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EMMY ROSSUM on 'DARE' (Part 2 of 2)

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
November 6, 2009

In the character-driven drama Dare, the lives of three teenagers intersect in unexpected ways, allowing them each the opportunity to go on journeys of self-discovery: Alexa (Emmy Rossum) seems to be the model student, but her confident and capable demeanor belies an uncertainty in herself and her future; her lifelong confidant Ben (Ashley Springer) is confused about his own sexuality, all while fearing that he may lose Alexa's friendship; and Johnny (Zach Gilford), struggles with deep-seated personal issues and family crises, despite his reputation as the cool, popular guy on campus who appears to have it made. As their relationships begin to involve sexual experimentations with one another, they slowly gain a better understanding of who they really are.

Based on their 2005 short film of the same title, this feature-length version from director Adam Salky and writer/producer David Brind is divided into three acts, each one telling the story from a different character's perspective: first Alexa, then Ben, and finally Johnny. Each chapter has a distinct look and feel tailored to its central protagonist, allowing for an interesting ride that is perpetually switching gears.

In this second half of our two-part interview, Emmy talks about working on Dare, sprinkles in a few amusing personal stories, and gives a brief update on her music.

MEDIA: Alexa gets a vicious dressing down from the stage actor played by Alan Cumming...

EMMY: I love that scene.

When you were starting out as an actress, did you experience that harsh, provocational style of motivation?

Yeah. I mean, I've had experiences with people who have kind of done that to me. There are two approaches to go about with trying to coach someone or help someone. [One is] the "break you down to build you up," which I don't believe ever works. I don't believe that undermining somebody's confidence or hurting them or telling them that they're no good...I don't believe anything good ever comes of that. And he just messes with her, and is the first knife in her stomach that hurts her. I think that he causes her to go about everything in the wrong way. But I would never do that to somebody. I would only be encouraging, because I know that that's how I deal best.

Was it difficult to stand there and take the verbal abuse of that scene, even if it is just acting?

For sure, but that's your job as an actor. And actually, the most fun thing is riding a rollercoaster, [even if] it's an unhappy one in a scene that you shoot all day--it's the rollercoaster that you ride in order to tell the story in a way that, hopefully, affected you and affects people. And that's the most fun thing about making a film like this, is that you get to do those kinds of things. And actually, it's not as hard for me to go there emotionally. It's harder for me to be aggressive. That last scene where we're kind of being aggressive to Johnny and he's breaking down...That was harder for me. It's harder for me to watch somebody else in pain than it is for me to be in pain, because I'm generally just somebody who wants to comfort, and just put a Band-Aid on it and make it all better. So it's harder for me to watch another actor in pain and to be aggressive to them than it is to have aggression come towards me. But it was funny, actually: When we were shooting that scene with Alan Cumming, in between takes he would be like, "Oh God, I'm so sorry I'm being so mean to you! You know, it's not me being mean to you..." And I was like, "Alan, I know, we're actors, that's fine!" [laughs]

Are you naturally a risk taker, or do you have to be challenged or dared before you'll do something of which you're afraid?

Ummm...I think I push myself out of my comfort zone a lot of time in my work, but not necessarily in my life. I lead a pretty normal existence. I mean, everything around me is a little hyper-normal, but I still do my laundry and make my bed and stuff, so it's not that abnormal. But do something I'm afraid of...Yeah, on a dare, when I was 15, my friends were actually having a pool party, strangely enough, in Manhattan. We ordered Chinese take-out, and the Chinese food came to the door with a delivery boy, and we were in our bikinis in the middle of winter, soaking wet without shoes on, and I think the delivery guy was super confused. And my friend said, "We should get that reaction out of more people. Let's run down Madison Avenue without our shoes on, soaking wet in our bikinis in the middle of winter, and I dare you." So I did it with a bunch of my friends. We have pictures, which I hope will never surface.

This didn't make the evening news?

I was 15, it was before any of my films came out. We were very covert about our bikini running operation.

But even if people didn't know who you were, you'd think that event would be strange enough to grab some headlines...

We did run by a couple bistros. It was at night. So a few patrons did come out and give us some applause. We kind of felt like Lance Armstrong on the last leg of the Tour de France. It was great.

You said that you're not necessarily comfortable with being aggressive to another actor. How did you feel about the scene in which Alexa seduces Johnny, in which she is clearly the aggressor?

