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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Feb. 9, 2011 | 12:13 PM

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An Interview with Dendrie Taylor from THE FIGHTER

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How did you become interested in acting? 

I wanted to be an actress from as long as I can remember.  As they say, I grew up in a trunk.  My father was a theater/television director in NYC and Chicago and my mother was a Ballet and then Broadway dancer.  Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mother dance on stage and visiting my father on the set.  When I was five, I had my first little job on a TV show my dad was directing.  My father got a job as a staff director for NBC when I was eight and we moved to Los Angeles.  Our house was always filled with my parent’s artist friends - dancers, actors, musicians, and designers.  When I was ten, I heard they were making a TV show from my favorite book, Little House On the Prairie.  I begged my mom to take me to audition- she said no, but when I was finished with college I could pursue acting.  My godmother was Marion Mercer, an actress who had won a Tony Award and was on Mary Hartman and It’s A Living - she encouraged me to study the classics and gave me wonderful books, by Uta Hagen, Stanislavsky and Eleanora Duse.  In High School I was in the theater department and did drama competition, but I knew to be serious about my craft I would have to go to NYC to study, which I did.  I had wonderful teachers at NYU/ Circle in the Square.  I had classical theater training and got my BFA in Drama. 

How did you get started?

After college, it was a little mystifying as to how to get started.  I did a number of showcases and under fives on the soaps. I spent my time in NYC sliding my picture under the doors of agents and casting directors - one of those offices was that of Sheila Jaffe,  (who so brilliantly cast The Fighter.)  Sheila cast me in my first movie, Sons almost 25 years ago. I came out to LA in 1986 and did my first major play Borderline by the late John Bishop- where I was seen by agents and casting directors.  I started working immediately in film, television and theater and have been working consistently ever since.  Most recently playing Luann Delaney (Katey Sagal’s best friend) on Sons of Anarchy, and on In Treatment playing Marisa D’Amato.  Around ten years ago, Sheila Jaffe brought me in to read with Mark Wahlberg, to play his older sister, in a different boxing movie- it was a wonderful audition and I left thinking, “Wow,  Mark and I really could play brother and sister!”  Well that movie never got made, but all these years later, Sheila in her amazing way, remembered and brought me in to audition for Mark’s older sister once again - Gail “Red Dog” Ecklund- and this time it all clicked!  It’s so wonderful when things come full circle, and I’m very grateful to Sheila for starting my career and believing in me for all these years. 

What do you enjoy most about the craft of acting? 

The thrilling moments of real connection with the other actors that happen when you are really spontaneously in the moment.  When you find yourself doing things that are coming from a truth way deeper than your intellect, or than your “choices” could reveal - those happy accidents- when you aren’t doing it the “right way” but something comes out of you that may seem random, but later is revealed to be perfect.  I need to be very relaxed and full of trust with myself and my acting partners to have this happen.  These moments are sometimes easier to find on stage, when you are the middle of a long run and you just know the material so well, but they also happen so magically sometimes on set. I also love doing the detailed work to create a character different from myself,  the external and internal work. The more study I put into creating the life of the character - the back-story, the hopes and dreams, the family life, as well as the look (hair, makeup, costume) the gestures, the dialect - the freer I can be when we go to work. 

How did you research your role in The Fighter?  Did you meet the real life ‘Gail ‘Red Dog’ Eklund’?  If so, did she have any input into your performance?

Yes! I did meet Gail and she was absolutely marvelous, open and helpful to me. When Sheila first asked me to audition, there was no script available for me to see, she sent videotaped interviews of all the sisters and I was to pick one or two that I felt I could play.  I immediately was drawn to Gail, not only because she was one of the oldest, but also because I really do resemble her physically and I thought she was really, quietly interesting and also funny in those videos.  I studied the interview, playing it over and over, basically memorizing everything she said. - I copied her gestures, her dialect, and her intonation and tried to read between the lines of what she said.  The audition was Sheila asking me questions as Gail and I was able to improvise answers based on what I had studied- then when I met David O Russell, we did basically the same thing, but he threw in specific lines for me to say, and created different scenarios to play with and speak about.  I was auditioning with Jenna Lamia who plays Sherry and we had so much fun improvising together. It was a wonderful way to get the bones of how we were going to work, and what we were going to do. The first night Jenna and I got to Lowell, where we shot for 5 weeks, I called Gail and we met at Alice’s house with Sherry and talked for hours about family dynamics and their lives.  I was able to then take what I could from her and mold it with what I could bring of myself.  Of course Micky and Dicky were also around the set and were just as open with me.  One part of a scene that we shot, but that did not make it into the film, was when “Red Dog” jumps on the back of the cop during the fight where Micky’s hand gets broken, -this is something that really happened and Gail was actually arrested that night too - anyway, Gail was there the night we were filming, and I went up to her and asked her, “Tell me what you were yelling as you ran up and jumped on the cop’s back.”  And she said,  ‘Get your hands off my brother!!!!’  So that’s what I said for all the takes as I ran up and dove on the cop’s back.  She was invaluable and it was an honor to get the chance to try to portray a real, living person and the complexity of her life. 

Did you have to learn a Boston accent? 

