For Emily Skegsa theater kid born in New York, playing in dinner in america, in a story set in the suburbs of the American Midwest, proved to be a deeply personal journey. In our interview ahead of the film’s limited theatrical release, Skeggs recalls how the script was sent to him in Spring/Summer 2018 and it was “presented to me as a Napoleon Dynamite-punk rock love story.” At this point, Kyle Gallner (Veronique March, Scream) was already attached to play Simon, the film’s lead role, and Skeggs was in the running for the role of Patty. “When I first read the character, I was like, ‘Who is she? What am I going to do? How can I make her a real, whole person and which audiences will ultimately get attached to?'” she says. “It was really a meeting [director] Adam [Carter Rehmeier] which solidified for me what this movie was really about. Yes it is Napoleon Dynamite. Yes it is SLC Punk!. But there’s this really weird, unexpected beating heart of a love story that I don’t think I really saw when I first read the script.”
Indeed, like the trailer for dinner in america suggests, the film follows the unconventional love story between punk rock singer Simon who, while on the run from the police, meets the odd and lovable Patty, who is obsessed with the band and Simon’s music. Unaware of who he really is—Simon wears a mask on stage when he performs—Patty quickly becomes smitten with Simon, and the two form a friendship that, throughout their short time together, grows into something more. Skeggs is absolutely right. Napoleon Dynamite inner spirit dinner in america. Going even further, we can even say that the film vibrates with the coming-of-age films of the 2000s, especially for Patty who, in the end, comes into its own.
“I think, very quickly, I realized how personal the character was to me, how I felt very deeply like Patty for a long time in my life and I had never really looked back on those memories with a lot of emotion,” Skeggs said. “Coming to see this film and play this character, it was both kind of painful and weird for me – and also very freeing – because I was able to go back to that part of me and see those things that I [initially] that I thought were flaws or things I thought I should get rid of [in order] conforming to a form that was acceptable to society, and seeing those traits as positive things, which should be celebrated, and [are] things that make me unique. To really appreciate them and to fall in love with them again has been really freeing and really healing.”
Dinner in America is a portrait of Midwestern America
dinner in america certainly doesn’t hold back in its depiction of suburban Midwestern America. The Irish Times, in fact, called the film “a squealing firecracker of a comedy” that is “shocking for all the right reasons”, while Variety called the film a “grossly crude comedy”. These are, of course, compliments in a way: underlying the love story between Simon and Patty, dinner in america is also a review of the United States itself. “It’s definitely there,” Skeggs says when asked about the film’s subtle commentary on the infrastructure of American society. “Adam grew up in Nebraska, and he really has a punk sensibility and he’s a punk. And I think we all share the same feelings that the movie alludes to – that there are things about our country which we’re not all proud of and don’t think he should be.” Between the offensive language used by some characters and the shocking visuals – one of the film’s early shots sees Patty staring at a fly-infested dead cat – there’s the initial knee-jerk reaction to completely deny the film, but Skeggs sees value in that. “You have to realize [that] it is the world of many people in this country. I think we should recognize that and talk about it.”
Considering the sometimes extreme slice of life, dinner in america portrayed, and given her personal connection to Patty’s situation, when asked how Skeggs navigated through production, the actress expresses her gratitude to both Gallner and Rehmeier. “Without Kyle and Adam, it would have been really difficult. Adam is a really collaborative and wonderful person to work with. So is Kyle. Incredibly generous, incredibly caring, we’ve always supported each other in this really beautiful way that’s really rare. C was like summer camp, doing that.” Asked what it was like to experience Simon de Gallner first-hand – a character who more or less rages on throughout the beginning of the film – Skeggs said: “I personally find opposites to be really, really funny. I also don’t think we knew who these characters were until we were face to face. Then we realized what we needed to outmaneuver and what we needed to complete.
The watermelon song
One of the tenderest moments of dinner in america — and in each of Skeggs and Gallner’s performances, for that matter — comes towards the film’s final act. Patty and Simon are in his basement and, mixing up a track, Simon suggests that Patty sing a song using one of the poems she wrote in her diary for the lyrics. The result is watermelon song, an original track that Skeggs co-wrote with Rehmeier for the film. “It was one of the first things that [Adam and I] did when we got there, which really set the tone and guided us to where we knew Patty and Simon had to finally meet.”
Shooting this scene was actually one of Skeggs’ favorite moments during the production of dinner in america. “I don’t quite know why,” she said. “Maybe because we shot it in the barrel. So when I sang the song to Kyle, I was looking directly at the camera, and his reaction is to look directly at the camera. As an actor, you explicitly tells you not to do [that], so it was really weird to do. But it also required a lot of honesty and vulnerability from both of us. […] Adam was really strong in his belief that this was the right one [shot]. And I think he’s right. I think it really provides a window into the vulnerability of these characters.”
dinner in america is playing now in select theaters and will be available on digital and VOD on June 7, 2022.