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Fantasia Fest 2020: Interview – Kyle Gallner & Emily Skeggs on Playing Misfits in DINNER IN AMERICA

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit in or considered yourself a misfit, Dinner in America was made for you. Written and directed by Adam Rehmeier, who is also known for The Bunny Game (2011) and H.P. Lovecraft: Two Arms (2013), Dinner in America is a raucous dark comedy about punk rock, love, acceptance, and what it’s like to be different in a world that expects everyone to be the same. Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body, Red State) plays Simon, the lead singer of a punk rock band on the run from police who meets a girl named Patty, played by Emily Skeggs (The Miseducation of Cameron Post, When We Rise). Patty is overmedicated, misunderstood, and secretly Simon’s biggest fan. Their relationship blossoms over some seriously awkward family dinners, punk music, and their acceptance of each other.

Dinner in America features delightfully weird characters, some hilarious scenes that feature stars like Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills) and Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), and some totally punk rock lessons about judging people. It’s one of my favorite movies screening at Fantasia International Film Festival this year and if you’re not addicted to the original song “Watermelon” (written by Emily Skeggs) by the end of the movie, you might not have a soul.

Dread Central was excited to have the opportunity to chat with Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs about playing misfits in Dinner in America, their favorite horror movies, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

Dread Central: What appealed to you most about the roles of Patty and Simon in this movie?

Emily Skeggs: I can probably speak for both of us and say these characters, very quickly, when we started rehearsing, finding our feet, these characters became very personal to us. A lot of our own life’s journeys are poured into these characters. For me personally, the opportunity to place such a complex, well-written female character, that was like the lead love interest of this movie, it was also incredibly complex and interesting and strange and weird and not your typical love interest, it was so huge for me. I always play the weirdo, the strange comic relief or the best friend, so to be able to play this character that was also so personal to me, I definitely felt lost and downtrodden like Patty does, I’ve felt that way before in my life so to be able to play a character that starts in that point in their life and then by the end of the movie to have found themselves in such a beautiful and blossoming way, that was huge, especially as a woman.

Those opportunities are few and far in between and I thought it was super cool that Adam had written this unconventional love story, with a role so complex and beautiful with Patty. Then to work with Kyle, because Kyle is a fucking monster, and really quickly he tried to hide from me [laughs], but I just learned so much from Kyle and Adam. From day one it became clear that we were all in it to win it, we were here and going to take it to the fullest and very quickly we all became very close. The work effort was awesome and Kyle is just an incredibly generous actor and person and I just always felt I had a partner in this, and that’s super cool. Someone who has my back, in both Kyle and Adam, especially in an industry like the one we live in, and it’s a wonderful industry, but when you find the people who are really good people who also inspire you, and inspire you to do better, it’s very encouraging.

Kyle Gallner: I think it’s a really unique story with really unique characters. I like that it wasn’t some white night riding in to save the day. I really like that it was Simon and Patty’s story and at the heart of the story it is Simon and Patty and that relationship, them versus the world kind of thing. When I read the script, I thought Simon, kind of like what Emily was saying, people don’t usually see me or allow me to play somebody like Simon. In an industry like this you can very easily get pigeon-holed, or people see you a certain way, so to be able to try on a new skin and really push myself as an actor. When I read the script it was definitely scary, which I like, I look for that, and I was like, “Holy crap, can I do this!” And then you read the relationship and you’re like, “Man, when you start thinking about it, when this thing comes to screen it could be a disaster if it’s in the wrong hands.” But I Skype called with Adam and he very quickly put me at ease.

You talk with Adam and you realize this man is a mad scientist, he knows the script inside and out. He knows this world and what I loved about Adam was he trusted me and Emily. When we got to set, the tone of the movie shifted from page to screen, and Adam trusted and allowed that process to happen. On paper it is a little more Napoleon Dynamite, it is a little more outlandish, even though the movie is that way already, it lives in a bizarre reality, but I feel like Adam allowed me and Emily to really ground it in a way that I don’t know if he fully expected, but he trusted us. That also comes down to what I was going to say about Emily, and that’s Emily brought it. I think in anyone else’s hands Patty could have been a disaster but she was there, committed one hundred percent every day, and I think that’s a huge thing with this movie too, and that’s if people aren’t a hundred and ten percent on board with these characters and this world, this thing falls apart. The ability to play someone completely different and what I think is an incredible relationship between two characters on screen, I met Adam, met Emily, it all just came together. I mean, there was just so much good there, no way I could say no.

