“I just entered this little store on the lower east side and they all had local designers.”
Caroline Dhavernas was the best original character from Bryan Fuller’s TV adaptation of Hannibal. Even when it seemed like she’d been killed, Dr. Alana Bloom hung around. Dhavernas was at South by Southwest with a new movie, Easy Living. Dhavernas plays Sherry, a woman with a deceptively simple-seeming life.
Sherry goes door-to-door selling makeup during the day. Then after a hard day’s work, she hits the local bars and brings men back to her motel room. Sherry also has a daughter who’s living with her sister and plans to open up her own salon, but those more complicated commitments seem outside of her grasp.
Dhavernas spoke with cinemathread the morning after her premiere in Austin, wearing a cool Bohemian jacket that she’d found in a random shop on New York’s Lower East Side. Writer/director Adam Keleman makes his feature film debut with Easy Living, and as fans not in Austin wait for news of Easy Living getting distributed, we’ll get to see Dhavernas again soon when Lifetime airs her Canadian series, Mary Kills People.
cinemathread: Why can’t I meet a nice girl like you in a bar?
Caroline Dhavernas: [Laughs] Maybe you don’t go out enough.
CT: That’s true, I don’t.
CD: This is the perfect occasion. A lot of people from different towns united in one town like Austin where weirdness is encouraged. So go for it.
CT: Festivals actually are where I meet people, just standing in line together for a movie.
CD: There you go. I believe it will happen for you.
CT: That means a lot coming from you, thank you. Was it really hard to get the skinny jeans off or was that acting?
CD: It was really hard. You’ll never be able to take off a pair of skinny jeans quickly. It’s always going to be a struggle.
CT: Most salespeople don’t take no for an answer. They’re really aggressive. Your character can really sense this is not a sale, and let it go. Was that important to you?
CD: I don’t know, it just came up. We started shooting the first two days all the improv stuff for the door-to-door moments with the women. They were all non-actors or actors who were not professional actors who had said yes to this. So we just arrived guerrilla-style, small crew, and knocked on the door. They were already set up with the cameras and started, ready-to-go. That’s how we started and it was great to just have the time to improv and get to know Sherry before I actually played the scripted scenes. This kind of came up. I think she’s not a great saleswoman. She’s probably not doing what she should for a living. She’s trying to have the structure and this job and I think she’s really meant for the circus or something. I think what you feel at the end is her liberating herself from this life that she had planned for herself that’s clearly not meant for her personality and her way of doing things. So, yeah, I don’t think she sells that much makeup, unfortunately.
CT: If it was improv, was it the “yes and…” philosophy where you read what the customer was giving you and built off that?
CD: Yeah. Sometimes Adam wanted them to be very open minded to me being there, sometimes completely closed off. So yeah, I had to play off that. They were all really cool ladies who just went for it. They opened their houses to us and opened the door and there we were. I was just in and out, half an hour to an hour per location.
CT: Were the scenes with the men from the bars improvised also?
CD: No, they were scripted. Some of them were a little improvised, like when we arrive at my hotel at the beginning and I don’t have my key. That was all improv. I think Adam was open-minded to, even with the scripted scenes, having these little added moments. When I enter the office at the bank, “That’s a beautiful boat. Did you make it?” That was improved as well. I guess it’s just being open to whatever you see in the room and just incorporating what you think is right.
CT: Is it a dream role to play someone as vulnerable as Sherry?
CD: Of course. She’s a weirdo and she’s cool and very vulnerable as you said. There are so many nuances there to play. For me anyway, that’s what I want to play. She’s funny too. I love when a drama can give you space to explore comedy as well.
CT: Isn’t that like life, where even in the serious parts there’s humor?
CD: I think so. I’ve seen so many funerals where, after, people need to laugh and have sex and be alive and drink. I think there’s comedy in everything.
CT: Why do you think Sherry can’t go back to her daughter?
