We Talked to Your Fave '90s Heartthrob Devon Sawa About All of His Iconic Roles and He Did Not Disappoint

Devon Sawa reflected on Casper, Now and Then and being on the cover of every teen magazine in the '90s in a nostalgia-fueled chat ahead of Chucky's premiere.

By Tierney Bricker Oct 12, 2021 7:00 PMTags
Watch: Devon Sawa Remembers "Casper" Movie & Kiss

"Devon: Determined, Devilish & Delightful."

While we would love to claim that dazzling bit of alliteration, we have to give credit where credit's due: An issue of Tiger Beat from the '90s (it also offered readers the shirt off of its cover star's back). Still, after a recent Zoom interview with the former teen idol, we can confirm all of those attributes are true about Devon Sawa, the actor who launched a thousand crushes after his trifecta of movies—Casper, Now & Then and Little Giants.

Listen, not all of us would be thrilled to relive our early teen years. But Sawa, 43, was more than game to take a walk down memory lane in an interview with E! News, happy to oblige a millennial woman who's still not over Casper whispering "Can I keep you?" and whose confidence was partially built on cute quarterback Junior Floyd picking the tomboy athlete over the head cheerleader in Little Giants. Not that Sawa doesn't have a sense of awareness about being forever tied to the friendly ghost, et al.

"It's funny because I will be like to my manager, 'I don't want to talk about Casper,'" Sawa detailed, "and then ten minutes later I'll tweet something like, 'Oh, Casper...' I will go completely against what I just said."

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It's true, Sawa's social media presence is a safe haven for those who grew up in front of the VCR. He both loves and makes fun of his earlier roles, providing an entertaining mix of child-actor-who-made-it-out-alive and exhausted father of two. But that doesn't mean it was always easy for the actor to reconcile his childhood stardom, with Sawa revealing his break from acting several years ago wasn't actually meant to be a break at all.

E! Illustration, Shutterstock, Universal Pictures. Steve Wilkie/USA Network

"I didn't think I was coming back," Sawa admitted. "I was burnt out, I had been working since the age of 8, Casper was at age 13 or 14, I had worked a lot, and at the end, it was more about what clubs or parties, it wasn't really about the work anymore, I was just burnt out."

But after six years away, Sawa said it was "only by accident" he got back into acting. "I've been it for a while again and it feels like everything is fun now," he explained. "It is not so serious, and I am doing what I want to do and things that make me happy. But that also comes with age and I am in a better spot now."


While he once felt a need to rebel against his teen idol status, Sawa said he now appreciates the roles that earned him that title.

"I just came to the realization that it is not going to stop," he said. "I think Instagram and Twitter made me realize that I just got to embrace this because it is here to stay."

So no, you are not the first person to tweet "Can I keep you?" at him and, no, you won't be the last. And that fact, Sawa assured, is finally okay with him.

"Listen, those parts got me to the next parts that got me to the next parts and got me to where I am now," he stated. "I have some fans that have been with me for so long and if those fans were not still with me, I probably wouldn't have been up for Chucky or what not, so I just love it all. I will talk about that stuff when I have to for people that want to still know I will talk about it."

Not that his kids—son Hudson, 7, and daughter Scarlett, 5—want to hear their dad reminisce about his generation-defining movies, with the actor admitting he recently tried to put on Casper for them.

"Frankly, they wanted nothing to do with that," he admitted. "Sadly, I put on Wild America and they were like, 'Dad, what is this?!' The puppets, the guys in the bear costume, it didn't go very well."

Don't worry, we're here to more than make up for their lack of interest.

In addition to reflecting on being one of the literal poster boys for Teen Beat in the '90s, Sawa looked back on some of the biggest roles—including Syfy and USA Network's Chucky, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. and, ironically, introduces an iconic character to a whole new generation—in a nostalgia-fueled interview with E! News:

Universal Pictures

Casper (1995): Sawa's first onscreen role proved to be his most pivotal, though he didn't know it when he sent in a self-taped audition from his home in Vancouver, Canada for the small part of a friendly ghost's corporeal form in the family ghost flick's final scene.

"I remember it so much," Sawa recalled of at-home trial. "I had this older actor come over and help me with it and he just convinced me to do the dance."

Yep, that dance, you know, the one that defined many a young person's childhood.

 "We were in the foyer of my living room," he continued, "and I remember the sun was coming through it, and I just got into it, twirled around the room as if I was dancing with a girl, as if I was pretending that she was with me." Swoon City, population: Us.

