Few are honored with the chance to work with Quentin Tarantino. Even fewer, though, get to opportunity to work with him twice — let alone have a role written specifically with them in mind in his latest. But Dana Gourrier isn’t like most people. Nor is this the only prominent distinction in her continuously blooming career.
As an actress, singer and writer, Gourrier’s resume regularly bounces across screens big and small. Her television appearances include parts in True Detective season one, The Astronaut Wives Club, Red Band Society, Treme, Togetherness and American Horror Story: Coven. And in addition to her roles in Django Unchained, where she played Cara, and The Hateful Eight, where she plays Minnie, she has starred in films like The Butler, Maggie, The Runner, Broken City and Bullet to the Head just throughout the past couple years. And that’s without getting into some of her exciting upcoming projects, where she works with likes of Adam Driver and Halle Berry, just to name a few. But that’s just the beginning for her.
Sitting down for an exclusive phone interview, Gourrier discusses the “extraordinary” experience of shooting with Tarantino, her reaction to seeing the final film for the first time, her involvement in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special and HBO’s Togetherness, working with Berry on the upcoming thriller Kidnapped and her advice for up-and-coming actors in the business today.
This interview was conducted on November 24.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was told that you got a call personally from Quentin Tarantino telling you that you were going to be in The Hateful Eight?
Dana Gourrier: I did! He called me up…. It would have been the first week of April. It might have been the last week of March. And he called me up, and said, “Honey, I got a part for you. I wrote a part for you in my next film, and I’d like to come on over and let’s do it.”
And I have a voicemail — and I still have that voicemail (laughs). It’s pretty special.
TCC: What’s it like to have a role written for you by Quentin Tarantino?
DG: It’s pretty extraordinary. I tell people often that I was in the middle of this space between total disbelief and a surreal reality, and just utter enthusiasm and excitement. It’s just like living in-between those two worlds. Because, it was so unbelievable, and at the same time, it’s like “Oh my gosh, this is, like, one of the most exciting things ever.”
TCC: Definitely. And since you did Django Unchained before this, did you feel prepared to go into another Tarantino film, or were you taken by it all, as you probably were last time?
DG: First of all, I learned so much on Django. I learned a number of things about being an actor, and being a part of an ensemble. And also being a person emotionally, you know? I’m so much better; I feel I learned a lot from Django, and a lot about (Tarantino’s) style, and the rhythm and the culture of things. The way his characters run. It was less apprehension, more “I’m excited to see my family.” Like those folks, crew especially, some of them have been with him for decades. So it’s kind of having a family reunion. It’s pretty extraordinary.
TCC: Definitely. And I’ve heard a couple stories here and there, but I’m kinda curious to hear it from your own words: What’s the energy like on a Quentin Tarantino movie set?
DG: It’s high energy. It’s very intense. It’s also super fun and exciting. It’s just an extraordinary experience all around. Everybody wants to do their absolute best work. And I mean, everyone. Everyone involved, from transport to catering to craft services to crew to the actors to the producers. To even the locals that are supporting us wherever we are. With something like this, it’s a massive undertaking. But the support makes everything unstoppable. So everyone’s on their A-game.
TCC: And since I know there’s a lot of secrecy and things that can’t get spoiled, I was just curious: Is there anything that you can tell me right about your character, Minnie?
DG: I sure can. So there is a group of bounty hunters — a couple bounty hunters — that are traveling to Red Rock, and they are trying to beat this blizzard. And so they’re basically — as Quentin would call it — quote-on-quote “hightailing it” (laughs) to Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is a stagecoach stop over in the middle of basically nowhere. Like off on this mountain. What happens at a haberdashery is it’s where you stock up on your supplies, you get rest, you get a hearty meal and you relax. And that’s what they provide, Minnie and her folks over there. Minnie owns this haberdashery. She’s a woman of color owning her own property up on this mountain. And what she says goes, for all intensive purposes. That’s how it is; she really runs that house.
So that’s the character, Minnie. She’s a little stiff, and a lot sweet. And she’s the kind of individual that you would want as an ally. You know what I mean?
TCC: Yeah, definitely. Awesome.
