Dana Gourrier currently stars in Quentin Tarantino's latest film, "The Hateful Eight," and will appear in three movies over the next year. Then why does she still feel like a "struggling artist?"
"I learned a long time ago that phrase, 'the devil's workshop.' One of those sayings that your great grandmother used to say," Gourrier told Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview. "And I always used to think about that especially when I quit my day job years ago and pursued acting full time. I have got to stay busy. I don't care if I'm being paid or not, I need to work."
She laughed and quickly added, "Although, the ultimate goal is to get paid!"
Gourrier stars as Minnie Mink in "The Hateful Eight," a role that Tarantino wrote specifically for her after the two worked together on "Django Unchained." Minnie owns the haberdashery in the Wyoming mountains where eight strangers seek refuge during a harsh winter storm.
She could hardly believe when the director called her up in early 2014 to pitch the role. She even missed his first phone call but immediately returned Tarantino's call after listening to the voicemail he left.
"I kept the voicemail," Gourrier confessed. "It was very unbelievable, the idea that one of the best directors of our generations was writing a part for me. That's insane!"
In our nearly hour-long conversation, Gourrier recounted her first audition for Tarantino for a part in "Django Unchained." She also spoke about chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes with Channing Tatum, her preparations for working in high elevations, and the sage advice she received from her co-star Samuel L. Jackson.
The actress also reflected upon her hometown, New Orleans, which was devastated 10 years ago by Hurricane Katrina. The city has made progress in its recovery since then, but Gourrier still sees plenty left to do in The Big Easy.
Gourrier Spent 45 Minutes in Her First Audition with Tarantino for "Django Unchained"
Tarantino held specific auditions for his 2012 film at The Roosevelt hotel in New Orleans. Gourrier was the only woman out of four actors sitting in the lobby waiting to be brought upstairs by the casting director, Megan Lewis, with whom she had worked on "American Horror Story" and "80 percent" of the other projects that total her oeuvre.
"I will never forget this as long as I live - I remember my hands shaking so badly that it started to move up into my forearms and into my upper arms and into my shoulder. I was beginning to enter into a serious tremble, and I just put my hands together and I started praying. I have a very strong spiritual life... and I started to take breaths and understand what's important and what's not. There was nothing to fear. I was given an opportunity and I was going to take that bad boy.
"As soon as I settled myself down and did what I needed to do, it was like clockwork. The assistant to the casting director came right up to me and said, 'Dana, are you ready?' And I unwove my fingers and I looked at my hands and they were totally steady. I looked right at him and I said, 'Yes, yes I am. I'm ready.'"
From the moment Tarantino opened the door, Gourrier felt like she knew him. She described it like seeing an old friend again or "a distant cousin that you haven't seen in years but you had such a strong relationship." Originally, she went in for the part of Betina, but early on in the audition, she could feel the role wasn't working for her.
"The audition was going great, but it wasn't lock and key. Something wasn't right. I wasn't right for Betina," Gourrier said. "But [Tarantino] saw how hard I was working at it and saw my enthusiasm, and right before I was to leave he said, 'Wait, wait, don't leave yet. Would you mind reading Cora?'"
Cora only had three speaking lines at that point, but since he didn't have her part handy, the director and the actress improvised a scene, some of which ended up in the final script.
Tim Roth Taught Her To Roll Cigarettes and She Smoked Channing Tatum Under the Table
Gourrier practiced rolling cigarettes, specifically Norwegian Shag, for weeks in preparation for a "Hateful Eight" scene opposite Channing Tatum. Her co-star Tim Roth taught her the art of rolling during the first week of rehearsals in L.A., and she perfected her technique back at home in New Orleans, standing in the rain to see if she could roll the cigarettes with cold, damp fingers.
The dedicated actress also was chain smoking the unfiltered cigarettes, and at 10,000 feet elevation in Telluride, Colo., where the film shot, that can get pretty difficult. Prior to filming, she trained with a mask that stifles a person's breathing and closely mimics the conditions felt at such high elevations.
"I would run on a treadmill with a mask using less oxygen. I would do calisthenics with it. It wasn't about weight loss, it was just about conditioning my lungs," she explained. "I still got sick when I got there. The smartest decision on the part of the production, they brought everyone up a week prior to their date to shoot and they gave you a week to acclimate. For four days before I started shooting, I was done. I could barely get out of bed."
