Robert Kojder chats with Skyler Davenport about See for Me…
For those that have seen all the Oscar contenders or maybe just want to watch something suspenseful, the usual dumping ground of January has offered up one fresh and tense experience so far in See for Me [read my review of the film here]. The thriller stars Skyler Davenport marking their transition from voiceover talent to leading role, playing the housesitting Sophie who must evade and survive against intruders looking to steal from the mansion, a task that’s doubly difficult considering both actor and character are blind. The script has one or two surprises along the way, but primarily functions as a terrific vehicle for one of the first breakthrough performances I have seen this year and yet another reminder that disabled actors can rock these roles as much as any able-bodied method actor while naturally bringing extra authenticity to the table. As such, it was a great pleasure to speak to Skyler Davenport about the film, so I hope you enjoy the interview below:
This was the first movie of the year I watched. And usually, the first movie is something terrible, but this was good, so that made me happy.
[laughter] That’s good! Glad you could start off on a good foot.
It’s all downhill from here.
[more laughter] No!
So how did you get involved with this project and what gave you the confidence that Randall Okita and the screenwriters would do justice to not just the character, but also the disability?
It came to me via production actually and they said we understand that you’re a visually impaired actor and you fit the demographic that we’re looking for for this film so would you read for it. They sent me a couple of pages of the script and I put it on tape. I sent it in, about two months went by, and then I did an in-person callback. This was before Covid where I read with the director and the two casting directors, and they put that on tape and they sent that to producers. And then another two months later I sent in another tape and then they finally said we’d like to offer you the role, here’s the contract, and come to Canada, which is where it was shot.
That’s great. Also, can you talk about what it’s like to listen to a script on tape versus actually reading it? That sounds unique. It would have its own sort of challenges.
So what I usually do is, because of the visual distortions that I have, I can’t read it off of a computer screen. That doesn’t work for me. I will use usually actually print it on paper in large texts and I will hold a piece of white paper so that I can go through it line by line so that I can read it properly. I don’t listen to the entire script on tape. What I’ll do is I will have an app where I’ll have it read me the other person’s lines as I’m memorizing. I’ve had to get very quick at memorizing because in a cold read, for anyone who doesn’t know, you tend to get the script and you’re looking down and up and down and up, which I can’t do. I can’t do the motion with the eyes [Skyler demonstrates the motion on camera]. So I learned very early on to memorize extremely quickly or I was not gonna get much work. That is my process. I guess depending on how long the script is, sometimes it takes me a little while to get through, but I do my best.
How close is Sophie’s blindness compared to yours? And if there are differences, how do you approach that from an acting standpoint?
That’s actually a fantastic question that I have not been asked yet! In the script, she’s got retinitis pigmentosa and she sees light. I think they say light perception. To me, that’s just sort of shadows and figures, which for the first two years after the stroke (due to a rare condition, Skyler suffered a stroke that permanently damaged their vision), I was wearing a blindfold a lot of the time because my vision is so distorted. I have bad ghosting. First of all, for anyone that doesn’t know, it’s like older televisions where you would see multiple images stacked on top of each other. That’s what my vision is. All the time it looks like I’m drunk and everyone has like 20 heads. It’s very, very distorted. And then I’ve got blind spots that are of neurological nature. Sophie from the script having just light perception was actually really helpful to know. Anytime there was a source of light, it would sort of, as an actor, catch my attention.
I am white cane mobility trained but I don’t use it on a daily basis. Mm-hmm, I use it if I’m in a crowded environment because it stresses me out to think that I’m running into people, when I, I just, I can’t, I can’t see. Especially if it’s around Christmas, oh God, when there are just people in a store, I’m just sort of like “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I can’t see you”. So I would say my vision is just extremely distorted and it took me a long time to be able to function in that. Sophie’s is more the classic; she’s got the black and then she’s got the shadowy figures of someone who’s dealing with it where it’s mechanically. For me, it’s the brain. And for Sophie, it is the eye.
One of my favorite things about the movie is that script is comfortable allowing a disabled character to be somewhat morally flawed. I’m curious if that attracted you to the script?
Thank you for saying that! We saved the best interview for last! Sometimes films that feature someone with a disability tend to lean towards feel good and they make it about the disability. And I do think there’s a time and a place for that, but I found it so interesting that Sophie does have a lot of issues and she’s very human and how the blindness sort of factors into that just makes it even more interesting because when she’s being more abrasive, people are like “oh, that was rude, but I wanna help”. I feel like it made the whole thing more emotionally awkward like it is in real life. It’s not always super happy.
It’s easier to connect with too. It feels like watching a real person more.
You get to act alongside Kim Coates during the climax. As a fan of Sons of Anarchy that was exciting. So I’m just curious what that was like working with him?/
He was amazing. I felt bad because the scene that I was shooting with him was actually in the middle of August and he had to wear that thick winter coat while we’re pretending it’s winter. He’s very sweet and he’s very good. We had a lot of physicality with, not to give any spoilers, but there’s some tussling that goes on between us. And he was just very respectful of the fact that I am teeny tiny and was like “are you okay if it’s like a little bit rougher here, and then this is gonna go here”. It was safely planned out. So I appreciated him for that.
Sophie’s background as a skier; was that always part of the script or where did that come from?
To my knowledge that was always part of the script. That was really cool.
What were some of the challenges in acting or filming conversations between Sophie and Kelly?
The most challenging part is that Kelly was never there. I interacted with Jessica Parker Kennedy when she was shooting her scenes, but when it’s me talking on a phone, it’s either an AD calling out the lines or sometimes there’s no one and I’m just saying it in my head leaving space for Kelly’s lines. So I’m acting with a scene partner in my head. I was really glad that when they cut it together, it all worked because I don’t know what it looks like on camera. You gotta just trust the director and the DP and everybody that it’s going well.
You have some impressive voice-over credits to your name. So I’m curious, what would you say is the biggest challenge of transitioning to live action? And what was your favorite part of this filmmaking process?
Film is definitely my favorite. I love both for very different reasons. The biggest difference is the time commitment, the travel, the physical strain. Film shoots are long and every day, whereas voiceover, the max they can get you for is usually about four hours. So the biggest difference between the two is how physically demanding they are. It’s a lot more work to do, but to me, it’s super, super rewarding and it’s fun.
What are some words of wisdom or advice you would give to other disabled people for chasing after their own dreams?
I’m always afraid to give advice because everybody’s got their own perspective. Gosh, I would say, first of all, don’t beat up on yourself. especially if it’s a disability that has happened to you. Not that this makes it any easier or any worse, but if you were fully functional by normal terms and it’s an accident or a disease or whatever it is, don’t compare, I’m gonna cry. Don’t compare the life that you had to the life that you’re living now. I think that’s just a trap for self-pity and what you have now can absolutely be better than what you had.
It was awesome talking to you. I hope you have a great night.
Many thanks to Skyler Davenport for taking the time for this interview.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com