As you all hopefully know by now, Defendor is being released in cinemas across Canada tonight! And then in LA on Monday, where our own Rachel won a pass for two to the premiere. It will be awesome to hear what she has to say about the film over the weekend. :)
She grew up toddling on the rolling green lawns of Bryn Mawr, Penn. — home to the world’s best women’s’ college and Katharine Hepburn’s alma mater — but Kat Dennings says while she fell in love with the classics, it wasn’t exactly a literary thing.
“I love the old musicals like Top Hat and An American in Paris,” says Dennings, who registered as a bona fide blip on the ingenue radar in the wake of playing Norah opposite Michael Cera’s Nick of Infinite Playlist fame.
“I didn’t want to be an actress from the very start. I went through a ballet stage first. Then I wanted to be a mermaid.”
Now starring in actor-turned director Peter Stebbings’s debut feature Defendor, Dennings says she has no problem taking on a variety of different roles, or even playing the crack-addicted sex trade worker (as she does in Defendor), as long as she maintains her personal and professional integrity along the way.
“I don’t really care if the choices I make are good or bad, but it’s important to me that they’re honest,” she says.
When it came to Defendor, Dennings says she was interested in taking on a low-budget project that seemed, in many ways, to be a labour of love for director Stebbings — as well as an ode to the steely-hearted city of Hamilton.
The story of a mentally challenged man who decides to clean up “the Hammer” by donning black clothing and taping a big “D” to his chest with duct tape, Defendor tells a familiar vigilante story with a human twist.
Stebbings says he was well aware of the archetypal source material he was working with, but wanted to strip it down to the basic mechanics of good and bad, and stick as close to the baseline as possible.
“I think people need to see how a lot of people in our society live. We turn a blind eye to all the invisible people out there, whether they are dealing with drug addiction or a disability,” says Stebbings.
“I spent a lot of time in Vancouver and I used to go to the First United Church at Hastings and Gore. I definitely saw how the other half lived,” he says.
Dennings wasn’t all that familiar with that other half, but in order to play the role of a teenage prostitute in this Canadian take on Taxi Driver, she did spend some time with a spokesperson for sex trade workers.
“I worked with a woman who was very familiar with this world and it was really helpful because this character [ironically named Kat] isn’t anything like me at all. She has nothing to hang on to,” says Dennings.
“I have a great family and supportive friends and I’ve been blessed in so many areas of my life. Kat, the character, has none of what I have. She’s got nothing to latch on to,” she says.
“I have to say, being in Hamilton for four or five weeks was also a huge help. That city certainly gets you in the right mood to smoke crack,” she says, her tone a perfect deadpan.
Starring opposite Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, who plays Arthur Poppington (a. k.a. Defendor), Dennings says she found all the support she needed on set because Harrelson is the kind of actor who commits completely.
“If Woody hadn’t been there, the movie would have fallen apart. You have to believe in Arthur, and I swear, every time we were in a scene together and I looked into his eyes, I believed. He really transformed into Arthur — without tricks or anything — and that kind of made the experience for me.”
Dennings says she has no overall design on her career. She’s going to take it one part at a time, and right now, that would mean playing Darcy in the forthcoming Thor movie directed by Kenneth Branagh.
“Ah. I don’t know. I want to keep growing. Hopefully, I can do more comedy. I really like it and I think growing up, my favourite two actresses were Bernadette Peters and Madeline Kahn. They were great actors who made funny look easy. And that’s probably the hardest thing there is to do,” says Dennings.
“If they ever remake The Jerk, I’m going to fight to be in it.”