Interview With Tanna Frederick of Queen of the Lot

| October 9, 2010

Every once in awhile an interview goes so well that it’s not really an interview, but is more of a conversation between two people That’s exactly what happened recently when I got a chance to talk with Tanna Frederick, star of the upcoming film Queen of the Lot. I had seven questions written out to ask her, and by the time we got off the phone, it was fifty minutes later, and I felt like I’d just gotten done chatting with an old friend. Now I’m presented with the daunting task of turning this conversation that somehow seems like I’m talking about myself as much as I’m asking about her, into something that will have you, the readers, realizing what a special and unique person Tanna is, just the same way I did.

My first question to Tanna wasn’t even a question, but just a comment I felt I had to make. It was appropro of nothing of importance, but she has the most gorgeous hair. It is so unique and full of character, just like Tanna herself, and helps define her role as Maggie Chase in Queen of the Lot. Tanna appreciated the comment as she was teased for it as a kid. Being that it was so thick, her hairdressers always wanted to thin it out, and now everyone always thinks she has extensions, but that’s her real hair. She stressed that it does take a couple of hours to achieve that look, so if we run into her on the street, chances are it won’t look like that.

Before I went any further, I also had to let Tanna know I didn’t want to appear like the journalists interviewing her character in the beginning of the film. Maggie, an actress, has just gotten arrested for another DUI and is on house arrest with a lovely electronic ankle monitor. She has a day where she invites all these journalists over to the house to get publicity out of it, and they ask the most flat and one-dimensional questions of her. That fear ran through my head while screening the film, that my questions were going to come off just the same. Tanna let me in on the inside secret of that scene, that all these people were real journalist friends of hers that she called on to appear in the film, so they were actually razzing her and trying to “get her goat” all in fun the entire time.

As the film played out, it made me make a connection to this character and how she was treated. Just as these journalists are using Maggie for the sound bites they can get from her, everyone in her life seems to be using her for whatever they can get as well, form her boyfriend, Dov Lambert (Christopher Rydell), to her agents and publicists, to her adoring public. Everyone uses her, but she doesn’t seem to realize it, just happy that everyone likes her so much.

She meets Dov’s family, who seem to be a typical eccentric Hollywood bunch, as his dad is a  producer. The black sheep of the family is Aaron (Noah Wyle), Dov’s brother. He’s a struggling writer and isn’t that impressed by the Hollywood scene. He sees something deeper in Maggie that no one else does. He doesn’t really see the star, but instead sees the Iowa farmgirl Margie, the person she was before getting involved with everything Hollywood and becoming addicted to fame and alcohol and everything else she can hide behind.

After Maggie has a particularly upsetting evening, Aaron finds her in the kitchen doing a process she created that she refers to as “chatting,” chewing food, then spitting it out. It’s such an ugly act, but Aaron sees right through it and to the pain that Maggie is in. He only wants to help her. It’s then I made the connection that all these people in her life want to chew her up and spit her out, like she does to food. All except Aaron. He wants to enjoy all the flavors he can get from Maggie, both good and bad, sour and sweet.

I shared this analogy with Tanna, and she’d never made the connection herself, and couldn’t wait to share it with Henry Jaglom, writer and director of Queen of the Lot, realizing how true it was. Despite the fact that Maggie was doing something so unattractive, this is the background of her first love scene with Aaron. Tanna loves that they were able to pull off the scene and make it into the quintessential love scene. “People stress the physicality and beauty of people, but that’s not what love is about. Forgiving people for their flaws, and loving people through their flaws, love is a very messy thing.” She was nervous about the scene, having grown up watching Wyle on ER, and was now going to be kissing him, but “loved what is represents and how it goes against the Hollywood grain.”

