Interview: Dale Dickey on Acting, Backstory and Taking on Her First Leading Role in ‘A Love Song’

“Sometimes it’s just innate, you’re not even aware it’s happening, it just comes out because you’re focusing on the story and hoping… trying to tell the truth.” — Dale Dickey

With roles in projects like Winter’s Bone, Vice Principals, Palm Springs and True Blood, Dale Dickey has proven time and time again that she is on of the best character actors working today. She routinely comes into a scene, knocks it out of the park and leaves the rest of the cast to pick up the pieces. With writer/director Max Walker-Silverman‘s terrific feature debut, A Love Songshe can now add lead on her resume.

It’s no surprise that she delivers a memorable and touching performance as Faye, a middle-aged woman who is waiting alone in a campground for her old boyfriend, Lito (an equally great Wes Studio) to arrive. It’s full of heartbreak, loneliness and resilience and it’s definitely one of the best films of the year.

In this interview, Dickey chats about preparing for her role and creating a backstory, how Walker-Silverman wrote the part with her in mind. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.

I can’t say enough about this movie, it was fantastic.

Dale Dickey: Thank you so much, I’m so glad people are taking to it, I’m really proud of it.

I actually saw that this part was written with you in mind. When you were sent this, did you know that?

Dale Dickey: Actually, I did, because Max sent me this lovely letter, this was probably like in April of 2020, during COVID, when we were all wondering if we were even gonna work again. And so, it was my first job into COVID. He wrote me such a beautiful letter about how he admired my work and what he wanted to do with his film in Colorado, and why I was perfect for this role. And I read the script and I knew I had to do it, it was so beautiful and simple and quiet and pure.

Getting a letter like that is so flattering and heartwarming that I wanted to do it even without reading the script, but of course, I did. I saw his two short films I’m so glad he chose me. It’s quite an honor.

I’m an actor as well, and just to have somebody think of you like that, that’s got to be a huge compliment.

Dale Dickey: It is, and particularly for a leading role. I love my career as a supporting actress who pops in and out of things, I like being in the shadows, so I just thought, “Wow, he’s choosing a middle-aged weathered woman to play the lead in this film? That’s pretty cool. Way to go Max.” [laughter]

We don’t really know a lot about Faye, and I feel like as an audience member, we don’t really need to because of the depth that you brought to her. But for you, did you create any back story in order to get that depth?

Dale Dickey: Yeah, Max and I talked about that and I always create some sort of back story. I have a sketchbook that I mark everything out so I can track my… Sometimes I draw pictures, it’s my own weird little thing.

Originally, there was quite a bit of dialogue, small snippets of dialogue, particularly with Lito (Studi). There were a couple of scenes that got cut, where it’s just more of us getting to know each other.

But, like almost every time I met someone, I would tell them… I think I tell the four boys when I noticed their truck, “I used to work on my dad’s trucks.” And then she was a deep-sea diver in South America. Then she’s a bush plane pilot at Yosemite. She’s had a very industrious worker bee life and met her husband through that, and in the past seven years she’s been by herself.

And so that was pretty much it, deciding I was from that area. Wes and I, our characters, were both probably from that area, and that’s why we had grown up going there. But maybe haven’t lived that far apart, but never got back in touch. I worked with Max on that.

And so just so I had my grounding into where I’d come from and why I was there, waiting on Lito. Waiting on Lito.

You and Wes worked so wonderfully together. Did you guys spend any time prior to filming to get your rhythms down? Because it was just so perfect.

Dale Dickey: We didn’t. We were in the same house because of the bubble. They had us in a separate farmhouse on different levels. We arrived a week later. I was there by myself the first week, and we just pretty much got to know each other casually watching TV and eating and going to set. We did make a decision not to talk in-depth about our characters to each other, because we wanted it to be spontaneous and awkward, and so I think that really helped in this case. We knew what a hard childhood had been like, we knew… Like there was a scene where he talks about how his grandmother was really close friends with my grandmother. So, we didn’t really need any of that, but we knew that, and the rest of it is the unknown, so we wanted that to be fresh and I think it worked.

Yeah, I would say so. I want to go back to creating the back story. So, once you do the sketch book, do you go back and reference it throughout the filming?

