Brenda Deiss, the former secretary who was cast by Red Rocket writer-director Sean Baker to play the mother-in-law of Simon Rex’s lead character Mikey Saber, died Monday at Clear Lake Hospital in Clear Lake, Texas, of complications from in a stroke last month. She was 60.
A spokesperson for the film confirmed her death. See Baker’s Instagram tribute below.
In a statement provided to Deadline, Baker, who often casts non-professional actors in his films, said: “In the short time we spent together, she created with us, laughed with us and shared her stories with us, some of them heartbreaking and others insightful and fascinating. We all have people in our lives that change it for the better, and Brenda was one of those people for me. I will miss her dearly.”
Bree Elrod, who played Deiss’ daughter in Red Rocket, said in a statement: “We shared a lot of memorable moments together on and off screen. l will never forget her laugh, the stories she so generously shared, and the many conversations we had about all aspects of life. She holds a very special place in my heart. I will miss her very much.”
Born in Texas on September 9, 1961 — two days before the landfall of Hurricane Carla — Deiss spent her entire life in the Lone Star State, devoting herself to such arts and crafts hobbies as calligraphy and wood work. She made her career as a secretary, including a stint at NASA. Later in life, she worked as a caregiver and home health aid to her friends in need.
Baker was scouting locations for Red Rocket in the area of Texas City and, after a chance encounter with Deiss, knew he’d found the person to play the eccentric Texan matriarch of a family that had hit hard times. “We found our Lil!” Baker would later recall saying.
Red Rocket was filmed in September and October 2020 and went on to have its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, followed by a theatrical release from A24.
Although Deiss never got to see Red Rocket, the film’s producer relays that she was particularly proud of a scene in which she performs the hymn “Hallelujah Square,” a song the filmmakers included at her suggestion. In December, she told the film’s team, “I don’t have anything to give y’all … just my unconditional love.”
A member of the Texas City Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Deiss is survived by daughter Destani Deiss, and her two best friends “Mr.” Johnny Cortez and Karen Adams.