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Interview Exclusive HTF Interview: Dana Gourrier (The Hateful Eight) (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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The lovely and talented New Orleans native Dana Gourrier is making her mark on Hollywood. With roles on the critically lauded first season of HBO’s True Detective, two seasons of HBO’s Togetherness, the 2013 season of American Horror Story: Coven, the recently released Jeff Nichol’s film Midnight Special, and Quentin Tarantino’s two most recent films, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, Dana is delivering excellent performances in many exceptional productions. She spoke with Home Theater Forum from her hometown of New Orleans, discussing the bravado production of The Hateful Eight, in which she plays Minnie Mink, owner of Minnie’s Haberdashery where most of the film takes place.

The Hateful Eight is available on now on Blu-ray and all major digital retailers from Starz/Anchor Bay.

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HTF: Thanks for taking a little time to talk with Home Theater Forum this morning. I wanted to ask you, as with all of Quentin Tarantino's films, the story is ripe with crackling dialogue. The Hateful Eight, is a simple contained story and plays like a paranoid mystery as much as a period piece or a western. But it reminded me of Tarantino’s genius and the craftsmanship. What was your reaction when you read through the script for the first time and saw where he was going with this?

Dana Gourrier: Yeah. I got the call from him that he had written a part for me. And after freaking out and catching up with him (and laughing and being excited together), he told me, "We're going to certify FedEx this script to you that, honey, I don't want you to share with anyone." I was like, "You got it." I had to sign an NDA and after I read it the first time I closed it and I [thought to myself], "Oh my gosh what did I just read?" I flipped that script over and I read it again right then and there. I can't even tell you how many times [I ended up reading it]. But I think one of the most important jobs that we have as actors is really understanding the story; really dissecting it. I have a process with my script alone where I dissect it and have color tabs for this and a different color tab for that. And this is a clue and that has a color tab. My script was riddled with different little indications of clues and information all over the place. And when I first signed on, I told [Quentin] "Oh honey, I'm so excited. I'm going to go buy new highlighter pens and sticky pads and little note-taking things." I was a total nerd about it. He died laughing, ate it up, because that's his thing. He loves a person that is as excited about the work as he is. And so I did. But I was blown away from the first page to the last. I had the same exact experience reading the script as I had watching the film, even after having been a part of it.

And after I saw [The HatefulEight] the first time, I had one of those moments where I needed to sit in the theater and decompress for a moment and piece together what I had just seen. I slept on it and the next morning I woke up knowing this is a masterpiece – the same way I knew it having read it the first time.

HTF: This is your second film with Quentin Tarantino after your role in Django Unchained. You played the role of Minnie Mink, owner of Minnie’s Haberdashery in The Hateful Eight which is a terrific character because the haberdashery is like a character itself and the character of Minnie informs what we're supposed to feel out of the haberdashery and the tone of that place, as Sam Jackson's character describes on a couple of occasions. How did you approach the Minnie Mink character? And how was your working with Quentin on the Minnie character different to the role you played in Django Unchained?

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Dana Gourrier: Cora [in Django Unchained] was much more conservative. She was a slave, in the big house, but a slave nonetheless and she walked the fine line of comfort and fear at all times. That's the concept I played with, with Cora. She's super comfortable running things in this house but she sets that alarm one time it's the end of her life, more or less, whether its lashes or it's the hot box or any number of horrible, torturous things. In that respect, Cora was extremely different from Minnie. Minnie was a proprietor, a woman of color who owned her own business and property. All the land you see around the Minnie's Haberdashery, Minnie owned. It was hers by right and by law. If you'd have had something like that during the time in which it happened, of course that's going to give a woman a bit of power and a bit of edge. I think what you're referring to as it relates to the film like the Haberdashery itself isn't a character but it's literally written in the script, this place is a whole shack full of junk without Minnie. Minnie is who brings life into it, who brings the energy, the welcome and goodness, and the "Let me get you something to eat. Let me give you a warm blanket." It's refuge. It's a place to rest and recharge if you will. Without Minnie, the energy of that place is very different. It's very suspect because you don't ever come to the Haberdashery and Minnie, Sweet Dave and those folks are not there. It's just not the same, which is why it's so suspicious to Sam Jackson's character.

My approach was that the best way to find out about your character is to read what the other characters are saying about him or her. I just went with that. She’s balanced the line between being, as Quentin wrote her in the script, just shy of cantankerous, and extremely warm and welcoming. Minnie is that kind of person you just want to hug when you walk into a place.