Dale Dickey: Yeah, generally. I think we kind of filmed things in sequence, but that doesn’t always happen, and even though Faye is on a routine, and there’s the same things that happen each day with the clock, as you know, each day is different. This day she’s met the kids, it’s not Lito, this day the car has pulled up, it’s not Lito, this day the carpool has come across… So, in my mind, I have to track where Faye was in her quietness. So, the sketchbook helps me just flip a couple of pages and go, “Okay, on this day, I did this, this, this, and this, and now… ” It helps me follow the journey and the arc of the character.

One thing I noticed, and I could be completely wrong, is that at the beginning of the film, when you’re alone, you have this different posture and you’re a bit slower. But when Lito arrives, those kind of all vanish. And even by the end of the film, you’re standing straight up, and you’re peppier in your walk. Was that something that you came up with? I actually want to watch it again just to sort of track that progression.

Dale Dickey: I love that you picked up on that. It was conscious and unconscious choice. I knew that Faye’s physicality was different from mine. She’s very deliberate, and Max talked a lot about how routine is her salvation to get through the day. So, she can get out of bed and make her coffee and she’ll read a book and listen to the radio. It keeps her going.

I had picked a distinctive walk I wanted Faye to have. I wanted her to have kind of a feminine walk. But yeah, the posture is different from Dale, very deliberate. And then I think, yes, when Wes arrives, Lito, just that natural instinctual girly-ness, awkwardness comes out, even though we’re middle-aged, those butterflies don’t go away. And by the end, each step has given her a little more strength, and so it is a rebirth.

And the wardrobe girl decided to finally put me in colors, the rest of the time I’m in neutral tones. And I’m in jeans, I’m in a different outfit. It’s like it’s a new day, I’m starting over. I’m a sheep calling to the mountain. And it’s a proud, defiant… Not defiant but determined walk. I’m glad you noticed that. I think it’s important. I worked really hard on that and Max helped me a lot with the physicality, I think.

And sometimes it’s just innate, you’re not even aware it’s happening, it just comes out because you’re focusing on the story and hoping… trying to tell the truth.

I would imagine, it’s easier to do because, like you said, you kind of filmed it in chronological order.

Dale Dickey: Pretty much, if I can remember. There’s always some other pieces you have to go back and get. But it definitely helped chronologically. She’s just in a different space emotionally, which does affect our posture completely. I know when I sit up and breathe properly, I feel so much better than when I’m like… When I’m depressed and isolating. Get out and climb a mountain.

There’s not a lot of films where the camera is on somebody for kind of a long time where you’re just watching them think and thoughts go through their head. At times, I could almost feel what you were thinking. How did you sort of radiate that on screen? I imagine you weren’t thinking, “Man, I can’t wait till lunch.”

Dale Dickey: [laughter]I love those quiet scenes because even though they’re very challenging, that was part of my fear… “Can I hold the camera?” I’ve said this over and over again too: I have a very animated face, so any subtle move looks big. I really concentrated on trying to find a different space for Faye, being present and with herself and alone. And it was challenging, but when I got there, it was so peaceful, I loved it.

As long as I am telling the story and engrossed in Faye’s journey, those thoughts just come… They just come naturally. If I break character for any reason and I know it’s not truthful, I’ll go back. But for the most part, it was an easy flow. We had a great crew, a small crew of nine, everybody at the top of their game. They’d all gone to film school together, so it was a very supportive group. Alfonso [Salcedo], our cinematographer… I kept worrying about those extreme close-ups because I had gotten so sunburned. Now, they didn’t have any makeup, just sunscreen. My nose was peeling. I was like, “Alfonso, I know you can see my scaly nose.” Alfonso goes, “Dale, you are beautiful, you are beautiful.” And I’m like, “Okay. I’m gonna trust you on that.”

And finally, what’s been your worst audition ever?

Dale Dickey: Oh jeez. Oh, wow. Years ago, years ago, back in New York, I went in for… I think it was for a musical, an off-Broadway musical. And I was so excited because it was the kind of music that fit in my range, and it was an open call, which I did tons of. And I knew the girl that had just come out had this huge voice because I had heard them really responding to her.

So, I went in, and I mean, the five people there did not give me the time of day. Once I started, it was literally like they were laughing at me because, “We’ve seen what we want.” And they started eating their lunch.

I went to so many open calls in New York and you never know. It’s just crazy how rude people can be, but I wanted to stop and go, “This isn’t worth my time.” But I held back my tears and I finished my song and I left and I learned a lesson.

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