That's the first sex scene I've ever done. It's definitely awkward doing those kinds of things, especially when you're shooting them over and over and over again from different angles and there are thirty crew members watching. It's definitely, ummm..."different." But by the time that we shot those scenes, we were so far into shooting the movie that we had all become so close. And because we were shooting on such a limited budget so quickly, we didn't have trailers, and we all hung out on set so much of the time. I mean, so many of my best friends came from this film--we're all friends, we talk almost every day, we love each other, we're like brothers and sisters. Half of them are staying at my house right now. So we really got close. I think for Alexa, she's approaching loosening up herself in the same kind of deliberate way that she approaches everything. So for me, it's almost as if Johnny doesn't really exist to her in that scene. She doesn't think that she can affect him in any way. I don't think that she thinks that he's a virgin. I haven't even talked to Zach about whether he is or not in that scene. But I don't think that it matters to her, almost, if he's even there. This is just something that she needs to do in order to get to where she wants to be as an actress, in order to loosen up. It's almost as if she's forcing herself to go through this experience so that she can be a better actress. It's very bizarre, and it's very unnatural. And that's why it happens in such an unnatural kind of way. It's very deliberate.

So while you were in school, did you resemble Alexa in any way? What kind of student were you?

I was definitely a creative geek. I was short and kind of pudgy. No one believes that, but it's true. And I loved music, and I loved musicals, and I just walked around singing all the time and pretending to play drums on my desk. I think that's why my second grade teacher sent me to the opera to audition, because she was just like, "You have way too much energy, you cannot sit still in a classroom." But I loved learning. I was kind of a kiss ass to my teacher. I always wanted to be perfect when I was younger. I believed that if I was perfect, everything would be fine. And I remember one time, I hadn't studied enough for a test, and I really wanted to do well on a pop quiz, so I wrote all the things that I thought she would ask on my hand. Totally aced the pop quiz. Later on in the class, being the kiss ass that I was in my high school, when she asked a question, I raised my hand really, really high, and she said, "What is that on your hand?" So that was the one time I tried to get away with cheating in the school, and it really didn't work. [laughs] But that's just indicative of who I was--I always wanted to be perfect, and I always thought that everyone would like me if I was. That was not true.

How has your education co-existed with your career?

I went to school until seventh grade, and then I was already singing and working at the Metropolitan Opera, so I homeschooled on the internet through Stanford University's EPGY program. And I graduated, and then briefly went to Columbia before I got Mystic River and Day After Tomorrow and Phantom, and then kind of "ceased" my education a little bit... [laughs]

Where do things currently stand with your music?

I'm between album cycles now, so I'm still writing and thinking and dreaming and trying to figure out exactly what kind of tone I would want in my next record.

Which process is more difficult emotionally: writing songs with a small group of collaborators, or performing them in front of a large audience?

I think sometimes it's actually easier to share things in a live setting with thousands of people than it is with just a few people in a room, because in the writing process, hopefully you're being very honest about what it is you're really trying to say. And even if you don't explicitly talk about what you're really talking about in the song and it's just kind of hinted at or inferred, you spend a lot of time thinking of it and feeling it and talking it over with people, and how you want that to affect the music and the choice and the rhythm and the tone and the key and everything. So sometimes it's actually easier to share it with a lot of people in a less intimate way than it is with just a few people in a room.

Going forward, do you want to focus on more adult roles, or are you still comfortable with playing high school and college-aged characters?

I think it's completely dependent upon on the project, and also the time period that you're playing. I mean, I think that an 18-year-old now is completely different than an 18-year-old in the 1800s, when they were getting married and already, probably, popped out four kids. So it's totally dependent upon the role. If I think I connect to the role and can believably play it... [jokes] In a few years, when I start having crow's feet, we'll talk about it...

Have you been allowing yourself a healthy amount of personal time?

Yeah. I don't go from movie to movie to movie to movie--I have a life that's important to me, and friends, and experiences, and I travel and I see theatre and I babysit [for] my friends and I play with my dogs.

So you actively try to avoid a fast-paced, Hollywood lifestyle?

I think it's easy to become a workaholic. I think I'm definitely prone to it. I love to work, I love to be on set, I love the family environment that I didn't have growing up, because I don't really have a big family at all. So it's a conscious decision to only work on projects that mean something to me, that I think are going to be fun to make, and not to burn myself out.

Thanks for your time. And congratulations on the movie--it was good to see you in such a character-driven film.

Thank you so much. [jokes] It's my first one in a while!

Related Material

Jump to Part 1 of this interview
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