Kerry Cahill is an actress perhaps best known for her current role as Dianne on The Walking Dead but also with more than 40 credits on both small and big screen. We talked about her itinerant childhood as an ‘army brat’, studying and living in Belfast, Northern Ireland, working with the great Werner Herzog and, of course, working on the The Walking Dead. We also discussed her important work as an advocate for American Veterans and the tragic loss of her father which led her to this role. Music, gardening, award-winning theatre work, New Orleans and many more things that help to make up her life.
DB: You were born in Helena, Montana and were ‘an Army brat’, so you moved around a lot.
KC: I was partial Army brat and then, at one point, my dad went to the National Guard and so we still moved with his units to some extent but then we still moved a lot mostly because he just changed jobs – it was a weird, nomadic life. I still don’t know how to put artwork on walls because I have not been used to having a house for a long time. I must say that I learned a lot. We drove through every state west of the Mississippi except Hawaii and Alaska, before I was twelve; driving through the Nevada desert and Utah and Montana, because we were moving all the time… it was beautiful and incredible just to see that as a kid. We lived in very rural towns – I didn’t live in a town bigger than 5,000 people between the ages of 5 and 17 because he was a PA [Physician Assistant] and in the medical field a PA is often the remote medical care.
DB: What was it like, since you went from school to school to school, being the newbie so many times?
KC: Not fun! The thing is, particularly in small, small towns, they’re already insular and so you’re coming in as a stranger. But what it did do – because I was never going to be really popular because I wasn’t from there – was I cared less about what people thought of me really early on versus having to go through that adjustment in high school. Anybody who moves a lot as a kid, you learn that everyone has similar social rules and then there’ll be a few where you are like, ‘Oh this is new!’ and if you don’t follow it, it makes people uncomfortable. And I’m not good at following all the rules… I think I was good at adjusting socially but sometimes I was like I couldn’t care. The culture shock of Texas coming from Oregon or Montana: they are different cultures in a couple of big ways. There were little things, faux pas, that I didn’t even know. In the 4th or 5th grade I had come from eastern Oregon (the middle of nowhere, a 200 person town, 8 people in my class) and move to a town which wasn’t that much bigger but I didn’t say ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Sir’ (just because it wasn’t the culture of Oregon) and the first week of school the teachers, they were not mean but they were very… and immediately I was already an outcast because I didn’t know. I got into the habit of it and it was fine but I just didn’t know.
DB: When did you first start acting and performing?
KC: I think I did a 6th grade play and I kept doing the drama club, everywhere, and that’s when I started acting. Then I also went to college [Loyola] for it and I also learned set design, carpentry, light design and stuff like that too, stage management.
DB: Which was good in a lot of ways because it gave you that continuity, no matter which school you were in. Was that a comfort zone thing?
KC: I think so, yeah. I was talking about this to some other actors the other day… we’re all kind of weird. That’s not that we are bad or good but that I think, to be a performer of any kind, it’s a different part of the brain and you think a little bit differently. The drama club was a place where I always felt more comfortable just because nobody in the club was the same. There are other groups and cliques in high school that are more conformist: most of the cheerleaders look similar or have a similar culture. I think it’s because you were jumping from story to story, or character to character, or song to song and you dabble in all these different personalities instead of one really strong thing. It’s one of the things why actors, in a general way, have a lot of empathy across the board, because we really just get into that character and think like them.
DB: You did Drama at Loyola and then you went to Belfast.
KC: I did! That was my favourite year abroad and I had to fight for that because Loyola had some very good study abroad programmes, but I specifically wanted to go there. It wasn’t that bad, the Good Friday Agreement had been on for a while and it was doing well: there was one bomb threat while I was there and a couple of other things but compared to when the Troubles were bad that wasn’t. I studied at Queen’s which is an incredible university. It is the American story – my great-grandfather was from County Antrim – and I wanted to experience a city that was not typical and learn more about where he comes from and all those things.
DB: And your Irish roots.
KC: Yes, Irish-Scottish. My great-grandmother was Scottish, from Ayr, and my great-grandfather went to Scotland right after the [Irish] potato famine. My grandfather was 8 years old when they hit Ellis Island in, I think, 1906.
DB: What did you particularly like about living in Belfast and Northern Ireland?
