Meet Mason Davis. A 26-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, he’s an artist, an entrepreneur, and one of the stars of the recent hit film Saturday’s Warrior. With over 38,000 followers on social media and rave reviews for his portrayal as the film’s “wandering kid” Tod Richards, Davis’s star is burning bright.
However, the journey to such success often requires a walk through dark and harrowing times and Davis is no exception. His story of resilience and faith will not only change the way you watch Saturday’s Warrior, but will inspire you as well.
Straying from the Straight and Narrow
The seventh of eight children being raised by a single mother, Davis grew up in Memphis with an affinity for blues music, skateboarding, and art. He won his first art contest at age seven and performed in his first stage play (Anne of Green Gables) at age twelve. After a move to California when he was sixteen, Davis caught the acting bug and locked in an agent by his senior year. He started what he called “the actors struggle.”
“This didn’t go so well for me,” Davis said. After chasing fortune and fame, losing his agent, and feeling like a failure, Davis turned to drugs and alcohol. He left his family and went off the grid.
“I lived out of my car, getting into all sorts of trouble. I was arrested twice, fell deeper down the rabbit’s hole of drugs, and lost all signs of hope,” Davis said. Eventually, things became so dark Davis decided to take his own life.
“After multiple attempts at taking my life, I was involuntarily checked into the hospital for drug rehabilitation and suicide watch. I was in such an unstable place, the doctors wouldn’t release me unless my mom agreed to take me home with her and keep an eye on me 24/7.”
A Return to Hope…and the Spotlight
The road back was a hard one. Davis slowly got off drugs, but he still didn’t see any signs of hope. All of that changed, however, by an unexpected visit from an old high-school friend.
“He was in the YSA ward and they were going on a snowboarding retreat to Big Bear. I told them I wasn’t interested. The next day, another old acquaintance from high school left a note on my door asking me to come.”
After his mother offered to pay for the trip and with a lingering love for any type of board sports, Davis went. The trip changed his life.
“I had been inactive for five years, but these beautiful people showed me a light that I never recognized. It was the first time in my life that I felt the spirit. These people had something that I was missing. The next Sunday I went to church. I started meeting with my Bishop and attending institute classes. All of a sudden, the cravings of my old life were gone. I had no desire to return to those vices. I read the entire Book of Mormon in a month and began the repentance process,” Davis said. It was the first time he had ever read the Book of Mormon.
Davis, without any work in California, eventually decided to move to Provo, Utah to live with his younger brother, who had just returned home from his mission. Within the first three weeks Davis booked a Disney Channel movie being filmed in Utah, a national commercial, and a role on the hit BYUtv series Granite Flats.
The best part for Davis? He continued to clean up his life and was able to take out his endowments just in time for his little brother’s wedding in the San Diego temple.
Mason Meets Saturday’s Warrior
After major roles in the popular LDS movies 16 Stones and The Cokeville Miracle and maintaining four years of sobriety, Davis was perfectly poised to take on Saturday’s Warrior, a full-length musical about a family struggling to find the meaning of life and keep eternal promises to one another.
One of the ironies of accepting a role in the film? Davis had never heard of Saturday’s Warrior. In fact, when his agent sent over an email with the audition info, Davis thought he was trying for a film called “Warrior” and his call time was on a Saturday. That didn’t deter him and he came prepared with a guitar and a 70’s song for his first audition. In the second audition, he was asked to read through a scene as Tod with an actress playing the character of Julie.
After going through the scene, the casting crew (which included executive director and creator Lex de Azevedo, casting director Jennifer Buster, and director Michael Buster) asked the actress to leave and began to whisper amongst themselves.
“I was freaking out,” Davis said. The crew finally brought in Monica Moore Smith, the actress who would eventually be cast as Julie. They did the same scene together and according to Davis he said it felt forced. When he was called in for a third time he assumed it was for yet another audition.
“They sat me down and told me that I was going to be their Tod,” he said. “I had no idea how monumental of a casting this was for me! I instantly asked who they casted for Julie. It was Monica.”
Finding Tod Richards
Once cast for the new movie, Davis dedicated himself to intimately understanding the character of Tod and preparing for the role. Given an updated backstory from the original stage play, Tod is a young struggling artist who grew up in an abusive home and decided to run away in search of a better life. A truth seeking non-member who is eventually converted by a powerful missionary duo. Tod’s conversion is a powerful example of conversion and faith. Davis was determined to make his portrayal of Tod’s character as real as possible. Based on his own life experiences, Davis found a lot to relate to.
“Our journeys were different, but I think we both landed in a similar mindset. We both see beauty everywhere we look. We both had tough fathers, and unideal childhoods (his much harder than mine). We both went on a soul searching journey for answers. And sure enough, when we stopped looking that’s when the answers found us, through a missionary act. Although I was raised LDS, we both had our conversions to the gospel in our 20s. And we’re both artistic.”
Davis took this foundation and began an intense process of discovering who the character really was.
