him, I'd just gone through a massively huge break up, and I guess when I walked in there it was just all over my face, and he just looked up at me like, "Oh, that's exactly what we're looking for!" And I was like (making a sad puppy face) "What are you talking about?" Then I read it, and it was exactly where my life was at, and I thought it was perfect timing.
SPLICED: You could use it as a catharsis. Get paid for your therapy.
Davis: I wasn't done catharting, or whatever the verb would be, by the time the film was over. But it definitely...it was the mode I was in, let's just say.
SPLICED: That's great. I was going to ask you what you drew on for the rejection and the sorrow. I was going to say that I hope you've been luckier in love that Eliza (her character in "Daytrippers") and Erin.
Davis: Well, I'm on an upswing right now, so I'm feeling chipper. (Big smile.) But it wasn't far from the truth there.
SPLICED: So you've found your nice guy needle in the haystack of jerks?
Davis: Yes, I kind of have. Yes. But I've been through the mill.
SPLICED: Is it really like that out there?
Davis: I don't know. I'm so afraid of dating! I went on one date and I met this person. I've never dated in my life. I was married for years. I was married since I was very young, and just went on this one date. I would be afraid to go on a blind date. Just calling up strangers and sitting with them? Really!
SPLICED: Yeah. The whole personal ads thing just doesn't seem like the way to go. I have a couple of friends that have met people on the internet. Some of them have gone well, and others...
Davis: All I hear in the news are the ones that go awry.
SPLICED: All you hear in the news are the ones with a 40-year-old man and a 7-year-old girl!
Davis: Yeah, and somebody winds up in a ditch.
SPLICED: So your experience has been...Well, how old were you when you got married?
Davis: Well, we were together since we were 18. We lived together then married a few year later.
SPLICED: Was that the breakup that brought on the necessary catharsis?
Davis: Yeeah. Oh, yes! (Nodding heavily.)
SPLICED: What a drag.
Davis: (Still nodding.) Big drag.
SPLICED: What went wrong?
Davis: Oh, we don't want to talk about that!
SPLICED: OK, we'll skip that then.
Davis: Nobody needs to know that, 'cause it ain't pretty.
SPLICED: All right then...For a movie written by a couple of guys, this movie seemed to have a very feminine tilt to it...
Davis: I know!
SPLICED: Was it like that from the onset?
Davis: Yes! I think that's why I was attracted to it as well. Because she's a very strong female character from the beginning, and (Anderson) seemed to have a really clear picture who she was, and the fact that he didn't want her to be sugar-coated in any way, or even easy in any way.
I thought he had a very kind of true vision of what it's really liked to get dumped and be by yourself, you know? It's not cozy. You don't cuddle up on your bed with your animals and watch TV. You're just devastated sometimes. I thought it was honest and true. Also, I thought he had a really clear picture of the dating thing. Even though a lot of that stuff was improvised with the guys.
SPLICED: Some of the date scenes were improvised?
Davis: Yes. That was kind of the way we shot the whole movie. We would often do what was scripted, and then he would say, "Let's just improvise it and see what you come up with."
There were a couple of dates that are friends of the director, who he's been working with for a while. Those guys just came in and made some s--- up. (One) guy was hilarious. He was just making s--- up left and right and I just could not keep a straight face! They had to make him leave the room so they could shoot my reaction shots, because I couldn't handle it.
SPLICED: The music is such a big part of setting the mood in this movie. Did Brad Anderson have a boom box on the set and play Bossa Nova?
Davis: You know, he did actually! He's such a funny man. He speaks in a very gruff way. It's just how he expresses himself. And sometimes when I had a little romantic scene or something he'd come to me and say "Just listen to this. Just listen." And he'd put on some music, and all the feeling was there. He'd bring (the boom box) around and play something. But it was never the right cut, and he's like "No, that's not it!" Bzzz, bzzz, whir. But it did give me a feeling for what kind of tone he was going for. It was nice. I love it when directors play music on the set. It's insta-mood.
SPLICED: Did you do much in the way of tweaking your character?
Davis: A little bit. Besides the fact that a lot of stuff was improvised, she was a little chillier in the script than she appears on screen. She was really just...cold. I felt she needed to warm up a little here and there. I know people still find her a little chilly sometimes.
SPLICED: Oh, no. I think she's great.
Davis: Oh, good!
SPLICED: It just seems to me like she's the kind of girl who has just has so many disappointments with men that she doesn't even want to be there for the whole dating process unless something is going absolutely right. She's sitting there thinking, "I could be home right now in my pajamas..."
Davis: Right. She's jaded for a reason. I mean, in that first scene she comes home and her bed is gone and her boyfriend is just standing there with a packed car and he gives her a tape (a video listing his reason for leaving). That really shatters a person's faith.
SPLICED: Although it's a funny scene...
Davis: Oh, I know! Phil Hoffman (who plays the bailing boyfriend) cracks me up!
SPLICED: He's a riot!
Davis: Oh, boy! But, you know, she's jaded for a reason. She's really had it dumped on her. And that's one of the reasons I liked her. She's not polite and pandering to people. If she thinks they're full of s---, she's just say it.
SPLICED: Were you still married when you made "Daytrippers"?
SPLICED: Because the two characters...well, suffice to say you do weary really well.
Davis: Oh, God. I know, I know!
SPLICED: Is that something within you that you draw on? I mean, you seem a very happy person.
Davis: You know, it's different times. "Daytrippers" isn't so much weary so much as really watchful and frightened, which is where I was in my life at that point, too. You know in "The Myth of Fingerprints" I play a really spunky, happy, fun girl. It is easy for me to be weary. Everyone I know is weary. Everyone I know in New York is exhausted all the time. They're lives are chaotic.
SPLICED: And you're one of them?
Davis: Sometimes. I'm trying to fix that!
SPLICED: You are the girl Nicholas Cage bench pressed in "Kiss of Death," yes?
Davis: Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god. Yes. (Rolling eyes, real "here we go again" look on her face.)
SPLICED: Don't want to revisit that, huh?
Davis: How do you delete those things from your past?
SPLICED: Oh, come on! That should be a great laugh for you. Even if it wasn't a good movie, you're being bench pressed by Nicholas Cage. That's a great story! It's hilarious.
Davis: Someone introduced me like that at the Sundance film festival a couple years ago -- this actress that really hated me. I was there for "Daytrippers," and she introduced me to her manager, she's like "This is Hope Davis. Remember her? She was the human barbell in 'Kiss of Death.'" I'm never gonna get away from this!
SPLICED: I think between "Daytrippers" and "Wonderland" you have a chance of finding a new signature piece. How young were you when you got involved in acting? What's your first acting memory?
Davis: My first acting memory? I grew up across the street from Mira Sorvino, and we wrote a play called "The Dutch Doll" that we performed for the whole neighborhood, and it was a real tear jerker. I was about 8 or 9.
SPLICED: Wow. That's a great story!
Davis: I played the doll, she was the girl. She believed that the doll was real, the doll was a person to her, then the adults came in and said, "It's just a doll" blah, blah, blah. And when she realized it was just a doll, the doll dies in her lap and she cries.
SPLICED: Wow. Heavy duty stuff for a couple of 8-year-olds. You guys wrote this and produced it for the neighbors?
Davis: Yep. And everybody cried. They were all standing around in the back yard and we did it up on the whole swing set/gymkana thing. That was basically my first grand moment in the theater.
SPLICED: Are you a sucker for a good tear jerker?
Davis: (Nodding passionately.) Oh! Who isn't, though? There's nothing I love more than a good cry.