KC: There’s a difference in the way that universities are run over there. I really liked the lecture system and then you divide into a small group and have a weekly discussion. I actually really liked that you get a reading list, you read it, you get a lecture and then you go into a small study group with a really great, grad student assistant. That made a lot of sense to me. I think if I could have readjusted and stayed, I would have done. There is also a respect for acting throughout the British Isles. I also got to do a summer programme in Oxford University, which also instilled a lot of that and that, I think, definitely carries over. I teach acting every once in a while and I tell people that, ‘Just because you have one line on a film, and it’s one scene, doesn’t mean you can skip your vocal warm-up. You can’t do that. It’s a craft!’ I think learning from a lot of those professionals over there, and those big directors working in the West End coming in and out, really helped build that a lot – and the history of acting over there.
DB: Did you see any plays while you were in Belfast?
KC: Oh I did! I tell people it’s when you learn the power of theatre I think. First of all Dublin had a huge theatre festival and I saw a lot of plays. One of them was a trilogy, The Agamemnon Trilogy, between a Palestinian and Israeli Company, and they worked together. They had the translators, and it was one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen. I don’t remember hearing the translators though, because you could feel what they were saying. Then there was an incredible show going on in downtown Belfast called, A History of the Troubles, According to me Da’. It was a show that could never tour because it was so specific to Falls Road and all those places, but it was so needed. I didn’t see it until I had lived there for six months because I knew I wouldn’t understand it as well unless I could understand the accents, the little jokes, and it really was incredible! Also for someone who hadn’t lived there through all that, as an outsider, I really understood from a ground perspective of this one guy on Falls Road, what he went through and what his buddies went through. It really opened me up more to what that all was.
DB: When you went to Oxford, was that prior to going to Belfast?
KC: It was. It was through the British American Drama Academy and they specifically do a summer programme for us Yanks, across the Pond, to learn a bit of Shakespeare – properly. (Laughs) It was four weeks, five days a week, eight to nine hours a day of training – scene work, vocal work – and there were people who left and that was when they knew they didn’t want to be an actor because they were like, ‘Oh I don’t like doing this all day.’ For a lot of us it was, ‘No, this is what I want to do. I love this!’
DB: They have some big names associated with that as well, don’t they.
KC: They do. I had Ian Wooldridge (who was very Welsh) and Lynn Farleigh. I credit her a lot actually because I think every young actor has a moment where they crack through a little ceiling (that they’ve created themselves, but nonetheless you have to crack through it) – it was amazing for me.
DB: So well worth doing.
KC: Oh yeah, and particularly for Americans and I do think it’s important because our tradition is amazing and we should also learn that but to go back to the old school: no one should need a mic, ever, how to use your diaphragm and all that. Really learning the craft is very important. Even for filming you have to shout a lot and if you don’t do it properly…
DB: So after you had finished in Belfast, did you go back to Loyola?
KC: I did. I had one year left and I had to do my senior thesis and direct a show etc. Then I finished and Katrina hit right after I graduated, in August, so I came back for three years; the film industry did come back and there was still theatre to do. Then I went to Chicago for a year. I did some Second City up there: studied while I was there. And then my father died, and my mother lives in central Texas, so I came back to New Orleans because it’s only a seven-hour drive.
DB: What was Chicago like compared with Belfast and New Orleans?
KC: It was different. I lived on the South Side in an Italian neighbourhood. Chicago’s very interesting: its neighbourhoods are really clear. I actually had somebody look at me and be like, ‘Are you Irish?’ And I didn’t understand why it mattered but it was because they have such a strong Sicilian heritage in that little neighbourhood, and then if you go ten blocks south it’s the Irish neighbourhood and there’s the Polish neighbourhood. Chicago, for me: their improv and their theatre are just incredible and the acting community there was what was amazing too – really open. Everybody wants to help everybody, every actor’s in a class or they’re in a show, everybody there was really dedicated. I think because it’s got its sports people forget that it’s got incredible art museums. It is really freezing for three months. I feel like I didn’t meet my neighbours until baseball season and that was interesting. Spring happened and everyone was outside. For three months it is just frigid and everybody is just inside and the wind is terrible and it just cuts through you.
DB: What was it like at Second City with Rick Snyder?
KC: Rick Snyder is the director at Steppenwolf Theatre and I worked with him in his directing class. Then he also helped teach a class at the Profiles Theatre, which was great. I took improv there from teachers like Jack Bronis and I really highly recommend everyone (every person) take a couple of improv classes in their life: it just makes you so much less scared of most things. The best parts of improv are when you fail. It’s when you look the most awkward and the most silly and caught off guard, that the theme takes off and it’s the best find ever. I think that’s always such a good practice for humans – to say ‘yes’, go with the flow and find a way to get to a culmination. The key is: don’t plan – because if you over-plan, when something happens you’ve got to readjust – and it makes you more flexible. Like on our show particularly you’ll have, often, 50 to 100 walkers walking around, or a horse, or a couple of cars etc. and you’ve got to adjust as it’s going and if you have a really defined little plan in your head… well it’s going to go out the window really fast. And that’s what improv teaches I think.