“First I did a breakdown of all of Tod’s scenes. Anything he says, does, things people say about him, were clues to unraveling this character. I started with the basics: Tod quotes Audrey Hepburn in the movie. That’s a good place to start. Now I know a pop figure that Tod looks up to. I started watching a LOT of Hepburn and other early 70’s movies. I chose “Roman Holiday” as Tod’s favorite film. I also began listening to nothing but 70’s music. I tried to find that sound that resonated with the character. I landed on the Eagles and early James Taylor music.”
From there, Davis plotted out all of Tod’s worldwide travels as he searched for truth. He studied the major religions of the world, and the places Tod would have visited. He began meditating three times a day and, feeling Tod would have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, Davis himself abstained from meat for three months during filming. However, this wasn’t the most drastic decision he made to truly portray Tod’s need for gospel truth.
“I stopped attending church and reading my Book of Mormon. Normally I would never step away from my own spiritual beliefs, but I wanted to create a longing for my character: a longing for truth, that missing element all those other practices couldn’t offer or explain. That was a tough thing to try to explain to my bishop. In the end, I just wanted Tod to be as real as possible and this was the only way I felt like I could get myself there. I wanted a true conversion for him.”
Davis expressed he wanted to make it so that when the missionaries taught him during filming his excitement for hearing the gospel would be reflected in an authentic way.
Fans should also note both Davis and his character are artists; for the film, Davis created over 50 custom art pieces, including all the sketches and the beautiful portrait of Emily, one of the characters in the film who wears a yellow dress.
Behind-the-Scenes of Saturday’s Warrior
The experience of filming Saturday’s Warrior was both playful and tender for Davis. Two experiences in particular stood out in his mind.
The first involved his co-star, Monica Moore Smith and her first on-screen kiss. It was the very first day of filming when Michael Buster, the director, asked if the two would be comfortable kissing each other as they shot in the middle of a beautiful field. Smith turned bright red, but agreed. They were told to do the aerial shot a few more times and then to go for it when they were ready. On the next take, they went for it, with no warning for anyone.
It was just their luck, and there was a problem with the camera. They had to redo the kiss multiple more times. Luckily, it worked and only solidified the chemistry between the two leads.
“That’s what’s funny about making films,” Davis said. “I only met this girl a few days prior and we were still getting our chemistry down. But when you’re thrown a curveball like that, you become best friends in less than a day. Literally, Monica is one of my best friends and I am so impressed with what she did with Julie. I couldn’t have been more lucky to worth with such an actress.”
The second experience Davis spoke of occurred during the filming of Tod’s song “Paper Dream.” An emotional number, it was the first song to be shot for the film and Davis was nervous as a crowd gathered to watch.
“After three takes, everyone let out a disappointing sigh. Michael (the director) told everyone to take five. Him and Bonnie Story (the choreographer) came over to talk privately with me. I’ll never forget what they said: “Mason. You are an actor. You are great at what you do and you love what you do. These people here don’t matter. They are nobodies. Forget them. There is nobody here but you. Go out there and do what you absolutely love to do.”
This broke down my wall. The next take I nailed it. Michael walked up with tears in his eyes and said, “Thank you Mason for sharing yourself with us.” And we moved on to the next shot. I love that scene, I love that kind of directing. I was told what I needed to hear and from it was able to be sincere in my scene. From then on, the rest of the movie was a breeze.”
Davis also mentioned you’ll want to stick around after the credits roll. After a “really spiritual conversation” with Kenny Holland, who plays Jimmy, the two were inspired to write a new version of one of the film’s musical numbers “There’s Got To Be More.”
“That night we pumped out about 75% of the song. Kenny finished the rest later. We played what we had for them the next day on set and sure enough the song made it into the movie.”
The Next Move for Mason
With a huge opening weekend and multiple new theaters showing the film every week, Davis has been soaking in the experience of Saturday’s Warrior. In fact, Davis and the rest of the cast members have been visiting theaters across Utah as a surprise to movie-goers.
“The fans has been my favorite part of this whole experience,” Davis said. “It’s been so fun seeing the audience members walk out of the theater teary-eyed and see us standing there. It’s special for me to hear these people tell me how our movie has changed their life.”
So what’s next for Davis?
“I have two Hollywood feature films I’m currently shooting. I can’t say the names of them, I’m in contract not to, but both are dramatic, action thrillers. I hope I can continue doing inspiring and uplifting films as well. I owe my career to faith-based films and I don’t want to lose those ties to my beginning in this industry.”
Davis also founded the company SoulKix, which custom prints art, images, and photos on canvas slip-on shoes. For every shoe the company sells they donate a pair to a child in need. You can see their collection here.
At the end of the day, Davis believes trying to help others is the most important thing, whether it is through his business, acting, or art.
“I love speaking with the youth, sharing my story and helping them overcome their struggles. If I can help or inspire one kid then I feel like my hard journey would have been worth it.”
To learn more about Davis or to share your thoughts with him, follow him on Instagram at @MasonDDavis or use the hashtag #SaturdaysWarrior on social media.
Saturday’s Warrior is now available for purchase. You can get the film and soundtrack here.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.