Nearly a decade later, Del Shores’ 2003 critically acclaimed, award-winning play The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife has been adapted into the feature film Blues for Willadean. Beth Grant, one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces with more than 100 film and television credits, is the leading lady and reunites with the rest of the original stage play cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey, David Steen and Debby Holiday.
The Alabama-born actress, who is best known for her quirky roles in the films Donnie Darko, Little Miss Sunshine and No Country for Old Men, takes on a much more serious role as the battered Texan housewife Willadean Winkler who lives in a trailer park. One of her children is dead and her blue collar truck driver husband (Steen) bans her from having contact with her homosexual son. LaSonia (Spencer) is her sole confidant who lives next door and worries as Willadean suffers from her husband’s long-term physical and emotional abuse. When her husband cheats on her with a new neighbor (Dickey), Willadean finally has had enough and goes down her path of discovery by first getting a job at the Value Village superstore and then liberating herself permanently from her husband after he threatens all three women and beats her within an inch of her life. Throughout Willadean's trials and tribulations, a mystical blues singer (Holiday) offers musical encouragement that helps her find the courage to start a new life free from abuse.
Blues for Willadean is now available on iTunes to preview, buy, and download for $9.99.
Taking time from her busy schedule, Grant was kind enough to sit down for an interview and share a bit more about Blues for Willadean and offer some advice to battered women and aspiring actors.
AC: How did you first get involved in Del Shores' stage play The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife? And later when it was adapted to the film Blues for Willadean? Also, why was the film title change?
BG: Del wrote the part for me. At first I said, “No, no! I’m not a victim, I would never let a man hit me.” I had to work to find the “victim” in me, the part of me that allows people to “talk down” to me, that part of me that insists on second best! My cousin, Bobby Rearden, Kestrel Films, was looking for a script to produce and I called Del who coincidentally had just finished the draft of the screenplay. We sent it to him and he loved it and was impressed with all the awards we had won for the play: LA Drama Critics, LA Weekly, Backstage West, LA Stage Alliance, the NAACP award for best play and production. He and Del hit it off and got it done! We changed the name when we realized that everyone who knew nothing about the script thought it was a comedy or a reality show! We didn’t want to mislead the audience. Blues For Willadean is more the tone of the movie.
AC: What was it like reuniting and working with the stage play's cast again (David Steen, Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey and Debby Holiday)?
BG: We were so happy that Del insisted on using the entire original cast, much of the crew, the composer – Joe Pat Ward. It was a great reunion. After doing the play for so many performances, a total of 10 months, we were really close. I have known Octavia since A Time To Kill and we had worked together before, she was my daughter’s “Special Friend” in elementary school. I adore her and am so proud of her. Dale Dickey is one of the best actresses I know and working with her is a blast. She is so strong and real. I trust David Steen with all my heart. The physical violence never bothered me because I was in his hands. Even though I didn’t work directly with Joe Pat and Debby, I knew that Del was having a blast with them and that he was getting what he wanted and was happy.
AC: How did you prepare for the role of Willadean? Have you been personally affected by some of the more traumatizing scenes?
BG: I did a lot of research, visited halfway houses, interviewed women (and one man) who had been battered. Most were out of it but one was not. I could tell she had once been beautiful, but her nose had been broken – she had scars. She had even given up a child that she could not care for because of her abuser husband. She told me, “Nobody loves me like he does.” He would always apologize, bring her candy or buy her gifts form Victoria’s Secret. Their make-up sex was powerful and dramatic. That’s when I understood the “dance of death” that these couples do. It takes two to play. One takes a step, the other responds, and it escalates to violence. Then remorse, forgiveness, romantic sex. Their idea of "deep love.” It’s the whole bad boy fantasy that you are the only one who understands him and his tender heart. But it always escalates, always becomes a living hell.
Once I saw the victim in myself I was able to give myself over completely to the role. But I was affected. I found myself wanting to buy a truck. My husband said, “Wait till the work is done and see how you feel.” Sure enough, I didn’t want a truck – Willadean wanted a truck so she could get the hell out of Dodge!!
AC: Is there a message you want to send to women who may be in a similar predicament to your character – trapped in an physically and/or psychologically abusive relationship?
BG: Please get help and please get out. Get in touch with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and get help. Your partner will not change without professional counseling and truthfully a psychic change. You must get help. And if there are children you have a moral responsibility to get them out of the violence. They will spend their lifetimes recovering from growing up in a violent, abusive home.
AC: You started late in the entertainment business, but have accomplished so much – starring in more than 70 feature films, appearing in over thirty plays and guest-starring in hundreds of hit television series. What advice do you have for young and older actors who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
BG: Slow and steady wins the race! Never give up, nose down. Keeping hoeing that field, but never look at the size of it. Persistence and tenacity do pay off. Take classes, always do plays, build your rolodex. And most importantly, work through your problems and have a good attitude. Attitude monitors talent. And never compare yourself or your career to others. Everyone has a different, unique journey. Be you. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
AC: Of all the various projects you have worked on, which are your top five favorites? Why?
BG: No Country For Old Men (A dream come true to work with the Coen Brothers who were even better than I expected – down to earth, organized and friendly!), Donnie Darko (One of the best scripts I’ve ever read, a writer/director with a clear vision but let us try things working with two beloved friends – Jake Gylenhaal and Patrick Swayze), The Rookie (Such a great, real, G-rated Disney movie – the first time I could take my daughter to one of my premieres which was very special), As I Lay Dying (working with my friend James Franco who is simply the best – organized, moves quickly, keeps the set happy, gets tons of coverage, wrote a beautiful script, made us all want to do our very best), Sordid Lives (My first film with Del, playing his real life Aunt Sissy who is so much like one of my grandmothers who taught me a lot about comedy. Sordid Lives was a salute to her.) On television, Delta, Coach, Malcolm In The Middle, Justified, Friends. I must say my current job on the television series, The Mindy Project, is so wonderful, starring with Mindy Kaling. Great writers, cast, production team, I’m having a blast! But honestly, if you will believe me, I have loved every single job I have ever had!
AC: Will you share some of your upcoming projects we should look out for?
BG: As I Lay Dying, based on the William Faulkner novel, adapted and directed by James Franco. And please tune in on The Mindy Project! I think we have some VERY FUNNY episodes coming up. I am so glad they invited me to be a regular.
AC: And lastly, what is your favorite movie?
BG: Oh so many. I cannot pick one! Top of the list, even though I am in it, is No Country For Old Men. I believe it is the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece! I love Donnie Darko just as much, both are about the big questions in life. Movies I’m not in? Godfather, Five Easy Pieces, Saturday Night Fever, It’s A Wonderful Life, Opening Night, Day For Night, All About Eve, Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence Of Arabia, L.A. Confidential, City Lights, Queen Of Hearts, 8 ½, Amarcord, and one more of my own – The Artist, a tribute to every film!!