DB: You’ve also worked on these children’s programmes as well, in New Orleans. How have you found that? What attracted you about that?
KC: Well I come from a really long line of teachers. My grandmother was a one-room school teacher in Montana way back when they taught every single grade and every single subject. My dad: he did continuing medical education and training at Fort Hood as well. I came from that so it was almost an automatic thing when I came out of school. I was in New Orleans, waiting tables, and I saw that there was this programme where you could be an artist educator and go in after school and be the drama club person. I’ve been around a lot of kids because I have 15 cousins on one side and 15 on the other and I’m the youngest, so I got all my oldest cousins’ kids to babysit. (Laughs) Then of course I had to stop teaching because I wasn’t going to be there consistently enough because I was actually able to start working more.
DB: What do you reckon the kids themselves got out of it?
KC: I have one or two students that I think will write for the rest of their lives – poetry, books – even when they’re doing other things. A big thing I know that quite a few of them got out of it was the ability to stand in front of a group of people and speak. I would bring friends in to do ‘spoken word’ and would have them teach little classes, so the kids would learn to write their own stories. A couple of students I’m still in touch with and one of them still writes – she majored in Psychology which is actually like the more helpful version of jumping into characters. When people in schools want to take Art out [of the curriculum] I always have to remind them that reading a script is a literacy skill, learning lines and learning blocking is teamwork and you get all of these things out of theatre. Many kindergarten and first grade classes got a lot of literacy skills just because I did these really fun dances and moves: because whether you learn kinetically or visually it is actually helpful to get it into your body or into your brain.
DB: New Orleans itself is obviously really different from the small rural towns you grew up in. What is it about New Orleans that you particularly love?
KC: The reason I went to college there, I think, is because we went there on a road trip when I was 7 or 8 and, you know the way that memories work, I have these flashes of little scenes and I loved it! So then when I was applying for colleges and looking up things and saw that Loyola was a small school – I didn’t want to go to a big school because I was from a small town I thought I would get lost… I got a really good scholarship! Then I thought if I had trouble fitting in the school or whatever I knew that I would like living in that town. I think it was my childhood brain coming back going, ‘We really liked it there! Let’s go again!’
DB: If there were a couple of places, or things to do, in New Orleans what would you say to people are must do’s?
KC: One of my must do’s is a haunted history tour: you learn really cool ghost stories, you bar hop a little bit but you also learn that it’s a city with a very interesting history, all of the stories that the tour guides tell – our tour guides are really dedicated – and you get to see these other parts of the quarter that you don’t normally if you’re just wandering through. One must do is: pick a day where you don’t make a plan – because the best thing in New Orleans is when you leave your hotel and you just go wandering and you find the coolest things. We’re a really hospitable town and people will guide you to great, awesome, fun things; we want you to have a great time. Wander safely but see what happens. You will have an incredible day. If people come to New Orleans to Jazz Fest, stay the week, because that week (between the two weekends) you will see concerts that you will never see anywhere else because all the musicians are in town together and they all jam together in different places.
DB: You won some Big Easy Awards. What can you remember of those performances?
KC: The three I definitely remember are:
I won for Lysistrata. I feel like, when you do Greek theatre you really have to remind yourself that you might be channeling, because the Greeks very much saw theatre as a religious rite and the way you have to treat the text is, to me, that you are a version of an oracle. I had a thirty-minute vocal warmup for that show because there was one bit where I had to do very loudly yell for something like 30 seconds. What Emilie Whelan did (she directed it) was have a live musician playing Athena – a New Orleans’ musician who played over 12 instruments – so I had a soundtrack that moved with me. (Her name was Aurora Nealand: she’s incredible and tours a lot). That was incredible and it was this tiny, dark, downtown theatre – really intimate. New Orleans’ audiences are a little more like The Globe audiences: they are with you and the audience are so into it that they have your back a little.
I got a supporting actor one, way back, for a ridiculous show called Zombietown. It was an ensemble piece and we all played five characters and that’s where improv came in handy and we all just got to go nuts.