HTF: In your key scene there's a warmth. There's a happiness. There's a joviality about that space that stands in stark contrast to how we are first introduced to the Haberdashery, which is a cold, unpleasant place to be, filled with paranoia and characters, none of whom you trust.

Dana Gourrier: Yeah, which is even supported and reflected in the brilliant work that [Cinematographer] Bob Richardson and his team did as it relates to the lighting. Even the lighting in Minnie's is completely different and granted the visitors coming is a different time of day, but they really reflected the [difference in Minnie’s when she’s there] versus the entire rest of the piece.

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HTF: The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained caught some controversy over the use of the N-word. I'll be honest. I'm conflicted on the subject. I find it very uncomfortable. I'm a white man, my wife is African American, and we’ve have a 4-year-old son and we’re very aware of the power and pain of that word. But I don't believe that Quentin chooses to use that word for any other reason than the authenticity of the time, the place, and the characters that he's exploring.

I'd also read reports that Leonardo DiCaprio struggled with one scene in particular for Django. And I respect that. Is the heavy use of that word prefaced on set at all? Is there a discussion about it? Or is it just an accepted part of the setting and the authenticity of the characters and all the actors take that in stride as part of the production?

Dana Gourrier: It's an acceptance and an understanding that Quentin Tarantino writes his characters true to form in the realest way possible in the time period in which they exist. Whether it's 1970s or the 1800s, he's going to write his characters truthfully. It's our job as actors to portray those characters truthfully. I am a woman of color. I identify as a black woman coming from a very multi-cultural background - specifically the Creole culture here in New Orleans. I do have trouble with the word. I do have trouble being called the word, even in character. Even though I was never outright called that word on set in the script to the character's face, Minnie was referred to as that by Jennifer Jason Leigh's character, Daisy Domergue. Even hearing her say it the five or six times I saw the film, I cringe every time. It is a despicable word with despicable history. However, as an artist I can't be told what to say, what to write, how to censor myself. I feel that is a violation of my own personal rights, and I'm going to say and write whatever story I want. In that story, I'm going to be truthful and I'm going to write something that people may not agree with, or it may not make them comfortable.

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I feel that Quentin has gotten very comfortable and confident in this thought process. He's not going to be censored. He's not bothered by who or what offends people. The truth of it is that Quentin is a very, very strong supporter of people of color, etc. I believe that his mindset is not about, "Let me go and see and write and see how many people I can offend with this," more than it's, "I want to be true to form. I want to write these characters that are true to life." Truth be told, there is a lot of flak about the use of the word in Django Unchained. But the facts is that if it were that time period, there would have been double the amount of the use of that word.

HTF: That's a great point. That was, sadly, the reality of that time.

Dana Gourrier: That's the reality of that time. He actually did the diet version. You know what I mean? Furthermore what's interesting is, the use of the word and the consistency of it makes us uncomfortable as people in general. That is a device. It almost, to some degree, disempowers it by desensitizing it, but at the same time, it doesn't do that. It makes us uncomfortable because it was an uncomfortable time. There are points that happen in The Hateful Eight that are so relative to today, particularly things that Walton Goggins' character, who is – and Walton is such a wonderful man and such a wonderful actor – but Walton and Sam's characters go back and forth with this concept of race during a time that was right after the abolishment of slavery. [But it’s] insane that people are so disturbed by the N-word when it’s just a small part [of that reality]. And it is unfair to depict a person as a bigot or prejudiced because they may write a certain type of work. There are many people in Hollywood that I do not see stand up and speak on the behalf of people who were innocently murdered by others. It doesn't make Quentin a certain type of person because of his use of the N-word in his work. You know, it also doesn't mean that we can ignore that either. But I think that there's a bigger picture. And the fact that we are still having the same conversation that Chris Mannix and Major Mark West had at that time and it's relative to 2016, that's the scariest part. If we miss that, we're missing something huge. We're not getting it.

HTF: You can't hear this, but I'm quietly applauding right now because I'm with you 100%.

Dana Gourrier: Thank you so much, I appreciate that. I'll be honest with you, Neil, whenever these questions come up, I always feel a bit of pressure, like I have a responsibility to say something worth being heard. But I also have a responsibility to myself and my personal integrity. And I'm learning this whole Hollywood game that you have to ride the line of that. So I'm just finding my way, so if I said anything to offend anyone out there, you know, maybe just apologies. I don't have all the right answers. I can just tell you what I feel. That's all.

