How Severe and How Terrible: Dreama Walker on Compliance
I actually met Dreama Walker while I was covering the Television Critics Association press tour last month, at a party for her show “Don’t Trust the B—- In Apt. 23.” She was so nice, she remembered me by name and said hi at another ABC party later in the week. Now we got to talk about her movie Compliance, which I’d followed since the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it became legendary for angry Q&As with hostile, shocked audiences. Walker plays Becky, a fast food employee who is forced to undergo an invasive search by a man impersonating a police officer on the phone. It is based on true incidents that happened multiple times in different fast food restaurants. Walker spoiled one of the more shocking elements [SPOILER WARNING], but I’m leaving it in because it’s so shocking and an important discussion (and you can read the real case files, it’s all in there and more).
CraveOnline: Were you able to shoot Compliance in chronological order?
Dreama Walker: No, we did not shoot this in chronological order. We did the scenes that actually took place outside in the restaurant in an actual restaurant, and then we had a studio for the scenes that took place inside the office
For the office scenes, were you able to go in order of escalation?
Not too much, but a little bit.
When you read the script, what did you think would be the hardest scenes? [SPOILER ALERT]
Definitely the blowjob.
Spoiler alert, yes. The act of fellatio. I wasn’t sure how that was going to be done and I wasn’t really comfortable with making that too obvious.
In the movie you’re not even sure. It’s like is she doing that? Is that what I think it is?
Yes, and that’s what [director] Craig [Zobel] and I [agreed.] Thank God he had the same sort of ideas and sentiment that I did, but I got really freaked out at first when I read the script and I was like, “Oh crap, what does this entail exactly?”
But you must have known movies have ways of shooting sex acts that aren’t compromising.
Absolutely, but I didn’t really want it to be very vivid and something to be stuck in people’s heads for the rest of my career.
It’s funny, that was obviously something that could be faked, but the stripping scene there’s no way to fake that. So how did you feel when you read that that was one of the things Becky goes through?
You know, Craig and I had a lot of conversations about what we were going to do in that scene. We both decided, and thank goodness he agreed, that it wasn’t meant to be gratuitous and it certainly wasn’t meant to be all over the place. It’s meant to just solidify everything and say that this is what actually happened and it’s part of the road to understanding how severe and how terrible this all was. But it’s certainly not the focal point of the film.
It’s obviously different on the inside than watching it from the outside, but did you have to come up with an explanation for yourself for how someone could believe they had to take their clothes off, and not question that’s not real police procedure?
You know, we talked about this all day and we’ve talked about this since the beginning of the film. I think everyone’s reaction is always that they’re superior and that they’re smarter and that they wouldn’t do that and they wouldn’t put themselves in that situation. But the thing that drew me to it is that I think a lot of people aren’t being honest with themselves. I think my character was put in a situation where she thought the world was falling down around her and she was going to lose everything, her job, what freedom she had, she felt she was going to be sent off to jail and I think there’s a lot of despicable, horrible things that people would to do stop that from happening if they think the walls are closing in on them.
Had you heard about these stories before you got the script?
Yes, in 2004 when this one event happened, it was made pretty public. It particularly resonated with me because the victim and I are the same age and I was graduating from high school right around the time it happened. So it really stuck with me. I had a lot of conversations about it with friends and parents and that sort of thing. We talked about what we would do and how this happened. It always stuck with me. It would come back every now and then and I’d look at the world through it and just be like, “This still really happened.” I never got comfortable with it.
Have you in real life had situations, maybe not as extreme as this, where you’ve been frustrated that people don’t question things, just do things without thinking?
Yes, I mean, I’ve been in plenty of situations where I have felt pressured to do something and it wasn’t something that I was really comfortable with. Whether it starts on the schoolyard and it’s another kid being mean to the nerd in class, and you feel like you have to chime in. It starts very small. It can be something as simple as going into a store that you like and a salesperson getting you and you really thinking, “I don’t need to buy this. Why am I doing this?” And you buy it. So it can be something as trivial as that or something as serious and terrible as the content in Compliance.
True, the suggestive sell. It exists because it works.
Essentially, Officer Daniels was using the same tactics, the push and pull, make the person feel inferior but then validate them and give them a nice compliment, that The Game teaches you. It’s a very common practice.
The Neil Strauss book, with The Mystery Method?
Yeah, almost like being mean and saying something offensive and getting at the person, but then saying something nice to bring them back to you. All of a sudden you fall prey and fall vulnerable to this person and feel like you have to please them.
That’s an interesting reference. I did not expect The Game to come up in this discussion.
I’m certainly not calling Neil Strauss a sociopath.
No, but what was interesting about that book is it’s not shocking that someone invented that system. It’s shocking that it works. Shouldn’t women read that and stop falling for it?
Yeah, if some guy were to make a smartass comment to me, I’d like to think that I’d be really dismissive and be like, “All right, Pal. Go away, get on out of here.” But for whatever reason it does seem to work.
That schoolyard example is interesting because I feel it still goes on in my industry, like red carpet catty criticism. I want to say, “I don’t want to participate in that. Everybody looks lovely.” I guess we have to fight that fight every day.
Right. Absolutely. It’s common practice. I can’t think of many magazines that don’t make fun of someone for something, something silly.
Maybe this is idealistic, but I feel they couldn’t sell it if there weren’t people buying it. So it’s the people buying it that should say, “We don’t want this anymore.”
