'Loves Her Gun' Star Trieste Kelly Dunn Talks Improv, Road-Tripping and Directors

Geoff Marslet’s “Loves Her Gun” was a talking point out of last year’s SXSW, not only because it centers around violence and gun control, but because the improvised dialogue makes for a naturalistic portrait of a woman’s progression from victim to aggressor. She’s well-played by Trieste Kelly Dunn, who broke out in SXSW 2010’s “Cold Weather” and went on to star in Cinemax’s “Banshee.” The story starts off with a random act of violence in NYC before a road-trek to Austin, Texas, where the majority of the drama unfolds, complete with hipster band, mustache and river tubing with beer.

Dunn talks about making “Loves Her Gun,” the state of indie film, and the filmmakers she’s hungry to work with. “Loves Her Gun” opens January 10, 2014.

Sophia Savage: I saw you in “Cold Weather” back in 2011. How have things changed since that film premiered at SXSW, and how did you get connected to “Loves Her Gun”?

Trieste Kelly Dunn: I had a couple films run the festival circuit in the same year, “Cold Weather” as well as “The New Year.” I got to meet and hang out with a lot of the same filmmakers. I first met Geoff at an amazing little festival in Northern California called The Nevada City Film Festival. Geoff’s film “Mars” played a lot of the same festivals and we spent that year running into each other and drinking together in various cities. I wanted to work with him and then sometime the next year he sent me an email about “Loves Her Gun.” I read the outline and was dying to do it. Then he mentioned it would be all improvised dialogue and I got really terrified.

What do you look for in a script and in a character? Do you need a personal connection to the character, or do you enjoy playing with something totally unknown?

Jeremy Renner said something at the Indie Spirit Awards one year that really stuck with me. He said something like “as actors we love doing indie films cause we don’t have to play likable cliches.” As a female you are often being asked by directors to be warmer, softer, flirt more, smile more etc…None of those things are bad and obviously we are capable of a variety of human behavior, but it gets really old having to play into somebody’s stereotype or ideal. I think if a personal connection seems far off, I have to work and find a way to bring it closer to me or I don’t feel grounded.

From the film, I’m guessing there was an actual road trip while you were shooting the NYC-Austin portion of the film? How was that?

Oh man. That road trip was the worst! We basically drove from Austin, Texas to Brooklyn straight through and we had to shoot scenes on the way. I think it took us over 40 hours. We slept in contorted positions on floors of crew vans. I remember seeing Amy Bench the DP sleeping on top of a bunch of metal film equipment. Ha! We had to take the RV we used in the film but it couldn’t go faster than 65 MPH. We were all thinking it would be really fun to go on a road trip but we ran out of time so the trip became tedious. We got to Brooklyn and couldn’t find parking for the van of course and none of us had showered in two or three days. We were a mess but thankfully we were alive and could finally take a shower.

What was your biggest challenge playing this character?

The improv was really challenging because we shot the film so out of sequence. We would be doing a scene and be referring to events in another scene that we basically hadn’t written yet. It was so frustrating but after a few days I got more used to it. The stakes were also really high– so it wasn’t like improv-ing conversational stuff. It needed to be driven and to the point. When scenes went well it was more gratifying than anything I’ve ever done. When I felt like I didn’t get the scene or it was bad improv I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Every scene was a new challenge and we never knew what was going to happen or not happen.

What do you hope audiences take away from your performance, and the film overall?

I hope people ask questions they haven’t thought of before. I don’t think the film is making a huge political statement for or against guns but it does ask questions by looking at one girl’s personal story. I’m really nervous and feel more exposed than normal because I’m responsible for more than just my acting. I’m excited but watching it in front of people will probably be torture.

Do you want to continue working in independent films, or are you hungry to work with bigger budgets in the studio system?

I definitely want to continue working in independent films–and big budget stuff as well– but there’s a freedom you have when you’re not getting paid. It’s easier to say no and there’s no pressure to please the powers that be. Also I don’t have to hear “flirt and smile more.”

Are there particular projects, directors or actors you are hungry to work with?

I love working with directors who have good taste. It’s incredible when a director can say something and thing open up for you. I went to The University of North Carolina School of the Arts and some of my best experiences on sets have been working with other alums.  Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green graduated a year or two before I got there but they were UNCSA legends and I’ve always really wanted to work with both of them. Other directors who I love right now are Derek Cianfrance who gets amazing performances. I also recently got to work with a British director named SJ Clarkson. Dying to work with her again. She’s so talented and makes actors better.

How do you think the indie film scene has evolved over the past five years?

I think the micro budget feature has been positive for me. There is so much out there, so many festivals and anyone can make a film now which has it’s pros and cons.  But I wouldn’t have had a chance in the bigger- name indies.

If you could only watch one movie over and over again for the rest of your life, which would it be?

“The Thin Red Line.” I saw it when I was 19 and it changed my life. Not exaggerating. I was totally obsessed. There was a while where if someone told me they didn’t like it, I didn’t want to be their friend anymore. I adore Terrence Malick films and I promise I’m not just mentioning directors because they live in Austin and might read this.

You’re starring in a silent black and white film; which living actor do you cast as your co-star?

Probably a friend I went to school with who’s name is Will Rogers. That’s really his name.

Best advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?

Best advice was being told to stay in NY. Worst advice was being told to give LA more time. 

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