December 21st, 2010 10:54 EST
Judyth Piazza chats with Tanna Frederick From the Movie 'Queen of the Lot'
The plot of this movie might be familiar - a struggling young actress from middle America who can`t seem to get a break happens to meet a well-connected industry vet who envisions her as a future sensation, and a movie star is born. While that`s the story told anew in Henry Jaglom`s feature, the acclaimed "Hollywood Dreams," it also happens to be pretty close to the real-life story of the film`s dynamic and engaging leading lady.
But actress Tanna Frederick, who has drawn raves for her tour-de-force as aspiring starlet Margie Chisek, is quick to point out that although they have similar stories, she`s far from the chaotic and sometimes naive Margie. "A lot of people at film festivals were afraid to approach me because they thought I was playing myself," Frederick laughs. "Thankfully the next character I play is quite normal - complicated, but down-to-earth, so people will hopefully see once and for all that Margie and I are not the same person."
Audiences who have seen "Hollywood Dreams" might be forgiven for making that mistake, as Frederick`s uncanny rendering of an ambitious and charming starlet who can barely restrain her fragile emotional state, is a compelling portrait of an actress in the tradition of Bette Davis` performances in "All About Eve" and "Dangerous;" and Gloria Swanson`s painfully deluded Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard."
Indeed, many critics have harkened back to an earlier era of screen star, noting that Frederick`s screen presence recalls a "young Bette Davis on crack" and compares favorably to legends like Lucille Ball, Judy Garland and Fanny Brice. Given the task of carrying the film opposite accomplished performers such as Justin Kirk, David Proval and Karen Black, Frederick allows Margie to revel in comic delight while on the verge of tears, and dismisses her serious emotional trauma with a wisecrack and a broad laugh. "Hollywood Dreams is driven by Ms. Frederick`s no-boundaries commitment to her broken character," wrote the New York Times, "a performance that is startling as it is touching."
In addition to the critical raves, Frederick also earned the Best Actress Award at the Montana Independent Film Festival, Best Actress Award at the Fargo Film Festival and the Chrysalis Award at California`s Wild Rivers Film Festival. In February 2009 she was named Method Fest`s "Performer to Watch" and was also awarded the Los Angeles Women`s Theatre Festival`s "Maverick` Award.
Frederick is overwhelmed by the comparisons and praise. "Bette Davis is my inspiration right now," confesses the actress, who, like Margie, is a devoted cinephile. "I don`t feel that I can possibly compare to her, but I admire the way she was always in the moment, and the way that theatre and her life and her art were inseparable." That kind of self-awareness as an actress-personality was crucial in developing Margie`s character. "Comedy is based on pain; most great comic performers have great pain and live in a huge amount of denial." says Frederick. "There`s an early tragedy that translates into a masking, and there`s a strange truthfulness to that. I wanted people to have sympathy for Margie, but be a little confused as to whether they loved her or hated her."
There was no such early tragedy for Tanna Frederick, a proud Iowan who has known she wanted to be a performer since childhood. "Iowa is really an amazing place for theatre," she enthuses. "Maybe because people don`t have as much to do, they spend a lot of time expressing themselves. I started doing local and children`s theatre in fourth grade, and was basically doing five shows a year for most of my life."
When she went to college at the University of Iowa, she double majored in theatre and political science/international relations. Despite the daunting academic challenges of two disparate courses of study, Frederick thrived, particularly enjoying working with younger playwrights on new works. "With the playwriting program and the Writer`s Workshop, I did a lot of new work. I`m so grateful for that, because when I came to California, I had a very open mind about strange, independent and unusual projects." There were plenty of independent projects for Frederick to work in after her graduation as class valedictorian and the move to Hollywood, but like many young performers, regular paying work and success seemed far away. That`s when Frederick learned from a friend that independent director Henry Jaglom had a history of responding to fan letters.
Even though she`d never seen his films, Frederick wrote to Jaglom asking for an audition. The director responded by casting her in his play, "A Safe Place." Her work so impressed him, that soon she was starring in "Always - But Not Forever," Jaglom`s theatrical revision of his earlier screen work, and preparing her to star in "Hollywood Dreams." "We created a really wonderful balance," says Frederick of Jaglom, who has made a career out of casual but pointed observations about the intricacies of human relationships against the backdrop of show business. "He has this objectivity about Hollywood, having been there so long, and the film played on my subjectivity of that experience. He provided the framework in which Margie could live he`s known all of these characters as people, and I just put myself in the reality of the moment."
That relationship has extended to Jaglom`s latest film, "Irene in Time" in which Frederick is reunited with "Hollywood Dreams" co-stars David Proval, Zack Norman, and Karen Black. Jaglom is also filming a sequel to "Hollywood Dreams" called "Queen of the Lot," which will pick up Margie`s story three years later - "ER"`s Noah Wyle will co-star. Later this year, she will be seen staring in "The Strange Case of Katie Q," "Always" and the short film "Touch."
Meanwhile, Tanna Frederick recently hosted the third annual Iowa Film Festival - an event she founded three years ago to great success. "People were so thrilled to have that festival in their community," she says. "All kinds of people - lawyers, students, regular people - were inspired to try their hand at filmmaking, and this year the event has increased threefold."
A devoted fitness advocate whose impressive Tae Kwon Do skills can also briefly be seen in "Hollywood Dreams," Frederick is also spending as much time as she can at the beach where she admits to having a "serious mistress" - the surf. "I never expected to become addicted to surfing," she admits. "I guess when you grow up landlocked, you never think about things like that. I`ve been doing it for a few years now, and it`s provided a great balance in my life. I like the aspect of constantly facing a new challenge, and the danger - I broke my nose surfing and have gotten pretty banged up.
It`s a humbling experience - you`re up against this creature, and if you don`t respect it, you drown." As a sign of her passion for the art of riding the wild surf, Frederick, along with famed surfer Shaun Tomson, started "Project Save Our Surf," an annual event which has raised thousands of dollars for various ocean charities.
Tanna Frederick`s website is located at www.tannafrederick.com