I know. You’re absolutely right. People should be able to remove themselves and look at it from the bigger picture and think about how it affects other people and if it’s really the right thing to do.
Did Compliance raise your acting game?
I think so. It was really cool to have the experience of Pat [Healy] being on the other line and us actually doing it live like we did. It was really great to have an experience and a project where the arc is so huge and it’s such a big part of it. The camera’s in your face the whole time and everything that you internalize, all of that is projected onto a screen. Also it was really great to get to add my own interpretation of my truth and also my understanding of it and put it out there. It was something I was super excited to do and feel very proud of.
What do you think happens to Becky after the events of the movie?
I think about her a lot. I felt a tremendous amount of empathy for her in 2004 when I heard about it because I thought how terrible it would be to be the victim of something like that and then to have people say that you’re an idiot on top of that. When you should be healing and people should be around you consoling you, for people to question your intelligence is insult to injury. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for the victims and also I wish them nothing but happiness and a nice recovery.
When you were at the festival Q&As and some of them got volatile, did anyone yell at you specifically?
There was one specific comment made to me that was extremely disconcerting. Obviously someone had said that the film was exploitative and that it was misogynistic and this and that. Going back to the exploitative thing, I had said, “It’s not meant to be appealing.” And there was a certain man that I’m sure felt like sh*t afterwards because everyone made him feel like sh*t and gave him really dirty looks, but he said, “Your body’s pretty appealing.” So for me, obviously that was a pretty terrible feeling. I just felt pretty vulnerable, and also I don’t think there’s anything particularly sexy about rape or a woman not finding her power, her confidence and her ability to choose what’s happening to her and who the partner is going to be. So in my mind I think that is sick and pretty disgusting. For that to be put out there into the universe was pretty terrifying.
When you were in those public situations, did you feel support from Craig and the crew?
A tremendous amount. Actually, my co-star Ashlie Atkinson opened up a can of verbal whoop- ass and ended up getting a standing ovation for her response to him. I couldn’t be more grateful for her and her verbal wit that I was unable to find in that moment.
Are you happy to have people able to see Compliance and “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23” at the same time?
Certainly. I’m very happy that they can watch something like Compliance and have it be provocative and thought provoking and do a lot of things for their mind and bring out the discussions that Compliance brings up, but also then happy to make them laugh and be silly on “Apt. 23.”
What’s coming up?
I know that it’s been publicized now that there’s going to be a “Dawson’s Creek” reunion. I’m excited about that. I’m sure June is going to be ecstatic and all in it. I know that there is a Halloween episode and a Thanksgiving episode. We’re going to someone’s house for Thanksgiving although I can’t tell you whose.
You’re back October 23 so the Halloween episode better be second!
I think they are. So I know it’s tremendously funny and I know that we’re going to have a blast. I can’t wait to get back with everybody again and get back in the groove.
How do you feel about the way June is developing?
You know, I am June. So I’m happy to see her succeed and then I’m also happy to see her be humbled sometimes because I think the most helpful thing you can learn in New York is that you can never get enough humble pie. You can never get enough of just when you think you’ve got it mastered and got it conquered and you can walk down the street and know your way around and not get lost on the subway and not let a taxi cab driver take advantage of you, you somehow fall on your ass in another way and I think that’s one of the best and most beautiful things about that city. So I love playing June and I love reliving that and also the hilarious things that the writers come up with.
One of your earliest movies was playing Clint Eastwood’s granddaughter in Gran Torino. How important was that experience?
It was awesome. I thought it was a glitch and some sort of mistake and I didn’t know how I got that part and I didn’t know why or how he wouldn’t have cast somebody that was more well known. But it was an extremely cool experience. He is just so easy and so wonderful to work with and for. His team, he uses the same crew essentially he has for the last 20 years and they’re just a machine, an amazing machine and it’s like 9 to 5 days. Everyone couldn’t be nicer and is just so efficient and good at their job. So it was a fantastic experience and of course he’s just a super cool dude. So that was awesome and I remember being like, “Well, this is it. This is over.” My dad still is like, “Well, what’s going on now, Dreama? You should call up Clint and see if he’s got anything else.” I’m like, “It doesn’t work like that, daddy. That’s not how it happens.”
Did it open some doors though? Was it a stepping stone?
I would sure as heck like to think so. That and “Gossip Girl” were things that came at a really cool part in my life when I was just starting to transition into being a working actor. I got a chance to practice and get comfortable in front of the camera and figure out what I was doing. We’ll see, I live in a world now where I think I know what I’m doing, but those two projects definitely paved the way for where I am today for sure.
You also guested on some great episodic shows. How did that prepare you for being a lead of your own show?
I loved being on “The Good Wife.” I really enjoyed that character. I thought what they did with her was so smart. That show is just so intelligent and so well written. I was just super happy to be a part of something so cool, but I remember I was like, “I want this. I want my own show. I want to work long crazy hours and be exhausted and cry on the weekends. I want this.” And I have it, except I don’t cry on the weekends. It certainly prepared me and made me want it even more. “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23” was exactly what I had in mind, exactly what I dreamed of.
So you call it what it is, you don’t go with the ABC Marketing approved “Don’t Trust the B—-?”
Noooo. I know it’s the longest title in the free world.
Which one’s longer?
“How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)”
Oh boy, yeah, that’s longer. Well, good. Maybe we’re starting a trend.