DG: Yeah…. (laughs)
TCC: Have you gotten to see any of the film yet?
DG: I have; I’ve seen it. I saw it on a Wednesday, about two weeks ago.
TCC: Oh really?
DG: It was, what I can only describe as, a masterpiece. It’s extraordinary. I did some personal checking in, because I had to make sure that I wasn’t being bias of myself. I wanted to check myself. But prior to being involved even with Django Unchained, I was always a Quentin Tarantino fan. I’m just as geeked out — I was just as excited to see it — as I was to be a part of it. I’m such a huge fan of his creativity and his artistry. And it was an extremely exciting experience. It’s always a little strange to see yourself on film; you’re always dissecting and judging your performance. You may not mean to, but as a performer, you can’t help it.
But all that aside, it was just a brilliant film. The score by Ennio Morricone is just unbelievable. And the performances are just unbelievable. It’s really just some of the best work I’ve seen by these actors. I’m just honored to be riding along, to just be a guest in the room. You know what I mean?
TCC: Yeah. I mean, I just got goosebumps just thinking about it. So I can’t even imagine, or wait to see it for myself.
DG: I hear you.
TCC: Yeah. Also, I’m amazed about how you have so many exciting projects coming up. I didn’t even know where to begin or what to ask you about. But the one I definitely wanted to talk to you about is Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols’ new movie.
DG: Oh, yeah. He’s fantastic.
TCC: Yeah, that was another one where it was only this week — or the week before — when the trailer came out, and now that the details are being released, can you tell me a little bit about what you do in that movie?
DG: Sure. I play Sharon Davison, a child psychologist. And basically, she knows something’s up with the kid. He’s especially different. But the young man doesn’t want to speak with her though. He wants to speak with someone else. And the film itself is about a father who’s trying to protect his son, who has these special powers. There are government agents, these guys who want to get their hands on him. And I just have this great moment where we’re trying to understand what’s going on with this young man, and we’re trying to get some answers on what’s going on with this young man. And I feel that Sharon is navigating the line of needing to be a professional — or, excuse me, having to be a professional — with all these government figures around her.
She has a job to do, but at the same time, can’t help but have this emotional attachment to this young man, and want to help him on an emotional level. It’s — I think — the choice she made was this was more personal and less professional. I think Sharon made this choice personally. And I think, with this person, you have this certain way when you’re with children where your heart just melts for them. You know what I mean?
TCC: Yeah, I know, for sure, that the movie is going to be one that I’m dying to see.
DG: Yeah, I know. Jeff’s so talented. I mean, they’re all really talented, but Jeff is so talented. He’s great.
TCC: Did you get to work with Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver a lot on the set?
DG: No, I only got to work with the young man, and I got to work with Adam Driver — which was great. He’s real cool; he’s real chill. But I didn’t get the chance to work with Michael Shannon or Joel Edgerton. I wish I would have worked with Kirsten Dunst, fbecause I’m a huge Kirsten Dunst fan, since Interview with the Vampire. And she’s great on Fargo right now. I didn’t get the chance to work with them, but maybe some day in my future (laughs). Maybe one day.
TCC: But you did get to work, I guess, with Halle Berry in Kidnapped.
DG: I did! Yeah, she’s just a magnificent human being. She’s just such a wonderful lady, and I really appreciated spending time with her. She was really sweet and kind, and open and warm. She was doing a really great job of having to facilitate such a demanding, emotional ride. The film is about her own child being kidnapped; her character’s child being kidnapped, obviously. And she was just an emotional state. Every. Single. Day. I mean, she had to go through all this stuff you have to go through for all that, but she still, amidst that, had this kindness to me and warmth, like there’s a gentleness about her that made me understand that everything is fine and okay. We’re just going to do our jobs today. She was really, really, really, really kind with me.
TCC: Awesome, and I’m switching gears a little bit, but I really enjoyed this past season of Togetherness.
DG: Oh yeahhhhh. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those guys (the Duplass brothers) are faaaaaannnnnnnnnntastic.
TCC: Yeah, I was just wondering what it was like to work with the Duplass brothers?
