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A Spirited Q & A With “Winter’s Bone” Actress Dale Dickey

A Spirited Q & A With “Winter’s Bone” Actress Dale Dickey (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

Of all the Spirit Award nominees from “Winter’s Bone,” Dale Dickey may best represent the film’s spirit. As Merab, the mercurial power behind the throne within the thorny criminal empire of the Missouri backwoods, Dickey is equally beguiling as she “puts the hurt” on poor Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) during Ree’s search for her father or when she later helps Ree fish out her pop’s remains with the aid of a chainsaw. She is fearsome, sure, but also oddly compassionate with a characterization as deep and rich as the oak trees that enshroud the small community she slyly manipulates.

In the past, Dickey has suggested it’s her chin that that’s led her to playing unsavory types like a junkie in “Breaking Bad” or Patty the Daytime Prostitute in “My Name is Earl,” as casting directors may see a jawline not given to an easy smile and sunken eyes that are prone to withering glances, though the actress’ range has led her to defy such classification in her actual performances. However, the audience is allowed to witness something else entirely in “Winter’s Bone,” where Dickey is able to so seamlessly integrate into the unforgiving Ozarks milleu where survival is day-to-day, but her Merab always seems five steps ahead, with her rumpled appearance under the piles of clothing (she’ll describe later) acting as camouflage for her wolf-like nature. Amongst the uneducated and poor that populate the area, Merab is clever with a hard-earned wisdom and respect performed so ably by Dickey that it elevates the character to a nearly regal level. That she is finally being recognized in kind with a Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Female is fitting, but it’s also been a long time coming. Dickey was kind enough to answer our questionnaire via e-mail to let us know how to handle a chainsaw and cut to the quick in other ways.

Why did you want to make this film?

The story and the director. After reading the script and soon after, the novel, I knew I fit into the world of this story and felt I innately understood the people portrayed. I was deeply drawn to the tale of Ree’s journey – the mythic quality of her quest, the obstacles she faces, and particularly to the fierceness of and the mystery surrounding Merab and family. And after meeting and working with Debra Granik at my audition, and having watched her first film “Down to the Bone,” I knew she was a director I’d be lucky to work with. She is unique and special. Not only brilliant of mind, but curious and true of heart – caring and passionate about the story she was to tell. A generous spirit. It felt like it would be one of those rare magical experiences. And it was.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

Hmmm…First off, gotta say the afternoon I spent learning the dos and don’ts of chainsawing from a logging buddy up in Kernville was pretty key – for safety reasons alone. I’d never held one and am quite uncomfortable around them. But for Merab, it would be second nature. And I needed to feel as secure and confident as possible with one in my hands. (This would be especially important due to the curveball I was thrown later….see next question!).

[As for] words of acting advice, I first heard some 20 years ago from Romulus Linney, whom I had the pleasure of working with on his play “Heathen Valley” in NYC, a simple mantra I hold tightly to: “Just stay relaxed, precise and fierce.” I found those words particularly helpful in grounding me as Merab.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

I’d say it was the day we shot the boat scene – for various technical reasons. As often happens, it was sunny and hot out that day, so there was the obvious strangeness of trying to ‘intuit’ all that winter bone coldness, as the story demands. (Not to mention the uncomfortable sweating in fur-skin hats, sweaters, boots and coats!) Adding to that was the fact we were shooting “day for night,” so all that abundant sunshine needed to feel like abundant moonlight, etc. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for me. The original story/script calls for the women to traverse around a frozen lake and hack through the ice with an ax to first reach the body. There was never any boat involved. But on the day, winter had lifted, there was no ice, so we would now be rowing a boat out into the lake and then I would be operating the chainsaw from said boat?!? This made me a tad anxious — Visions of ‘bloody’ sugar plums falling into the water danced through my head! But I trusted Debra and Michael [McDonough], the DP, and had no choice but to tackle this challenge with Merab-like fierceness…. and… all was well. I didn’t tip the boat over. I did curse a lot. I didn’t harm Jennifer [Lawrence], or anyone else. Whew. Finally, when real nighttime fell, we shot some close-ups on land, with the boat propped up on cinder blocks and a metal tub of water to dip the chainsaw in! The whole day of shooting was very surreal. But exciting, too. (Well, except for the pond water and ticks.)

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film either at a festival or otherwise?

There have been so many, but the image that warms my heart the most, is that of an eve we spent at Debra’s condo during the last few days of Sundance. It was like old home week. Most of the “Winter’s Bone” family was there, including some members of the real family whose property we filmed on. And we were serenaded by a band of musicians from the film, who had traveled several days from Missouri to join the celebration. Lots of pickin’ and grinning. An intimate, beautiful night in the midst of an exciting film festival which had embraced this film so sweetly. A slice of rural Missouri nestled in the glitzy hubub of Park City. We were all so content and joyous simply with the outcome of this little film, the fact we’d made it to Sundance, and the response so far from the festival audiences. We had no idea of any awards or even a screen life that the film would see in the months following.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

I’ve seen the film at least 15 times over this past year, and I am continually struck by the beauty of the ending moment – the three siblings on the steps of their home holding chicks and a banjo – symbols of new life and of family tradition to carry forward. And a home they will now be able to continue living in. The love in Ree’s voice when she replies to her little brother’s question if she’s gonna be leaving them now, “I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back.” All the fight, and struggle she endured for their sakes, really, ends in a solitary moment of hope. And beauty. (Perhaps I’m moved by it more because it reminds me of my own big sister and the fierce love she had for my brother and myself.) And ultimately, the journey, in this bleak, disturbing, threatening thriller, is triumphantly overcome by Ree’s sheer love for her family and their survival. It is life-affirming to me, despite the bleak environs.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

Simply put, having been a small, but integral, part of what I consider to be a uniquely great film, which has been seen by so many, and that’s a rarity for a low budget indie/dark subject matter/no star name vehicle. The fact it has had such a life is very special. And I am very grateful. I’ve gotten to travel with the film to various festivals over the year, seeing countless terrific films – narrative, shorts, docs – and meeting so many talented filmmakers and artists along the way. Overwhelmingly inspiring. My hope is to find a home, of sorts, working in independent films. And I must trust that the exposure from playing Merab will lead to more and more challenging work down the line.

What’s been your favorite film book or album from the past year?

I was turned on to terrific vocal/banjo artist – Abigail Washburn – after seeing her open for Steve Martin and I listen to her a lot now. I’m still reading Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods,” cherishing the fact I grew up in a time where we played outside and I had exposure to the great outdoors and all its wonders. Films? Besides, of course, “Winter’s Bone”! I was deeply moved by “127 Hours” in unexpected ways, fell in love with “The King’s Speech”, and could barely get out of my seat after viewing the documentary “Waste Land,” but left with new inspiration on the power of film (and humanity) to transform lives for the positive in least expected ways.

“Winter’s Bone” is still playing in limited release and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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