CD: I think she probably has commitment issues. She doesn’t know how to be an adult for herself. She can’t give a child what they need as a support or a structure. Children need structure. She doesn’t have that. She doesn’t know how. We don’t know what happened in her past. Adam and I talked about it a little bit but I like the fact that it’s never really said. There may have been some kind of abuse there. We don’t know but she’s very fragile and she can’t raise a child.
CT: An actor’s life can lack structure. Could you relate to that?
CD: Yes and no. I’m a very structured person so I guess I find a way to be structured when I’m not working. When you’re working, your life is very structured. Someone gives you a schedule for the day and the lines to learn and that’s what you’re doing. I guess it depends [on] what you’re working on.
CT: What was the reaction at SXSW?
CD: Of course, people who loved it come and see you. People who didn’t, don’t. It’s a funky movie because the tone is very rare, I think. Adam created this tone that you don’t see everywhere which is what I love about the movie. I guess some people will really relate to it and others might wonder what this is about, which I think is great because so many recipes are used for film and television, for more commercial movies. We’re here making an indie movie. We’re free. We don’t owe anybody anything, any money. We made this movie with so little money so we were very free to just explore and have fun with it.
“…so many recipes are used for film and television, for more commercial movies. We’re here making an indie movie. We’re free. We don’t owe anybody anything, any money.”
CT: What are you doing next?
CD: I just did a show called Mary Kills People that aired in Canada on Global and Lifetime is going to be airing it in America at the end of April. It’s six episodes and I play Mary. It’s a fantastic part. It’s about an ER doctor who also moonlights as an angel of death to help people who are terminally ill to end their lives. The subject matter, I think, is very important and very interesting, but there’s also a lot of humor. As we were saying, when there’s darkness, there’s humor as well. And there’s a lot of adrenaline and it’s fun, so I love that show. It was written by a woman in her early 30s. It’s her first show. She just came out of the Canadian Film Center. She was writing this project as a student and when she finished school, she went to I don’t know who with this project and they loved it.
CT: Are the laws about euthanasia different in Canada than they are in the U.S.?
CD: They just changed last June. We passed a law making it legal for doctors to help their patients but they have to be terminally ill. On the show, we have some patients who have nothing but suffering ahead of them but who are not considered to be terminally ill. We set it somewhere in North America. We never name a country or city. We set it in a world where it’s still illegal to do so, so of course she’ll be getting in trouble.
CT: Is Mary vulnerable in her line of work?
CD: She’s both strong and vulnerable. It takes a strong woman to lead a double life like that. She’s also a mother of two, recently divorced so there’s a lot going on and she can’t really share what she’s doing with anybody because it’s illegal. She has a partner-in-crime who’s a recovering heroin addict. There’s a lot of matter there, it’s fun.
CT: That’s everyone, isn’t it? We put on a brave face but we might not be so confident, like Easy Living too.
CD: Exactly. It’s what human beings are about. We’re all little vulnerable sacks of meat.
CT: Could Mary Kills People return for another season?
CD: It could return. I think we’re waiting to see what the numbers are in America I guess. Maybe they have an answer to that question already. I don’t know what’s happening, if we’re waiting for the numbers or not. I hope so. It was fun to do.
We’re all little vulnerable sacks of meat.
CT: Have you asked Bryan Fuller for a role on American Gods?
CD: No, but if he has me in mind for something I guess he’ll approach me. I wouldn’t feel comfortable knocking on his door. I’ve been so fortunate to work with him twice on completely different projects. I think he has this unique voice. He’s a wonderful, wonderful writer. I have so much respect for his mind and his writing. Hopefully, we’ll get to work together again.
CT: He hasn’t ruled out bringing Hannibal back. Are you waiting for that?
CD: In this business, you should never wait around for something to happen because most of the time people move on to other projects. If it comes back, then wonderful, but they said the same things about Wonderfalls back in the day and it didn’t come back. I think the best thing is to concentrate on the projects that are here. If, eventually, it happens, then great.