Yes I did!  One of the most useful classes I had at NYU was a dialect class where I learned to read and write the phonetic alphabet.  This skill has enabled me to to learn any dialect very quickly.  I have been hired to work over the years using many accents; German, Australian, British, Russian, NYC, Chicago, many times Southern (right now on True Blood).  So I got my Boston together pretty quickly for the audition, but this time I was lucky enough to have Gail, so that I could be very specific to the way she speaks. 

What was David O. Russell like on set? 

I loved working with David!  He is so imaginative and creative. His way of working really sets up the situation where we could live it and really play with each other.  He gave us a lot of freedom to improvise, but with a very clear vision about where we were going, and always coming back to the text.  He also would throw in lines for us to add or things to do at the spur of the moment.  You have to be free and willing to go with it- to work this way - and in this way he always put us in the moment.  He also made it safe to take risks, risk being awful, but with the chance for something great on the other end of that risk.  He also truly understands that character is revealed through contradictions, so when I asked him if I could knit in the scene with Alice on the phone, he not only said, “Yes!” - he started the shot on the knitting- because why shouldn’t the brawler sister also knit a baby blanket!  Since the film was shot handheld and steady cam, the fantastic camera operators, Geoff Haley and Dana Gonzales became part of the scenes and we didn’t so much have to worry about hitting marks, because they always found us, danced with us.  I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with David and work in this way - I would jump at the chance to do it again - such fun!  And then to see the finished film! - So full of heart, creativity, love for the family and his unique artistic vision.  He truly is the best director and I’m so grateful to be a part of his beautiful film. 

Melissa Leo and Christian Bale are widely thought to be the Oscar front runners in their categories.  What was it like to work with them? 

Well, I met Christian about a month before we left to shoot, at Mark’s house and he was already Dicky.  He was always in character on set and I didn’t meet the real Christian until the Premiere.  He is such a thoroughly committed professional; his work and his work ethic blew me away.  His beautiful performance is no accident, and it was marvelous to watch him work and to act with him. Melissa Leo is an actress who has inspired me from the time she was on Homicide all the way through Frozen River.  Her work is always so astonishingly truthful.  When I heard she would be playing Alice, I was beyond thrilled, - but then I thought she’s really so young to be all of our mother, how’s that going to work? - But from the first moment when I met her, when she looked at me and said, - not - “Hello nice to meet you,” - but - “Tie your shoes, Gail!”  -I knew she would be brilliant.  Her absolute belief in herself as our mom left not one moment of doubt in my, or anyone else’s mind- She is also one of the most generous people and actors I have ever met.  She did so much detailed work with me and the rest of the sisters, that is not on screen, but is in there in essence.  She also really took care of us on screen and off.  I feel that working with her was one of the greatest privileges, as well as learning experiences in my life, and I am deeply grateful to her for her kindness to me. 

B<>Did you get along with the women who played the sisters? 

Yes, and we are still all close.  But in a lot of ways our place in the family on screen was mimicked off-screen as well.  I am the most seasoned actress, so I was, for sure, like the older sister to the other actresses - and Alice’s (Melissa’s) helper with them too.  In real life Gail is 16 years older than Micky and Sherry and Gail helped to raise the youngest kids.  Jenna is the youngest of the actor sisters, she played Sherry as crying a lot, I felt very protective of her, - there are shots in the film where she is crying and I put my hand on her shoulder, I didn’t even know I had done that until I saw the film, and I think that’s a reflection of how we all related to each other in real life. 

What did you learn or take away from making the film? 

First of all, to be lucky enough to be cast by David O Russell in a film produced by Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman, to be costumed by Mark Bridges, have your hair dyed red by Cheryl Daniels, and to have your -no makeup, no upper lip, no teeth look done by Joe Rossi, to be shot by Hoyte van Hoytema - and in the company of all these great actors—- I gotta say that is a heck of a lot of good fortune already!  But, making the film was one of the most phenomenal artistic and life lessons that I have ever had.  I would say risk is the word that comes to mind as to what my ‘take away’ is.  Doing the film was like jumping without a net and the reward has been so much greater that I could have ever imagined.  When I was offered the film I was doing the second season of Son’s of Anarchy playing “Luann”, a character I loved.  Because the schedules conflicted, I had to risk losing my job on Sons Of Anarchy (and I did) to take The Fighter without seeing a script.  I knew I was going to have red hair, no makeup, no teeth and little boy clothes- not really a beauty look- but I took the leap of faith!  I got to spend the summer working with Mark Wahlberg one of the most remarkable, quietly powerful people I have ever met,  Amy Adams, who is just as luminous a person as her work is on screen-and of course Christian, Melissa and David.  It was a master class in how art is made.  And David encouraged us to take artistic risks every day.  Everyone involved took a risk- from the writers, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Scott Silver to the Ward/ Eklund family for sharing their story.  The cast and crew put their full hearts and love into it, and I think by their example, and from taking the risk, I learned how to a better, more compassionate artist and person. 

What are some of the films and actors you most admire? 

Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice is my all time favorite - followed by Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Robert Duvall, Jimmy Stewart, Daniel Day Lewis and of course Melissa Leo in Frozen River

What are you working on next? 

I did the lead in a very heartfelt indie, Two Mothers with John Heard, which has been submitted to Tribeca, so we’ll see.  I did a really fun character in an upcoming HBO movie, Cinema Verite directed by Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini- with Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini.  And I have just begun recurring on, True Blood which has been wonderful so far… and of course, out there auditioning, looking for the next life adventure which is truly what this life in acting has been for me. 

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