Daniela Sea is known for many things – her role as Max on The L Word, or her appearances in indie films like Itty Bitty Titty Committee and Shortbus. But you’ve never seen her quite like this. Clad in psychedelic late ’60s fashion and decidedly “femmed up,” she plays sexually repressed housewife Jerome in Casserole Club, a 1960s period piece on the wild and wooly parties thrown by a group of secretly messed-up suburbanites.
Dark and layered, the flick – and the role – allowed Sea to really stretch her creative muscles in an incredibly powerful performance. We recently checked in with Sea and chatted with her about the craziness and dark side of the ’60s, the unique approach of queer filmmaker Steve Balderson, and how she managed to make sexual repression look so good.
Photo credit: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images
AfterEllen.com: So, what drew you to the project?
Daniela Sea: When I read the script, I thought it was really interesting. I had the chance to talk with Steve [Balderson, the director] on the phone, and we just seemed to click about a lot of things. His approach to filmmaking frankly just intrigued me, because it resonated a lot with my time in the DIY music side of my life, which is, you know, a whole bunch of friends getting together and people work together to make something happen – with not so much outside interest involved. I’ve seen that succeed in the realm of music and theater and writing. And so, I hadn’t really experienced that so much in film yet, I had always been a part of things that had been produced in a more traditional way, so it was really fun to be a part of that, and see what that would be like.
And again, getting a chance to play a character that was different from other characters that I’ve played, but still resonated as an authentic person that had something to say – and didn’t seem to be a caricature of anything. She’s complex in many ways, in terms of gender and her identity. So, anyway, between the character and the way of doing the project itself – those two things drew me in.
AE: Yeah, Jerome seemed a little bit of a departure from a lot of the well-known work you’ve done in the past, playing – in several cases – more explicitly queer characters.
DS: It was fun for me. Everyone that knows me in my life knows that I am all of these different things. For me, being able to do that in a film, it was really fun. It wasn’t foreign to me, but I knew it was something that a lot of people who know my work wouldn’t have experienced yet.
That was also fun to think about – how cool, you know, they’re going to see – because to me, you know, again, I’m a shape-shifter, I like to experience being different people. That’s why I like acting – I get to try out different realities. It was really fun to play a different kind of woman, who was still strong, and not a caricature of a woman – she had some depth. Because, oftentimes, I don’t think women – roles for women – are written with much depth or thought, you know?
So, it was fun! It was fun to wear heels and these wild outfits! I had fun tracking down the outfit too – I really researched it and it was fun to try that out. [laughs] The hairdo, you know, the beehive and everything! It was fun. I’ve always liked to work through costuming to find my character. I did that in my role as Max in The L Word. It’s fun to let it inform you and see how someone like that moves around in the world.
I think that in another time period and another circumstance, she probably would have been gay or at least bi. But in that world, she was kind of doing what she could do to express herself. I thought she was an interesting character to play.
AE: Yeah, I read the character as possibly being bi as well, but perhaps just not knowing. Another element I definitely noticed was the cinematography – there was almost an improvisational style to it.
DS: Well you know, it’s funny; it was actually quite scripted. It was improv in the sense of blocking.
Meanwhile, this style is more – he’s [Balderson] holding the camera. There’s no DP [director of photography], there’s not really a lighting set up, it’s all just kind of on the fly. It’s pretty – it’s really his style. I guess it gives it that improvisational feel.
AE: That’s very interesting, because the production design and costumes seemed very meticulously crafted and true to the time period. And meanwhile there was that cinema verité style.
DS: Yeah, I thought that was a funny juxtaposition too, because when you think of super DIY films, you just kind of take the environments as they are and build it. This was – for example, I worked with a friend of mine on my costume – someone I had worked with before helped me put together my costume.
Each person kind of brought something, and we helped each other out. It was all very communal in that way. We lived in two different houses the whole time, and those were also the houses that we shot in. So we were all living communally and in this cool way, and each of us cooked a different meal each night. We had a lot of time offset together, so it was interesting. It was an experience. I really liked it.
AE: That’s fascinating – so you were basically living as the person you are – and also as your character in this sort of communal space.
DS: Yeah! Because I wanted to bring in – I’m not sure I did a great job or anything – but I at least wanted to get the feel of the cadence of those times. I watched a lot of period films from the 1950s and 1960s. People actually did speak in a different way, you know? In a different rhythm and in a different way.
I don’t know how much that came across, but trying to all be together, in those times, off set, instead of trying to be in a hotel, or more on your own. It was kind of a communal thing, so we could kind of share some of that stuff and have fun with it.
AE: That’s cool that you put so much time into learning the intricacies of speech! How else did you prepare for the role?
DS: What I did was I immersed myself in – luckily, I had some time before I went out there to film it – so I immersed myself in everything of that time period, and also anything in the world of Jerome, specifically. Her emotional world – how she is operating, and where she is coming from.
I tried to live in the world of Jerome and how she saw the world and her times. I’m lucky to have a studio to do that in, so I just go there and just dance, and listen to the music, and just kind of learn how to walk in that role. Just getting into it.
AE: I saw somewhere that the film was being read as a form of bloodless or gore-less suburban horror, just based on how tense and repressed and unhappy the characters really are in the film. What’s your reaction to that idea?
DS: It’s interesting because, when you make a film, you have no idea how it’s going to end up. Even at the first screening, you’re not sure how it’s going to end up, because of the editing [process]. For me – I was actually concerned that it would read as just a crazy party, debauchery, whatever – I was concerned that the edge would not be there, but that [darkness] that the review was talking about was exactly why I was intrigued by it.
Because the horror of not being able to be yourself – if you think about the history of the world, its only been very recently and for a small subset of people that really have the freedom to choose to express themselves, without all of this provincialism and gender oppression and sexual oppression.
I think of my parents’ generation, and some of the darker side of my growing up with that generation raising me – people repressing themselves and still having these debaucherous drives for satisfaction. And addictions. So, I concur with that, I can see how it would feel like a horror movie in the sense that there’s this tension that you don’t know where its going to lead. Yeah, it’s pretty direct to an all-out massacre, you know? It’s not as if someone came in with a gun and shot everyone, but it did have that edge. I think that’s an accurate read on it.
I count my blessings that I can keep exploring who I am and figuring that out. Because I’m never a closed book. I mean, the whole point of gender fluidity or fluidity of the self, you know? I think it’s really important to be grateful and look back and go “Wow, look what people had to go through, and are still going through.”
AE: If you, Daniela, had to live in those times, what do you think you would have done?
DS: I guess it would depend on who I was. When I was younger I used to think, “God, I probably would’ve ended up in a mental institution.” A lot of gay people ended up with a lobotomy, maybe a few years before that [the time of the film]. But it was still a few years before they took it out of the [DSM – the manual of mental illnesses], and they called it a disorder.
I know that, for my dad, who wasn’t out until the mid-1970s, for him, he was well aware that if he came out, it would be like a murder or something. A lot of people from that generation that I know were out – a lot of the women – a lot of them didn’t make it, thanks to drugs, alcohol, police abuse, you know, all kinds of things. So, I like to think I’d be one of those fierce warrior types that would do what I wanted to do anyway, you know, that in 1969 I would have been at Stonewall or something.
But I’m not sure, you know. If I was Jerome, maybe I would try to figure it out and still keep my life going.
Check out the (NSFW) trailer for The Casserole Club below.