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HTF: And I'll be honest with you, I wrote that question and I wondered, "Am I being unfair asking you that question? Would I ask other [cast members] this question? And the moment I said to myself “Yeah, this is a question for anybody”, then it was okay to ask, but I did pause…

Dana Gourrier: Sure. And it's not one racial group's problem. It's a human being issue in our country. We're all human beings. And it comes down to us all being there, both individually and collectively as a race of people and most importantly as human beings, you know?

HTF: Right. I agree. Now, onto lighter subjects, you have appeared in some great productions, True Detective, American Horror Story, The Butler.

Dana Gourrier: Thank you!

HTF: And you appear in Midnight Special, which just did exceptionally well in limited release. That film was directed by the incredibly talented Jeff Nichols.

Dana Gourrier: It did well. I've been really shocked, yeah.

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HTF: I was going to ask, how do you pick the roles, because your batting average is abnormally high for great work?

Dana Gourrier: That's just sweet. If I'm going to be very real with you, I don't pick the roles, the roles pick me. What people don't talk about is the struggle of the artist – [especially those like me], around my level. It just seems like there is so far to go, so it is so nice to hear a recognition of your work in that way, because I do get lost in the work and in the hustle for the work and the race for the part. [But it’s important to] have the understanding that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. So hearing you say all those titles, it makes you look back and think, "You know I've been a part of remarkable projects."

And that I can attribute to Meagan Lewis here in New Orleans. She's a fantastic casting director. She's the person that cast the light on me first and she's how I met Quentin Tarantino. So through her, [there’s been a] little momentum effect of one project that leads to the other, and this project leads to meeting this casting director, and so on.

Now there are things that I say no to because I have my personal integrity and you have to learn to say no. You can't do everything and you should know where your moral compass points before you get into the game. But I think I've been extraordinarily blessed, to keep it all the way real with you, there are times I want to quit. You get tired of the feast or famine nature of it all. It's hard when you go month to month without working. You go to audition after audition after audition. I'm not at the level where they just call you up and offer you things. I'm fighting to get there, but that's the nature of the beast. And that's what separates the women from the girls and the boys from the men, so to speak.

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I just moved to Los Angeles and so I'm new there. All the casting directors are new to me. They haven't gotten to know my work or me personally just yet. I started the New Orleans (NOLA) process, but this is the big leagues. And NOLA's fantastic, and being a local hire has been the joy of my life, truly. But if I want to make my mark, I've got to go where the opportunity to make a mark is. It's been very hard. It's been a tough transition, but we're getting there. And I just have the faith that what is for me will always be for me and what is for someone else will not ever be for me. So in that way, I can't be sad or think that these things are rejection after rejection. I don't look at it like that. In New Orleans, I would have to go through on average perhaps 10 no's before I got a yes to a project. In California, that average is about a hundred no's before you get a yes, and for some, more than that. So every time I get a no, I say "Cool, checking the ‘no’ off gets me closer to my yes” [laughs]. If you have any other perspective, you'll drive yourself crazy.

HTF: Well, thank you so much for talking to me today. Congratulations on The Hateful Eight, and I look forward to the films that you have coming up: Heart, Baby, Same Kind of Different as Me, and Kidnap. I'm looking forward to seeing you prosper.

Dana Gourrier: Thank you, darling. I appreciate it.

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TravisR

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Cool interview, Neil! I liked the kindness that Minnie, Sweet Dave, Judy, etc. brought to a movie full of darkness. Getting to see the characters turned them from cyphers into real and very sympathetic people and their needless deaths made the mean bastards that killed them even more mean.
 

Bryan^H

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I hope Dana is in all of Quentin Tarantino's future films. Very cool lady.
 

Robert Harris

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Neil,

Best piece you've done. Great, human interview, with substance.
 

bujaki

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Neil, I agree with RAH. This is a great interview, and Ms. Gourrier comes across as a warm human being I'd like to know. I wish her well.
 

Neil Middlemiss

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Neil,

Best piece you've done. Great, human interview, with substance.

Neil, I agree with RAH. This is a great interview, and Ms. Gourrier comes across as a warm human being I'd like to know. I wish her well.

Thank you. She was an absolute pleasure to talk to and incredibly down to earth. I sincerely believe she has a very bright future ahead!
 

Josh Steinberg

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I'd like to add my two cents and tip my hat to Neil - great interview, great questions, great variety and mix of both straight-up movie questions and socially-relevant questions. Movies don't exist in a vacuum and I like how you addressed a range of topics without any of it feeling forced or random.
 

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