Friday, June 17, 2011


14 Questions for Kim Dickens

By Edward Copeland
As frustrating and annoying as it can be at times, in the end, you have to love the development of social media. If it didn't exist, I'd never have been able to have a virtual friendship with actress Kim Dickens that developed over a couple of years and she would never have agreed to do an email interview with me that I could post as the second season of HBO's Treme, where she portrays chef Janette Desautel, winds down. (This season's final three episodes debut the next three Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central.) The series already has been renewed for a third season, so Treme and Janette shall be returning. That's good news for both fans of the series and the talented actress. It's also worth noting that these questions were written and submitted after the fifth episode, when Janette had walked out on her job at the fictional New York restaurant Brulard but had yet to start work at the real restaurant Le Bernardin.

Dickens hails from the South, Huntsville, Ala., to be exact. (Her birthday happens to be Saturday.) She first came to my attention on another great HBO series, Deadwood, and I "friended" her based on that, before Treme had even aired. I didn't know she was in it until I saw the first episode. All I really knew about Treme was that it was co-created by David Simon who had co-created HBO's The Wire, one of my all-time favorite dramas (arguably the best that's ever been). However, Dickens been working in a lot of other places, recently and further back, that I didn't catch her in. Having not watched either show, I didn't realize she had parts on Lost and Friday Night Lights. I did catch her in the surprise box office hit that won Sandra Bullock her Oscar, The Blind Side, but I didn't realize her other films included the 1998 Great Expectations (Dickens does Dickens), Hollow Man, House of Sand and Fog and Thank You for Smoking. Soon she'll be seen in the Footloose remake.

When Dickens played Joanie Stubbs on David Milch's late, great, poetically profane and prematurely buried Deadwood. Joanie began as the handler of the whores for Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) at his gambling palace The Bella Luna before she eventually talked him into backing her own brothel where she served as madam. Unfortunately, being a manager had its drawbacks, especially when one of your customers turns out to be a well-connected psycho who works for George Hearst and tends to slaughter your employees. Even more tragically, arguments between HBO, Milch and the production company over financing and other issues ended Deadwood after a mere three seasons, instead of Milch's projected five-season run. For awhile, there was talk that HBO would back the filming of two, two-hour Deadwood movies to give the series something resembling a proper sendoff, but that never happened.


EDWARD COPELAND: Do you still wish those two two-hour Deadwood movies could be made to wrap it up since the show ended so unnecessarily and prematurely?

KIM DICKENS: Yes, I do. I'm pretty sure all of us would be happy to do those movies, even now. It was such a disservice to the beautiful art of Deadwood to not let that story finish. It still hurts.

Of course, more than just centuries separate Joanie Stubbs and Janette Desautel but as much as all the characters on Deadwood let the curse words fly, Joanie's mouth seemed slightly cleaner than the other denizens in that western town. In fact, I theorized in one of my recaps of Treme this year, that Janette might actually swear more than Joanie did.


EC: I raised the idea that Janette might actually cuss more often than Joanie Stubbs. We don’t have an equal amount of episodes yet to compare but since you read the lines, what do you think?

KD: That's what I said to David Simon and (co-creator) Eric Overmyer…I thought I just may curse more in Treme than I did in Deadwood. Hard to imagine, but it may be true!

While Dickens no longer lives in Huntsville, she still has relatives who do. Fortunately, the destructive tornado that struck the city earlier this year didn't affect them, but Huntsville has a long history of tragic tornadic activity, including when Dickens was growing up there.


EC: Your relatives in your native Huntsville, Ala., were thankfully unscathed by the recent tornadoes, but Huntsville did see some big ones while you were growing up. While none came close to the scale of Katrina’s aftermath, did any of those storms give you personal insight going into Treme?

KD: No, not other than being familiar with weather becoming an annual threat during particular seasons. Growing up in tornado country, I definitely experienced some frightening weather conditions and close calls but was spared any real destruction. I no longer live there, but my family does and my heart has been broken for all of the lost lives and for all of the destruction in so many Southern and Midwestern towns.


EC: Before taking the role of Janette, did you have much interest in serious cooking? Have you learned a lot, especially this year with Anthony Bourdain on staff?

KD: I have definitely learned a lot during all of the kitchen and cooking training that i have done for Treme. My cooking has definitely improved, and I'll be honest and say I was a just the basics kind of a cook. And now, I may have a little more confidence. Unfortunately I haven't worked one on one with Mr. Bourdain. I have however been trained at two of Tom Colicchio 's Craft restaurants, Susan Spicer's Bayona, and one afternoon at Providence in L.A. Also, on set during the scenes we have our own consulting chef, Chris Lynch, on hand at all times. The training is ongoing and will remain so. It's not easy making something like shucking oysters look like you've been doing it for 10 years or so!


