The Rise and Return of Chucky’s Devon Sawa
Here at Men’s Health we’re all about feeling alive. And is there any genre of entertainment that helps anyone feel more alive than the one where the threat of someone being knocked off is always right in front of you? We love horror, and we’re celebrating it this year with MH Horror Week. The following story is part of a collection we’ve curated celebrating some of our favorite films, TV shows, filmmakers, and performers in the genre. We hope you enjoy—and maybe find a few new scares along the way too.
You can find all of our MH Horror Week 2022 coverage right here.
DEVON SAWA NEEDED a break. A lot of money can be tempting, especially for a young actor, but it got to a point in his career where he realized the passion behind the projects just wasn’t there—no matter the allure of an easy cash grab. That doesn’t mean he didn’t leave a substantial mark before removing himself from the spotlight for a bit. Final Destination and Idle Hands, released within a year of each other in 2000 and 1999 respectively, had a few things in common: they were both led by Sawa, both flew to cult classic status despite mixed reviews (at the time) from critics, and both fall into a genre that hasn’t always gotten the best rap in Hollywood: horror.
“I always like going back to horror. It’s what I watch, so I want to be in it,” he tells Men’s Health. “It’s getting better—movies like Black Phone, and Smile, and Pearl. Everything else is reboots and superheroes, which is great, I guess, but horror is still producing original content.”
And then boom! All of a sudden, 20+ years after his breakout role saw him scampering away from Death itself, a project landed on Sawa’s desk. Creator Don Mancini and a pair of Universal-owned networks (SyFy and USA) decided to bring their iconic red-headed doll with a penchant for murdering to the small screen. Chucky was definitely a risk—both Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer tried the television thing, only to get the axe. (No Sidney Prescott? No Helen Shivers? Hard pass.)
But for Sawa, the nostalgic feeling that came just from seeing the script wasn’t enough. He had the chance do a project with the Chucky, and he wasn’t going to pass it up.
“I tried to be talked out of Idle Hands, a movie about pot smokers,” he recalls. “And then I remember my managers and agents telling me a music video with a white rapper would never work. [Sawa starred in Eminem’s famous “Stan,” video as Stan himself.] I just tried to take all these things that were a little bit different from what everyone else was doing. I think Chucky was also that thing.”
The first season saw the 44-year-old playing dual roles as twin brothers, an opportunity he says had him “salivating as an artist.” And despite both characters’ untimely (and expectedly brutal) deaths, he’s back for Season 2 in a brand new role, as a glasses-wearing man of the cloth. But is he truly a saint, or just masquerading as one? And will he make it as far as the season finale this go-around? That much, as with anyone in a good slasher, remains to be seen.
Men’s Health spoke with Sawa about what he did during the time off from the industry, his potential future on Chucky, and all those thirst traps he posts on social media.
Men’s Health: Alright, we’re going to kick this off with something I personally need answered. Were you approached for Final Destination 2 at all, or were you as surprised to hear your character was taking a brick to the face off-screen—between movies!—as the rest of us?
Devon Sawa: It was a mutual decision between the producers and agents. They went a different way. I’ve gone to some of the later premieres, and I still keep in touch with a lot of the producers and directors. So I’m still a fan, and I’ll definitely watch the next one. It’s really been nice, with every movie being a new protagonist, to see what they’re going to do and see their take on it.
Fast forward a bit to this 5-year hiatus you were on. While you had time off, I’d read you had fallen in love with a community boxing gym. Is that true?
I ended up in a boxing gym, and I was just doing it as a hobby and getting in shape. Not really concerned about the boxing aspect of it. Then my wife and I headed to Thailand, and we ended up in one of these side of the road Muay Thai touristy places, and my boxing started incorporating kicks. I thought it was the greatest fucking thing in the world. I came back to L.A. and I got back into the business, and I ended up at this place called Legends MMA which was in West Hollywood—Randy Couture opened it with Bas Rutten—and I just fell in love. For 2 years, I thought I was going to be a real fighter. It just grounded me, and it’s been a hobby ever since.
We’ve all seen the shirtless photos on your Instagram. What does working out in your early 40s look like for you?
The pandemic changed things. I stopped going to jiu jitsu, and I stopped going so much to MMA. It’s a lot of weight training. I love experimenting with intermittent fasting, what my heart rate needs to be to burn fat. You’re always learning. The industry of working out is always changing, and I love learning with it.
Between training for a role and training for yourself, what’s the difference?
When you’re training for a role, it’s a lot easier. When Don Mancini tells you you’re going to have your shirt off in this scene in an episode on this date, then it’s like “Go.” For two months I’m going to do this, and the last month I’m going to do this. Training on your own… you binge eat a little more. You don’t worry about it so much. I love when I get a goal.
Do you feel that same level of anxiety when you’re told you’ll be shirtless on a show even at this age?
It becomes the scene. This season, I’m shirtless and it was just “the scene.” You get butterflies. You’ve been training the whole time to get here.
You think that’ll go away eventually as you get older?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve discussed that with my wife. I don’t want to be 52 and not look natural at that point. My body is not going to be made to throw up so much weight. Maybe I’ll be in shape, but I won’t look like Thor at 55.
You mentioned Don Mancini. We’re seven films into the Child’s Play franchise and its reputation became more direct-to-video camp than anything else. But then he comes along with a TV show that breathes new life into the franchise. Did anyone expect Chucky to not make it past a few episodes?
I think a couple of different people thought at first, but it worked. Don Mancini is a genius. He’s able to tell his story as a gay man the way he wants to tell it without having a studio or a network throwing walls up. And he’s doing it in an organic way that no one is questioning. It feels normal and natural, and can only be told by him. It’s working.
It’s [also] the original showrunner, original creator, as well as Brad Dourif back. Nothing against Mark Hamill [who voiced Chucky in the one-off 2019 Child’s Play reboot film], he’s amazing, but we’ve got the original voice back. That’s the chemistry right there.
Don Mancini recently referred to you as his “Jessica Lange,” in reference to her multiple roles across the American Horror Story universe. What’s the trajectory you’d like to see for yourself on Chucky?
I am praying [the same thing] happens, so I could put up pictures of headshots of all the different characters that I play on the show. That wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the first season. I was leaving the show. When Mancini called me and said “Hey, we’re going to bring you back to play a new character,” it was probably one of the most flattering things to be told as an artist.
Have you given him any suggestions about future characters you might portray?
I’ve told myself to let Mancini be Mancini. I don’t give many ideas. He’s steering this ship and doing a very good job. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Whatever he has next year, we’re going to build on that.
Chucky’s success might just inspire other classic horror movie franchises to make the jump over to the land of TV. Any you’d like to see?
If Chucky keeps being as successful as Season 1 was, we’ll see if Krueger makes it. Texas Chain Saw, too.
Sean Abrams is the Senior Editor, Growth and Engagement at Men’s Health. He’s a former hip hop dancer who likes long walks on the beach and large glasses of tequila. You can find his previous work at Maxim, Elite Daily, and AskMen.
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