From the GATW Archives: Interview: Actress Kat Dennings (DEFENDOR)

Kat Dennings is a sweetheart. I knew this when Rusty interviewed her in Dallas last year with Michael Cera for NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, but I had forgotten how easy it is to carry a conversation with her. Yesterday I spoke with Kat about her new film, DEFENDOR, which she co-stars in with the great Woody Harrelson. DEFENDOR follows a regular - but very eccentric - guy (Harrelson) who takes it upon himself to fight crime and stop an evil drug lord, whom he calls Captain Industry. This isn’t your ordinary comic book film, as Defendor never gets his way and always gets his ass kicked. God bless him for trying.

Check out our interview after the jump, where we talk about the hesitations of working with a first time director, how cool Woody Harrelson is, and what it’s like working on two comic book movies that go in completely different directions. If you don’t know the other comic book movie I’m speaking of, may the Gods have mercy on your soul. Or at least Thor, because he’s lurking just around the corner.

Chase Whale: Talk about how you got involved with the film.

Kat Dennings: Well, I got the script and no one was attached at the time I read it, so it was purely for the story. And I read it and I remember sitting on one couch, my mom was napping on the other couch and I was crying. I don’t cry very often, I’m a pretty tough cookie, especially with the amount of scripts that I’ve read I’m pretty jaded by this point. But I was crying and I was trying to keep it together and not wake her up and so I knew “I have got to do this.” The role is really different for me. There was really nothing for me to hold on to personally, because I’ve never been through anything that the character’s been through, obviously. Or not obviously, I don’t know [laughs], she’s a crack-addicted prostitute!
So I just knew that I really wanted to do it, I didn’t know if I could pull it off but I wanted to try. And I met with Peter [Stebbings], the writer-director and we had a lot of really good talks and both of us were just like “I wonder if I can do this.” And I came in and I read, you know, like you do with a normal audition and there were other people there and miraculously it came together. I’m very lucky.

CW: Going back to Peter, this is his directorial debut, whenever you got the script did you have any hesitations, or whenever you signed on did you have any hesitations? What did you do to put trust in Peter for his first film?

KD: The thing about first-time directors, it’s always kind of a risk, you never know. But the saying is, or whatever, everyone did something first. I mean, Scorsese did a first film, everyone does a first film. So it’s a coin toss, you either a get a maniac who’s going to lose his shit and not be able to do anything. Or you’re going to get a poised person who’s learning but really dedicated, and that’s Peter. Peter really took charge. I remember once Woody [Harrelson] got attached and once I got the job, we all had a meeting—me, Woody and Peter. And we talked for a long time and ate vegan food and I came out of there and was like “All right, sold.” I mean obviously, with Woody being in it…

CW: Going into Woody, his character is such a unique character, I’ve never seen him play something like this before. What was it like working with Woody playing this very unique character?

KD: As you know, first of all, Woody is one of the world’s most incredible acting treasures. He’s a sweet, wonderful man, incredible actor. One of the true greats. I mean, he’s been great in everything. He’s a legend, you know? We had a lot of talks about what are we going do. We had a lot of rehearsals, and I had never had this experience and he hadn’t either, where we were like “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Both of us! [laughs] First of all, every rehearsal process is different, sometimes you don’t even have one. But we had time to rehearse and both us were just like “I’m not gonna feel like I’m the person until we’re both on set and we both have our costumes and makeup on. Until you’ve got on a helmet and I’ve got a crack pipe.” [laughs]

And we both met with a lot of people who were really in these situations. Like Woody met with a young man who had Fetal Alochol Syndrome, which is what Arthur [Harrelson’s character] has to deal with. He really made a nice bond with person, he was a great guy. But sadly this man had passed away during the film which was pretty rough for all of us. But I had met some people who had been sex workers or were currently sex workers or had been addicts or were currently addicts and it really gave me a big time reality check in my own life.

Also, with Woody’s character and my character you have these preconceptions about what kind of people they were. Like, yeah, she’s a prostitute and she smokes crack but she’s all these other things too, and she got to this point because of this. And what I learned is that anyone, from any walk of life or from any childhood situation can slip down that slope. It’s pretty sad, you know? But the film is a lot of things, it’s a superhero movie, it’s a comedy, it’s drama, it’s beautiful. We had the premiere the other night…and it just kind of all came together all of a sudden. I was a little bit sad, I just hope people see this movie. It’s a really good one. I’m really proud of it.

CW: Yeah absolutely! My next question is, this showed at Toronto and it got picked up and now it’s being released, how cool does that feel? Because there’s so many great films that just have a tough time finding a distributor and it’s so depressing.

KD: It’s incredible, especially I think this year was a tough year. Because you know, a lot of financial problems. Every studio had a budget and everyone was having a hard time. So for this to get picked up during the recession, it’s pretty amazing. And this is not a face movie, it’s kind of a fucked up movie. So it’s refreshing. It’s so great. I’m so happy and I just want people to see it. And you know, it’s coming out on DVD relatively soon, so if people see it that way great. There’s a lot of insight on that commentary, let me tell you.

CW: You’ve talked about how DEFENDOR is kind of a fucked up, character study/comic book movie. You’re doing THOR, what was it like working in the same genre but at two completely different ends?

KD: Polar opposites. I actually haven’t started filming my part of THOR yet. So the fun is still to be had for me. But yeah, it’s a complete disconnect. It’s like, one you have a very small budget, a 20 day shoot, kind of very intense, cold, sad beautiful small film. And then you have a huge epic explosion of gorgeous worlds and all this legend and Kenneth Branagh and Anthony Hopkins! [laughs] I don’t know, they couldn’t be more different. I can’t wait to feel how that feels. I really can’t wait to experience that. All the rehersal we had for THOR, the fittings, everything! I’m so excited. It’s like waiting for Christmas.

CW: It must be really cool to be in two comic book movies that both have their own charms.

KD: Yeah! For different reasons. But essentially, every hero has the same appeal. Your hero is supposed to have an honest soul and truth, purity and justice. Obviously THOR is Thor. And Chris Hemsworth, I mean honestly, it’s pretty daunting just talking the way Thor talks and Chris, the second he opened his mouth I almost passed out. He’s just so perfect. Obviously he’s a physically beautiful person but you just buy every word he says. You completely believe him, he’s got this amazing quality about him. And Woody playing Defendor couldn’t be more honest or more truthful and justice is his thing. So essentially heroes are all the same, except for like, Tony Stark, who’s kind of a dick [laughs].

CW: With DEFENDOR being a different type of comic book movie, it’s about a regular guy taking matters into his hands. What do you think people like about that?

KD: Well, I think we all have those revenge fantasies. I know I do [laughs]. You know when someone offends you and you just want to leap from building to building and rip their tonsils out…or maybe that’s just me…[laughs]. But it’s interesting because you know, what is a superhero? What is it? What makes the superhero? It’s the outfit and sometimes you have powers. But you know, Batman doesn’t have any powers! He’s a dude. And who says another dude can’t be a superhero? Like, you don’t have to have a cape and weapons to be a badass.