Based on true events, Compliance tells the story of a pretty young blonde named Becky (Dreama Walker), who works at a suburban fast food joint for her high-strung manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd). When Sandra receives a phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer, saying that Becky has stolen money from a customer, she thinks she’s doing the right thing by leading an investigation, no matter how invasive the instructions become, and leaving audiences wondering just how far this nightmare will go.
At the film’s press day, actress Dreama Walker talked to Collider for this exclusive interview about how she came to be a part of this film, having been the same age as the victim the story was based on, that she was surprised about how controversial this film has become, how she got to a comfortable place with the director and subject matter, and being a people pleaser, in real life. She also talked about her desire to work with people who are like-minded and fun, what she loves about her comedy series Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23 (which returns to ABC on October 23rd), upcoming guest stars, and the fact that she’d love to play a character that acts out of anger and is a total bad-ass. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this film?
DREAMA WALKER: It’s a long story, but in essence I was doing a day on the movie The Sitter and David Gordon Green was directing. He was checking his email and, at one point, he was like, “Oh, your name just got thrown into the bag of actress that we’re looking at doing this smaller project that I’m doing,” ‘cause we were on a multi-million dollar movie. I got very excited, immediately, and was like, “Oh, more work, great!” I was like, “Well, you should pick me!,” just trying to be cute. He was like, “It’s very dark,” and I was like, “I can be dark. I can do dark.” I didn’t really know or have any idea, at the time, and I didn’t have time to discuss it further ‘cause we were at work. But then, I got the email about the audition, read the script and looked into Craig [Zobel] and though he was incredibly talented, and then I met him and wanted to work with him.
Was there any point that you wondered, “Can I really do this?!”?
WALKER: Absolutely! I didn’t study drama in school. I am literally a girl who’s been doing this my whole life and I love it, and it’s my passion and I’m super into it, but I certainly didn’t go to Russia to study under Chekov or anything. So, of course, I was like, “Wow, this is really a big stretch for me.” But ultimately, I built up a background and have loved doing this kind of thing, my whole life. I’ve always wanted to have a well-rounded, diverse career.
What was your reaction when you found out that this was based on real events?
WALKER: I actually knew, before I read the script, that it was based on true events. I remember, in 2004, when the incident took place, and it had always stuck with me because the victim and I are the same age. I was just graduating from high school when this happened, so it always struck a chord with me because I thought, “That could have been me, or any of my friends.” I was always fascinated with it. My mom and I had a long discussion about it, and talked about why they did what they did, and how terrible it must have felt to have been a victim of that situation.
Were you surprised about how controversial this film became when it screened at Sundance, or did you expect that kind of reaction with this kind of subject matter?
WALKER: Truly, I was surprised. I knew that the film would be difficult to watch, especially if anyone had a sensitivity toward the subject matter, or toward an experience that they’d had in their lives, but I had no idea that it would be so polarizing. Everyone at Sundance didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There were a lot of people, at the beginning of the film, that were laughing at little quips and lines. At one point, it sunk in and I realized that they thought it was a comedy. That was utterly terrifying for me because I knew the rest of it was not going to make them laugh. So, yeah, I was definitely surprised and really taken aback when people reacted the way they did. Most of the reviews have been glowing and wonderful and great, but I think it’s so visceral and it’s such difficult content that a lot of people are quick to dismiss it.
What were the biggest concerns that you had with doing this film, and were there things that the director did to reassure you?
WALKER: Well, Craig and I had a lot of conversations. We wanted to get to a place where we trusted each other, and that can be a bit difficult, especially when your whole intent is to trust somebody. But, we really clicked and got along, and we talked a lot about the way things were going to be shot and how things were going to be done. We had similar upbringings. We’re both from the South, we were both brought up in a religious household, and we had similar outlooks, ideas and sensibilities about life and the emotional process of what my character went through. So, we talked about a lot of those things and got to a comfortable place.
Can you really ever get to a totally comfortable place with something like this?
WALKER: No. It was very difficult, doing this at work, every day. It was really difficult not to bring it home. It was really difficult to snap out of it. Becky is in such a high-stakes situation, in her mind. To her, it’s not that she is a fast food employee who could just easily walk out. To her, everything is at risk. Being thrown in jail and losing what little she has and the freedoms that she has is all very threatening, in those hours. And so, raising the stakes to that level for me, every day, and psychologically being put there was very taxing.
Did it feel claustrophobic to be in the same place with the same people, every day?
WALKER: Well, I loved the people, so that actually wasn’t something that really bothered me. But psychologically, when you put yourself in the position where you think you’re going to lose everything, as my character was in, it’s pretty difficult to shut that off and go home to your two cute dogs and have a good sleep.
Did you look at any one specific character as the one responsible for what happened to Becky? Did you have to justify her actions to yourself, or did you just have to find an understanding of it?
