Tanna Frederick's story is unique and exciting, so her own life experiences could make for an interesting film plot. While she may have started out as an aspiring actress in Iowa doing stage work, she is now starting to make waves on the West Coast. On a whim, she wrote a letter to a famous director, and the next thing she knew, she landed an audition that led to the part of a lifetime, rave reviews and continuing success. And while you may be thinking that her story is all about luck—it’s also about the achievements of a young performer who dedicates herself to her art and believes in her ability to make things happen.
“I started theater at age nine, at a really early age, and did about four or five shows a year,” Frederick told Dish. “Just right away, I remember watching my best friend in Oliver! He was playing Oliver Twist at a children’s theater in Iowa, and I just knew at that moment that this is what I want to do, this is my life’s calling. There was never any question for me that this was what I was going to do.”
But after making it to the heart of fame and fortune in L.A., she had a difficult time getting noticed. “It was tough when I first got to Los Angeles. [I was] basically trying to get a job at a restaurant waiting tables, and I couldn’t even though I graduated college at the top of my class.”
Despite these hardships, she kept trying, and during a rehearsal one day a friend of hers talked about an incredible director he had worked with. Hearing this news, Frederick became excited as well, and the friend advised her to write the director a letter for a chance to work with him. Though she had never seen any of this director’s work before, she still wrote a letter gushing about his latest films. And sure enough, it worked.
“I wrote Henry Jaglom a letter, dropped it off at his office, and to my surprise he called me on the phone [asking], ‘What did you mean by this part? What did you mean by this part?’…We ended up speaking for a couple hours, and then he invited me to see a screening of his film Festival in Cannes, which is absolutely a brilliant film, and I just fell in love with it.”
In turn, Jaglom, the director of numerous classic films, such as Tracks, Someone to Love, and Sitting Ducks, fell in love with Tanna’s talent and outgoing nature. So much so that he gave her theatrical rights rights to his 1971 hit film A Safe Place. Ecstatic, she found a producer and ran, as well as starred in, the play for three months in L.A. “It had never been done as an entire play,” Frederick mentions. “[Jaglom] only turned it into his very first film with Jack Nicholson and Tuesday Weld.”
Realizing Frederick is always up for a challenge, Jaglom decided to give her a part in his fifteenth feature film, Hollywood Dreams. She was born to play the film’s lead role, Margie Chizek, an actress who, like Tanna, hails from Iowa and has chosen the Hollywood life as her fate. Margie faces many ups and downs within the industry as well as with the relationships she makes along the way. Though many who have seen it think so, the film isn’t a biography of Tanna’s life, and the actress also believes she is quite different from the outlandish character she plays.
“Well, she’s a little bit more neurotic than I am,” Frederick laughed. “She’s a little bit scarier in person than I am, a little more desperate. I find that I’m like her maybe forty percent, and then for sixty percent I’m not…When Henry’s directing me, he’s like ‘just be yourself but amplify it’, so I take my own emotions and make them bigger and make the stakes bigger.”
Even if Tanna and Margie are eerily similar, it also has a lot to do with Jaglom’s unconventional directing style. “Henry’s style of filmmaking almost could be misconstrued as documentary style or reality TV,” Frederick said. “He’s shoots his films like a documentary filmmaker, so I think a lot of people misconstrue my character as being me and not me playing a character.”
“I spent years preparing for this role, and it’s a girl completely different from me,” Frederick explained. “She was obsessed with the forties and forties films and the golden era of filmmaking. So, I spent a whole year watching three films a day from the forties and reading biographies of Bette Davis and the MGM Golden Era and Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn and everybody. My character wanted to have and believed that the ideal life was life in the forties.”
Now the pair are working together on a follow-up to Hollywood Dreams called Queen of the Lot, co-starring Noah Wyle, former ER star. In this sequel, Margie has hit the big-time and is starting to find out exactly what that means.
“It’s kind of a Cinderella story, what happens to Cinderella after she’s gotten the glass slipper, and the prince, and the huge house,” Frederick informed Dish. “Margie is making a lot of money and has her own production company. We’re bringing the cast in from the very first movie- with David Proval of The Sopranos, Zack Norman and Karen Black. But now all the relationships have changed and they kind of bow down to Margie because she’s the one that’s making the money, she’s the one who’s calling the shots.”
Just when everyone thinks that Margie has hit the big time, she realizes her fame has come with a price. She’s a well-known action star, but it’s far from her idea of fame and far from the roles of classic 1940’s stars that she once hoped to emulate.
“[Margie] is also in relationships that are more or less set up by her manager and her publicist, and she’s dealing with addiction…I think a lot of times [actors] succumb to a lot of addictions,” Frederick added. “She’s under house arrest and just trying to figure out where to go with her life now and why she’s not feeling fulfilled and why she’s lonely and she meets Noah Wylie who is a frustrated novelist and it just goes on from there.”
And when this film star isn’t playing a film star, she isn’t much different than someone you know. She loves spending time with her family, recently flying home to Iowa to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding, and loves staying in shape.
“I’m a black belt in Tae Kwon Do,” Frederick said. “I’m actually going to be in Black Belt Magazine next month. I love surfing, I surf a lot, and those two are my passions. But I’m also involved in a wonderful organization called Oceana, which is fighting to save the world’s oceans, and I try to help out and do as much fundraising, and plan events for them because I really believe in the organization." Not only this, but Frederick helps on a community level as well, having a major hand in creating the Iowa Independent Film Festival. It debuted last year and has become a major success.
Constantly busy, she somehow manages to continue to spiral upward in her acting career. Hollywood Dreams was recently released on DVD May 6, and she wrapped up Irene in Time earlier this year. Queen of the Lot will be shot in October, and she is currently working on one film written by Wendel Melden called Underwish, and another about a small town in Ohio called Serendipity Green.