She’s currently the lead star on the show that broke records for the biggest premiere in cable television history, but before Kim Dickens started fighting off zombies on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead she made a habit of popping up on some of the best TV shows of the past decade. We sat down with Dickens to get her thoughts and memories on her other notable small screen roles (Deadwood, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Treme, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards) as well as her breakthrough performance on the big screen in Gone Girl.
“There was no improvising. There was no dropping words. It was so specific to the sound, the meter, and obviously to the meaning. You’d have to apply certain tricks to memorize it sometimes.”
Dickens got her big break playing madam Joanie Stubbs on David Milch’s HBO western, a role and show she still holds dear to her heart. Here’s what she had to say about trying to decipher Milch’s scripts.
The dialogue was very dense, and I believe it’s metered. At least that’s my impression of what I remember hearing. But we didn’t have scripts. The pages came in daily, and we didn’t have a tremendous amount of time with that language, and I do think it took a few passes of just reading it to translate it for yourself the way you would Shakespeare in a way, and then to actually memorize it, because it’s not exactly the way we speak now, that’s for sure.
So to memorize it was challenging too, and this is material that we performed verbatim. There was no riffing. There was no improvising. There was no dropping words. It was so specific to the sound, the meter, and obviously to the meaning. You’d have to apply certain tricks to memorize it sometimes.
But that show really holds a really strong soft spot in my heart. It was a magical experience in the period alone and with David Milch. I had what felt like real artistic license, and there were no scripts or notes from someone else. We had the pages daily, and we shot them, and David was on set with us.
We were at Melody Ranch, and David would come down and sort of talk us all through. When we were doing a new setup for a new scene, he would come down and speak to all of us, the cast in it, the director, the crew. We would all just be on the edge of our seat. He’s such a wonderful storyteller and speaker, and he would give us the feeling of what we were really playing, or the essence of the scene, or what the emotions were to capture, and then the director would execute it.
It was a really beautiful and magical experience. If you pass by it on the television or something, it’s so in the moment. The minutiae between these people, these characters, it’s so rich. If you do watch it over, there’s so many more things to get, you know? It just keeps giving.
NEXT: Dickens talks Lost
“To get to work with Sawyer of all people — I mean, it kind of doesn’t get any better than that.”
Dickens played Cassidy — Sawyer’s mark turned con trainee turned mother of his child on the ABC island drama.
That was an incredible show, and to just get to drop in every so often was amazing. I never knew what was going to be happening for Cassidy, and it was always something really exciting. And to get to work with Sawyer of all people — I mean, it kind of doesn’t get any better than that. And then to work with Kate too, I love how I cross into that story, and then I have the kid, Clementine. It was an incredible experience. They would just sort of like fly you in, fit you, you’d shoot all day and then fly out. It was a really cool show to be a part of, I have to say.
Josh Holloway was so great on the show. He was really so great. I really love that first scene. I thought that was such a great story, and then I actually love the scene when I visit him in prison. I had that one scene where I show him his daughter. He’s a tremendous actor.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
“The scripts were beautiful to read. Your heart would just be in your throat at the end of every episode.”
If Deadwood scripts were read verbatim, then improv-encouraged Friday Night Lights was the opposite experience for Dickens, who played Matt Saracen’s absentee mother, Shelby.
That was an awesome experience. The scripts were beautiful to read. Your heart would just be in your throat at the end of every episode. I don’t know how they had that much power, but they did. They were so beautiful and so emotional, and then you’ll end up improvising off the scripts.
They shot it in this very unique way, which was usually three hand-held cameras, and you would just sort of improvise the scene, and the cameras would catch it, and that’s what gave it that eavesdropping or documentary style, and they could shoot so much in a day. I think we certainly would shoot, like, 10 pages in a day and wrap early.
I really loved working with Zach Gilford, and Louanne Stephens who played his grandmother — incredible actress out of Dallas. Very beautiful and very funny in person, but she’s this tremendous actress. They just had and incredible cast.
SONS OF ANARCHY
“Not a bad day at work when you’re working with Charlie Hunnam.”
Dickens played a madam once again on FX’s biker drama, and one whom got intimate with Charlie Hunnam’s Jax before meeting her untimely demise.
I auditioned for Colette Jane, the madam, and they were like, yeah, we don’t know if it’s going to go her way, and then I got an email from Kurt Sutter because he was a big Deadwood fan. Obviously, I think he cast several people, several of us. There was a lot of Deadwood folks on there. He cast me as a modern madam. So I was a little bit typecast. [Laughs] No, but it was great fun. I mean, those guys, they would give, you know, these bear hugs. They were so sweet. That was such a warm, fun set to be around. All those guys really rode their their big choppers to work every day, and it was really cool. Not a bad day at work when you’re working with Charlie Hunnam.