When the day came to shoot the scene with Tatum, she had to roll the cigarettes inside of 30 seconds, which corresponded to the half page of text. Her scene partner also had trouble handling the Norwegian Shag and asked to switch to an herbal substitute. But after weeks of working with the Norwegian Shag, she couldn't roll the cigarettes with the herbal or the organic tobacco and resorted back to what she knew.
"I was smoking half a cigarette a day [up to filming]. I had to acclimate my lungs, and when we got up on that mountain, I was chain smoking them because it was take after take," Gourrier said. "For real, Channing got sick. He was like, 'How can you smoke that s--t?' I said, 'I've been practicing since October.' He goes, 'Why didn't you tell me you smoking real s--t?' I was like, 'You're f---ing Channing Tatum! I can't just call you up.'"
The Only Difference Between Samuel L. Jackson and Everyone Else Is "Bills"
Gourrier has worked steadily over the last five years, appearing in shows such as "Togetherness," "True Detective" and "American Horror Story: Coven," as well as the feature film "Lee Daniels' The Butler." But on the set of "Django," she started to worry she'd never get to work on a movie like that again. Her co-star, Samuel L. Jackson, calmed her nerves and set her straight.
"I'll never forget, Sam Jackson and I were shootin' the breeze outside his fancy trailer," she recalled. "We were sitting down and he was smoking his electronic cigarette, and I was like, 'I'm a little nervous.' And he said, 'What are you nervous about? What are you scared about?' I told him, 'I don't want this to end, Sam. This is amazing and I'm scared I won't ever work again like this.' He turned to me and said, 'Look, let me tell you something. Your hustle ain't no different than mine. The only difference between you and I is our bills.'
"I was thinking, 'Oh s--t, Sam Jackson just kept it real with me!' It occurred to me that's why Sam's always working. Sam will take a part. He will do a job. Sam loves to work. He needs to work. It's not just about bills and like, your mortgage. It's a spiritual thing, I find... I'll never forget that though. Our hustle is the same. That's no difference between our hustle, the only difference is our bills. He said, 'So get your damn hustle on.' And I was like, 'I got this part, so I'm going to keep hustling.'"
Gourrier Lost Nearly Everything from Her Childhood Home During Hurricane Katrina
While parts of New Orleans have recovered greatly in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, the city continues to struggle with an increasing wealth gap, a poor education system and a high crime rate. Gourrier has faith the city can turn things around because she has seen firsthand how "resilient" the people of New Orleans can be even in their darkest days.
"I've never seen strength and compliance to a situation that you have no control over," she said. "I'm extremely proud of where I'm from. I obviously wish the crime rate would go down and it was a safer city, but New Orleans is a mixed bag, a melting pot and we are all infinitely connected."
The storm washed out nearly everything in her childhood home except for one bin that Gourrier found weeks later on the side of her house, which contained her undergraduate degree. She lost the black baby dolls that her mother had searched far and wide to buy her in the '80s as well as a photo of an old boyfriend, who shared her first kiss and was later murdered.
Her 96-year-old grandfather, a double amputee, died from malnutrition and dehydration in the hospital during the storm. The hospital staff had to ration the food and water to patients who had a better chance of survival. His body was then shipped to Arkansas, and her family didn't know if they'd ever retrieve him.
"It put everything into perspective about the material things," said Gourrier. "It still hurts sometimes when I see a random, old-school thing and think, 'I used to have one of those. Oh yeah, I lost it in the storm.' We lost everything in the storm."
Gourrier was living in New York City when the storm hit. A week after Katrina, she was appalled by a customer she was serving at a Midtown restaurant who questioned why people would live in New Orleans knowing the risk of hurricanes. If not for the quick action of her co-worker, Gourrier is sure she would have gone to jail for throwing spinach dip on the woman.
"This woman spoke so flippant about it," she recalled. "I just found out we had lost [my grandfather]. We didn't know if we would get his body back at that point. I still had to work to pay my bills and my parents needed me to work. They needed not to be worried about me."
"The Hateful Eight" is currently playing in theaters. Also look for Gourrier in these upcoming films: "Midnight Special" starring Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton; "Kidnap" with Halle Berry; and "Same Kind of Different As Me" starring Renée Zellweger, Jon Voight and Greg Kinnear.