Dinner in America is probably my favorite film of 2020 so far. I can’t recommend it enough. I was lucky enough to speak to stars, Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs, and we talked about their fondest memories while filming, what they have coming up next, and of course, horror moves.
PopHorror: I loved the movie so much that I watched it twice in one day. It was just amazing. I’m really excited that Kyle set this up, and we’re able to do it so quickly.
Emily Skeggs: Yeah, thank you so much. That means the world to us.
Kyle Gallner: Seriously.
Emily Skeggs: We love the movie so much, and we loved making it so much that it means so much to us when people respond positively to it. It’s awesome. We’re so happy to talk about it.
Kyle Gallner: We love the movie, and then when people love it, we want to share this with everybody, just having the opportunity to talk about it and getting it out there more. We’ll take it. We love the fact that people want to talk to us about it.
PopHorror: What was it about Dinner in America that intrigued you and made you want to be a part of it?
Emily Skeggs: Ooh, Kyle. This is a fun one, huh?
Kyle Gallner: The script. Initially, it was the script. I think it was so off beat and so interesting and special. These characters are just these amazing characters that kind of jump off the page. I was supposed to Skype with Adam [Rehmeier] …. there’s a whole long story about this where I got sent the script like three or so years even before I signed on to do it. But I was in the middle of filming a new TV show, and I had a new baby, and all this stuff that I never got around to reading it. I read the first couple pages and was like, “My head is going to explode.”
And then cut to years later, I’m working on a movie working with the DP who was supposed to do Dinner In America with the original cast, and then that whole movie fell apart. So he told me there’s this movie called Dinner In America and I was like, “That sounds super familiar.” And I still had it in my email from years ago, and I read it, and I was like, “How did I sleep on this thing?” That’s crazy. The first fifteen pages are like, wait. Simon lights somebody’s yard on fire? And smashes a giant plate glass window with a chair? How do you not say yes to just that alone?
Automatically I was like, “I kind of want to meet the maniac who wrote this thing.” Me and Adam Skyped for like three hours. The combination of just this killer script with these amazingly offbeat characters; you’ll maybe get a couple chances in your entire career to play people this rich and interesting. Plus, meeting Adam, plus meeting JP [Bernier] who was the DP. It was one thing after another that was the universe basically screaming in my face, “If you don’t do this, you’re an idiot.”
PopHorror: Well, I think it worked out pretty well.
Kyle Gallner: I loved everything about it. I don’t know. I just loved everything about it. Everything. I loved the relationship between Patty and Simon. I thought it was so special and unique. It’s kind a one of a kind thing. I’m going to stop rambling because I know Skeggs—
Emily Skeggs: I love it when you ramble. I love your rambles. I agree. I think these characters are just special, special characters that I think in a lot of movies would be like the side character. The funny, comic relief that’s never the romantic lead. As a woman who… I’ve been blessed with a lot of incredibly complex and interesting characters. They’re never the romantic lead. For some reason, [because of] the way I look or the way I act. I don’t know. So for me to approach Patty—she starts in her lowest place—and by the end of the movie, has sort of blossomed and found herself and found love and her own value. For me, that was so satisfying.
I was so intrigued that Adam, this big teddy bear, had written this female character. It was so real to me, and I saw so much of myself in Patty and so much of my own troubles as a young person trying to figure out who I was and what I needed to give to the world, I guess. And I think both characters… they’re people in this world that could easily be brushed aside as. “Oh, he’s an arsonist.” “Oh, she’s a weirdo.” But the core of the movie is that everyone has value, and everybody deserves to live with dignity. The diversity and strangeness that people see in other people is what makes the world beautiful.
I wasn’t expecting that when I first read the script. I was like, “Oh, hell yeah! This is like a Napoleon Dynamite-style punk rock show.” As we started working on it, and I started working with Kyle and Adam. We had two weeks of rehearsal, and it really started to solidify for me the humor and the familiarity of the awkwardness of not knowing who you are and trying to figure it out. It’s such a complex movie that, at its face value, is funny and weird, but I don’t know. It’s personal.