Then the most recent one was a one-woman show called Grounded. That was really huge. I got hired for it eight months before the show opened because it’s 64 pages – and it’s all you! It’s not natural English: the rhythm of it is very different. I was thankful for anything, anyone at the Royal Shakespeare Company ever taught me! You have to use all of that technique and power and instinct, all at the same time. I’m really proud of that show. I remember there was one performance, distinctly: usually right after the black out everybody automatically claps, they didn’t; it felt really powerful because that’s such an automatic reaction (even if it’s a bad show) that they sat ‘with the moment’ until the lights came back up. I think working on something like that makes you a better actor: just the behemoth feat of memorising 64 pages of lines. I got to talk to a drone pilot as well in the research I had to do: because it’s about a fighter pilot who becomes a drone pilot. Larissa Lury directed that, she was a gymnast when she was growing up, and so we got to go up into the air and back down and go back up and I loved that I got to do all that.
DB: What was your first film break?
KC: I say I had two. My first film ever was The Staircase Murders, a Lifetime movie. I was one of the actors in New Orleans who could do a German accent to play the German nanny, thus I got my agent because it was the first audition – that was a huge break for me because she was the top agent in the southeast at the time. My second break was with Werner Herzog. I had auditioned for quite a few of the cheesy American Pie-style movies and not even got a call back and I booked a role in this abstract Bad Lieutenant New Orleans Werner Herzog brainchild, with Nicholas Cage, and I remember going, ‘Alright, I know my career path now and I need to not get worried if I don’t book roles on those types of films. That’s not my world.’ That’s the one that, as the saying in the business goes, ‘Work begets work’. That was a big one to get a break on because he [Werner Herzog] is a legend. It was my first major film so I didn’t have a huge role. It was interesting because we finished at 5:30 every day (which is not normal, at all) partly I think because Werner was editing as he was filming, so he wanted time to do that. The way he runs his set and the way he’s very serious – until he’s not – which for a very young actor makes you quite nervous. I was doing a scene with Nicolas Cage and it was really interesting to watch how he ran the set, directed and all of those things and I was just like, ‘I am going to learn a lot here and make sure that I do exactly what Werner says.’ He’s a really small guy but there’s something about an Austrian accent and an intensity about him that comes off as, ‘Yes, I’ll do whatever you say.’ He’s really an actors’ director too because for the call back he greeted me at the door, and he didn’t have to do that. He’s that kind of person. He talked to me about the scene, what we were doing, why – all those things. Nicholas Cage (for all the humorous memes) brings an intensity and commitment to every character that was really incredible to watch. As a youngster starting out watching someone bring that, and bring it every take, at all times, it was really great.
DB: The Free State Of Jones, I found really interesting.
KC: I’m really proud of that film. It takes place over 1862-67. I had watched the Ken Burns’ documentary and had read the book which is entitled The Free State Of Jones and I learned so much more about what really went down over the five years. I feel that I have a better understanding now of the Civil War than I ever have: just by reading that book and playing more attention to the aftermath of reconstruction. One of the things that I thought was great was, my great-grandmother (on my mom’s side) was born on a covered wagon and there’s pictures of my grandmother (she was born in 1908) on the homestead in Montana and I took photos of what I looked like in that film and I look very like my grandmother. In the movie business there’s a lot of movies about battles and there’s not a lot of movies about what happens after them. That I think is what Free State Of Jones did: told a true story that most people don’t know; it cracked open the myth in the South that all Southern boys supported the war – and that’s not true (I didn’t know that); it told the story of slaves who had escaped and found a way to live in the woods, which was very common; it was about people fighting for their rights. I found that pretty cool.
DB: What was it like getting the role?
KC: That was one of my favourite stories: I went in to do the call back and met Gary, and the casting director was on Skype, and I did the scene and he gave me notes – that was basically when I was like, ‘Oh I think I’m going to get this.’ I got my bag, walked downstairs and the assistant, Catherine, came out and said, ‘They need to see you again.’ I was like, ‘Oh no…’, I am Catholic, and got in trouble – a lot – growing up so I was immediately like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ All the guilt! Gary was like, ‘Do you want to be in my movie?’ and that never happens! There are times when I didn’t know I got a part for three months and most of the time you don’t get anycall. When it is hard as an actor, I hold onto that moment.
DB: You have been in a lot of TV shows.
KC: I guess so. One of my friends said to me that I’ve been in over 40 movies and TV shows.
