YOU KNOW WHO TANNA FREDERICK IS? I don’t want to say that, number one, she’s a babe, because her being a babe is not the first thing you should know about her. Also, you have eyes, and there’s a gallery of her in her underpants, below, which, if you were around in the ’90s at all, you know will speak “more than words.”
So. What’s way cooler than Tanna Frederick being a lanky redhead surfer is that she’s also a total brainiac dynamo. As a buddy of mine said yesterday, à propos of clever women, “smart is always hotter than not.” True fact.
The 33-year-old Iowa University valedictorian/stage actor/film star/festival starter/surfer/activist spoke to me from her home in Santa Monica.
The Smoking Jacket: You just wrapped a movie, The M-Word. There’s no trailer yet, so tell me a bit about the story.
Tanna Frederick: It’s more of a woman’s film. Frances Fisher [Kate Winslet's corset-tightening mom in Titanic is one of her many roles] plays my mother. She’s so hilarious. She has menopause, she thinks my step-father’s cheating on her, she comes to stay with me, and pretty soon the woman who shot JR–
TSJ: The woman who shot JR!
TF: Mary Crosby–she plays one of my aunts–moves in, too. Meanwhile I’m dating Corey Feldman. So he’s not digging my aunts and my mom being around at all.
TSJ: And I hear Michael Imperioli’s in the movie?
TF: Yeah, I’m playing this head executive at this indie TV station that’s going down the tubes. And Michael Imperioli, one of my heroes, he plays Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, he has come out to close our station down. So it’s very Adam’s Rib, if you will, very Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn. We go tête à tête very well, Christopher–not Christopher!–Michael and I. He and I argue very well, with that underlying sexual tension thing going on, so of course [our characters] wind up falling in love. It was really fun working with him.
TSJ: Do you have to break up with Corey Feldman?
TF: Yeah, poor Corey is left in the cold.
TSJ: The classic love triangle.
TF: It’s a riotous comedy that covers all of these fabulous issues… And I get to make out with Michael Imperioli, so it’s all good.
TSJ: Are you working on any other projects?
TF: I actually have another film coming out right before [this one does]. It’s called Just 45 Minutes from Broadway. And it costars Judd Nelson–who was really fun to work with–and I. It’s about a Yiddish theater family. It’s very pro-artist, pro-actors, [it's got] the whole civilian versus artist agelong dispute [going on]. I end up falling in love with Judd Nelson, who, in the movie, plays a civilian–a real estate agent. I’m, of course, this insane actress. It kind of looks back to the “You Can’t Take it with You” of the ’40s.
TSJ: That’s exactly what it made me think of, the way you described it.
TF: Yeah! It’s such a fun story. And Julie Davis, who’s a fabulous director and actress, plays my sister. She’s a civilian as well, kind of like the odd duckling. And she brings Judd Nelson home to meet the family. Of course I fall in love with Judd, and Judd falls in love with me, so then she’s kind of screwed. But it’s fun!
TSJ: So did you study theater?
TF: I started doing plays when I was like eight. And I went to the University of Iowa on a full theater scholarship. I go back every year and speak to the students there. I started a film festival there–I started a film festival in Iowa to encourage people to make their own films. We’re in our sixth year, now. And this year I instituted Project Cornlight, a queue of films bringing out Hollywood actors and directors but the majority of the people–the crew, the location, the screenwriters–are Iowan. So we’re making our first film, actually, called The Farm. We’re really excited about that.
TSJ: What’s it like working on all sides of the film industry the way you do?
TF: I love it, because for me you can’t really [enjoy] the passion of creating a film or a play until you know all the aspects of each and every part that goes into [it]. I couldn’t make work I found exciting if I didn’t know where I started, where I am now, where I hope to be.
TSJ: And you’re working as a mentor, too.
TF: There’s nothing better than encouraging other people and seeing their dreams come true. So that pushes me to make things happen and to hold myself accountable [to others]. It all comes back full circle. I love having my hands in everything.