Why She’s On Our Radar: Despite not winning an award at Sundance for her breakout turn in “Compliance,” Craig Zobel’s acclaimed and controversial drama, 26-year-old actress Dreama Walker gave what was arguably one of the bravest performances in Park City this year.
In “Compliance,” Walker stars as Becky, a young fast food employee who is accused of stealing from a customer after a man, under the guise of a police officer, calls the restaurant demanding to speak to her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd). What follows is a horrific true account of how the mystery caller managed to convince the young woman’s supervisor (as well as others asked to help out) to commit a number of physically invasive acts, including sexual assault.
Walker is best known for her supporting role on the ABC sitcom “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and for appearing opposite Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,” but “Compliance” marks her biggest on-screen role to date — and her most challenging. As Becky, Walker is given the difficult task of engendering sympathy from the audience while also making them believe that her character would go along with what’s demanded of her. She hits it out of the park, matching the lauded work of Dowd, a veteran character actress.
What’s Next: Her latest film “The Kitchen,” co-starring Bryan Greenberg and Laura Prepon, recently closed the GenArt Film Festival in New York. “I have a couple of little things here and there,” Walker tells Indiewire, “and then I’m going back to the show (‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23’) at the end of next week.”
How did Craig sell the premise to you initially?
Well it was kind of a funny story how it all happened. I was on the set of “The Sitter” one day, directed by his friend David Gordon Green. David was checking his phone and checking his email and came over to me and was like, “Hey your name just got thrown in the bowl for a movie that I’m producing.” And I was like, “Ooooh! Pick me!” — trying to make him feel uncomfortable. And he said, “Well, it’s really not anything like this. It’s very dark.” And I was like, “I can do dark!” I had no idea what it was about, and obviously we didn’t really go into it because we were at work. Then I got wind of what the story was about, and I remembered the incident when it happened in 2004, and this always kind of resonated with me as something that I thought was intriguing and fascinating. I read the script, and I thought Craig had done a really fantastic job of telling this story and also that it was going to come from a really cool perspective. And that it was going to try to fill in the gaps of these true events that took place and how they all got there. I felt a tremendous desire to be a part of the whole discussion and justification of how my character did what she did.
How scared were you to take this role on?
Terrified, to be honest. I knew that psychologically it was going to be taxing. I knew that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. People still would have a hard time believing! We had to really bring a lot of truth to it and make it really, really believable.
How did you make Becky’s actions believable for yourself? So many folks have walked out of this film going, “Well I would never go along with that.”
Well, Craig and I had a lot of really honest, open discussions about a lot of similar situations with it; lower-stakes ones that were more meaningless and trivial. Experiences in our lives where we’d been accused of something that we weren’t guilty of and there came a certain point where someone that you know and have a relationship with is accusing you of something. All of a sudden you find yourself second guessing yourself. We had discussions about how it’s very primal and evolved for people to go along with something because everyone else is doing it.
Whether it’s something as simple as going into a conversation with a lady on the street, and then before you know it she’s sold you 300 dollars worth of clothing and you’re buying it even though you don’t need it or want it. Those things happen almost on a daily basis. We’re all put in situations where we do something because we think that we’re supposed to, or we think that we have to. To me that was incredibly intriguing. Also I wanted to connect the dots from A to B and explain how it got there for my character.Did Craig have you meet the victim on which your character is based?
No. I have never spoken with the victim. I understand that she is married and has a child and wants to stay out of the limelight and I completely understand that, especially given what she’s been through. She’s probably trying to make a recovery on a daily basis and I respect that.
What kind of pressure did you feel to live up to her and portray her in a realistic light?
I watched interviews with her and I felt that she seemed like a very sweet, docile girl from Kentucky. I didn’t really have any interest in trying to duplicate her and do exactly what she did. I had more of an interest in the relationship between Sandra and I, and furthering the whole arc of what happens when something traumatic like that is forced upon you. The stages that you go through. Craig and I had a lot of conversations about how initially we certainly didn’t want it to stay on one level, because I didn’t think that was at all natural. We wanted there to be an arc.
Were you surprised by the divisive reaction at Sundance? Especially given that it is based on a true story.
Sure. That definitely came as a shock. I think there were a lot of people who bought tickets for the movie or acquired tickets for the movie and didn’t know what the film was about. I think that if I didn’t know what it was about I wouldn’t be too pleased either [laughs]. I think you kind of have to be prepared for something like that, and obviously there were people in the audience who had a tremendous sensitivity to the subject matter. I was surprised by that, but I think that now we’re in a better situation because people have talked about the film and people have an idea about what happens in it and know to stay away if they have any particular unresolved issues.
What did you walk away with from the Sundance experience?
[Laughs] Oh gosh! Well, I had been dreaming about going to Sundance since I was a little girl, since I first learned what an independent movie was. I grew up in a town that didn’t have a lot of access to those types of things. So that was a dream realized for me.
I was really inspired and made to feel fantastic by the people who actually enjoyed the film for what it was and sort of got it. I was super happy to have lengthy conversations with people who wanted to come up to me and discuss what it meant to them. I’m still happy to have those conversations. That’s what initially inspired me to do it in the first place.