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Actress from Iowa tackles Hollywood

Des Moines Register
Lynn Freehill
Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Tanna. "Changing tack isn't an option. I could never do anything different. It's enough to do films like this with a $3-million budget, projects you love."

A little background: Aspiring actresses crop up in Hollywood like pigweed in an Iowa cornfield. But actresses with "university valedictorian" on their resumes are, well, less abundant. Mason City native Tanna Frederick, 27, graduated at the top of her class at the University of Iowa in 1999. After five years in Los Angeles, she has wrapped up her first starring role - as an Iowa girl trying to make it big in La La Land.

In the news: Frederick is "Margie" in the independent film "Hollywood Dreams," which co-stars Hollywood veteran Karen Black and is scheduled for a 2006 release. Frederick has played a paleontologist, police officer and drug hustler. Margie was less of a stretch, she conceded. She took time out from preparations for a play and a "Hollywood Dreams" sequel called "Iowa Nights" to reveal herself in 10 (or so) Questions.

Q. Why the movie biz? How old were you when you knew you wanted to do that?

A. Ever since I was a small child, everything has guided me in that direction. I'd create movies and star in them on our family VHS camera. Mason City has an amazing children's theater. I was always there, learning all I could.

Q. Director Henry Jaglom really sang your praises, saying your acting was sensational, seamless and generating a "huge buzz" in the city. Is it hard to stay humble? Or do you have to keep your guard up against flattery?

A. Oh, God, I don't think it's ever hard to stay humble out in Los Angeles. For every person who tells you yes, there's 100 who tell you no. You ride on the kudos for a year if one person says you are brilliant. During auditions, for the next seven months, you hold onto that and keep going. You keep blinders on.

Q. Did you experience full-on culture shock moving to California?

A. Complete culture shock, and I was exhausted all the time. Even though I got two degrees at U of I, I let go of all the safety nets. You get used to the adrenaline rush of auditions and not knowing where your next meal is coming from. You have to romanticize it as an artist; otherwise it's pretty depressing.

Q. Any tough-luck tales about what you've had to do starting out?

A. I've been through an interview with a manager who asked me to take my shirt off in the office. He said, "If you're a dedicated actress, you'll take your shirt off in the corner right now." There's a lot of smarmy situations you get into. I could've sunk to some lows, but I never have.

Q. How do you deal with the pressures of appearance?

A. I always considered myself sloppy, but you start to integrate manicures, pedicures, the salon, a trainer, a diet, a facialist and an orthodontist. It's time consuming, but you regiment it into your weekly schedule. This is probably stuff most actresses wouldn't admit, but it's the truth. I look at it that my medium is my physical appearance, so I want to keep that in top shape.

Q. Who harbors more stereotypes? Do Californians misunderstand Iowans, or do Iowans misunderstand Californians?

A. I would say both, because first of all, all the states that begin with a vowel are synonymous out here. Ohio, Idaho... Californians don't take time to study the middle. But people in Iowa think that California people are a little flaky and superficial. It's no different than if you're going from Spain to France. You can't expect the people to be the same. There are geographical and cultural differences.

Q. What does L.A. have that Mason City doesn't?

A. They have sunshine, a metro system, the ocean, amazing theater, premieres, and Brad Pitt - that's the big one.

Q. Do you have celebrity run-ins often? Who's nice and who's not?

A. All the time. I go to a lot of parties out here to do this Los Angeles schmoozing thing. My favorite person is Dustin Hoffman. He's the nicest man I've ever met - open, kind and intelligent. Brad Pitt was very cute and kind of scruffy. Bill Mahr was extremely rude, and Jack Nicholson was very, very, very sweet.

Q. What do you miss most about life in the Midwest?

A. The people. There's a familial sense that comes from being an Iowan. Henry Jaglom will make fun of me because when I see anyone from Iowa, I scream. We're excited to see each other even if we don't know each other. There's an affinity for one another, like we all came from the same college.

Q. If you never achieve widespread fame, will that be enough?

A. Changing tack isn't an option. I could never do anything different. It's enough to do films like this with a $3-million budget, projects you love. I don't look at fame or the money anymore, because I've given myself over to this like a nun.

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