DB: I watched you in True Detective and in Stranger Things being a nurse. There’s a lot of nurse roles!
KC: Those are my bread and butter. If you need a nurse… (Both laugh)
DB: Also in Zoo, that weird episode with bats and birds in Antarctica.
KC: The funniest part of shooting that is that, I had a couple of friends who had been on that show and they got to take a plane to film in a rainforest or do something over here and got to work with a live bear! We had to shoot (because we were in ‘Antarctica’) in a giant warehouse in the middle of New Orleans and had to keep making sure we didn’t look like we were sweating – it was soap snow. There were a lot of Mardi Gras balls done in this warehouse so every once in a while they’d have to take a piece of glitter off our faces, which I thought was hysterical.
DB: You’re not a nurse in The Walking Dead. (Both laugh)
KC: She’s so stoic. I remember the first season, 7, somebody was like, ‘She doesn’t talk much.’ And I was like: ‘firstly there’s a ton of storylines to follow in this world and we’re not in a place where there’s time for hers; secondly, I think the king talks enough for all of us and in a beautiful way with beautiful language and he gets more upset by the fact that he’s surrounded by these really stoic, quiet guards; and somebody has to balance Jerry, somebody has to have that unfun job of not being smiley and fun.’
DB: How did you land the role of Dianne?
KC: I auditioned probably 7 or 8 times and I actually auditioned for Gavin’s role (they were considering a woman for the role) but when I got the call, two days later, I was told I didn’t get that role but I got a different one. I didn’t know the name of my role until the first call from one of the production offices because they keep it all so locked tight. Really it’s because Scott [Gimple] keeps a stable of actors in his head and that’s why I tell people, ‘Always do your best because you never know where that audition is going to get you.’ I think he knew I would be a good fit because he had seen me enough and then whatever I did for that audition must have been exactly what he needed.
DB: What has it been like working on the show itself? Who have you worked most closely with?
KC: I used to work most closely with Khary [Payton], Cooper [Andrews], Lennie [James] – and I don’t think anyone tells a story like Lennie, when we’re hanging out waiting for some things to be done. Now I’ve gotten to know Lauren Cohen better, Alanna [Masterson], Tom [Payne] which has been kind of fun.
DB: You wear a costume that has quite a lot of body armour on it. How much of that is designed with the wonderful, cool Georgian weather in mind?
KC: It isn’t designed for the weather, at all! I am lucky because I live in New Orleans, I have gotten already used to the heat, so I have less of a jump to make. It does not breathe well and so it’s just a matter of drinking water and accepting it. The way I handle is that I’m like, ‘I’m going to be really gross and sweaty and it’s going to be really hot,’ because the more you fight it… you’re not going to win. Like all those parking lot scenes we did – the asphalt’s hot, the sun’s hot, it’s terrible. The only thing I wish that I could change, and I can’t, is that I could wear sunglasses sometimes, because it is so bright. I always warn people who want to get into acting or modelling – you will be uncomfortable, you will have to make it look like you’re cold when it’s hot and hot when you’re cold and you’re just going to have to get used to it. Part of the problem is that it is so humid so the shade doesn’t do much.
DB: The fight scenes, and you’ve got your bow and arrows: how does that work out practically?
KC: The bow is hard because obviously I cannot shoot it for real because everything is so tight with camera that it could hurt somebody, so the visual effects team and I have developed a system of how I do it and let go, so that they can fill in. They also have a bow that’s really weak that I will shoot sometimes. The hero bow that I use (for people who know archery) the pull is very, very weak, maybe 15 lbs, so to do something where you would want to hunt with it or beyond 10 yards, to have any effect, you’d want to have it way higher than that. It would be easier if I just had to shoot it but I have to do this thing where I don’t really shoot it sometimes, because they’re doing the close-up and there’s a person in front of me that I don’t want to [hit]. It makes me really happy that I studied corporeal mime, which sounds so weird but it’s about how to use your body to make it look like something’s heavy when it’s not. Then doing it for real because there’s a focus your eyes have and a technique. The first time they showed my shooting the bow on screen I actually waited because if you do something wrong – but particularly in archery – people will tell you! (Laughs) And no one said anything about it and I was like, ‘Yes!’ I work really hard when I go shoot at archery ranges.
DB: It’s interesting, in that, because you know how to do it really, it makes it far more realistic when you are pretending to do it. Who looks after the bow and arrow?