DG: Yeah, the Duplass brothers are, firstly, super highly intelligent men. And just their level and concepts, of creativity, comedic timing, storytelling is just so fantastic. It’s so relatable, and identifiable. Like, especially with our generation, you know? Or that generation of young moms, young parents. People in their late ‘30s-early ‘40s, trying to figure it out. You know what I mean? Trying to navigate growing up and figure out life. Like, they are really particularly special at telling the truth of that story. And it’s honestly so much fun to be in the room with them. Like the whole crew and cast is, you know, really good folks. All different facilities, all kinds of goodness. And we all have fun doing their jobs, which is just extraordinary — especially as an actor. Like, being a part of a project or stuff that’s just actually fun. You know what I mean? Like, this doesn’t even feel like work. That’s a really good group of people to find.
TCC: Definitely. And even though you’ve only been in Hollywood for the past couple years, you’ve already had such an exceptional career so far. We’ve only talked about a few of the fantastic things you’ve worked on, or are working on at the moment. So what’s it like to balance between all these great projects back-to-back?
DG: You know, it has been really special. I have to tell you: I’ve only moved to Los Angeles, Hollywood, for, say, maybe four months ago. I just got here, so 90 percent of my work that you’re seeing all comes from New Orleans. I have to give props and props again to my casting director, Meagan Lewis, in New Orleans, Louisiana, that, I guess, she became a fan of my work and kept bringing me in. She kept me feeling confident because I was in demand. She’s got these go-to actors that she can really trust with her work. I feel honored to be able to say that I was one of the ones she wanted to back.
So a lot of my work came from New Orleans, and being a local hire there. I went to school out here. I went to the California Institute of the Arts —CalArts — and I knew I would always eventually wind up back there. Because yes, there is only so much that you can do as a local hire, where I, personally, wanted to grow. Not only in responsibility, but as an individual and as it relates to my career. So I moved out here — but to answer your question more specifically — it’s just been an incredible ride. It’s just been an incredible ride to go from things like Treme to True Detective to American Horror Story to working with some of the best actors of our generation. And to be able to work with them, and to build relationships with them, is really special.
And I know I tend to be a little bit under the radar; I have been. But I like it that way. I like just being really focused on the work, and just really still having that hustle, that spirit in my body. Just having to need to work. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m slacking off because I’ve made it, or that I’m there, I arrived. I always want to learn something, and grow and mature and be better and be stronger. But I knew that L.A. would be a beast, so, you know, I figured I would come out here and face it.
TCC: Definitely. And just for my last question: If anyone else was going out there, or at least considering making the jump that you did to go out to L.A., what would be some advice that you give them?
DG: Alright, I give to you the same words that I (gave) to some of the graduating classes at CalArts, when they asked me to come back and speak. The best advice that I would give to anyone pursuing your art goals in this industry is to take care [of yourself] during the times when you not are working. That’s what I think is a no-brainer. You’re working, you’re constantly moving, you’re working those muscles. You’re rolling out for things, or actually working when you’re on set. Those are not the times when you need to pay attention. You need to pay attention, but that’s not the time that you need to be… most concerned about. It’s good downtime, though. It’s the developing your own routine, staying motivated on your own when you’re waiting for the phone to ring. And that’s the whole point: don’t wait for the phone to ring.
Always keep your mind active, your mind stimulated, engaged in whatever it is you love. Whether it’s waking up in the morning and working out, and then you’re going to read this and then you’re going to read that. Make and do this, make and do that. You’re constantly moving, in a constant state of activity. Because when you don’t — and you spin around and wait — it is like a plague. It is like, I believe, you’re setting yourself up for personal destruction.
So my best advice would be to stay active, stay busy, stay motivated. Because there’s going to be a lot of downtime during each project, or hiatus. Times where you are like, “When am I going to work?” And I think the answer is, “You’re working towards something.” It doesn’t always feel like it, but you’re always working towards it. That’s my best advice.
The Hateful Eight is currently in theaters now. Midnight Special and Kidnapped come to theaters on March 18 and May 13, respectively. Follow Dana on Twitter at @DanaGourrier.