At the Rocket Coffeehouse in the Holley Mason Building, actor Matt Davis, who portrays the young protagonist in Mainline, a new film being shot in Spokane, kicks back between takes to continue the game of chess he started earlier in the day with a member of the crew. It's become a standard break-time practice for the 25-year-old Utah native -- a way, you might guess, to relax while remaining focused. Davis says he plays a lot of chess. Judging by the speed at which he and his opponent exchange moves, it appears he's pretty good at it, too.
The production team is utilizing an office next door as a location for the film. In it, Davis plays a man caught up in a world of wealth, power, deception, murder and hidden agendas. It's a role that appealed to him from the moment he read the script.
"Sometimes roles choose you," he says while eyeing his next move. "Sometimes you get offered a part. That was more or less what happened with this. They went after a few actors, but their schedules didn't work out and then they came to me. I read the script and I wanted to be a part of it. So it kind of happened that way. But that's rare for me. I usually have to audition for most of them."
Mainline is the working title of the film currently being shot in Spokane by local film production company North by Northwest. You may have noticed over the past few weeks their fleet of trucks camped out in front of various local institutions and landmarks. Maybe you thought you spied Aidan Quinn hanging out at Far West Billiards one evening. You might have even walked right past the nondescript motor home that served as James Spader's lair on the set, completely unaware that the star of sex, lies and videotape; Stargate; Pretty in Pink; Secretary and (beginning this fall) ABC's The Practice was possibly doing God knows what just inside.
Scenes for the film have been shot at locations in and around downtown Spokane, including the Spokane Club, the Davenport Hotel, Gonzaga Law School and a Cutter mansion. Three of the film's principal stars (James Spader, Aidan Quinn and Peter Coyote) have already finished with their scenes and have left Spokane for whatever roles may come next. Principal shooting wraps up on August 9.
Davis is just beginning to establish himself in Hollywood. He played Reese Witherspoon's preppy boyfriend in Legally Blonde and starred in such latter-day titles as Blue Crush, Pearl Harbor and Urban Legends: Final Cut. He's also recently completed work on an independent film comedy called Seeing Other People with Andy Richter and Jay Mohr.
"When you're not an A-List actor, they don't offer you things," explains Davis. "You have to audition for them. But you have to audition for the things that you think are right. And so the material that you audition for is drastically reduced. All of a sudden, you're auditioning against people who have a huge body of work against you and better credits."
Yet Davis says he's being somewhat choosy about roles he pursues.
"If you care about longevity, you have to be really careful about the choices you make, because the impression is if you make one wrong move, you're going to suffer the consequences of that. And certainly some people do this just for the money, and some do it just for respect, and some do it because they want to work. But the business is changing. And it's changing for the worse. It's becoming increasingly more difficult to do the kind of work that you want to do. It's hard to come by good material. Sometimes you have to take a chance on the material based on who else is involved."
He feels he made a good bet signing on to a project with his Mainline co-stars.
"Absolutely. I really wanted that opportunity to work with these guys. James Spader is an interesting guy. He's been around for a long time, and I really respect his work and admire his career."
Director Rich Cowan of North by Northwest concurs.
"James was great to work with. He's a very bright, very intelligent person. He really adds a lot to this film. He's one of those actors that with every scene, every moment, every look does something a little extraordinary, a little something special."
As director, it's Cowan's job to get the best performances out of his actors as possible. Of course, having high-caliber talent to work with makes his job an easier one.
"We have a lot of experienced actors in this movie," he says. "People like James Spader and Aidan Quinn. Peter Coyote will give you a great performance every take -- and something a little different each time. Robin Tunney (End of Days) is spectacular. Matt Davis is great, too, very directable."
Mainline is the second film Cowan has directed (The Basket was the first) and the 16th film produced by the Spokane company. The genesis of Mainline began with a screenplay that was purchased by Two Sticks Productions in Los Angeles. The executive producers (that is, "the money") then chose North by Northwest to actually shoot it.
"We've worked with a couple of the executive producers before," says Cowan. "We work with four different entities. We've worked with Two Sticks Productions on these sort of thriller-action movies going back to 1997, when we did Detour up here with Gary Busey. We also did Whacked with Carmen Electra. Then we recently did one with Echo Lake Productions called The Big Empty, starring Kelsey Grammer and Daryl Hannah, and that will be coming out in the next few months. Namesake does family-friendly stuff with an edge, and we did Hangman's Curse with them [filmed at Rogers High School] which will be coming out September 12. We do films with New Image as well."
But Cowan says working on The Basket was especially gratifying because it was done completely in-house at North by Northwest, with no outside collaboration.
"That's a rare opportunity," he says. "Most movies, I don't care if they are big or small, usually are done by two or three separate companies. Movies are expensive and collaboration is less risky. And we like doing the family kind of stuff."
Though Mainline isn't exactly family fare, Cowan is quick to point out that it isn't a trash-talking, sex-and-gore fest, either.
"This isn't a family movie, although there's no profanity, no nudity and the violence is pretty minimal. One guy gets shot and one guy gets hit by a car. That's it."
Working titles such as Mainline have a way of changing before the projects they are associated with reach completion. And films of this size (with a budget of a little more than $2 million) have a way of bypassing a theatrical release and going straight to video. Where will Mainline end up?
"Well, it's hard to say," says Cowan. "The financiers have a deal with Sony and some of these movies go to the theaters, and some go straight to video and television, but they typically don't make that evaluation until the movie is complete. We shoot for theatrical. However, most of the films in this range do not go to the theaters. It takes another $10 million to $15 million just to release the movie. Usually they'll only invest in a movie that has a higher budget. But you never know."
Cowan seems relatively unconcerned about the final disposition of Mainline. He's also quick to share the filmmaking credits with his production crew.
"Maybe I'm a different kind of filmmaker," he says. "But filmmaking is very, very collaborative. On this particular film, you have 70 different people working really hard -- as hard as I am -- on the production. Then you have a handful of people that work on the post-production. And so it really is a joint project with the actors and everybody. I don't look at it as 'my movie,' or anything like that. It's our movie."