NEXT: Dickens talks Gone Girl
“I expected it to go to a bigger actress, but that was the luckiest day in my life it felt like.”
The actress stole scenes from Ben Affleck as skeptical detective Rhonda Boney in the David Fincher adaptation of the novel by former EW writer Gillian Flynn.
When I got that role, I was like, I cannot believe that this is happening to me. The odds of getting a great role like that in a David Fincher movie, they’re not with you. There’s a lot of competition out there. I expected it to go to a bigger actress, but that was the luckiest day in my life it felt like.
And I was working at the time in New York when the audition came up, and I had one day off on a Monday, and my agent said, “Look, I got an audition for you, and it’s 18 pages.” And I was like, well, there’s no way I can prepare 18 pages on Monday, because it’s not going to happen. I’m working my ass off here, and it’s David Fincher, and I’m like, well, I’m not even going to get it. So why am I going?
And then I read the pages. I didn’t have a script or anything, and I had not read Gone Girl, so I read the 18 pages, and I thought, well, I’ve got to go for that. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay, and she bumped up the character of Boney quite a bit from the novel, and it was an incredible role to get to play. I don’t even have words to express it.
It was such a life-changing experience to work with Fincher, to work with Ben, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle — the whole gang delivered stellar performances, and they were just such great people to work with. Fincher demands you show up and you just give it your best every day all day, and you’re inspired to do that, and you’re inspired to be better. It was a really, really fun experience, a really rewarding experience, and I love that character so much. I wish we could play her again.
NEXT: Dickens talks Treme
“I remember, none of the locals were interested in us being there telling their story. They just hated the idea. Like, nobody ever got New Orleans right.”
Dickens cooked up another great performance as a chef struggling with finances in David Simon’s ode to post-Katrina New Orleans.
New Orleans is just a beautiful city. You will fall in love with it, and you can turn the corner, and it’ll break your heart. I mean, it’s a really special, one-of-a-kind city, and we went down there relatively soon after Katrina, and we were going to be portraying characters inspired by real people there and playing their experience of picking themselves back up in the few shorts months after Katrina.
I remember being there for the pilot, and we shot the pilot during Mardi Gras, and they put us in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. First of all, we were never able to sleep. It was so loud there. But I remember, none of the locals were interested in us being there telling their story. They just hated the idea. Like, nobody ever got New Orleans right.
They heard we were coming, they’re not excited about that, and they tell it like it is down there. So we shot the pilot, and we got picked up, so we were shooting season 1 when it first aired, and you know, not everybody had HBO. That’s not down there. So they all went to certain bars that were advertising they were going to show it, which I think is illegal, but people started to see it while we were there shooting, and it was kind of nerve-wracking because you knew they didn’t want you to be there to start with. And then they saw it, and they just sort of cheered for us. We were kind of like The Beatles for a second because we got it right in their eyes, and, you know, thank God, but it was an interesting experience.
Steve Zahn and I talk about it a lot, because it was a unique experience like I’ve never had before because it was kind of like performance art because you were playing these characters that were inspired by real people there, and you were in their town in pretty close to real time, and so we were living there and playing them. And then we’d be at art gallery openings, or in restaurants, or just walking down the street, and they’d yell out at us and try to get in fights with Steve, you know, because his character was his character. But it was a very unique experience, and I’m very proud of it. I’m glad that they embraced us.
HOUSE OF CARDS
“My first time I really got to know Robin, she was directing Paul Sparks and myself in a sex scene. So that was an interesting way to meet someone that you idolize.”
Dickens played a recurring role in season 3 of the Netflix political drama as a journalist determined to investigate President Frank Underwood.
That happened to be my favorite show at the time when I got that — that and Mad Men. So I immediately said yes. Beau Willimon, the creator of the American version and writer, I think he also is a Deadwood fan, because he’s also used a few of us with Molly Parker and Gerald McRaney, but you know, they asked me to come and do it, and I immediately said yes.
And then I was terrified. I was like, wait a second, it’s my favorite show. Frank Underwood! I can’t! I was so nervous about it. It was intimidating. Their characters are so real to me, and sure enough, I get there, and they’re lovely people, and Robin Wright actually directed several that I was in, and that was fun.
My first time I really got to know Robin, she was directing Paul Sparks and myself in a sex scene. So that was an interesting way to meet someone that you idolize, but it was all great fun. She’s a wonderful director. Kevin Spacey is a lovely person. He’s obviously amazing in that role, and it was fun to be in the press corps too because he kind of entertains all the press in between takes.
For more ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
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