KC: There’s a props team and they are amazing, I mean they create a lot of different things and then I have my own, which I look after. I have an archery instructor – he’s the sort of person who used to shoot quarters out of the air – and every time we meet up I learn more about archery. There’s something about the history of archery that I find fascinating and I’ve started to learn a lot more about it: just in terms of the different styles, how people shoot, how people train. I was doing something the other day and I kept my bow with me for the scene and somebody was like, ‘Do you really need it?’ There’s something about archers keeping their bow with them all the time. When you think of a bow it’s a living, breathing piece of wood so it’s important to – particularly in this world of survival – store it properly and unstring it etc.
DB: One of our very well-known actors, Robert Hardy (who is dead now), was a world authority on the long bow, so it’s worth finding his book.
KC: I shoot a recurve but I want to get a long bow as well. My dad, when we would watch Henry V, would talk about the history of how important the yeomen were to the English middle class and the rise of that and how that’s how the British took over and won a lot of battles.
DB: Have you got any particular stand out memories from The Walking Dead?
KC: So many… not necessarily while we’re filming because there’s a ton of different moments I can choose but it’s things like this:
The first walker that I ever kill is the girl where I say, ‘My sister would love that dress’. A year later I’m in a grocery store, walking, and this really cute little boy says, ‘Hello!’ I say ‘Hello’ back. I’m picking up my apple and talking and his mom looks at me and says, ‘Oh my God! Hi!’ It’s his mum and I’m like, ‘Oh hello’ and she’s says, ‘Oh, you don’t remember me. You killed me!’ – in the middle of the produce section. Of course I don’t recognise her because she was in complete, extreme walker garb when I killed her, and she’s beautiful – a mum with two sons – and that was a funny moment. I got to have a conversation with one of my “kills” by the apples in a grocery store. I love moments like that.
DB: Prior to going on stage or set, how do you prepare yourself for being a new character?
KC: For TV it’s hard. For a play I read the script backwards and forth all the time, which I do for this but, because there’s less info about Dianne on the page, I have to go to the writers a lot on set, just to clarify that I’m on the same back story or idea and will ask them specific questions. A lot of those big battle scenes in season 8 and season 7 I totally listen to music before I get to set to pump me up – I listen to really beefy songs; once you know that place to go you don’t need that and I can just go in and out. With theatre I have a weird thing where I do all my vocal warm ups and then right before I go on stage, in my head, I remind myself what my first line is and then I’m fine. For my one woman show I had to do that. It was so big that I couldn’t think about the whole thing – or you’d freak!
DB: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to make acting their career?
KC: Train. It doesn’t get enough attention sometimes I think. Advice I was given: allow yourself to do it – don’t think you’re crazy, don’t think it’s a silly idea, it is a career. Also allow yourself to not. There can be a point where you are pushing so hard but you’re not getting anything and you’re giving up all these other things, but it’s okay to take six months and not work and do something else and come back and do it. I think it was some of the greatest advice I got, as I’ve had a couple of moments in my life where I’ve had major family things going on, where I just simply could not do and I had to give myself permission to go, ‘I just can’t do anything. I just can’t.’ And then the old adage of: if there’s anything else in the world that will make you happy, I recommend that! (Laughs) Find your people and stick together with them and be supportive of each other. I have a ton of friends and we all audition for the same roles and we are very happy for each other when we get them. You can’t hold onto things and be bitter. We all rise together.
DB: You hosted the AMVETS Silver Helmet Awards. Were they the first awards that you ever hosted?
KC: I did. They were. They have a really good script so I didn’t have to work as hard. The best thing about that actually is meeting all the doctors, researchers, and people who work at the Veterans Affairs hospitals and offices who are getting awards. They are really incredible and work very, very hard and it’s always great to meet them.
DB: What do they do, that you have learnt from meeting with them and the awards?
KC: One you learn how much good they do. I think what happens is: when there’s a problem, that’s the story that gets out and all of the successes don’t. Our media is pretty good at focussing on everything that’s wrong and we’re not very good at focussing on what is going well. Also with veterans reminding them that they can call this person that can help process this. The other thing you learn (at least from my position) is the challenges they do face, that aren’t working and that do need to be fixed and really getting person-to-person and talking to them on that level is how you’re going to understand more of that – because they’re the ones working with the paperwork and patient, tri-care, the laws. I always come away from the awards really hopeful, because it’s an awards night for people who are just doing great work for veterans, and you can leave knowing that there are all these people and you get to know how to contact them.
DB: You also act as an advocate.
KC: Yeah, which is a weird term and people ask, ‘What does that mean?’ Do you know how my dad died?
