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

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood January 8, 2014 at 11:42AM

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.

Loves Her Gun
'Loves Her Gun'
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. 

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Trieste Kelly Dunn, SXSW, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW)

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.