Emily: To piggyback on that I was just going to say, I don’t think Adam realized there would be such a deep humanity and I think that is what drew me to the character, too. She’s very cartoonish on page and there’s definitely a huge Napoleon Dynamite aspect to the character but to be able to show the humanity in these people, both Patty and Simon, and ultimately at the core of the movie is everyone deserves dignity and a certain sense of humanity and you can’t just write people off and say, “Oh, he’s a trouble maker,” or “She’s a weirdo.” People have a lot of value to give to the world and it was really cool to be able to show that in really out there, weird, cartoonish style that really isn’t trying to show you real precise natural moments, it’s really stylized, but the core of the movie is love and humanity which is super cool.

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Emily Skeggs and Kyle Gallner in Dinner in America

DC: To what you were saying Emily, anyone who is any kind of misfit will relate to this movie and these characters. By the end of the movie they had made each other better, they had improved each other, they got things from each other that were good. What do you guys hope the audience will take away from this film?

Emily: I hope it makes people think twice about making a face judgement on people. I think it’s as base level as that. Don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge someone by what you think their diagnoses is, what they’re criminal record is because it really is about who are we as a people and how are we going to view each other and take care of each other and see each other’s value in the world moving forward. I think what Adam does quite beautifully is illustrate this cartoonish place we find ourselves in, as a society and a country. Are we really going to continue to act like this towards each other when there is so much more beauty that can be found? I think that’s where the beauty in Patty and Simon’s relationship is, it’s so unexpected yet so familiar to all of us in a way.

Kyle: I really do think this film is very timely as well, for what’s going on in the world and the way people treat people. The world is very tribal right now, very cutthroat, everybody starts judging everybody and throws insults around. It’s a strange time. It’s everything Emily says, I think we need to give people a chance. I think we need to re-evaluate the way we look at mental illness, the way we just treat people and lash out. You see Simon as this super agro guy, like rallying against the world, but then you see him sit down with Patty’s brother on the roof, he’s not the softest guy in the world but he means well. At the end of the day Simon’s morale compass is probably more firmly in place than most of the people who look at him and think he’s wrong, or fucked up, or this dangerous psychopath. Yes, Simon almost burnt down someone’s house, but his humanity is in the right place.

Emily: They both find more humanity in each other.

Kyle: And like you said, they do grow from each other, but what I like is there is not some super fuzzy happy ending where suddenly, I mean, these people still retain their rough edges, we don’t sit here and pretend that these people are anything but what they are, which is the beautiful misfits that they are. We don’t try and change them and make them something else, you just realize there’s nothing wrong with them, and they’re actually very authentic people.

Emily: It’s the world that hasn’t changed because Patty is still getting bullied at the end of the movie. It’s just her reaction and the way she chooses to live, you know, proudly.

DC: I heard that the director Adam Rehmeier is a horror fan. I’m pretty sure if Simon and Patty were real people, they would be horror fans. I wanted to ask each of you, what do you think each of your character’s favorite horror movie would be?

Emily: I know this isn’t really horror, but I do think Patty would be a huge John Waters fan, I think that sort of genre would really appeal to her. I think she would also really like The Babadook. Those are two I can think of.

Kyle: I think Simon would be down for some John Waters too, actually. He may be down with Cry Baby. For horror, I could see him getting down with Night of the Living Dead, a little zombie action. Maybe a little more modern, like Green Room, it might speak to him. I feel like Simon wouldn’t have a problem fucking bashing some skinhead.

DC: While we’re on the topic of horror, what is each of your favorite horror movies in real life? Are you horror fans at all?

Kyle: I’m going to give kind of the same answer. I haven’t watched many movies in years since I had kids and stuff, I’m pretty behind, but like I’ve said before, I love The Descent and I love the French version of Martyrs. You don’t love it like a day in the park, I love the lasting effect it had. To make me feel the way this film made me feel, I found that to be really effective and impressive, like holy shit, it’s a brutal movie. I’ve only seen it once and I don’t really need to see it again, it did the job the first time around so yeah, I really like those two. I love The Descent. I’ve seen it like ten times.

Emily: Mine are a little bit more modern, like right now I’m really into Parasite. I love Midsommar but that’s more because of the aesthetic. I’m a gardener. I’ve started making these structures, so I feel like every time my roommates come out it’s like ok, looking more and more like Midsommar [laughs]. I don’t know if this really counts but one of my favorite movies is There Will Be Blood. I love, love that movie. I’m really into like social horror. I don’t know, but I think it’s a horrifying story, though.

Written by Michelle Swope

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