DB: I do, but if you feel like talking about it…
KC: He was killed in a terrorist attack November 5th 2009 at Fort Hood Army Base. He had worked there for about 7 years and worked at the soldier readiness centre there and the on-post clinic. In America, when a soldier’s going overseas, they have to go through this process, get everything approved, get all the paperwork and medical paperwork right and then they can go and then, when they come back, they do the same thing. What they do on that post appointment is really important because you talk through [any] injury they got overseas, where they were, how it worked, how they’re doing – all these issues – but it’s a really short period of time. Dad was really good at it. We got lots of letters after he died. The reason he died was because he charged [at] the shooter, saving a lot of lives but losing his own. When he died I took some time. What kept becoming clear was that I’m not a PA, I’m not a retired Warrant Officer of the Army, I’m not any of those things but there’s a loss of mission when someone dies, particularly someone like my dad: every admission that came through he would ask ‘How are you sleeping?’ [etc] and he didn’t just take the first answer — he would make sure he really got through to the soldiers. The thing I could do was continue his mission in the way that I could. When I say that I’m an advocate, what I tell people is that I’m a great megaphone because I’m an actor, I’m not part of the government but what I can do is – 1% of America is connected to the military right now, they just don’t know things because they don’t know anyone – be somebody who reminds people, there’s legislation going through and it’s really important, or that this is an issue, do retweets and stuff. I also have a lot of veteran friends and I am able to call and connect people and do behind the scenes connecting. Soldiers are generally not people who ever want to complain because there is a sense of honour and pride that can turn to stubbornness and what happens is: you have to dig a little more to get them to talk about what’s going on. There’s a day called Buddy Check Day where you can remember that you can text your battlemates, to remind them of that connection because that is what keeps people here and lets them reach out when something is going on. Once you are back in the States, and you are no longer in military service, everybody scatters and it can be a lot more isolating and, as much as we might get frustrated with social media and technology, now you can connect with one of your buddies and still talk when you need to.
DB: Do you have time for any hobbies?
KC: I garden a lot. Gardening’s become a big thing and if I have free time at the moment I’m outside digging and making sure it’s all good. I’ve started to learn wood burning because I really like that and I collect wine corks for crafts. I want to start learning the guitar again: I used to take lessons and I want to get back into it. I also write plays and I’m really trying to get more of them pushed and produced. I was part of a group in Chicago where we were the actors but I realised all of the writers were white men over 40 and I remember going, ‘Oh… oh…’ so I started writing because I felt that we have to write too. We talk about women in Hollywood, or film, or theatre but we also have to do those things. We need more women playwrights to be produced but we also need more women playwrights. We need to inspire 13-year-old girls to pick up a camera and be the director, and the camera person, and the lighting and the writer and do all of those things. That’s what writing is for me: to figure out what stories I want to tell and do. I’ve started a tiny production company and we’re developing a script as well.
DB: What was the first single or album you ever bought?
KC: Oh God! I think it might have been Tonic or Matchbox Twenty. I lived in the middle of Montana my first and sophomore year of high school and I never went to town. I didn’t go to the big place where you could buy CDs. What I would do (which is why it’s hard to talk about buying them) is: I would record the radio onto cassette. Then the Columbia Records thing came out, where you could buy 20 CDs and that’s when I started to buy them.
DB: I was going to ask: is there a song or songs that take you back to a particular time?
KC: Yes, “Strawberry Wine”by Dianna Carter. That takes me immediately back to a high school bus. Immediately.
DB: What genres of music do you enjoy listening to?
KC: I have a pretty wide breadth just because it’s about my mood. I own Enya, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele, Drive By Truckers (which is a group that not a lot of people know, they’re like alternative country). If I’m going to say what I listen to a lot more than other things, it would be alternative country rock. Then I live in New Orleans so there are days where I’ll just put on WWOZ and I’ll leave it there all day because we have a really great radio station. Helen Gillette – her music’s really interesting and I don’t know what genre to put it in but it’s really beautiful. I listen to Cajun music as well.
DB: I love Cajun music, which is a bit weird for a girl from Romford, East London. (Both laugh)
KC: If I’m just having a great day and I have the windows open in the car, I will just pick a female rockstar or R&B, Beyoncé, Pink or a Chris Stapleton rock country, one of those.
DB: Is there a particular movie soundtrack or theme that you love?