Two weeks after sending in the tape that happened to grab the attention of the film's producer Steven Spielberg (ever heard of him?) Sawa received a call that he was coming to Los Angeles for a final audition, "and the rest is history."

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Of course, before cinematic swoonage was cemented, the scene—which featured his first onscreen kiss with Christina Ricci—had to be filmed. Not that Sawa was feeling the pressure to deliver, despite only working for two days.

"I don't know why I wasn't nervous, Christina was a beautiful girl and I was a young boy," he said. "I don't know, the day was just very easy and everybody was so respectful and it was exciting. I can't lie, I remember being excited the whole day. It was just a lot of fun."

Universal Pictures

But, more than 25 years after the spooky season classic's release, it's still hard for Sawa to fully understand how or why he made such a big impact with such a small role.

"I don't get it, because it wasn't my movie," he admitted, "I don't know if it was my age or whatever but it is very special to know that that movie…impacted so many people, and particularly that part, that scene. So it is flattering and that is why I keep talking about it quite honestly. It impacted a lot of people."

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Little Giants (1994): While he filmed Casper first, the family sports comedy actually came out earlier. And, once again, Sawa was brought in after production was already underway.

Though screenwriter Tommy Swerdlow told ESPN that fellow ‘90s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas was initially sought after to play quarterback Junior Floyd, Sawa wasn't 100 percent certain of that fun fact, saying, "That could be true." But he did confirm there was another actor who was cast as Junior who didn't work out, so Sawa, who had caught Spielberg's eye thanks to Casper, was brought in "very quickly" to throw that perfect spiral with a roll of toilet paper.

Warner Bros.

Because the movie focused on a youth football league, "it was like summer camp," Sawa said.

"I don't know if you notice in the background, but there was McDonald's and Slush Puppies on the side of the field and they were all open to us and we were allowed to go nuts on those," he recalled. "So we were constantly eating McDonald's and it was a lot of fun. It was three months of football and goofing around."

Little Giants also provided Sawa with the opportunity to work with two comedy legends: Ed O'Neill and Rick Moranis.

 "I think Married with Children was at its absolute peak, so it was Al Bundy, it wasn't Ed O'Neill," Sawa reflected. "We were kids, we were working with Al Bundy and it was the greatest even though he wanted to be as far away from that as possible."

And the shoot would turn out to be one of Moranis' final film roles before he left Hollywood behind to focus on his two kids following the death of his wife, Ann Belsky.

"I think Rick Moranis had some personal stuff going on at the time, so he was off doing other things between, but I remember both of them being absolute sweethearts, you know giving and very cool," Sawa said. "After finding out what Rick Moranis was dealing with at the time, he kept it all contained and he was a very, very sweet man."

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Now & Then (1995): You can thank Christina Ricci for Sawa landing the role of her nemesis-turned-secret crush Scott Wormer in the classic coming-of-age movie.

"I credit her for getting that role," Sawa said. "We got along quite well in the small amount of time I did work on Casper. We are the same age and I ended up going and doing school with her while I was there. I worked one or two days, but I was there for maybe two weeks. She just remembered and recommended me and I put myself on tape and I got it. We hung out a lot during the shoot."

OK, so did a little puppy love happen on the set? C'mon, Thora Birch once revealed during a Now & Then event that the four young female stars all had a "wild crush" on Sawa and hinted that it may have been reciprocated when it came to Ricci.

"No, I didn't know," Sawa said. "I think I was14 or something like that. They were all so lovely, all four of them."

Regardless of any potential puppy love, Sawa said the Now & Then shoot "felt very summer camp-y. I was getting a little older than Little Giants but it was a lot of fun. Even that one scene where they steal our clothes and whatnot. It was done so respectfully and in every movie I have done as a child, I had the greatest, you know, some people don't have such good experiences as a child actor, but everything I did was a lot of fun."

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Wild America (1997): So, if Twitter was around then, the news of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Sawa teaming up for a movie would've likely caused more trending topics than if Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet announced a new project together. It was a big deal for the J-14 and under crowd, not that Sawa was aware of the hype at the time.

James Bridges/Morgan Creek/Kobal/Shutterstock

"It was good, we also did school together and that was a great experience," he said. "It didn't feel very competitive. I don't know if we were adults and there would have been the same thing and we would have been a little bit more competitive, but it didn't at all feel competitive." Sawa then jokingly added, "Even though I was gunning for his bigger spot on the teen magazine." (He did admit, "There were a couple of times he was mad at me because it was like an older brother thing.")

