Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine.
Although Ann Dowd has been working regularly in theater, film, and TV for more than two decades, this year marks a decided breakthrough for the actress. Her role in Magnolia Pictures’ Sundance pickup Compliance as Sandra, a malleable fast-food restaurant manager who falls victim to a prank phone call, has earned her a National Board of Review award, as well as supporting actress nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Critics Choice Movie Awards—despite the fact that the film earned just $319,285 in its domestic theatrical run. She also earned the somewhat illustrious distinction of organizing her own informal grassroots Oscar campaign. Nevertheless, Dowd says making the decision was relatively easy, albeit expensive for a working-class actor. “I don’t think I don’t even needed anyone to tell me,” says Dowd, who has appeared in The Informant!, Marley and Me, and ABC’s Pan Am. “When I saw the phrase ‘Oscar-worthy performance,’ I almost fell down. Then I thought, ‘What am I waiting for?’ “
AwardsLine: How did the script for Compliance first come to you?
Ann Dowd: I was in a play in New York City called Blood From a Stone, and (Compliance executive producer) David Gordon Green came to see the play and mentioned to (director) Craig Zobel that I should come in. I received the script, and I read it, and I thought that they must have cast it already because it is a great part. So I was thrilled to go in. I bought the part immediately, which means it was extremely well-written and playable. So I went in, met with Craig and the producers, and I had a great audition. We just had a good work session, which is always what you want. At the time, I think the times conflicted. You can’t guarantee with any film, particularly with an independent picture, to get me to the theater by 7 o’clock to do the play, so it looked like that would not work. Then somehow the date shifted, and I found out I got (the part). This play (had) a very long first scene for me, and afterwards I used to lie down on the dressing-room floor just to recup and get ready for the next one. I was lying there on the floor and the phone rang, and (my manager) called to say, “You got Compliance.” I was lying down, so I didn’t fall down, but I was quite ecstatic.
AwardsLine: Was there anything specific to the real-life story of Compliance that you researched beforehand?
Dowd: I did do a little bit of reading about the actual circumstance. The thing was, I wasn’t being asked to play the real character, so I didn’t dwell there. And I got her; I understood her. (Sandra) is not a cruel, vindictive person. She realizes that this is painful and uncomfortable, and she wishes that she doesn’t have to do it, but the ruling voice is, of course, the one on the phone.
AwardsLine: When you were shooting the film, did you feel like it was a career-changing role?
Dowd: No, not at all. The great thing about an independent film is that you’re too busy working, and you’re too busy hoping to God to get it done. The first three nights, we shot it in a restaurant, and the only time we could use it was all night long, until they opened in the morning. And it wasn’t like this happened on big sets in which you can gradually go from day shoots to night shoots. Oh, no. It’s not like you’re going out to your trailer to take a little catnap. It’s very clear what we are doing there. You’re rehearsing, you’re preparing to perform, or you’re performing it. There’s not a lot of chaos in your head or distractions. It’s a pretty great working environment.
AwardsLine: Have you been sent scripts based on this recent attention?
Dowd: A few little things, and I’m grateful for them. I’m hopeful, though! It’s wonderful to work. No matter what, it’s wonderful to work.
AwardsLine: You’re also in Steven Soderbergh’s next film, Side Effects. What’s the role that you play in that film?
Dowd: First of all, being in a Soderbergh film—what can I say? He’s just a class act, so smart, very low-key, and down to earth. It’s quite a remarkable experience to work on his films. I play Channing Tatum’s mother, and Rooney Mara’s mother-in-law—most of my scenes are with Rooney Mara. It’s a thriller, for lack of a better word, and its twists and turns are really not expected.
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AwardsLine: Melissa Leo was criticized for campaigning for her role in The Fighter, for which she ultimately won a statuette. What kind of reaction have you had so far with this one-woman show of an Oscar campaign?
Dowd: Well, just to be clear, I’ve been given help. People have been wonderful to me in terms of advice and support. And I made a decision not to get involved with what the response is because it distracts me, and I get a little unnerved. I don’t read reviews for plays: Not in the beginning, not in the end, not 10 years later. That part of it is irrelevant to me. I do what I’m doing because I believe in it, and I’m going to be grateful for the help I get and for these opportunities that I have, and leave it right there. And I honestly mean that. It’s a small film company—whatever decisions they make, that’s in their lap. It’s not in mine. I’m enjoying this. At some point you realize, I have dreams. I would love to be working on wonderful roles, in wonderful films, with people I respect and admire. And that will come in its time. In the meantime, “Pay attention to your work. Get better at what you do.” That’s my job.