Kyle Gallner: I think that’s what is so surprising is—and I’m going to piggyback off what you said Emily—is there was the script and these characters and everything was so unique, but when we did get there, there’s this level of humanity that started coming out of these people and this film. It turned into this thing that you’re like, “Wow!” Like, I knew this would be interesting and knew this would be cool, and I knew this had something to say, but it really felt like it did.
As soon as I started working with Emily, that was the biggest thing, too. The relationship kind of makes or breaks the movie, and that character is so unique in its own right, but you read it on the page and you’re like, “Man. This could really go two ways. If they don’t hire the right person…” And that was my one, little bit of fear before I had met Emily, because these two really do go on their own journey. This isn’t like some white knight comes in and rescues the damsel thing. These two really have this serious journey, and they both grow, and the relationship is so special. But it could get twisted if it wasn’t done right. And as soon as I met Emily and we started rehearsing and she started reading her Patty poetry, and the music stuff, and she started bringing Patty to life, and we started getting to do these scenes together, it just shifted into this like, “Wow, this is really an amazing thing!” Not just for the film, but like on a personal level getting to work together in that way. It really helped me grow as a person and an actor.
I don’t know. A lot of things happened on this movie that I’m extremely grateful for. Not just for how the film was, but just for me personally. I don’t know. It’s a pretty special movie, you know? It’s pretty cool. You talking about playing the love interest. It’s the same thing. I don’t get to play that, that often. I laughed my ass off. One review was basically like, “Gallner pretty much always plays these downtrodden sad losers.” I was like, “Yikes!” And then they were like, “Who would have thought he would have excelled at being confident…” I get to fuck shit up. It was outside of my norm, too, you know? So that’s like a cool challenge. I like something that I’m scared of, and I was definitely scared of this movie.
PopHorror: Maybe it will pave the way for you to get to be the romantic lead.
Kyle Gallner: Wouldn’t it be nice?
Emily Skeggs: There was one really cool review that called our scene in the basement like the “sexiest sex scene in cinema” or something like that, “and not because of the skin, but simply because of the acting.” And I was like… I’ve never been called sexy in a review. Never. Never. My characters are never described as sexy.
Kyle Gallner: Dude, the adjectives that are being put next to my name… I’m just reading them like they’re not even English. Nobody’s ever said anything like that.
Emily Skeggs: Never expected it from this movie.
PopHorror: : I’m going to have to come up with some really good adjectives, then, to describe you.
Emily Skeggs: Yes!
Kyle Gallner: It’s just cool. This movie breaks a lot of molds for us personally and for the film and the way it is. I think it shatters expectations in a lot of different ways.
PopHorror: It was really different than what I was expecting. But that’s because I’m familiar with Adam’s other stuff, which he’s known for making a movie that’s so hard to watch and so uncomfortable, but I felt this kind of was hard to watch and uncomfortable in a different way. Patty’s awkwardness is so painful but so like… I’m like, “Wow.” It’s something that a lot of people relate to. I spoke to Adam yesterday, and he said that the positive reception to Patty has been overwhelming. When it played at Sundance, people kept hugging him and telling him how much they related to her. So how does it feel to portray a character that so many people have identified with?
Emily Skeggs: Oh, man. I take a big sigh on that question because I’ve been really, really lucky to play a lot of characters… a handful of characters that people really relate with. I was in Fun Home on Broadway and played the Medium Alison role, and that was sort of my big break in acting. And so I think I sort of got it a little twisted in my mind, that like every acting job from then on had to mean something. I forgot that sometimes the movie is not gonna…
But it also really helped me in that now I think I approach characters in a different way. Any character in a movie—or in anything—can make someone feel seen and feel recognized. And I think that at the end of the day, the point of acting is to reflect humanity, and it’s an honor to be able to do my job and feel like it helps people feel seen or understand themselves or understand other people better. That is why I feel like I like this work, and so that’s it for me. Especially with Fun Home. We interacted with fans and people so much; it’s part of the job that I love. So when Patties were coming out of the woodwork…
At the screenings at Sundance, these older women who we were so sure were going to hate the movie, loved it. “We fucking loved your movie! That was me!” That is tantamount. That’s why I think both of us do this at the end of the day. It’s still something that’s solidifying for me in this pandemic. It’s been really nice to take the time and really think about why we are doing everything that we do. Forgive me, I’m a little bit jumbled about it. But I do think that humanity is at the core.
