Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dreama Walker Turns Obedience Inside Out

Dreama Walker as Becky in Craig Zobel's psychodrama "Compliance". 
Dogfish Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, September 1, 2012

DREAMA WALKER is a great conversationalist.  Mature, thoughtful and grounded, the Tampa, Florida-born 26-year-old actress is building a solid television and film career.  We converse by telephone -- an instrument on which her "Compliance" character Becky spends much of her time -- just three weeks before Clint Eastwood, her onscreen father in "Gran Torino", would talk to an empty chair in Ms. Walker's birth city.

There were no empty chair issues in "Compliance" for Dreama Walker, who spent about three weeks on the film in 2011.

"I trusted Craig implicitly," Ms. Walker says of "Compliance" director Craig Zobel, who shot her virtually nude on screen in the drama inspired by true events at a Kentucky McDonald's in 2004.  "We talked many times about how scenes would be shot.  It was very physically taxing throughout most of the day.  But it had to be done, and Craig made me feel so comfortable."

The director uses restraint balancing some of the film's toughest scenes with cutaways.  "Compliance" is far from a comfortable experience but a valuable one about how and why people follow the orders of authority figures even if it is harmful to others and against their own best interests.

To play Becky Ms. Walker didn't seek out the real-life victim of the Kentucky McDonald's crime.  "That definitely wasn't necessary, and I completely agree with you that a woman on camera having to answer a man questioning her about why didn't she stop her own rape is very exploitive."  The actress was referring to a 2005 ABC television "Primetime" segment on the Kentucky crime featuring interviews with the actual victim and the McDonald's manager.  "I did watch the video for that, yes.  It was horrible."  The segment, which includes disturbing surveillance video footage from the actual incident, which Mr. Zobel's film follows closely, can be easily searched online.

"Compliance" offers a Rorschach test for audiences.  Are they complicit as voyeurs by watching the crimes that unfold during the film and staying in the movie theater?  Are the audiences who fail to at least shout "fire" in a crowded theater as they watch the film's events guilty?  Are the audience members who leave guilty for abandoning what they see?  Audiences have an advantage over the characters, making for irritation and anger for many viewers.  There are outbursts and walkouts.

"Everyone (who sees the film) typically has a knee-jerk reaction to it, but every day we're faced with situations that we respond to so easily, that we comply with that may not be the best for us," said Ms. Walker, who can currently be seen on ABC television in the sitcom "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23".  In "Apartment 23" Ms. Walker plays June, a sweet, unassuming Southerner who moves to the big city and runs up against and befriends her self-centered and obnoxious neighbor.  In "Compliance" Becky, by contrast, is a different kettle of fish: arguably promiscuous, materialistic, and, perhaps most importantly, mildly contemptuous of authority, namely her ChickWich restaurant boss Sandra (played by Ann Dowd).

Ms. Walker, who executes Becky so convincingly in a very effective performance, talked about her "Compliance" character.  "She thought she would lose everything, so she reacts by doing whatever she can to get out of this very oppressive, fearful situation she's in.  I felt for her in such a deep way, and wanted to be truthful to her as much as I possibly could."  Ms. Walker's portrayal was not based on the real-life victim but strictly on Mr. Zobel's screenplay, which hews closely to the Kentucky ordeal.

Some critics have cited Mr. Zobel's casting of the attractive actress as a litmus test for some male audience members, who may subliminally project any sexual fantasies onto Ms. Walker in the film.  While a psychosexual drama in many instances, "Compliance" isn't a film that invites audiences to indulge in prurience for too long.

Dreama Walker as Becky in Craig Zobel's psychodrama "Compliance".  Dogfish Pictures/Magnolia Pictures

The actress, who has appeared in such television series as "Gossip Girl" and "The Good Wife", joked "that I would prefer to spend my evenings in pink pajamas lounging around" than be on the set for such intense scenes for a movie. 

"This was a great challenge for me, and I really appreciated it as an actress.  I was focusing on that fear (Becky) felt, holding on to that feeling of being so frightened.  It was very difficult to visit that place.  Pretty much everyone's worst feeling is to be fearful," Ms. Walker said.

The subject matter about authority figures and human beings who follow orders was something that attracted Dreama Walker to Mr. Zobel's film.  "I remember the actual  McDonald's fast food incident at the time.  I was shocked.  I couldn't believe it.  It was really fascinating to me why people did what they did, and how they unfortunately caused such pain.  I really wanted to fill in the gaps of how this got to where it where it got to.  I was interested in exploring this side of me as an actress.  I feel grateful and thankful that I personally haven't been in the position Becky was in."

Dreama Walker is asked whether "Compliance" could be a play.  "Possibly it could, and I've done some theater, and while theater is immediate and raw and electric I think there's a great deal of nuance you can see on film that works very well for a film like "Compliance".  I'm really intrigued by storytelling.  I love to sing and dance and write and act.  I've always found real fascination and understanding in emotions and feelings and how they're interpreted on screen and how they are played out differently on the theater stage."

"Compliance", which is playing in just 17 U.S. cities at the time of this writing (the film will expand its release to additional American cities next weekend), has gained a lot of attention.  The R-rated film has been largely praised by critics in the U.S. including Roger Ebert, America's preeminent film critic, though it has drawn sharply divided reactions from audiences.

"This movie is about a lot of different things.  Everybody responds to it differently," said Ms. Walker.  "Craig has said that it is a movie about gender.  For some it's a film about the relationship between Sandra and Becky and their animosity towards each other, and their passive-aggressive behaviors.  Others see it as a story about what happens in fast-food restaurants, and all of those are valid ways to see the film."

A confession is made by Ms. Walker, albeit through some laughs.

"I was kind of a weird kid that had many behaviors way back but I'd never behave in a way that puts me in a difficult position."

Ms. Walker pauses for a moment.

"Becky is accused of something she didn't do, and is told (by Officer Daniels, played by Pat Healy) over and over that she did it.  Personally I think I'd be able to say that I could stand up to false accusations and defend myself.  But after hearing the same lie enough times there does come a point in your psyche that you start to believe, 'well, maybe I really did do something.  Maybe I'm guilty.'  I thought that was a really interesting element to me that was surprising."

"Compliance" is playing in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington D.C., St. Louis, San Jose, Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Chicago and elsewhere.   

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