By MICHAEL GINGOLD
In SEE FOR ME (in theaters and on VOD/digital this Friday from IFC Midnight), Skyler Davenport plays Sophie, a young blind woman whose cat-sitting gig in a huge, remote house becomes a life-and-death struggle when the home is invaded by a trio of determined thieves. In real life, Davenport is a visually impaired actor taking their first lead in a feature film–a role and performance with considerably more edge and nuance than most similar parts in genre fare.
Davenport became legally blind following a stroke brought on by a rare neurological attack called a hemiplegic migraine in 2012, but that didn’t stop their performing ambitions. They became a prolific voiceover artist for anime and video games, racking up dozens of credits in those media before winning the role of Sophie. An up-and-coming professional skier sidelined by her vision loss, Sophie proves more than capable of dealing with the criminals threatening the house and her life–with the help of Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), who assists her via the titular visual assistance app–and the ordeal reveals some surprising sides of Sophie’s character as well. Directed by Randall Okita from a script by Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue, SEE FOR ME is a gripping psychothriller and showcase for Davenport’s talent.
How did you land the lead in SEE FOR ME?
I auditioned; I read three times over the course of about six months. I’m based in LA and they were in Toronto, so it was all self-tapes, and then one read with the casting directors and director, and then another. From my understanding, they had actually been casting for a number of years–I was told four, which I didn’t know about until after the film wrapped. When I finally got the whole script, because in auditions you’ve only got your couple of pages of sides, I was definitely surprised. I was caught off guard by some of the plot twists that I did not see coming. I loved how human and imperfect and complicated they made Sophie, for sure.
Once you came on board, did you bring any of your own life experiences to the role? Obviously you’ve never been terrorized in real life by home invaders, but did you make any changes to the script?
No, I wouldn’t say that the script changed; it was pretty well-written to begin with. There were little nuances and moments that Randall and I discussed, on set and off, but I wouldn’t say the script itself was altered because of me. It was pretty solid.
One thing I really related to is that Sophie is this incredible skier and that’s what she’s doing, and then after the vision loss, she doesn’t drop that. She isn’t like, “Oh, I have to find something new”; that’s still always in the back of her mind. The fact that her goals don’t change, even though her abilities do, is something that was true for me, because I didn’t reroute my desires when I became visually impaired–even though I was told to by many doctors. That was a big sticking point to connect me to her.
How was it making the transition from voiceover work to your first feature?
I had been pursuing on-camera for a little bit before this, so it wasn’t as if there was this new thing all of a sudden. It was like, this is what I was going for, this is why I moved to LA, it was sort of a natural, “OK, now I’m doing this.” It’s just a different skillset, that’s all.
What kind of preparations did you have to go through, especially to acclimate yourself to that big house where you shot the film?
I didn’t actually go through much of the house before we started shooting. I experienced the living room and the kitchen area when they were first setting up, because we had some costume touches to go over. But I didn’t really get to experience the vastness of this establishment [laughs], until we began filming and started going through all of the rooms and other areas. That was very cool, because I got to explore it as Sophie did, and it was just as new to me.
How was it working with your villainous co-stars?
[Laughs] My villainous co-stars were all so sweet in real life! Pascal Langdale especially, but all of them were fantastic. One of those actors [George Tchortov] was also the stunt coordinator, so it was funny to feel extremely safe around someone who was trying to murder me on screen! It was really, really fun.
Did you do all your own stunts in the movie?
No; Torianna Lee, my stunt double, was amazing. There’s a scene where Sophie gets just rag-doll thrown onto a marble floor, and I’m sort of at the top and at the bottom, but Tori is the one who did the whole face-plant onto the marble, and she did a great job. There aren’t that many stunts in the film; I fall a couple of times, I did the tree fall and all the stuff in the snow. And then for the skiing scenes, I don’t know if it actually made it into the movie, but I did have a double who was a professional competitive skier. So I’d be skiing for like, a foot or two and then duck out of the frame, and then they took over.
For your scenes with Jessica Parker Kennedy, were you actually talking to her? Were those scenes shot live, or were you filmed separately?
No, at no time did I talk to her. It was always either an AD calling the lines out or just silence where I was leaving room for Jessica’s lines. I did read lines for her; the two days that she filmed, I was off-camera saying my dialogue. She was just all in here for me [taps her head].
Are you looking forward to playing more roles like this?
Totally, but I would also love to work on some projects where it’s not all about the visual impairment, and it’s just a normal role. Most people, before I tell them, are not aware that I’m visually impaired. As long as I’m not driving; I’m not going to be in FAST AND FURIOUS or anything, unless I’m going to drive 10 miles an hour and crash [laughs], and they want to turn it into a comedy! But I’d like to branch out and make sure it’s not typecasting, because I do read for a lot of stuff where it is all about the visual impairment and the disability. I appreciate all of it, and I love telling those stories, but to go on a casting call where it’s just a person would be great.