Kyle Gallner: I think it’s an interesting movie, where you were talking about uncomfortable, I think a lot of that comes from… I think it holds a big old ugly mirror up for some people. Or a big—not necessarily ugly—but it holds up a mirror to a lot of the ugliness in the world. It holds up a mirror to a lot of people like you said, finding themselves in Patty. Which is a beautiful thing. And I think it makes people… it can make people uncomfortable in a way where they’re like, “Oh, wow. I’m seeing all this stuff being portrayed in real life. Like the things I feel are front and center right now.” I think it brings up a lot of feelings for a lot of people.
I think Patty and Simon are unique in a way that between the two of them, there’s a little bit of them in everybody. There’s a little bit of Simon, a little bit of Patty. A little bit of something. You have some people who talk about the beginning of the movie as it’s abrasive for abrasive sake and blah blah blah. But then you talk to people who were like, “That was me on the fucking bus every day, getting treated like shit. Getting made fun of and put down constantly.” And it’s like, this is the real world. People who keep saying it’s not like this, or it’s over the top, I dare you to go somewhere. This is the world we live in still.
Emily Skeggs: I also think if people are uncomfortable with the language, my response to that is, “Good.” I’m glad you’re uncomfortable with the language. The point is to hear this and witness this, and witness this pain that it’s causing, and see the absurdity, like, “Why do we treat each other this way?” This is so silly.
Kyle Gallner: Dude, 100%
Emily Skeggs: It’s interesting.
Kyle Gallner: The first 20 minutes is to make you get shaken. That’s the point.
PopHorror: The beginning is my favorite part.
Kyle Gallner: You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable. We’re not saying this stuff and acting this way for jokes and for humor. A lot of the humor comes later. This is painting a picture, throwing you front and center.
Emily Skeggs: It’s cool.
Kyle Gallner: A lot of the ugliness. It is cool. I think it’s very cool.
Emily Skeggs: I think a lot of filmmakers avoid ugliness. That’s what’s cool about Adam. Sorry Tiffany, I know we’re talking more than you asking.
Kyle Gallner: We’re rambling.
PopHorror: What! This is perfect.
Emily Skeggs: I don’t know what to say about Adam. I think his range in the genre and the type of characters and the type of words he can write is huge. So I think that’s really exciting. He’s got an arsenal of stories behind him just ready to be made. It’s cool that he’s known for The Bunny Game. Now it’s even cooler that he’s known for Dinner In America because it shows he can really handle it.
PopHorror: It’s opened him up to a whole new audience that probably would never watch something he made before, now they’re watching it and loving it, and they’re like… “Wow! We want to see some more from this guy.”
Emily Skeggs: Right. He can write Westerns, he can write coming-of-age drama. He’s amazing.
Kyle Gallner: What’s kind of amazing about this, too, is that he made a love story for the everyday film going audience, and then he also made a love story that totally crosses over into the genre audience as well. I feel like it really ticks a lot of boxes. There’s a mass appeal to this. It’s definitely not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think the crossover is pretty big for who can enjoy this film.
PopHorror: What was your fondest memory from filming?
Emily Skeggs: Oohh.
Kyle Gallner: There’s a lot.
Emily Skeggs: I mean… one of my fondest memories is the band who wrote the music for the punk stuff. All the punk music, not the watermelon song.
Kyle Gallner: They’re called Disco Assault. They’re from Windsor.
Emily Skeggs: Canada. They came over the river into Detroit to record at this amazing old church that’s now a recording studio in Detroit. So we got to watch them.
Kyle Gallner: That’s where we recorded the music.
Emily Skeggs: Yeah, that’s where we recorded a lot of the music.
Kyle Gallner: All of the punk stuff was recorded at the church.
Emily Skeggs: And Kyle, you got to perform. That was super cool. With them, and like practice with them.