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Okay, here's the part where we get to Sawa's love-hate relationship with the teen mags he was on the cover of throughout the decade, with the actor admitting, "I never wanted to do them. They were always pushed on me, those teen magazines. It is what it is, but it always felt silly to me because they would always ask these questions like, 'Where did you go on your first date?' or 'What's your favorite topping on pizza?' and it always just felt so silly."

While the two biggest teen idols at the time were working together, they "never really had a conversation" about the unique experience they were sharing, he revealed. Probably because Sawa didn't realize just how famous he was until a press event for Wild America.

"I didn't really know how gigantic it really was until Jonathan and I went to London and had a group of girls chasing a limo," he recalled.

Because he lived in Canada, Sawa was unaware of just how high his profile had grown.

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"That was the nice thing, because there was no Internet, there was no crossover really," he explained. "I would come down to America and the teen magazines were not very popular from where I am from. So when I got home no one really understood what was going on. So I would go down into this different world in Hollywood and do that and then I would go home and just be. Nothing happened. I didn't really let anyone know what was going on and I just kept it quiet because I didn't want anyone to know I was Casper."


SLC Punk! (1998), Idle Hands (1999): By the late '90s, Sawa didn't want anyone to know he was Casper, leading him to make a career pivot and choose roles that would be hard for Bop to cover.

"I got into my I-don't-want-to-do-teen-magazines-how-dare-you-call-me-a-heartthrob phase where I wanted to do everything and anything I could to prove that I was not that guy," Sawa admitted. "That is why I was doing the 'Stan' video or the Idle Hands or SLC Punk! Anything that was kind of edgier. That was my 'F you' to those teen magazines. I didn't want to be that guy anymore." (Fun fact about the iconic Eminem video that redefined fan culture: "Macaulay Culkin was aggressively sought after for Stan before I was.")

Interscope Records

The surest way to prove the teen angel image was gone? "I got rid of the flop after a while," Sawa said of his iconic hairstyle. "I frosted my tips and the rest is history."

But let the record state that his OG '90s look was very much his decision, thank you.

"That is what we were doing in Canada," he said. "I think it kind of evolved. We did that kind of thing and then my hair started to grow and it got longer and longer, and then it became real. I remember they had the curling iron and I was like, 'Oh my god, what are we doing?'"

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Around this time, Sawa was also auditioning for major parts, including Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. pre-villainy Darth Vader) in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. (Hayden Christensen, another Canadian actor, would go on to land the role.)

"I had met up on it once and it never went anywhere after that, so full disclosure, I don't know if I was up for it?" Sawa said. "But I definitely went on it, I was never told by anyone official that I was on a short list of people, but I did get to audition for it."

Sawa also revealed he auditioned for The Thin Red Line and Spider-Man, adding, "I mean I wasn't on the short-list for that either...if I was going up on something I really wanted, I definitely wouldn't want a Tobey Maguire...to walk into the room. I might as well go home."

Final Destination (2000): The supernatural horror film proved to be Sawa's first major hit as an adult, the film grossing more than $112 million and spawning four more installments.

"You had the feeling when you were making it because Glen Morgan and James Wong were doing things that felt different," Sawa said. "It had this great feeling to it. I kind of had a feeling it was going to be special."

Getty Images

Following Final Destination's success, "the number of horror films that came my way was a lot," Sawa said, admitting he did a few of them because "they would throw me some money and say, ‘We need you to do this,' and I was like, 'Alright, that sounds fun,' but they weren't great things."

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Chucky (2021): Following a major role on The CW's Nikita, Syfy's adaptation of the horror classic marks Sawa's biggest TV venture yet. And the horror franchise played a significant role in his own childhood.

"I think I was 10 or 11 when the first one came out or something like that, I remember renting it on VHS and seeing all the sequels," he said. "I never in a million years thought I would be on this. When the audition came to my desk it was like, Child's Play, like okay! But I am so happy that I am."

Steve Wilkie/USA Network

After eight films, franchise creator Don Mancini is ready to provide answers to longtime fans' questions about the murderous doll. And Sawa promised they wouldn't disappoint.

"It is one of my favorite parts, the way Don Mancini sets it up is really clever and cool," he assured. "There will be a lot of people who get the goosebumps, you know the hair standing straight on your arm because it is old-school Chucky and you are finding out things you didn't know before and he gets to take his time with it he gets to explore with it over eight episodes."

Chucky premieres Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. on Syfy and USA Network.

(E!, Syfy and USA Network are all part of the NBCUniversal family.)