Interview: Trieste Kelly Dunn Fires Up “Loves Her Gun”

On the challenge of firing a pistol with live rounds and shooting a film out of sequence in this stirring character study....Read More
Trieste Kelly Dunn in Geoff Marslett's "Loves Her Gun"

When Trieste Kelly Dunn was attending North Carolina School of the Arts, a ridiculously fertile period for the school where filmmakers such as Aaron Katz, Zach Clark and Chad Hartigan (“This is Martin Bonner”) each had dorms to call their own, the actress didn’t hesitate to throw herself into whatever crazy student short was being made at a moment’s notice.

“I was always just the go to person,” recalls Dunn. “I just would say yes to anything. When any filmmaker would be in a pinch, they’d just be like, ‘Oh, Trieste will do it. Just get Trieste to do it.” And I would.”

It’s that can-do spirit that made her the natural choice for the lead character Allie in Geoff Marslett’s “Loves Her Gun,” a film which sees Dunn try on a sumo suit for her work with a band called The Karate Kids, attend a clothing optional pool party where firearms are discharged for fun and embrace a pistol of her own while trying to erase the pain of a vicious attack on the streets of New York. Yet it’s the fact that Dunn really‎ can do anything as an actress that has made her one of the most exciting screen presences to come around in recent years.

After a triumvirate of films in 2010 – Katz’s “Cold Weather,” Clark’s “Vacation!” and Brett Haley’s “The New Year” – in which her performances dazzled as much as her piercing green eyes, Dunn has since found steady work on the Cinemax series “Banshee” while being a steadying force in such small-scale films as “Loves Her Gun,” where she takes a character that could easily be given to overwrought paranoia and turns it into a fascinating study of a woman whose fear creeps up on her in mysterious ways. Although Allie’s grip on reality is shaky, the same can’t be said for Dunn’s hold on the audience.

Shortly before the actress appears on screens big and small this evening with the bow of “Loves Her Gun” in New York and on VOD and the second season premiere on “Banshee,” Dunn spoke about the chaotic production of her latest film, the nerves that come with firing live ammunition and why she was thankful for the black eye she got during filming.

Trieste Kelly Dunn in "Loves Her Gun"I know you and Geoff met on the festival circuit, but was there something about the story or the character that appealed to you?

It sounded really fun the way Geoff described it, which he sent me in an outline on Facebook actually. He was like, “You know, you’re beat up. You have a black eye in this film. Then you do some landscaping in Austin. Then things go wrong. And then you shoot guns.” I just wanted to do all of those things as an actress and it sounded fun to just go outside and be hot and dirty. Which it was. It was like 105 degrees when we were shooting, during all those fires. Somebody on the crew actually, I think her house actually burned down, and she was still coming to work. She just wanted to be there.

I remember talking to Geoff before filming even started and it was interesting to see the final product because it seemed like it shifted quite a bit – though I know one of the reasons why he wanted to make it was to be spontaneous. Was it a different experience for you in that way?

The outline was very clear. There was a script. There was a “Exterior 1: Ally walks from her apartment to the bar” Exterior 2: She watches the band play…” But there wasn’t any dialogue in it and all movies you shoot out of sequence, which is normally fine. You just get used to it. But with this in particular, it was incredibly confusing at times because you’re like, “Wait, we’re at scene 40 right now. This is like right after what happened?” You wouldn’t have shot the scene before it and because the dialogue was improv, you could think a scene was going to go one way, then it would go another way. I think Geoff Lerer, our [producer], would just be writing stuff down like, “She said this. He said that.”

If I did something in scene 40, I would maybe have to talk about it in scene five, so we had to keep very close track of what the hell we were doing. But then also you couldn’t think about it too much because you couldn’t act if you were thinking about the continuity of things. It was definitely confusing, but hats off to the editor Ian Holden, who edited with Geoff [Marslett]. They must have gone through I don’t know how many hours of footage.

I actually heard that even though you made the road trip that’s in the film, it was in reverse, so the inciting incident in New York was actually shot last. Was it strange to work backwards?

It was because that event in New York is what makes the whole rest of her journey happen. I worked on it like I would work on a play, honestly. There was no rehearsal, but when you’re working on a play, you have to work on the whole thing as a piece. Even though we shot some of the first scenes very last, I just had to think a lot about what that event was and all the possibilities. And we could do anything as many ways as we wanted to do it because we had some time. I had to think of, “Okay, what choice am I going to want to make,” in those first few scenes. Then just really internalize that event in order to get through the rest of it.

You just give every single scene the same amount of attention. You have to keep referring back to it throughout. I remember every day before shooting I would have to read that outline and internalize the events leading up to the scene we were shooting because if I didn’t, I just wouldn’t know what the hell I was doing. There was nothing to go off of except for the location that you are at and your brain.

The black eye was a microcosm for how difficult it was. When we were shooting five scenes a day totally out of order, the black eye had to change. It had to go on. It had to go off. It had to go back on. It had to be minimized. The poor makeup girl had just graduated from makeup school and she’d worked on theater. I don’t think she’d ever worked on film. I would be like, “I think we should really take pictures of this because we’ve established that it’s this dark on this day, so then whatever day is after this day, needs to be a little less dark.” It was almost like the black eye told you where you were supposed to be today. What part of the story is this eye today?

Still, did the film live up to your wildest expectations? You get to fire a gun and go inter tubing and combine the two at a nude pool party, no less.

It was really fun. Shooting [the guns] was the most fun. The day where the character Sarah teaches my character how to shoot was definitely the most fun day. Any day involving guns was the most fun. We didn’t have to think as much. We didn’t have to talk as much. We just got to do something.
They also had more gravity maybe because I was afraid to shoot guns. I’d shot a shotgun before but never a pistol and we shot live ammo. I was definitely afraid of that. It is nerve-racking when there’s people all around you, and you’ve got a loaded weapon. Still, you get some adrenaline doing that and there we are with a camera crew, shooting live ammo, two actresses. Only in Texas. You couldn’t do it in New York.

That’s something I wanted to touch on since it seems like the locations where you’ve shot make a big impact on the characters you play, whether it’s in “The New Year” set on the Florida coastline or in “Cold Weather” in Portland, Oregon. Does it inform you as an actress?

Totally. There’s nothing worse than being on a stage. That just feels like being at a corporate hotel and certain sets are cooler than others obviously, but it’s so much better to be outside or to be in another state. It’s less work your imagination has to do.

Are these exciting times for you? Besides the movie coming out, you’ve got a regular gig on the TV series “Banshee,” where you play a cop.

They are. Season two premieres Friday, the same day that “Loves Her Gun” opens, which is nice timing and we’re going to start shooting Season 3 in April. That’s been totally different doing a show on Cinemax and doing a bunch of small indie films. Really, “Banshee” is sort of like an indie version of a TV show. All TV is fast-paced and crazy, but “Banshee” definitely gets by on the energy of the people doing it and it doesn’t feel like people are just showing up and taking their checks. I feel like “Loves Her Gun” prepared me for it because I’d never dealt with guns before or with doing violent scenes in TV shows or movies. Then all of a sudden in “Banshee,” it’s like every day I’ve got my gun out and getting beat up or I’m beating somebody else up. It’s a little scary, but it’s fun.

“Loves Her Gun” is now open at the Cinema Village in New York and is available on demand on Vimeo, VHX or can be seen right below through Distrify.

Stephen Saito is an L.A.-based writer whose work has been published in The L.A. Times, Premiere, and IFC.com.
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