WALKER: That’s a good question. Unfortunately, I think everyone is responsible, and I know that sounds like an easy out. Obviously, the caller is the one who was sick enough to orchestrate the whole thing and be privy to all of it, and still go through with it. But, at the end of the day, in the story, there’s even an element of responsibility for my character. Had she not felt so threatened and terrified, she maybe could have been like, “This is stupid. I’m going to go get a job at another fast food restaurant. I’m leaving!” Obviously, the person that would and should be accountable in this situation is Sandra (Ann Dowd) and her boyfriend. Everyone just thinks that this is life and this is truth. The prank caller is playing God, essentially.
Did you think about what you would do, in this kind of a situation?
WALKER: Totally! That was one of the biggest things that Craig and I talked most about. I’m a people pleaser. I usually try to appease, and make people feel comfortable and happy when I can. I’m probably more of one than I’d like to admit. We were talking about how I’d been in circumstances like that before. There was one time, when I was 10 years old, and I remember it vividly, where someone told me that I said something really horrible to them. They told me exactly what they thought I said, and I thought it was very cruel. When they told me that I said that, they were crying and really emotional. Granted, these are problems that you have when you’re 10 years old, but she was so upset that I eventually started to believe that I had actually said that, even though I knew, the moment she accused me of it, that I was innocent and that nothing like that ever came out of my mouth.
After awhile, I really started to guilt trip myself and become consumed with this idea that I was a bad person because she was so upset. And still, to this day, I replay those moments back in my head, and granted, this is all very trivial to the content of the movie, but we’ve all been in situations before where someone has questioned us and, all of a sudden, you think, “Well, wait a second, am I guilty or am I not?” It was very important to me to bring that aspect out in Becky, especially when Officer Daniels goes into talking about my brother and his issues with crime. I had made a choice that my brother had maybe dabbled in marijuana and raised the stakes really high on that, so I thought that we were all going to get in a lot of trouble for it. That was my justification and understanding of what happened.
Did this script evolve on set, once you got into the room you were shooting in?
WALKER: The most bizarre things that actually happened, we had to find a way to make them truthful and somewhat believable. It was difficult because usually the things that you’re trying to make believe in a script would never happen and you’re like, “How are we going to do this?,” but in this particular instance, it was instead things that actually transpired and we just had to figure out ways to get there and navigate how that evolution could have happened.
What do you look for, in a project or role?
WALKER: Well, I love to work with people that are like-minded, in the sense that they’re fun to be around and are inspiring. But, for me, if I were to read a script that really moved me and did something for me and I thought would be incredible, I don’t care who’s attached. I just want to be a part of it. I can’t explain it, but it’s something very specific that you come across. I think you should know by page 10, if it’s inspiring, and it grabs you and pulls you in. I thought this incident (in Compliance) was something that I wanted to talk about. It amazes me that there are people who still didn’t hear about it in 2004 because it wasn’t a big enough issue. It brings up a very interesting discussion that gets much bigger than the whole idea of the film, and much bigger than what Craig ever intended. It goes along with the idea that maybe we all are sheep and we’re all taught to be sheep and we’re supposed to follow. The movie is a Rorschach test to see how you interpret it because everyone interprets it so differently. It could have been way more black and white. Another thing that’s really interesting is the element of Sandra and our strangely combative passive-aggressive relationship, and how that plays out.
Doing film and television, what do you enjoy about getting to develop a character over a long period of time and what do you enjoy about telling the finite story of a character?
WALKER: TV is wonderful because often you’re working with extremely talented people who continue to come up with fantastic ideas of wonderful circumstances that they can put your character into and funny little things that can happen, and I love that. But, I also love the idea of having the artistic liberty to take a character in a film and construct who they are internally, who’s made them what they are, what experiences they’ve had, and all the nerdy stuff you learn in drama school. For Becky, it was really important for me to understand who she was, where she came from, her naïvete, her being a middle-American teenager, and how we were different but also still the same.
What were you excited about, with getting to return to June for your show, Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23?
WALKER: We have a lot of fun! It’s really quirky and really smart. I love the show! I did Compliance and, a week later, we shot the pilot for the show. I’m glad it happened in the order that it happened, but I went from doing something super dark and very strenuous, to something very fun and lighthearted, working with James Van Der Beek, playing James Van Der Beek.
What’s it like to have people like Busy Philipps, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Frankie Muniz, all coming in to play themselves?
WALKER: Oh, it’s great! Everyone has such a great sense of humor. There are a lot of wonderful ideas. We have a really collaborative team of writers and producers that are constantly listening to us, which is very nice because I know a lot of people don’t want actors to talk about ideas. It’s a wonderful team, and I am crazy about the show. I love it!
Is there a dream role that you’d love to do, or a genre that you’d love to work in, if given the opportunity?
WALKER: I don’t really talk about this out loud because it’s so embarrassing that I’ve never really wanted to acknowledge it, but I’d really love to play a character that acts out of anger and is a total bad-ass just because little blonde girls like me don’t get to play characters like that. I was talking to someone about it that had seen Compliance and they said, “You could completely do that. There’s actually a sliver of that character, in your defiance. I could totally see you being the type of person who could freak out.” Basically, I would love to play that sort of character. Everybody wants to bring out their inner Katniss (from The Hunger Games), if that’s what you’re asking.