Maggie is such a free spirit that despite the fact she just got done chatting, she can’t help but fall into Aaron. She kisses him, and he tries everything he can to not participate, but can’t help but also be caught up in the moment. Tanna and Noah pulled off that scene so well, that watching it, I felt they shared such an intimate, raw connection, that I almost feel like I was intruding on them. It was to the point where I wanted to turn away and give them their private time … but couldn’t tear myself away. Tanna responded that with reality TV and the like we’ve become such a “voyeuristic society” that people have become “hyper-aware of their behavior” now. She felt that she, Noah, and Henry all got intimate in that moment and just explored it, coming out with a “really lovely scene.” She is expecting a strong reaction out of it and looks for that in her roles.

The scene became so intimate that it made me think of my sister and her feelings about watching people kissing on TV. She doesn’t like it, saying it should be private and personal. I’ve honestly never understood her feelings on it before until that moment. Watching Maggie and Aaron, I got it. I understood how personal and intimate kissing could be. What that says about my own relationships, I’m not quite sure.

Yet after this romantic intimate moment, the next morning, Maggie is pulled right back into her neediness. She sees hoards of fans outside, dons a big floppy hat, and runs outside to greet her adoring public and has to be torn away from the crowd. This is just as much of an addiction for her as the alcohol, being with these people that are going to chew her up and spit her out. Tanna finds that to be not just an accurate view of Hollywood, but also indicative of men and women who get into relationships where they don’t believe they deserve anything better.

In the end, Maggie gets real and accepts “what is healthy for her.” She finds a way in the end of the film to help everyone instead of just herself, a chance at becoming the “Queen of the Lot.” This is in direct reference to Norma Shearer, the Queen of MGM, as Irving Thalberg’s wife. Maggie, of course idolizes Miss Shearer, and while very lovely, sweet, and talented, “she could play hardball with the guys.” While her husband had a lot of power, she found a way to get some of her own. Not surprisingly, Tanna “loves stories of strong women who are willing to take charge and play hardball with the men.”

It was at this point in our conversation that Tanna and I found our commonality. Once she mentioned strong women, it made me think of the action character Maggie plays in her films, Red Wrecker, a martial artist that kicks some major ass. Tanna, after a lot of convincing of Henry, had Maggie playing a character who does martial arts, because she herself is a black belt in tae kwon do. She originally took it as an elective in college, and was so good at it, she was soon competing. I’m a black belt in tae kwon do as well, so I definitely understand that pull for strong female characters.

Tanna told me she never felt what it was like to be a woman until she started to do martial arts. She stopped being scared and started being aware of the inner power within her. It was how she connected with the more feminine side of herself, a side that was previously so afraid she was going to get hurt. That inner knowledge that she could get herself out of any situation helped her realize life wasn’t something to be scared of.

It was precisely that inner strength in Maggie at the end of Queen of the Lot, the Normal Shearer part that likes to play hardball with the guys, the down-to-earth midwesterner, that Tanna felt she was borrowing from herself. That’s where the line between Maggie and Tanna gets blurred. The rest of the character, the more fluffy sweetness, is more of an accumulation of the actresses Tanna has seen out in Hollywood. Tanna herself has never sold out. She prefers making the independent films and getting a creative hand in everything she films. She’s not willing to “short shift” herself in life and credits that to tae kwon do. She likes to play the “Jack Lemmon-esque” characters that are reminiscent of the midwesterners.

Queen of the Lot is a sequel to another film Tanna and Henry did together, Hollywood Dreams. I haven’t seen that one, but now after seeing Queen of the Lot, I definitely want to. I want to know what led Maggie to become this beautiful, strong person who doesn’t see any of that in herself, just seeing “star.” In that respect, I see what Tanna meant, that only the side of Maggie at the end of the movie is her. As by the end of the interview, I was no longer talking to the star of a film I’d just finished watching, but talking to a strong, very earthy woman who is definitely the queen of her lot.

On November 18, Queen of the Lot will open it will open in more than dozen theaters in the greater L.A. area, then in New York on Dec 1st, on Dec 10th in San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, and Chicago, with other cities nationally to follow.

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