EC: What do you think Janette is searching for in life? This year, we’ve seen her engage in one-night stands with strangers and possibly drinking a bit more than she should.

KD: Well, I'm not sure what Janette is searching for in life, but I know she loves to cook. She's driven to do it, against all odds. And cooking and being a chef, I've come to understand is a very noble profession. Chefs and kitchen staffs work long, hard hours. AND, I've heard that sometimes the hard road of being a cook can lead to lots of drinking and a sometimes pathetic love life. I think Janette was having one of those moments this season.


EC: As flighty as he is, do you think Janette harbors deeper feelings for Davis than she’d admit? That seemed to be a particularly wistful grin she had when she read his note with the box of booze.

KD: I think they had a nice understanding those two, a real friends with benefits kind of a situation. And I think as annoyed as Janette could get with Davis, she could also be very charmed and humored by him. I think it's clear those characters are fond of each other with no resentments left over.


EC: Wendell Pierce mentioned how so many stories are separate that he really doesn’t know what everyone’s doing until he sees a completed episode and feels as if he doesn’t know some in the cast. Janette seems to be the character who has interacted with more of the ensemble than any other person. In two episodes in a row this season, you shared scenes with both Lambreaux men, Albert and Delmond (Clarke Peters and Rob Brown). Are there any characters Janette hasn’t met yet, other than Jon Seda’s new one, or ones you’d like to work with either for the first time or in a larger way?

KD: I want to work with Khandi Alexander (LaDonna) this year! i love her character and she's just a fabulous person. Oh and also Elizabeth Ashley (Aunt Mimi). She's the original Maggie the Cat…I love her (from Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). I'm so glad I get to cross paths with some of our other main characters, I really love it. I especially love that scene with Clarke this year. I don't know why, it just felt so "by chance," these strangers who were in sync. But I hope I cross with Khandi soon. And by the way, not only is Rob Brown handsome, he's hilarious.


EC: How odd did it feel to be on the set in Louisiana pretending to be in New York when everyone else’s scenes were set in New Orleans?

KD: Not strange at all, I've been doing that kind of stuff for years. Just part of the job. one set is a NY apartment and the next set is a New Orleans radio station. That's filmmaking. It probably felt more odd to be a character on the show and actually shooting a lot of scenes IN New York away from the rest of the cast.


EC: Victor Slezak created such a great, frightening character in Enrico Brulard, was his role one of those where it’s difficult to just be yourselves when the cameras were off for fear somehow that would lessen the tension when the cameras came on again?

KD: Victor was so wonderful and so prepared and is such a terrific actor. Everyone works differently, but he was easy and able to just relax and talk in between takes and scenes. We had a couple of moments where we broke up laughing during some takes, but that happens…and it's always a nice jolt of energy and a challenge to your focus.


EC: Acting is such an uncertain profession in terms of employment, how did you react when you got the word that Treme had been renewed for a third season?

KD: I was just overjoyed. It's a relief to know you have a job to come back to and it's so exciting to know I get to come back and be a part of such a meaningful show.


EC: How long do you stay in New Orleans when Treme is shooting? Where is home when you aren’t shooting the show?

KD: We shoot the show for about seven months in New Orleans. And my home is in Los Angeles.


EC: While Treme has shown what a diverse selection of music exists in New Orleans, do you have particular musical tastes or are you more eclectic?

KD: I'm a country girl, so I like a lot of country music. But I recently did an interview for The Onion where you put your iPod on shuffle and discuss the 10 songs that randomly come up. Turns out my musical taste is pretty diverse.

Treme almost wasn't Dickens' second HBO series to air following Deadwood. She'd been cast in a comedy called 12 Miles of Bad Road starring Lily Tomlin, Mary Kay Place, Gary Cole and even her Deadwood co-star Sean Bridgers (he was Al's dimwitted worker Johnny). Its executive producers were Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason of Designing Women fame. Bloodworth-Thomason co-wrote the series, six episodes were filmed and HBO even aired promos touting its eventual premiere, but it never aired.


EC: What happened with 12 Miles of Bad Road? It had such a notable cast and producers. I’ve never heard of a series that filmed six episodes before a decision was made not to air it.

KD: I think it boils down to bad timing. The show was brilliant and really, really funny and subversive. We shot six and then the writer's strike happened, which lasted about three-four months I think. During that time, they decided to let us go. Our show had begun under the previous head of HBO, so sometimes shows get tossed aside for the new boss's ideas and shows. It happens a lot. Another artistic disservice! Here's the old trailer:


EC: Do you have anything planned during the hiatus that you’d like to mention?

KD: Right now, I'm taking a little vacation. Nothing is scheduled at the moment. But, if the right thing comes along, I'll jump on.

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If you haven't had the chance yet, make a point of seeing Things Behind the Sun.
Kim were proud of you and we miss you honey ;-)

Christopher Dickens
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