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IONCINEPHILE of the Month: Trieste Kelly Dunn (Loves Her Gun)

We’re finally back for the latest installment in our favorite profile series.’s IONCINEPHILE of the Month feature focuses on an emerging filmmaker from the world of cinema and more often than not, we feature a personality from the American indie film. We switched things up for January, inviting actress Trieste Kelly Dunn (who we saw for the first time in Paul Greengrass’s United 93, first heard of her in the pages of Filmmaker Magazineand first discovered in Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather) to discuss her early rapport with cinema, her motivations for getting into acting and finally, a set of questions on the SXSW preemed Loves Her Gun (opens this Friday [01.10] for a one week run. As usual, we ask the profiled person to include their personal top ten. So here’s our profile on Trieste and make sure to check out her current Top Ten Films of All Time list.

Trieste Kelly DunnEric Lavallee: During your childhood…what films were important to you?
Trieste Kelly Dunn: I wanted to be an orphan from Brooklyn after I saw Newsies. After Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Karate Kid I wanted to be a ninja. I must have seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 50 times by the time I was 12, I guess I just wanted to be as cool and funny as Matthew Broderick. Then in high school I watched The Godfather and wanted to be in the mafia. Basically anything I saw and liked, I wanted to be a part of. I also wanted to travel in time.

Lavallee: During your formative years, which characters, actors/actresses and/or performances inspired you?
Dunn: Marlon Brando in Streetcar…he was like an Olympic gymnast doing backflips off balance beams and making it look possible. Also when I read Arthur Millers’ The Crucible I made my high school theatre class do the entire play. I wanted to be Abigail which is maybe the easiest role in the play but I was obsessed so I made everyone else do it and there are so many speeches for Proctor. Poor guy had to ditch classes just to memorize lines.

Lavallee: You studied at the North Carolina Drama school…(the lieu where you met filmmakers such as Aaron Katz and Brett Haley). At what point did you know you wanted to go into acting as a profession? And could you tell us an anecdote about appearing in a bit role for Gregg Araki‘s Mysterious Skin.
Dunn: I guess around 16. Watching Streetcar and The Godfather sealed the deal. I wanted to be in the mafia and backflips on balance beams and travel in time. I didn’t have the confidence to do it without training. I auditioned for NC school of the arts three times before I technically got in. Based on sheer tenacity I think they had to take me at that point. After you go to acting school for 4 years you have to give it a fair shot so I moved to NYC and I’m still giving it a shot. Mysterious Skin was also a UNCSA enterprise. Jonny Gillette, who is another film school alum, was directing some second unit stuff of a horror film, that’s a film within the film that the characters are watching. Jonny asked me and Chad Hartigan (director of This is Martin Bonner and NC alum) to play prom dates and get our heads cut off. There’s a picture somewhere. Chad is in a white tux and I’m wearing a blonde wig and a ridiculous polkadot dress.

Lavallee: How early on where you involved in the process for Geoff Marslett’s Loves Her Gun? How much input did you have in creating the character of Allie both prior to and during the shot?
Dunn: Geoff sent me an outline of the story maybe three months before we shot it. It sounded fun and I really wanted to do it. I didn’t weigh in on the character beforehand so much but while shooting, and I think because of the improv element, we were both learning as we went. It felt like we were rolling down a hill the entire time.

Lavallee: The blue print for Loves Her Gun involved mostly improv. Could you describe his working process and what might have been unique about this gig/performance/character when measured against the slew of characters you’ve portrayed so far?
Dunn: Everything seemed easier after this movie. Not having any dialogue for a film like this was an obstacle course at times. I felt mostly stupid about what I was doing, but there were moments, usually the scenes I was most afraid of, that there was huge sense of accomplishment after. A scene would start one way, and we’d be talking too much or stating facts and it would feel truly abysmal. Then we’d get it out of our systems and get away from results and real stuff would actually happen. It felt more real maybe than saying lines because I learned to let go more and more. Also with improv, start the scene in the middle when you can!! Talking or discussion or exposition will sink you. Don’t say words until you have to!

Lavallee: What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and why?
Dunn: Hmm I think maybe the scene with Melissa’s character Sarah where she’s yelling at me about pulling the gun on the neighbor who is beating his wife. Melissa is great and her character is definitely right, but how do I round out the argument for doing something as irrational and idiotic as that. It couldn’t be shallow and one sided. I had to really figure out the positive reason that drove Allie to do it. It was about getting revenge on the guys that hurt her, but more than that, she needed the guy to feel scared. Fear is what is haunting her throughout the film. It’s not fair what happened to her, and now she has to carry around the baggage. I focused on feeling wronged and that something was taken from her, and that taking it from someone else who deserved it felt heroic and right, despite it being wrong and irrational.

Lavallee: For a final off topic question. What is the most amusing public “hey aren’t you the girl from…” encounter you’ve had so far?
Dunn: Nobody recognizes me from anything ever but one day I was wearing the jacket and purse that I wear in the film Cold Weather, and a guy recognized me from that indie film! Nothing from TV ever. The entire cast of Banshee will be recognized at dinner somewhere and getting congratulations and praise and I’ll be with them and go totally unnoticed. I am always wearing glasses in real life and looking very different than I do on Cinemax in my lady deputy uniform.

Loves Her Gun receives a one week release in NYC this Friday, January 10th. You can find Trieste Kelly Dunn on Cinemax’s Banshee (new season starts this Friday) and/or follow her on twitter @TriesteKDunn.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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