Kyle Gallner: They played a punk show in Detroit. It was in this venue that was basically a converted bank. They used to just throw together generator shows where they didn’t even have electricity and stuff. Now it’s kind of like this cool punk venue. And they played, and they brought me up, and I got to perform live with them. It was really fun.
Emily Skeggs: And they were like, “Our friend Simon’s in town, and he’s in this hot new band called Psyops.” And of course, Kyle just fucking killed it. People were coming up to him afterwards like “Psyops, yeah! I think I’ve heard of that one. Simon it’s so nice to meet you.” It was so cool. And I think because we had two weeks of rehearsal to sit in the world and sit in Detroit and get to know each other… It really solidified so much for us and became super immersive. Kyle and I did a lot of hanging out. Kyle got in a lot of mischief around town. He found a dog once.
Kyle Gallner: Yeah, I rescued a pitbull in Detroit. We took Punkin for her greatest day out. I called Skeggs and was like, “You know that pitbull I’ve been trying to get from my neighbor for the past three weeks? I got her.”
Emily Skeggs: She hadn’t been fixed, and she had her period, and we had to get her diapers.
Kyle Gallner: She had her period that day, and we had to get her diapers. We took her all around. It was the night of the punk show. It was actually our longest night shoot.
Emily Skeggs: Yes! Oh, my God.
Kyle Gallner: And the guy called me at 6 AM and said, “Come get the dog.” I’m like, “Oh Jesus!” I was trying to find her a rescue without putting her in a shelter or something like that. So me and Emily took her around all day. And in the final hour, I had a friend come through who had a connection in Detroit, and we got her into this really cool rescue called Detroit Pit Crew and they ended up taking her. They’re a strict no kill, sending the dogs to trainers to make sure they’re all trained up before they get adopted out.
Emily Skeggs: They’re really cool.
Kyle Gallner: It was cool. That was a wild day. We have pictures of us driving around with her, taking her out to lunch.
PopHorror: So I know that Covid has stalled everything, and that things have been put on hold. Do you guys currently have anything that you’re working on or that’s coming out?
Emily Skeggs: I have a movie that is coming out on Hulu. It’s called The Ultimate Playlist of Noise. It’s a super fun sort of coming-of-age story. I wonder when I will look old enough to not play a teenager. I’m loving it. To be able to vote, drink, rent a car in any movie. Anyway, so that’s really fun. Keep an eye out for that. Kyle, what do you have?
Kyle Gallner: I have a film called The Catch that actually just got accepted. They’re going to premier at the Austin Film Festival.
Emily Skeggs: That’s awesome, Kyle!
Kyle Gallner: Yeah, that’ll be cool. It’s like a small town in Maine. We’re lobster fisherman, and my sister comes home, and she’s in trouble, and shenanigans happen. Good old fashioned small town drama.
Emily Skeggs: Did you do a Maine accent for that one, Kyle?
Kyle Gallner: Yeah, I did.
Emily Skeggs: Maine’s hard.
PopHorror: I only have one question left. What is your favorite scary movie?
Kyle Gallner: Ever since I had kids, I’ve barely watched anything in the last eight years of like… anything. I love The Descent. I think The Descent is sick! They’re kind of my go to movies, but I think The Descent, and the French version of Martyrs is like… so, so gnarly.
PopHorror: No one ever says Martyrs, and that makes me happy.
Kyle Gallner: Martyrs is awesome. I like High Tension, too. High Tension is sick. I think Aja is super talented.
PopHorror: We just became best friends by the way.
Kyle Gallner: Yeah! I know it’s not horror, but I love Troll Hunter.
Emily Skeggs: I’ve never seen that.
Kyle Gallner: Troll Hunter is great!
Emily Skeggs: I’m imagining Shrek, so I don’t think… Have you seen Border?
Kyle Gallner: No.
PopHorror: I have not.
Emily Skeggs: That’s one of my favorites. Kyle, those are the kind of characters you and I would dream to play. And also Under the Skin.
Thank you so much to both Kyle and Emily for taking the time to speak with us. Keep an eye out for Dinner In America, which is currently playing festivals.