KC: The Piano. Michael Nyman – incredible. That would win everytime. I also love the soundtrack of Braveheart. I saw that when I was 13, and I found out that I was in the Wallace clan – that same summer my mum and dad were taking more about family history.
DB: Have you got any favourite composers for film or for TV?
KC: Danny Elfman, because he’s so versatile and incredible! There’s movies that I didn’t know he did because they’re so soft and then there’s these intense action ones. Really incredible.
DB: Do you ever go to watch live music?
KC: I do. I think it’s partially an older age thing and partially an American violence problem, I don’t like to go to big crowds as much anymore. What I find I’ll do… because New Orleans is really good because it has lots of open spaces and land, and we have a great place called Baccanal, where Helen Gillette plays every Monday – it’s just an open back yard and it’s really great. I have a really good friend who’s in a Cajun band called BeauSoleil and he plays on Monday nights at a hotel called The Columns and I go there and listen to him; it’s an acoustic set in this old, old hotel on St. Charles Avenue and it’s such a good night! If I leave New Orleans for too long I crave a hot, sweaty but mad night at the Maple Leaf or the Bontemps, because those are just great.
DB: What concert have you been to that you would think is your best you’ve ever been to?
KC: I’ve just been to see The Pretenders and Stevie Nicks and they were incredible! I loved it. I’m 90% sure Fleetwood Mac’s coming to New Orleans again so I’m going to see that, because I love Fleetwood Mac. She [Stevie Nicks] was just awesome! It was my second concert when I was like 16 but Garth Brooks is such a good performer! I would see him again, anytime.
DB: Is there any artist or band that you haven’t seen that you would love to see perform live?
KC: I haven’t seen Beyoncé and I have to say that everyone has to see her before they die. Just watching her in half-time shows, clips from Coachella and all my friends have gone and I just haven’t done it yet. And I have a longer list than that but she’s the one that leaps to mind. U2 as well: I haven’t seen U2 and I want to.
DB: Do you have any guilty music pleasures?
KC: So many! Techno mixes of Lana Del Ray. And I don’t even know if that’s guilty. I love working out to the really good DJ music. I like Cedric Gervaise – I don’t even think that’s guilty. I love the remixes.
DB: What is the most recent song, or album, you have heard that really excited you?
KC: Kesha! Her new album – and I had never listened to her before. I had listened to one or two of her songs, randomly, when I was in the car. This new album… beautiful!
DB: What does music mean to you?
KC: One of the things I think TV and film can do, that music can do, is… There’s a lonely kid of 15 somewhere in, let’s pretend Ohio or Aberdeen, and they may feel that no one around them understands them, that album that they can listen to by themselves, makes them feel a little less alone and a little more understood. For me, that’s the thing with music. You know, when my father died he had a very big, Catholic funeral, very big, with pomp and circumstance – the Archbishop was there – it was about picking the processional music. That’s the thing. Music is what you play your baby in the womb because you want them to know your favourite song. Because we’ve got less ritual now in our lives, music is starting to take even more of that spot. It’s not logical, it’s not linear, it reaches us on a level which is not about rational thinking, but how you feel.
Three questions we ask everyone:
DB: What is your favourite word?
KC: The only way to do this is to do it right away and it’s ‘Fuck’. It’s the first thing that comes into my mind and you can use it for everything and I love it. It’s amazing and I think it’s a great word. Cursing makes you feel better and all that.
DB: How would you describe your perfect day? If you could conjure up a perfect day what would it be?
KC: I’m going to talk about weather first: sunny in the morning, grey and rainy in the afternoon, clears up for a great, light evening and I would say 90% of it is spent outside with my dogs and reading a good book.
DB: You have dogs?
KC: I do! I have two cats and three dogs. I basically have a small zoo. (Both laugh) And I have two betta fish.
DB: Are you reading anything at the moment?
KC: I picked up Neil Diamond’s Fragile Things which are short stories and I started that today. I am also reading a book called Devils Walking and it’s about the cold cases of Klan murders along the Mississippi – which is dark but it’s for research. I also read a few books at a time and I am reading Jitterbug Perfume, again.
DB: What could you not possibly live without?
KC: I mean, I’m lying because I can but, coffee! I can live without it, but I won’t! I drank less coffee when I lived in Northern Ireland, I drank more tea but I still drank coffee. It’s how I relate to people who have trouble quitting smoking, I imagine, for them, the feeling of a cigarette is the same as a cup of coffee for me and I can’t imagine somebody telling me not to do that. I cannot imagine it and I will not do it! (Laughs)
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.